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Flare-Up In Turkmen-Azerbaijani Dispute Latest Nabucco Challenge

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (left) with his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Baku in May 2008, when the chances for a resolution to the dispute seemed more likely.
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (left) with his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Baku in May 2008, when the chances for a resolution to the dispute seemed more likely.
By Bruce Pannier
The unexpected and sudden renewal of the Turkmen-Azerbaijani dispute over three hydrocarbon fields in the middle of the Caspian Sea is the latest setback to the European Union's Nabucco gas-pipeline project.

An argument over ownership of the Caspian fields had soured Turkmen-Azerbaijani relations for more than a decade. But over the last two years, representatives of the two countries -- prodded by EU and U.S. officials -- had been meeting regularly, reviving hopes that Nabucco could be realized.

Those hopes took a hit on July 24 when Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov cited a report from Deputy Foreign Minister Toyly Komekov during a cabinet meeting.

Berdymukhammedov said the report showed that the impasse over the demarcation of the Caspian seabed between the two countries has remained unresolved "due to Azerbaijan's specific position. The main reason behind this situation is that there are mineral deposits located exactly in the disputed areas of the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan claims ownership of these deposits, including the deposit known as Promezhutochnoyee during the Soviet era and which we now call our Serdar deposit."

Berdymukhammedov went on to mention the Omar and Osman fields, which he said Azerbaijan is already exploring but which, he claimed, "belong to us." The Turkmen president expressed regret that 16 bilateral meetings had not resolved the issue and then instructed Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov to take the issue to "the International Court of Arbitration."

More Gas Needed

That could present a major obstacle to the European Union's Nabucco plans. The proposed 3,300-kilometer pipeline starts at Georgia's western border and then heads toward Europe via Turkey. Nabucco wants to include Central Asian gas in the pipeline, particularly gas from Turkmenistan, which has one of the world's largest reserves of natural gas.

For some 15 years now the plan was to construct a "trans-Caspian" pipeline along the Caspian seabed from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, where it would be join a pipeline leading to Georgia's western border. But the dispute between Ashgabat and Baku over ownership of the three Caspian fields made construction of this pipeline impossible.

Proposed route of the Nabucco pipeline
The recent warming of ties between the two countries, including a visit by Berdymukhammedov to Baku last year, raised hopes the pipeline could finally be built.

On state television on July 25, Deputy Foreign Minister Xalaf Xalafov indicated Azerbaijan was prepared to have a court decide on the ownership issue. "We believe that we are ready to defend Azerbaijan's position and rights on all levels," Xalafov said.

Ilham Shaban, an Azerbaijan-based energy expert and the editor of the "Turan Energy" daily newsletter, tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that after years of this dispute, a court ruling may be the most "civilized" means of ending the stalemate.

"And to take this matter before a court is a natural step and we also hope the court will render a fair verdict," Shaban says.

Shaban adds that a resolution of the ownership question could then pave the way for dramatic improvement in Turkmen-Azerbaijani ties, which in turn opens up the way for projects like Nabucco. Nabucco foresees that the lion's share of the proposed 31 billion cubic meters of gas for the pipeline would come from Turkmenistan.

"I feel that this court will render a decision that will bring our countries even closer together if Ashgabat and Baku will observe and accept the decision of the International Arbitration Court," he says.

Shaban concedes that if the two countries do not show flexibility and maintain the rigid posturing that has marred bilateral ties for so long, the court case could drag on for years and endanger the construction of the trans-Caspian pipeline and also Nabucco.

Guvanch Geraev and Marat Rakhimov of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report
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by: Vyacheslav from: Zurich, CH
July 27, 2009 20:40
Indeed not surprising at all. Just make sure Europe doesn't construct this pipeline in such a way that Turkmen gas is required to pressurize it so that the Azeris can send their own gas also; otherwise Azerbaijan and everything to the west could be in for some very nasty surprises.

by: Anna from: N.Karabakh Republic
July 28, 2009 02:25
Again Azerbaijan is saying my way or else. If Azerbaijan is following the same attitude to resolve the matter as with Nagorno Karabakh Republic, then it will take decades. <br /><br />Turkmenistan has more credibility than Azerbaijan. The courts can not solve something belongs to all Caspian sea neighbours.

by: Elshan from: Baku
July 28, 2009 08:35
Anna, are you familiar with this issue? How can you say Turkmenistan has more credibility if you don't know the facts? I am Azeri but I cannot say who is right who is wrong in this matter because I am not familiar with the maps, background, etc.. Exactly this attitude of most Armenians has contributed to the way the things are at the moment in Caucasus. I wish Azerbaijanis and Armenians could just civilized way go to court and sort out their differences without shedding blood of thousands people, and helping bring autoritarian regimes to power, delaying development of the whole region by decades.

by: Nail from: Zengezur destrict. Azerbaijan
July 28, 2009 10:07
Azerbaijan is in a right way. Turkmens are wrong. And there is no Naqorno Karabakh Repiblic in the world dear Anna.

by: Goyche region from: Azerbaijan
July 28, 2009 12:44
Ms. Anna. It will take century, if we continue repeat baseless calms.

by: NINO from: NKR-FM
July 28, 2009 14:10
Nail and Elshan how are you, <br />I invite both of you to Nagorno Karabakh Republic come see how happy we are, we have everything her, I am sure you will have good time in Nagorno Karabakh Republic.

by: Zeynap from: Lebap, Turkmenistan
July 28, 2009 14:35
I think turkmen side is right because during Soviet period Azerbaijan used mentioned Caspian fields and now Azeris don't want to give them to Ashgabat.<br />We understand Azerbaijan needs that three fields with own low gas supply.<br />Turmneistan just wants to return its soverign rights by International Arbitration Court. I am sure Turkmenistan will win but Azerbaijan won't implement Court's decision.

by: Ferid Zamayev from: Shusha, Azerbaijan
July 29, 2009 11:54
All &quot;disputable&quot; fields between two countries discovered by Azerbaijani scientist and belong to Azerbaijan legally and factual.<br />My response to armenians: dont act out a fantasy. World acknowledges that Nagorno Karabakh is integral part of Azerbaijan Republic...

by: Turkmenbashi from: Ashgabat
July 30, 2009 04:46
Azerbaijan wants to sell Turkmen gas to Russia and West before finding out who are the owner.<br /><br />Azerbaijan pays bribes to West and Russia to say Caspian Gas belong to Azebaijan.<br /><br />Azerbaijan buys weapons to bully its neighbours and for stealing gas.<br />Ferid dont tell Turkmenistan about Azerbaijani scientist and Azerbajani factuals.

by: RD
July 31, 2009 04:00
Azerbaijan keeps on playing its oil hand over and over again. If Azerbaijani leadership had any intuition, they would realize that history is rife with instances where someone overplayed its hand and lost. As an example, during the civil war in the U.S. the south over played its hand in with cotton. The south bullied nations around the world to side with the south against the north by controlling the supply of cotton. This worked in the beginning when cotton prices soared, filling the south's coffers with money to buy weapons to fight the north but eventually the south ended up being the big loser when countries found new sources of cotton. To all the Azeri readers of RFERL, stop bullying Europe, the U.S. and your neighbors with your oil. You may end up overplaying your hand and losing in the end. Use diplomacy to resolve your conflict with the Armenians regarding NKR and use diplomacy to resolve your issues with Turkmenistan.
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