A group of 10 cyclists of different ages began a 4,000-kilometer journey to Turkey through the Lapis Lazuli Corridor – a regional trade and transit route inaugurated by President Ghani last year.
The cyclists said their goal is to pass on the message of peace to Lapis Lazuli countries – Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey – and make an assessment about the safety of the route for Afghan traders.
The cyclists began their journey from Herat province in the west of Afghanistan on Saturday.
Their journey comes as efforts for peace in Afghanistan have been accelerated in the national and international levels.
The initiative proposed by Cycling Federation has been approved by President Ghani who has associated AFs3 million for the cyclists, said Hamidullah Kabir, Deputy Head of the Physical Education and Sports Directorate.
“The purpose of the journey is to carry the message of peace, prosperity and solidarity to the world and get more knowledge about the transit route,” said Aminullah Azadani, the provincial head of Foreign Affairs Directorate.
The cyclists said they will begin the 4,000-kilometer journey with the hope to pass on Afghans’ message to the world.
“We are trying to pass on the Afghan people’s message of peace and friendship to the (Lapis Lazuli route) member countries,” said Mohammad Siddiq Jami, a cyclist.
“To introduce Afghanistan’s civilization, history, culture, and cultural values to the member countries of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor,” said Abdul Ahad Siddiqi, a cyclist.
Another cyclist, Binyamin Jami, said Afghans are tired of war and that they want to open a new chapter in their lives.
Meanwhile, Head of Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in Herat, Ali Arghon Chinar, said they welcome the initiative by Afghan cyclists.
“They (the cyclists) are the ambassadors of development, stability and peace. Turkey is interested in partnership and in supporting Afghanistan in all sectors,” he said.
This is the first long journey by Afghan cyclists outside the country in which they will travel to Turkey through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor
The Lapis Lazuli Route agreement was signed in October 2017 between Afghanistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The corridor was inaugurated by President Ghani last year in December.
The route begins in Afghanistan’s northern Aqina port in Faryab province and Torghandi in western Herat province and will run through to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.
From there it will cross the Caspian Sea and will link the Azerbaijani capital Baku to Tbilisi and Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti.
It will then connect with Kars in eastern Turkey before linking to Istanbul and Europe.
The Lapis Lazuli Route agreement was finalized after three years of talks and was signed during the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
The first shipment that will be sent through the route on Thursday includes more than 175 tons of cotton, dried fruit and sesame.
According to ACCI statistics, Afghanistan's annual import volume from Europe and Turkey through Iran is $900 million but the country’s exports to European nations totals $6 million a year.
The Lapis Lazuli corridor connects Afghanistan through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia to the Black Sea and ultimately through Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. The Lapis Lazuli corridor is a historic corridor. Almost 2,000 years ago, lapis lazuli stone was exported from Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan through this route to Europe.