Oil and Gas Features
From Turkey's dreams of empire to the energy Great Game
By Chris Wade Jul 10, 2007, 11:37 GMT
Ankara - In the heady days following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Turkish nationalists dreamt of creating a pan-Turkic empire of the newly independent Caucasus states - led, naturally, by Turkey.
On a visit to a series of Muslim countries in 1992, President Suleyman Demirel made it clear what he was hoping for, saying 'Nobody can now deny that there is a Turkic world stretching from the shores of the Adriatic to the walls of China.'
Turkish nationalists jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to build an empire based upon folklore that the Turkish race was born of a wolf somewhere in Central Asia.
The idea was dismissed by both Turkey's then-Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and the newly independent states, who hardly felt Turkish at all - something that became obvious at summits of Turkish-speaking nations, where translators are still needed today to help leaders understand each other.
As the pan-Turkic dreams were quietly ditched, Turkey's role in the region changed from one of potential overlord to one of energy link between the Caucasus and Europe.
In the 16 years since the independence of the Caucasus republics, centuries-old rivals Turkey and Russia have fought a battle over how to get Central Asia's huge oil and gas supplies to western markets.
The advent of capitalism allowed Western oil companies to invest and scale up the production of local companies extracting oil from the Caspian Sea. But with the Caspian Sea landlocked, a new route to export the oil was needed.
Russia wanted a new pipeline to go through its own territory, while a direct route from Baku through Iran to the Gulf would have been the cheapest option.
But with strong backing from the United States, Turkey won the battle, building the 300-billion-dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Last year, the first oil was pumped from Azerbaijan, via Georgia, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
Gas is at the centre of the latest battle between Russia and Turkey. Turkey plans to use its geographical position to become a major transit country for gas supplies from Central Asia to Europe.
But that dream suffered a blow last month when Russia's Gazprom and Italian natural gas company Eni agreed to build a 900-kilometre pipeline under the Black Sea between Russia and Bulgaria which would be used to funnel natural gas from Turkmenistan to Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia.
The route would be in direct competition to the European Union's planned 6-billion-dollar Nabucco project - a pipeline under the Caspian Sea, through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, to Europe.
That project is designed mainly to lessen Europe's current heavy reliance on Russian energy supplies.
The battles over the competing gas routings are not over yet, but Turkey is starting to get worried. At an energy conference last month in Istanbul Turkish officials pressed the EU to get more involved in pushing for the Nabucco project.
'The EU needs to force the gas-owning countries to invest (in a trans-Caspian Sea pipeline),' Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said at the conference.
Turkey may have given up its dream to lead a pan-Turkic empire but it is still determined to live up to the identity its tourist board has coined as the bridge between Asia and Europe.
And in this small part of the worldwide Great Game for power, it is not just tourists Turkey is keen to attract, but gas and oil.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur