Amanda Rivkin

Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline

At Five Years Old, BTC Pipeline Moves Oil, Culture

National Geographic News

by Marianne Lavelle

with research by Amanda Rivkin

June 8, 2011

The landlocked Asian nation of Azerbaijan forged a powerful connection to the West five years ago with the first delivery of oil through one of the most ambitious energy projects of a generation—a $4.2 billion, 1,100-mile (1,800-kilometer) pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.

When the deal was originally struck in 1994 for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline, the late Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev called it “the Contract of the Century”—the first time a former Soviet state had signed a deal for its oil to reach international markets without going through Russia.

It was also hailed as a major policy success for the United States, which had engaged in years of intensive diplomacy to build an avenue for Caspian oil wealth that did not rely on Moscow.

The BTC has the capacity to deliver 1.2 million barrels of oil per day to the Turkish port of Ceyhan from the giant offshore Azeri-Chriag-Guneshli field, and the revenue Azerbaijan earns from this single project is a major driver of the nation’s economy. In the first quarter of this year, the pipeline was delivering oil at a rate one-third below capacity, about 800,000 barrels per day.

In the BTC era, Azerbaijan is literally and figuratively a nation between East and West. More than 99 percent of its population is Muslim, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And yet, the government of Ilham Aliyev, son of Heydar Aliyev and president since 2003, has encouraged a more secular society. In the view of some analysts, he has fostered warm relations with Western governments, despite accusations of corruption, by positioning his country as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism and, of course, as a source of oil.

A young woman dressed in Western garb, above, hastily adds the required head covering before entering the Shi'a Icherishahar Djuma Masjid, or Innercity Mosque, for Friday prayers in the old city of Baku, Azerbaijan. It is one of a series of photos taken by National Geographic Young Explorer Amanda Rivkin in a summer 2010 journey to document life along the route of the pipeline.

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BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Young girls dress themselves appropriately for prayer upon entering the Shi'a Icherishahar Djuma Masjid or Innercity Mosque for Friday prayers in the old city on July 2, 2010.  Viewed as
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  The Caspian beach in Sixov in Bibi Heybat section on July 4, 2010.  With offshore oil installations and an abundance of trash, the Sixov beach is only frequented by the rural and downtrodden from the Azerbaijani regions beyond Baku who cannot afford the private beaches where the elite go to isolate themselves.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  The Balaxani oil fields, one of the earliest oil discoveries in Azerbaijan and the most polluted area on the Absheron peninsula on the outskirts of Baku, with the high rise developments of Baku's booming city center in the distance on July 5, 2010.  Several thousand families, many refugees and internally displaced, live in Balaxani.
     
  
BILGEH, AZERBAIJAN.  The Bilgeh Estates villas outside Baku, Azerbaijan on the Absheron Peninsula house some of Azerbaijan's few well manicured lawns as seen from the air on July 15, 2010.  Azerbaijan's tremendous wealth gap has placed the elite in a stratosphere above the rest of society and left the rest of the country behind in often near feudal conditions; prices at Bilgeh Estates begin at $2,400 for one week during the off season and soar to $5,400 a week in the peak summer months.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  A saleswoman adjusts the window display at Bulgari on Neftiler Prospekt, or Oil Worker's Boulevard on July 2, 2010.  Luxury shopping in downtown Baku is one symptom of the city within the city or the country within the country where the elite, estimated at 50,000, control much of the country's income and profit from oil revenues, leaving a wide gap in the absence of a middle class between them and the rest of the country.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  The outdoor patio lounge of the Chinar restaurant, a favorite restaurant among the local and expat elite and of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, on July 18, 2010.  Chinar is owned by a relative of Aliyev.
     
  
NAFTALAN, AZERBAIJAN.  Quliyev Jeyyub from Tartar, Karabakh in the disputed once Azerbaijani territory now occupied by Armenia, sits in an oil bath at the Sehirli Naftalan Health Center and Hotel on July 19, 2010.  Naftalan is famous for its oil bath treatments across the former Soviet Union and several such treatment centers exist in the town; patients are only allowed to bath for 10 minutes before having oil scraped from their bodies by a nurse attendant and showering.
  
ZAYAM, AZERBAIJAN.  Women during the crying ceremony during the seven day ceremony, part of Azerbaijan's elaborate funeral rituals that include gender segregated commemorations of the deceased three days, seven days and 40 days after their death in Zayam, Shamkir Region, Azerbaijan, approximately four kilometers from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, on January 3, 2012.  Compensation funds for land traversed by the BTC pipeline paid to the family of the deceased as a result of disruption stemming from the period of the pipeline's construction totaled under $1,000 and went to keeping the deceased healthy and caring for her daughter who suffers from tuberculosis.
  
ZAYAM, AZERBAIJAN.  A man takes a lamb carcass from the trunk of a car for butchering before cooking for women mourners during the seven day ceremony, part of Azerbaijan's elaborate funeral rituals that include gender segregated commemorations of the deceased three days, seven days and 40 days after their death in Zayam, Shamkir Region, Azerbaijan, approximately four kilometers from the BTC pipeline, on January 3, 2012.  Compensation funds for land traversed by the BTC pipeline paid to the family of the deceased as a result of disruption stemming from the period of the pipeline's construction totaled under $1,000 and went to keeping the deceased healthy and caring for her daughter who suffers from tuberculosis.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Wedding guests at the home of Inji Mamedova, the bride, as part of the ceremony to pick her up before marrying Fuad Gasimov, an engineer in the Gas Export Department of the Sangachal Terminal where offshore Azeri oil and gas are pumped into the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tblisi-Sepsa pipelines, on July 9, 2010.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Fuad Gasimov, an engineer in the Gas Export Department of the Sangachal Terminal where offshore Azeri oil and gas are pumped into the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tblisi-Sepsa pipelines, and his wife Inji Mamedova just after signing their marriage contract at a wedding palace on July 9, 2010.
  
YADILI, AZERBAIJAN.  Maharram Aliyev, 35, pats his son, Emin Aliyev, 3, on the head while he sleeps after returning from his shift as a security guard along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline route in the family's one-room winter home in Yadili, Yevlax Region, Azerbaijan on January 4, 2012.  Aliyev said he earns three to four times the average salary in his village; Aliyev and his father also received compensation funds combined totaling under $3,000 for the disruption to their lands caused by the construction of the BTC pipeline.
     
  
ALPOUT, AZERBAIJAN.  Hagane Gasimova, 47, chops wood in her backyard in Alpout, Ucar Region, Azerbaijan on March 3, 2012.  Located along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Alpout no longer has gas despite the fact that it did until about five years ago and villagers are forced to resort to cutting down trees for heat and cooking; the average monthly salary in Alpout is equivalent to only a few hundred dollars and most live off their land through subsistence farming.
  
DGVARI, GEORGIA.  Zhenia Gogoladze, 68, outside her house which has been partially destroyed by cracks appearing after a 2007 earthquake in Dgvari, Samstkhe-Javakheti region, Georgia, one village over from Tadzrisi from where the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline crosses through the Caucuses mountains, on January 22, 2012.  Due to soft soil, many homes in Dgvari have cracked due to landslides and earthquakes and experts have asserted that the pipeline construction, which included controlled blasts, in the mountain villages near the city of Borjomi may have helped accelerate the pace of seismic activity in the region, although locals believe the pipeline construction are unconnected to recent earthquakes and landslides.
  
TIMOTESUBANI, GEORGIA.  Worshippers during Sunday mass in the Timotesubani Church on July 25, 2010.  Located in the Borjomi gorge, the Timotesubani Church and monastic complex is a few kilometers from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline route, making it perhaps the most religious sites along the BTC route in Georgia, the only Christian country traversed by the oil pipeline.
     
  
ALAKHI SANGORI, GEORGIA.  Mariam Aptsiauri and her husband Anzori Aptsiauri in their home on August 1, 2010.  While the Aptsiauris have received nothing yet in compensation for having the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline traverse their farmlands, destroying the possibility for continued agricultural production there because of damage to the topsoil and live in poverty, their neighbor Gia Obgaidze is likely the largest recipient of compensation funds in Georgia, which he used to start a chicken farm in addition to remodeling his home; according to an attorney who formerly handled compensation issues with the Young Lawyers Association, Obgaidze likely received 187,000 Georgian lari or approximately $100,000.
  
KODA, GEORGIA.  (Left) Venera Arbolishvili, 75, cooks dinner for her extended family with her daughter in the kitchen of her new home in the internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement in Koda, Kvemo Kartli, Georgia on January 20, 2012.  Originally from the village of Eredvi in South Ossetia, formerly a territory of Georgia which was lost to the Russians during the 2008 August War, Arbolishvili said during the war, an unknown assailant fired from a car and killed her husband who died in her arms and subsequently she was forced to flee her home before she could bury him.
  
RUSTAVI, GEORGIA.  Workers smelting scrap metal before it is converted to steel at the Rustavi Steel plant in Rustavi, Kvemo Kartli region, Georgia on January 20, 2012.  Built in 1946 at the height of Stalinist power in the Soviet Union and upgraded in recent years, Rustavi Steel employs 1,750 in what was once the greatest industrial center of Soviet Georgia; today several heavy industry factories remain in the city which is traversed by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
     
  
TBILISI, GEORGIA.  A child beggar sleeps on the street mid-day on Rustaveli Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Tbilisi, Georgia on July 22, 2010.  With high unemployment and few economic prospects and lacking the mineral wealth of neighboring oil-rich Azerbaijan, Georgia still finds itself in a state of post-Soviet economic limbo despite receiving approximately $65 million in annual transit fees from having the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline route cross its territory.
  
SAKIRE, GEORGIA.  A man drives his Mercedes down a dirt road as locals work on paving the road in the village of Sakire where there were almost no cars five years ago to over 200 today, according to locals, as a result of the dispersal of compensation funds stemming from land-use rights of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which runs through the nearby mountains where manyin Sakire own land beside the village of Tadzrisi on July 24, 2010.
  
ERZURUM, TURKEY.  Erzurum in Turkey's far northeast, the first major city near the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in Turkey, located just 10 kilometers from the pipeline which traverses numerous villages near the city's airport, is perhaps Turkey's most conservative city, where chador is often more common than secularly dressed women on August 7, 2010.
     
  
ERZURUM, TURKEY.  A male nurse stands over a man after giving blood at a blood drive organized by the Turkish Red Crescent in a tent on Cumhurriyet Road in Erzurum, Turkey, the first major city near the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in Turkey, located just 10 kilometers from the pipeline which traverses numerous villages near the city's airport, on August 11, 2010, the first night of Ramadan.  During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to give Zakat or money for charity, one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith, and those who cannot are instructed to donate blood and perform other acts of charity.
  
ERZURUM, TURKEY.  People take their seats inside an Iftar tent, when Muslims break their fast after abstaining from food and drink during the day on the second night of the month long celebration of Ramadan, the first major city near the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in Turkey, located just 10 kilometers from the pipeline which traverses numerous villages near the city's airport, on August 12, 2010.
  
DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY.  Men pray in an underground shopping center during a weekly protest called
     
  
ALVAR, TURKEY.  Women sit for a reading of the Koran late morning in the home of Murat Ozturk in the village of Alvar, Erzurum region, Turkey, which is traversed by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, on the first day of Ramadan, August 11, 2010.
  
ERZURUM, TURKEY.  A Turkish picnicker rocks her child as he sleeps in a hammock at a site near the Ataturk University in Erzurum, Turkey, the first major city near the route of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in Turkey, located just 10 kilometers from the pipeline which traverses numerous villages near the city's airport, on August 8, 2010.
  
DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY.  Young women sing Kurdish songs in the cafe of the Kurdish Cultural Center in Diyarbakir, Turkey on February 25, 2012.  After nearly a century of forced assimilation policies in Turkey, many Kurds are standing up for their culture and language in a renewed bid for cultural, if not political, independence; only the Kurdish Workers' Party, PKK, has managed to successfully attacked the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
     
  
DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY.  Hunger strikers protest the arrest, detentions and alleged torture of family members in connection with the wide reaching Kurdish Communities Union, KCK, case which has been used as the official pretext to jail an estimated 7,000 activists, members of civil society and others vocal on the Kurdish issue at the office of the Peace and Democracy Party, BDP, the political party of the Kurdish Workers Party, PKK, the main Kurdish guerrilla group, in Diyarbakir, Turkey on February 22, 2012.
  
REYHANLI, TURKEY.  Syrian children play in a junkyard of old, abandoned and destroyed vehicles at the entrance to the Reyhanli tent city in Reyhanli, Turkey on February 26, 2012.  As the year old rebellion against the rule of Bashar Al-Assad continues just across the border in Syria, Turkey has seen a continued influx of refugees from the Syrian conflict but has not granted them refugee status and instead considers them to be
  
YUMURTALIK, TURKEY.  Mehmet Erzin, 40, a fisherman, leaves from the port of Yumurtalik, Turkey late in the afternoon on August 15, 2010 to go lay down his nets in the Mediterranean Sea.  Many fisherman complain of depleted stocks and environmental damage resulting from the growth of industry and industrial dumping from a nearby thermal power plant after the construction of the end terminal of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was completed and located so close to their ports.
     
  
MEDITERRANEAN SEA NEAR YUMURTALIK, TURKEY.  Mehmet Erzin, 40, a fisherman, separates the biggest fish from his catch after retrieving his nets early in the morning on August 16, 2010.  Many fisherman complain of depleted stocks and environmental damage resulting from the growth of industry and industrial dumping from a nearby thermal power plant after the construction of the end terminal of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was completed and located so close to their ports.
  
CEYHAN MARINE TERMINAL, TURKEY.  Philipino workers load Azeri crude oil from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline onto a Greek oil tanker, The Aegean Myth on August 16, 2010 before setting sail for Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
  
CEYHAN MARINE TERMINAL, TURKEY.  A Philipino worker seen through a bucket to catch leaking crude oil secures a valve after loading Azeri crude oil from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline onto a Greek oil tanker, The Aegean Myth, on August 16, 2010 before setting sail for Rotterdam, The Netherlands.