Settings in Castorf’s RING • Baku

M: 007, what do you know of the Caspian Sea?

James Bond: Caviar. Matchless beluga. Firm, yet subtle.

(M looks askance)

James Bond: Largest landlocked body of water on Earth. Oil-rich. Hitler wanted it. Stalin beat him to it.

M: And now it’s up for grabs, a goldrush. Far more oil than anyone thought. […] Three pipelines to the Black Sea. All vulnerable to unstable governments or Russian blockade.

James Bond: And the new pipeline project […] goes through Turkey, direct to the Med?

Charles Robinson: A huge project. The most expensive of the pipelines, but the one supported by every Western leader.

 

Even though the dialogue from the James Bond film “The World is not Enough” from 1999 is fiction, it still illustrates the explosive nature of the power struggles connected with the subject of “oil”. The background to the dialogue is the construction of an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. There is a possible reference to the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan pipeline, which takes us back to the origins of oil production: to Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

 

The Republic of Azerbaijan, located in the Southern Caucasus, has a 500-mile coastline along the Caspian Sea to the East, in the South it borders Iran and Turkey, via the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, with Armenia to the West and Russia and Georgia to the North. The capital of the republic is Baku, a city of more than 2 million inhabitants on the Caspian Sea. The country is particularly well-known for its oil reserves. The beginnings of oil production go back to the time when Azerbaijan was still part of the Tsar’s Russian Empire, and for a brief time between 1898 and 1901 made Russia the centre of the world’s oil business. Its ascent to become a hub of industry began: in 1898 it contributed 95 % of all the oil produced by Russia and 50 % of the world’s total. In 1901, Azerbaijan produced the largest amount in the world: 11.5 million tons.

The oil boom was ended by the revolution at the beginning of the 20th century, when workers in the oil fields launched a revolt and destroyed the facilities. Among them was none other than Joseph Stalin, who at that time still went by the name of Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, or also “Koba”, “The Invincible”. The revolutionaries drove the oil barons out of the country, and the Bolsheviks seized power in 1920 following the October Revolution.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan became a sovereign state. The country’s independence that year benefited Western nations in particular, which profited from the oil reserves. In 1994, the “Contract of the Century” with a consortium led by the British oil major BP was signed, agreeing the development of three offshore fields of Azerbaijani oil reserves. Only five years later, a 940-mile-long pipeline, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), was opened in Supsa, Georgia, on the Black Sea, from where tankers took over the onward transport of the crude oil. Another advance came with the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan pipeline, which covers a distance of 1,105 miles from Baku as far as the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The 3,600-million-dollar project, which makes it possible to transport a million barrels a day, went into operation in May 2005.