Caspian politics

Nov. 22, 1999
In your editorial of Sept. 27, you speak [correctly] of "aggressive meddling by the US government" and "arrogance" that is "especially troubling." One can fully applaud your statement that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline should be built only when it makes commercial sense to the investors.

In your editorial of Sept. 27, you speak [correctly] of "aggressive meddling by the US government" and "arrogance" that is "especially troubling." One can fully applaud your statement that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline should be built only when it makes commercial sense to the investors. But, surely, at fault here is not Clinton or the US government but the oil companies who were so eager to wine and dine Azerbaijan's President Aliyev in Washington, rather than in their own corporate offices. The US government is doing what any major power would do: aggressively advancing its interests. The oil companies are in no position to now cry "foul."

So, where do we go from here? I think the anchor should be your fundamental observation, in an editorial which must be complimented on its mature, astute political analysis of a complicated situation, that, "The cheerleading will make the pipeline, if it is built, a permanent symbol of American antagonism," and, I would add, arrogance. It does not mean that the right conditions and approach could not justify the pipeline.

I have just returned from a visit to Armenia and Karabakh (since 1991, it's my eighth to Armenia-mostly on oil and gas matters-and my second to Karabakh, for personal reasons). I do not claim any particular wisdom or insight. However, if, as you state, Nagorno-Karabakh holds understandable uncertainties for the oil companies in the construction of a pipeline, and contributing to it is a combination of misinformation and ignorance regarding Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, I would offer the following suggestions and brief background notes to the oil companies of the consortium:

  1. They should start from the premise that Nagorno-Karabakh will remain Armenian. The past history on this is not disputed. Stalin and Lenin handed over Armenian Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1923, despite a previous agreement that Karabakh would remain part of Armenia, to appease Ataturk and keep the southern borders of the new Soviets quiet, while the Red Army dealt with the threat posed by the Menshevik armies for control of Russia. The Armenian determination on Karabakh has already been made crystal clear. Karabakh cannot be "bought off" by promises of illusory wealth from transit fees on one pipeline that crosses Armenian territory. This is a reality that Aliyev realizes. The search is on not to change that reality but for a face-saving formula for Aliyev to present this reality to his people.
  2. The oil companies should realize that Nagorno-Karabakh is not a "restive enclave" but a modern, functioning state with a parliamentary government that is arguably the most effective governing body of any of the republics of the FSU. It has a President and a Prime Minister. It also has a lady Foreign Minister.
    The country is at peace. People go about their daily business. Karabakh maintains an army, it runs hospitals, schools, cleans the streets, provides water, electricity, looks after war widows, refugees, and amputees. It is a responsible party and will honor any commitments it undertakes.
  3. Engage the Armenians in dialogue. Armenians are internationalists, and their negotiating skills stem from their pre-eminence in East-West trade along the legendary Silk Road (long preceding Marco Polo). Much like modern multinationals, Armenians virtually monopolized the silk trade in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and had trading offices from Amsterdam, Marseilles, Venice, Leipzig, Krakow, and Crimea, to Constantinople, Alepo, Isfahan, Calcutta, Macau, Manila, and China. Armenia produces a disproportionate number of chess champions; Karabakh produced per capita the highest number of generals and marshals in the Soviet Union during World War II, and yet most statues in Armenia honour poets, writers, painters, and musicians; there is no illiteracy; Armenian scientists were pre-eminent in Soviet times; Armenia is the world's oldest Christian state (301 AD) and has built churches since the 6th Century that still stand today and function. This is a caspsule description of Armenians.

The dialogue can be engaged quietly, out of the limelight, and at any convenient geographic location. At the very least, dialogue should lead to more informed views and hopefully to confidence-building measures. These, in turn, may suggest initial steps leading to novel ways of looking at seemingly intractable situations, and the removal of perceived threats, the identification of mutual interests. Once that stage is reached, solutions are not impossible.

This is not to suggest that Nagorno-Karabakh is the primary determinant for a pipeline. However, as an important contributory factor to its security (if not to the economics of a shorter route), the Armenian connection should not be overlooked.

Armen Sahakian
Vice-President, Business Development