Ashgabat, 8 July 2013 (nCa) — As soon as the summer sun starts warming the Caspian waters, something happens to some people in Azerbaijan.
Not content with brazenly, illegally and uninterruptedly siphoning off the hydrocarbon resources that rightfully belong to Turkmenistan, they start a war of words every summer that is designed to draw out some kind of negative response from Turkmenistan.
What they hope for is that Turkmenistan will look back in anger and that will give them the cause to malign Turkmenistan.
However, the foreign policy of Turkmenistan, rooted in permanent and active neutrality, is able to absorb tremendous amounts of provocation without losing temper. That is one of the reasons why Turkmenistan is so successful at international and regional platforms.
The bone of contention between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in Caspian are three offshore hydrocarbon fields: Serdar (Azeris call it Kyapaz), Omar (Azeris call it Azeri) and Osman (Azeris call it Chirag).
In a comprehensive report in 2009, we proved beyond any reasonable doubt that two of these three fields clearly belong to Turkmenistan and the third (Osman, Chirag) is located near the middle of Caspian, hence subject to joint exploitation by both Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
The English language version of our report has now been republished for record. It can be found here: http://newscentralasia.net/2013/07/06/archive-material-turkmenistan-azerbaijan-caspian-dispute-the-legal-position/
The Russian language version of the report is also republished for record and it can be accessed here: http://newscentralasia.net/2013/07/06/%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%85%D0%B8%D0%B2-%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BB-%D1%82%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BA%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BE-%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B1%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%B4%D0%B6%D0%B0%D0%BD/
The spring and summer media offensive of Azerbaijan, mysteriously timed to the spring and summer offensive of the Taliban in Afghanistan, started on 11 April 2013 when the information agency Rex published the opinion of some ‘experts.’ The sum total of the views of the four experts interviewed by Rex is: 1. President Aliyev, because of his short-sighted policies, has isolated himself in the region; 2. Azerbaijan is becoming increasingly dependent for its economic survival on the offshore deposits, some of which are disputed; and 3. At some stage there may be military confrontation with Iran or Turkmenistan, and in such a case Azerbaijan may need the help of Russia to defend itself.
The Rex report (in Russian language) can be found here: http://www.iarex.ru/interviews/35608.html
On 2 July 2013, Rustam Shahsuvarov wrote an article for Rex. It was also carried by Real Caucasus and its extracts were published by the Armenian agency Panorama.
Shahsuvarov, a bitter man who lost the fight to become the chairman of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan many years ago, writes that the Serdar (Kyapaz) field belongs to Azerbaijan. He repeats the old, feeble arguments that we have demolished conclusively in our report of 2009. The links to the English and Russian versions of our are given above.
The article of Rustam Shahsuvarov can be found here: http://www.iarex.ru/articles/38380.html
Quite possibly voicing the official position of Baku, he recommends that Serdar should be exploited jointly by Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
He also mentions that in 2008, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan agreed to refrain from exploiting unilaterally any of the disputed fields and accuses Turkmenistan of violating this commitment.
TDH, the official news agency of Turkmenistan, published a report on 5 July 2013. The report, quoting from the specialists in the fields of hydrocarbon management and international law, says that Turkmenistan will happily agree if Azerbaijan agrees to its suggestion of taking the matter to any international court of law. It also refutes calmly the main arguments of the Azeri side.
The TDH report, titled ‘Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan: Caspian delimitation issues can and should be resolved’ (in Russian) can be found here: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/?id=4440
As far as joint exploitation of Serdar is concerned and the accusation that Turkmenistan has not kept to its commitment to refrain from unilateral exploitation of the disputed fields, we shall return to it in a minute.
First, some general observations:
- It is not a dispute between the people of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The people on both sides of the Caspian have unbreakable fraternal bonds, based on centuries of mutually rewarding and enriching interaction.
- This is not even a dispute between the two governments because Turkmenistan is tirelessly using all kinds of peaceful, diplomatic means to reach a reciprocally satisfactory conclusion.
This is a One Act play, written and directed by the small circle of the ruling elite of Azerbaijan. They are the authors, they are the actors and they also provide the background music for this drama. It is a Tango they are dancing all by themselves.
Sometimes they claim that they are threatened by Iran, sometimes they raise alarm about Turkmenistan, and more often than not they are unhappy with all of their neighbours.
These are the symptoms of something large, something much serious. Because of what they have been doing – or not doing – over the years, the ruling group has brought Azerbaijan to a dead end:
- The majority of Azeris follows the Shia version of Islam but Azerbaijan is always at loggerheads with Iran, the foremost Shia country in the world.
- The Azeris are Turkic people but their relations with other Turkic countries are far less than adequate.
- They are a Caspian country, one among five, but their policies betray the fact that they consider themselves entitled to unilateralism.
There is something that is difficult to put a finger at but whatever it is, it has narrowed down the mental horizon of the ruling elite of Azerbaijan and deprived them of the ability to see far into the future. There is a fog that prevents them from reading what is written on the wall.
As a gesture of friendship, let’s help them read what is written on the wall:
- If Azerbaijan thinks that in case they start a conflict with one of the neighbouring countries, their western partners will jump to their help, they are sadly mistaken. They should learn from the case of Georgia: the western friendship is nothing more than an empty noise.
- The mainland hydrocarbon resources of Azerbaijan are near their end and the offshore fields on which they have their eyes mostly belong to Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has still not started the legal process to take the ownership of these fields but the law and the moral right are on Turkmenistan’s side.
- Azerbaijan has not made any significant headway to prepare itself for the demise of the hydrocarbon resources. What is more alarming is that 90% of the Azeri population is concentrated in Baku. When the time will come to feed them without hydrocarbon income, all hell will break lose. This could be less than 15 years down the line.
- Iran, at some stage, will merge back with the world community, probably at its own terms. When that happens, Azerbaijan will feel the full impact of the isolationist policies it has been following for years. With all the energy, trade, transportation and communications routes running in every which direction, Azerbaijan stands the risk of becoming a neglected and abandoned island.
- President Aliyev, as someone with long experience in top positions, has the responsibility to do everything to the best of his ability to promote the interests of Azerbaijan. When he is in a regional summit or on any other important occasion, he is not representing himself; he is representing Azerbaijan. The hopes of the young Azeris and the well being of the future generations of Azerbaijan depend largely on his wisdom and foresight. It is sad and embarrassing to point out, but we must point it out for the sake of the Azeri people, that he is known to have stormed out of some regional summits because he could not find common language with the other leaders, and has failed to appear in some regional meetings that he promised to attend. This is partly the reason why Azerbaijan is so isolated in the region.
- If Azerbaijan is thinking of some adventurism in Caspian and expects that Russia will come to its help, here is some bad news: in the near future Russia and Iran are planning joint naval exercises in the Caspian.
Now, let’s return to the accusations that Turkmenistan has not kept to its commitment to refrain from exploiting unilaterally any of the disputed fields.
In the proverbial parlance, this can be described as the case of thief taunting the owner of the horse.
The only country that is exploiting the disputed fields in Caspian is Azerbaijan. It has not stopped, even for a minute, its drilling activity on the fields that lawfully belong to Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan fully understands and appreciates the uniqueness of the delicate ecosystem of Caspian. It is this sense of responsibility that is preventing Turkmenistan from engaging in any irresponsible activity in the Caspian, contrary to Azerbaijan that has allowed its western partners to bruise and injure Caspian for the sake of common greed.
The sense of responsibility is something that shows in everything you do, not just in one instance or one area.
It is no accident that Amabssador Komekov is the Turkmen envoy in Azerbaijan. He is one of the best experts on Caspian issues and was a deputy minister of foreign affairs before being sent to Baku. His choice for Baku shows that Turkmenistan goes to great lengths to improve relations with Azerbaijan but has still not received any reciprocal courtesy from Baku.
The Caspian sector of Azerbaijan is the dirtiest and the sector of Turkmenistan is the cleanest. This is also no accident. Turkmenistan has very stringent rules in place to safeguard the environmental and ecological integrity of Caspian.
There are instructions in Turkmenistan that any project, no matter how important, must be cancelled if it doesn’t comply with the environmental and ecological safety standards. An independent commission, directly answerable to the presidential administration, oversees the fulfillment of these instructions.
There are no indications that Azerbaijan also feels the same sense of responsibility to protect the Caspian, on which it is dependent for its economic well being.
As long as there is a mismatch in the sense of responsibility between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, it is difficult to see how the things can move from point A to point B. Azerbaijan needs to raise its threshold of responsibility before any real progress can take place.
The question of joint exploitation of Serdar field is something that only Turkmenistan can answer. However, as independent observers, we can ask that why to single out Serdar only for joint exploitation. Three fields are disputed and if joint exploitation must be proposed, it should apply to all three, not just one.
Friendship happens when both sides walk toward each other, not when one walks in the opposite direction.