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Turkey claims the oil route.

TURKEY'S DRIVE TO EXPAND its influence in the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union is hinged on ambitious plans to become an energy bridge between the oil rich Central Asian states and Europe. Those plans drew closer to reality when in March the government of Azerbaijan agreed to pump its offshore Caspian crude through a pipeline running across Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Yumurtalik.

The agreement follows months of intensive lobbying by the Turkish government in the face of fierce competition from Iran and Russia which have drawn closer in recent months. Iran has been pressing to have the crude transported through a proposed pipeline running south from the Azeri capital Baku onto a Persian Gulf Terminal. Moscow, in a bid to regain its dwindling economic hold over its former colony, has sought to impose a route across the northern Caucasus to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. But the agreement has to be approved by the Azeri parliament before it takes effect.

Turkey's victory will undoubtedly be assisted by the openly pro-Turkish Azeri president, Abulfaz Ali Elchibey. More important, the Turkish route is being backed by a consortium of Western oil firms formed by the Amoco, Pennzoil and Ramco of the United States, British Petroleum and Statoil of Norway, which are to develop the offshore Caspian fields.

For political reasons, the Western firms which are to meet the estimated $1.5bn cost of the pipeline remain opposed to the Iranian route. The cost of repairing Russian lines to accommodate the flow of the Azeri crude has rendered the Russian option unprofitable. Now that the decision to export the crude from Turkey has been made, Turkish officials say the next step is to finalise the route the pipeline will follow from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

The recent escalation in the bloody war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Armenian-dominated enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh has dashed Turkish hopes of having the pipeline reach Turkey via Armenia. Official reasoning in Ankara was that the economic benefits of the pipeline would help end the conflict.

It has therefore been agreed that the 1,060km line will either pass for 60km through Iran before reaching Turkey or by way of Georgia through the Kura River Valley entering Turkey at Childir.

Turkey's next objective, according to officials at Turkey's state pipeline agency, Botas, is to link the Azeri line with a proposed pipeline to pump the vast reserves of crude from the Tengiz oil fields in Kazakhstan and with another to carry Turkmen natural gas. The Botas general manager, Mere Goknel, says both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are favourably disposed towards these plans. The issue was expected to be raised by Turkey's President Turgut Ozal during his April tour of the republics.

With Central Asia's potential to become a major supplier of energy in the next century, control over oil export routes would significantly enhance Turkey's growing regional influence. Turkey's sealing of the twin oil pipeline carrying Iraqi crude from the Kirkuk oil fields to the Yumurtalik terminal on the Mediterranean during the Gulf war has opened what one Western diplomat described as the "the era of pipeline politics".
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Title Annotation:Turkish-Azerbaijani pipeline agreement
Publication:The Middle East
Date:May 1, 1993
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