National Geographic : 2010 Aug
deal---and the opportunity for a rapproche- ment---collapsed last spring. A bridge between Turkey and Armenia actually does exist, though most of it has crumbled into the Akhuryan River, which cuts deeply through a gorge that serves as the border between the two countries. e Silk Road city of Ani stands aban- doned along this part of the border, its mosques and churches intact a er a thousand years, its bazaars echoing in a winter wind. Beyond an electric fence and across the river, Armenian guard towers keep watch over the ruins. Some 50 miles north of Ani, Ustael's workers continue to dig 13 feet every day. Once com- pleted, the tunnel will run for a mile and a half, 1,300 feet beneath the surface. It will be one of the longest in Turkey, Ustael says, and everyone will know his name. "Maybe then I can go work someplace warm." Ustael spends his downtime in Kars, 42 miles south of the border, the two-hour drive made eventful by the slippery fact of coming down the mountain. Along icy roads, the car twists through slopeside villages, past minarets and the mud roofs of stone huts overgrown with grass. A vast westward migration of people in search of jobs has robbed these villages of all but the least mobile. Foxes forage at the roadside, headlights igniting their eyes. In Kars, the site of great 19th-century battles between Ottoman Turks and Russians, the hill- top citadel remains. e women stay indoors. The men walk arm in arm down the streets, savoring a drink of raki in the saloons that ex- ist in this region of lax Islam. Raki tastes like the anise- avored pastis of France, but there is little European re nement in Kars. at could change when the BTK links this city to Baku, its wealthy antipode on the Caspian, inject- ing new revenue into the local economy. e governor of Kars, Ahmet Kara, talks of how the railroad will transform Kars into a city "important in the world's eyes." Behind Kara hangs a photo of Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk, the rst president of Turkey, who turned the Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular state, GEORGIA e railway provides work for many, including these men digging a drainage ditch along a freshly cleared railbed between Akhalkalaki and the Turkish border. Georgians (le ) make the morning commute from the capital, Tbilisi, to jobs in nearby Rustavi in the existing railway's faded cars.