- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

The building of the Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan pipeline, connecting the oil rich Caspian Sea over Turkey to the Mediterranean, will resurrect the ancient role of Turkey as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

"Turkey is again on the verge of resurrecting the ancient Silk Route," Tansug Bleda, first deputy secretary of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation consortium, said.

"In the 13th century Marco Polo passed through Turkey on his way to China. Seven hundred years ago Marco Polo was looking for silk and spices, but in the 21st Century the new Silk Route will consist of oil and natural gas," Mr. Bleda stated.

Two events transformed the Turkish Republic into a critical economic phalanx into the mineral rich Caspian and Central Asian regions.

In the 1920s the Caucasus, Caspian Sea and Central Asia fell under Kremlin communist domination. Red Moscow imperialized these regions and not only aborted their nationalist aspirations, but also locked the Turkish peoples in these lands behind an Iron Curtain and isolated them from their ethnic brethren in Turkey proper.

The collapse of world communism dissolved this Iron Curtain, re-establishing contact between these two branches of the Turkish peoples and opened up Central Asia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, to the cultural and economic penetration of the Republic of Turkey.

The Ankara government sent a satellite into space and is beaming Turkish language TV programs into these states. Ankara is actively promoting many economic development associations with these Central Asian governments in order to pull them into the orbit of Ankara's own economic expansion. All this amounts to the re-emergence of Central Asia into the daylight of history after a century of darkness.

The second event was the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region that are second only to the deposits of the Persian Gulf.

From the production side this meant that the Caspian Sea emerged as a competitor to the Persian Gulf as the major supplier of oil to the United States and Europe.

From the outlet side, this meant that the Turkish Republic was the transmission belt for the flow of oil from the Caspian to the entire Western world. Originating in Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, running through Tiflis, Georgia, then exiting at Ceyhan, a Turkish port on the Mediterranean Sea, the Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan pipeline will make Turkey the Anatolian equivalent of the Alaska pipeline.

"The actual building of the pipeline [was] scheduled to begin this November 2000," Mithat Balkan, a deputy undersecretary at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said. "The entire undertaking will consume 52 months of work and be completed in 2005. It will be a channel for the flow of 50 million tons of oil to the West each year. The Caspian Sea will be the Kuwait of the 21st century."

"Russia is attempting to compete with the Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan enterprise. The Russians are planning to build a pipeline that only crosses over Russian territory, from the Tangiz fields in the northern part of the Caspian to their port on the Black Sea, Novorossisk."

"The Russian design suffers from two main difficulties," Mr. Balkan explained. "Novorossisk is an outmoded port incapable of handling the magnitude of oil that will cascade into it, and the Russian plan assumes that huge tankers would fill their hulls at Novorossick and then sail through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to the Mediterranean Sea. This was a faulty concept because the Bosporus and Dardanelles were both extremely narrow, two miles wide at points, and could not safely manage this degree of commerce."

The United States is underwriting the Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan endeavor and in November, 1999, President Clinton signed an agreement supporting this engineering wonder as well as providing financial assistance. This contemporary Turkish Silk Route means that the United States need not rely on Russia in order for America to access the oil geyser of this Persian Gulf on the new millennium.

Stemming from its ties to the Turkish nations of Central Asia, all of which are situated on the southern borders of Russia, Turkey has emerged as a barrier to Russian penetration in this real estate which luxuriates in mineral abundance.

Although it is a Muslim country, it does not embrace a fundamentalist form of Islam. Turkey is a valuable counterweight to the radical Islamic politics of Afghanistan and Iran.

Beginning in 2005 Europe and the United States could import 40 percent of its energy needs from the spigot of the Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan pipeline. The privileged position of the Persian Gulf would be undermined, and the significance of Saddam Hussein significantly diminished.

Ankara is the best antidote to the rebirth of the imperial ambitions of Russia, the Islamic fundamentalism of the ayatollahs in Tehran, and the egomania of the brute of Baghdad.

Norman Levine is the executive director for the Institute for Internatitional policy in Phoenix.


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