Books on Azerbaijan
Update No: 299- (28/11/05)
Built on oil
Azerbaijan has roughly eight million people who speak a Turkic language and are
mostly Shia Muslims
In 1900, the oil wells built by the Nobel brothers in Baku supplied half the
Azerbaijan's was the world's first Islamic state when it declared independence
in 1918, but was taken over by the Soviet Union two years later. There are 15
million ethnic Azeris living in Iran.
Energy reserves include at least 31bn barrels of oil. The US$3.6 billion BTC oil
pipeline, opened this year, will bring in US$50 billion for the Government over
To plant reforms, Azeris need stable soil
November 26th's parliamentary elections were substantially less than perfect,
but marked an improvement over previous votes. One point of view is that the
priority now is to prevent the country from slipping into violence -- still a
possibility -- and to ensure Azerbaijan's transition toward lasting democracy,
stability and economic prosperity. This is always likely to be a lengthy
If successful, Azerbaijan could serve as a proponent of reforms in Central Asia
and even in the Middle East. Much is at stake for Azerbaijan as well as the
European Union, Russia, the US and the wider region.
If stability in Azerbaijan deteriorates, any resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh
problem would be postponed indefinitely. This would be truly unfortunate given
how close this has come to resolution.
Azerbaijan sits at the centre of the Caspian Basin, which some believe holds the
richest gas and oil fields after the Middle East and Russia. Profound
instability in Azerbaijan could complicate the opening of the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, thus depriving the global economy of one
million barrels of oil per day. The viability of the BTC pipeline is particular
important for Europe's energy diversity.
The government in Baku has a historic opportunity to capitalize on Azerbaijan's
energy resources just as global oil prices are at record levels. Azerbaijan will
soon be awash with extra money, which it could use to improve its
infrastructure, invest in human resources and build alternative sectors of the
economy. But long-term economic progress will remain elusive unless supported by
rigorous political reforms, stability and overall security.
It is important to remember that change is a complex process. Reforms also
entail capacity-building and infrastructure adjustments. In the case of
Azerbaijan, this change could yet be achieved rapidly and reforms be promoted
decisively. But nothing will happen overnight. And yet, without stability, it is
pointless to speak of reforms at all.
West baulks at backing revolution in oil-rich state
However, there is another point of view entirely, expressed below by a deeply
As a student at the London School of Economics, Murad Gassanly spent his spare
time hanging around with the sons and daughters of Azerbaijan's post-Soviet
elite. They cruised in sports cars, dined out at The Ivy and thought nothing of
spending £2,000 on a night at a Mayfair club, says Jeremy Page in Baku.
Gassanly, an Azeri who moved to Britain with his family in 1993, assumed that
they were living off the legitimate profits of Azerbaijan's resurgent oil
industry. But when he returned briefly to Azerbaijan in 2002, he found a country
mired in poverty and corruption and dominated by a handful of super-rich
government officials - many of whom were the parents of his friends.
He is now in the front line of a campaign to stage a peaceful revolution in
Azerbaijan like those that rocked Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last year.
"Azerbaijan is run by a corrupt, authoritarian regime," he told The
Times. "I'm here to try to make sure that people here have the same
freedoms I enjoyed in Britain."
As a political consultant to the opposition Azadliq (Freedom) bloc, he is co-ordinating
its efforts to win Western support for the opposition if the Government rigs
It is, however, a far more formidable task than in Georgia or Ukraine. The
Government of Azerbaijan is determined to prevent any repetition of those
revolutions and the West's priority is to maintain stability in a country where
it has key strategic interests.
Azerbaijan is rated as one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the
region, with more than 40 per cent of its people living below the poverty line.
It has been ruled most of the time since its independence from Russia by Heydar
Aliyev, a hardline former KGB chief who was succeeded by his son, Ilham, in
But this secular Islamic state on the Caspian Sea is also a key element of the
United States's strategy to contain Iran and secure access to the Caspian's huge
oil and gas reserves.
A staunch US ally, Azerbaijan was one of the few Muslim states that sent troops
to Iraq. The US has built radar stations near its border with Iran. Western
companies have also invested billons of dollars in building a pipeline to take
Caspian oil from Baku, via Georgia and Turkey, to the Mediterranean. President
Aliyev says that there is no cause for a revolution because his country is on
the crest of an oil boom that will eradicate poverty and unemployment. Ali
Hasanov, a senior presidential aide, told The Times: "Even if the US wanted
a revolution here, it would be impossible, because the people do not want
The opposition accuses President Aliyev of trying to pack Parliament with his
friends and relatives and had threatened to bring tens of thousands of people on
to the streets after the elections.
"If there are massive falsifications, we will call on the people to fight,
within the bounds of the constitution," said Ali Kerimli, one of Azadliq's
But the opposition has failed to come up with a coherent platform or to unite
behind a single leader, as Ukrainians did behind Viktor Yushchenko. Some
opposition leaders fear that Western governments may tone down their criticism
of electoral abuses for the sake of their strategic interests. "Our wealth
is our poverty," Sardar Jalaloglu, another senior Azadliq figure, said.
"Our revolution will not be as easy as in Georgia or Ukraine."
Over the past few months the Government has repeatedly used riot police to break
up opposition rallies in the centre of Baku, injuring dozens of people. It has
also broken up youth groups that tried to emulate movements in Serbia, Georgia
and Ukraine. When Rasul Guliyev, an exiled opposition leader, tried to return to
Azerbaijan this month after nine years of self-imposed exile in the US, the
Government refused to let his plane land and detained hundreds of opposition
Two days later Mr Aliyev sacked a dozen senior officials and had two of them,
the economy and health ministers, arrested for allegedly planning to stage a
coup with Mr Guliyev. The European Union and the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe expressed concern. But President Bush sent a letter to Mr
Aliyev, welcoming his "commitment to a free and fair election." He
added: "I look forward to working with you after these elections."
Under Western pressure, Mr Aliyev issued a decree allowing the use of indelible
ink to mark voters' fingers and permitting foreign-funded NGOs to monitor the
vote. But critics dismiss that as too little, too late.
Gassanly's final comment was that he was driven by fear that Azerbaijan's people
may lose faith in the ideals of democracy and free markets and embrace Islamic
extremism. "The West is making a mistake thinking that short-term stability
is more important than long-term democracy," he said. "Next time the
flags won't be orange. They'll be green."
SOCAR calls 12th Azeri light tender
Azeri state oil company SOCAR announced a tender for this year's twelfth
consignment of Azeri Light oil produced at Azerbaijan's Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG)
fields, a source at SOCAR said, Interfax News Agency reported.
The consignment of one million barrels will be shipped from the port of Supsa on
November 18-19. Switzerland's Glencore bought this year's first consignment of
Azeri Light. Arcadia bought the second and sixth, UniPetrol bought the third,
Total - the fourth and R-Trading - the fifth, and Select Energy - the seventh
and eighth, Turkey's Tupras - the ninth, BP - the tenth and Select Energy - the
eleventh. SOCAR has a 10 percent interest in the ACG project. Profitable oil is
distributed among shareholders in proportion to their participation in the
project. Participants in the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli contract currently include
British Petroleum - 34.1367 percent, the US companies Unocal - 10.2814 percent,
ExxonMobil - 8.0006 percent, Devon Energy - 5.6262 percent, and Amerada Hess
-2.7 percent, Japan's INPEX Corp - 10 percent and ITOCHU Oil - 3.9205 percent,
Norway's Statoil - 8.5633 percent, and Turkey's TPAO - 6.75 percent.