Strategic “Lake”: Caspian working group debate important for Armenia too

Strategic “Lake”: Caspian working group debate important for Armenia too


Armenia is not represented at the Tuesday-Wednesday working group in Kazakhstan, where the legal status of the Caspian Sea is being discussed, but the issue is of great significance to Hayastan.

The issue of the Caspian basin is important to Armenia, as it determines the volume of Azerbaijan’s oil-gas recourses. In accordance with Heydar Aliyev’s “Oil Strategy” the development of Azerbaijan is conditioned by the development of its oil industry. In the 1990s, the Azeri leadership promised to turn Azerbaijan into “Kuwait of the 21st century”.

Baku authorities say the country’s oil industry would pump enough money into the war machine to settle the Karabakh issue through military might.

Prior to the session (attended by the host, Turkmenistan, Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan) Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Ryabkov stated: “The legal status of the Caspian is a rather complicated issue, considering the fact that throughout the history of our state it has been regulated by Soviet-Iranian agreements.”

Before the collapse of the USSR the Caspian Sea was “Soviet-Iranian inner basin” and all its oil and gas deposits were used in compliance with bilateral agreements signed between Moscow and Tehran in the first half of the 20th century. However, the collapse of the USSR lead to the emergence of new states along the basin’s perimeter, and now besides Tehran and Moscow there are three others – Astana, Ashkhabad and Baku – claming their rights to the deposits and the water area in general.

The main matter of dispute is the Caspian’s political status; some geographic truths are cardinally reconsidered out of political priorities. For example, from the geographic viewpoint Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan are located in Asia; however, politically they are part of Europe and are members of the European Council.

From the perspective of classical geography, the Caspian is a lake (because it has no direct access to the World oceans), however its political status is a matter of constant disputes among the five coastal countries.

The essence of the dispute is as follows: if the water basin is recognized as a “lake”, concepts of International Marine Rights such as “exclusive economic zone”, “continental offshore area”, and others, will no more be applicable.

Many oil and gas deposits are exploited in the Caspian Sea. Oil resources there make 10 billion tons; in total oil and gas reserves make an estimated 18-20 billion tons. It is this wealth that the countries are fighting for and, naturally, fierce arguments ensue.

Azeri political analyst Zardusht Alizade says: “We have a matter of discord with Turkmenistan – the deposit Kyapaz [mountain]. It’s closer to the border of Turkmenistan, but Azerbaijan claims its border starts not from the coastline but the islands that are farther away, and this causes controversies.”

Azerbaijan and Iran have some issues too. Alizade stresses in this connection: “Iran believes that the division of the Caspian should be done by sectors, rather than by Turkmenistan’s border check-point line. In that case, Iran’s sector increases from 13 to 20 percent and wedges in the sector that was believed to be Azeri. And Azerbaijan disagrees.”

The peculiarity of the situation is in the fact that as opposed to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Iran, which possess extensive reserves of fuel deposits, in case with Azerbaijan the main resources from the coastline were used and almost exhausted during Soviet times.

Despite the fact that a decade ago by official estimates of Natik Aliyev, president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, the Azeri Caspian sector had 4-10 billion tons of oil, independent experts later stressed that the real reserves of oil there were ten times less. And besides, until the water basin’s status is defined, it is not clear what exactly the so-called “Azeri sector of the Caspian” is.

Prior to the negotiations Azeri newspaper Echo wrote: “In the issue of determining the Caspian’s legal status, Russia did not support Azerbaijan, but only settled its issues with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Russia does not have lines of contact with Iran and Turkmenistan, hence Azerbaijan is now alone against Iran.”

Experts predict that if Azerbaijan fails to protect its interests related to the status of the Caspian Sea, it will exhaust its oil resources in a few years’ time and will have no grounds to continue talking about its economic superiority over Armenia.