Pipeline Politics Give Turkey an Edge ; A Pipeline That Brings Caspian Oil to Turkey's Coast Opens Wednesday

By Yigal Schleifer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 2005 | Go to article overview

Pipeline Politics Give Turkey an Edge ; A Pipeline That Brings Caspian Oil to Turkey's Coast Opens Wednesday


Yigal Schleifer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Turkey's heartland of Anatolia - the massive plateau that serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe - is dotted with the remains of 13th-century inns, reminders of the merchant caravans that traveled the fabled east-west Silk Road.

Some 800 years later, Turkey is again trying to take advantage of its strategic location. Today, instead of caravansaries it is building pipelines, and instead of silk and spices the products are less romantic: oil and natural gas.

A major part of this plan becomes a reality Wednesday, when the new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a $4 billion, 1,093-mile project that brings Caspian Sea oil to Turkey's Mediterranean coast will be inaugurated. It should be fully operational by the end of 2005.

The pipeline - built by a consortium of 11 companies, including British Petroleum, the American firm Unocal, and Turkey's national oil corporation - is designed to bring a non-Middle Eastern source of oil to the West. This would loosen Russia's and Iran's grip on the transport of Caspian and Central Asian oil by creating a new route that is friendlier to the United States and Europe.

For Turkey, which has few energy supplies of its own, the pipeline is the initial step in its effort to become a major energy player, not as a producer but as a transit point. In an era when countries are increasingly looking to diversify their energy sources, Turkey hopes to establish itself as a kind of energy supermarket, betting that controlling oil routes will turn out to be as strategically valuable as producing the stuff.

"Geographically, Turkey is endowed with advantages, so we would like to use those advantages to give Turkey a role as a supplier of energy resources," says a senior Turkish foreign ministry official involved in energy issues. "It gives Turkey relevance."

The Department of Energy estimates that by 2025, 68 percent of oil consumed by the US will have to be imported, up from 58 percent today. A similar trend is expected in Europe.

"That means that the West will be more dependent on energy transportation corridors," says the Turkish official. "Our American friends are very keen on guaranteeing the flow and enhancing energy supply security."

But growing political dissent across the Caucasus and central Asia - encouraged by President Bush in his visit to Georgia this month - is complicating matters ahead of Wednesday's event.

On Saturday, Azerbaijani police beat protesters, some reportedly holding portraits of Mr. Bush, who rallied in Baku, shouting "Freedom!" and "Free elections!" Washington wants greater democracy across the region, but it also wants stability, and it counts Azerbaijan, a mostly Muslim country of 8 million, as an ally in the war on terror.

Turkish planners envision a country crisscrossed by pipelines, carrying oil, gas, and natural gas. …

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