Winter 1994 (2.4)
Synthesis of East & West
Months ago, long before anyone could predict the actual date for the signing and ratification of the long-awaited oil Contract in Azerbaijan, we chose the topic for this autumn issue as "Synthesis of East and West" believing this concept best characterized what was happening in Azerbaijan. The country and its people can neither be defined as totally Eastern, nor totally Western, but a rich blend of both.
Today, November 15, as we go to press, we've just learned that the Oil Contract which was originally signed on September 20th has just been ratified by Azerbaijan's Parliament. This signifies an incredibly important step forward for Azerbaijanis and the future of their country and offers a major illustration of the East - West synthesis that is energizing a new wave of development and economic growth in Azerbaijan and which, in turn, will help secure peace and democracy in the region.
The articles that follow provide some of the major details and photos of the events surrounding the signing of the Oil Contract between SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) and the members of the Western Consortium (British Petroleum, Statoil, Amoco, Pennzoil, Unocal, McDermott, Turkish Petroleum, Ramco, Delta-Nimir, Lukoil, and SOCAR). Along with these oil companies were signatories from the corresponding Energy Ministries of six countries which now have vested interests in Azerbaijan-the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Photo: Signing of the Oil Contract between SOCAR and the Western Oil Consortium at the Gulistan Palace on September 20, 1994. There were 11 companies and six countries represented - US, UK, Norway, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Azerbaijan refers to the event as the "Contract of the Century". Photo: Oleg Litvin, Courtesy: British Petroleum - Photo by Oleg Litvin, Courtesy of British Petroleum.
Many individuals have worked hard to bring about this collaborative effort. Credit should be given to those who provided the vision for such a union, beginning in 1990 when Gorban Abbasov, as head of Kaspmorneftigas (now SOCAR) began searching for Western investors to develop Azerbaijan's newly-discovered fields offshore. During the Soviet period, most Western oil companies thought that Baku's oil reserves were, more or less, exhausted. Five years later, ten of them have joined together to sign what Azerbaijanis are calling the "Contract of the Century". Unfortunately, Abbasov, in his 70s, who was serving in the capacity as one of the advisors to SOCAR's President, passed away two weeks before the signing of the contract, and did not have the chance to witness the culmination of his initial efforts.
There are many other people who worked tirelessly both in previous Azerbaijani administrations as well as in this one to make this contract a reality. Most obvious is the core of SOCAR executives who have spent months abroad this year, working day after day on the negotiations.
Many foreign executives and diplomats, legal advisors, translators, and their administrative support teams representing oil companies and national governments have also played key roles.
As President Aliyev stated, "It's been a tough road to finalize the Contract." For some, including the President himself, there have been substantial threats and personal risks (see Fairbanks and Alekberov's article, "Azerbaijan and the Ominous Rumblings over Russia's 'Near Abroad'"). No doubt, there will still be difficulties and stumbling blocks in the future. Hopefully, the challenges won't be insurmountable, and the foundation which has been laid these past few years is firm enough to secure the future for generations to come.
But Azerbaijan's openness towards the West did not begin with a group of oil executives offering economic resources for oil development. Its origin spans hundreds of years beginning when the early caravan trade routes crisscrossed the region linking Europe and Asia.
But more recently, this synthesis is the result of an intellectual openness which was stimulated by various Azerbaijani thinkers at the turn of last century. Already by that time, major international events had shaped the ideas in the region; for example, the impact of the French Revolution, which for the first time established constitutional rights for citizens by limiting the power of the monarch and abolishing aristocratic and clerical privilege that had characterized the old order. As well, the Industrial Revolution had brought incredible changes to Europe during the 18th and 19th century as workers achieved better living conditions, more human rights, and more access to health and education.
Azerbaijanis wanted this modernity, too. The cities of Istanbul, Tabriz and the Caucasus (Baku) became the focal points for intellectual exchanges led by poets, writers, playwrights, and a few politicians. Some of the leading Azerbaijani figures include writer - thinkers Talibov and Zeynal Abadin Maraghai; playwright Akhunzade (Akhundov); poets Sabir and Mujuz Shabestari; musician-composer, Uzeyir Hajibeyov; and the politician Rasulzade who was the leader of Azerbaijan's short-lived Democratic Republic in 1918-1920 before the Bolsheviks took over. A great deal of credit belongs to Jalil Mohammad Gulizade who published the socio-political satirical magazine, Molla Nasreddin, which was very popular and had a wide circulation throughout the region. Nothing escaped his sharp critical pen that exposed old ways of thinking and championed the new ideas emanating from the West.
These progressive thinkers are among many who helped open the path for Western ideas. Their influence on the members of the community was immense but it was the oil industrialists who had the economic capability to visibly transform some of these progressive ideas into realities. For example, Oil Baron Taghiyev, (featured with his family in the photo on our back cover) patronized artists, poets, writers, and playwrights. He established banks and set up some of Azerbaijan's first factories. One of his most outstanding achievements was gaining permission from the Czar and Mullahs to open the first secular school for women in the Moslem world (1901), a model which was later duplicated throughout the Caucasus. During this period, the Opera House was built in Baku by oil philanthropists and the first operas of the entire region were performed in Azerbaijan (1908).
The Bolshevik Revolution which brought an abrupt end to Azerbaijan's Democratic movement in 1920 has also shaped Azerbaijan's mentality toward the West. Socialism, itself was a Western concept, originating in philosophy emanating from Germany. Regardless of whether one agrees with this system that governed Azerbaijan for 70 years, the country has been shaped tremendously by this period, especially in the arts, culture, education and sciences. Literacy rates in the Soviet Union were considered among the highest in the world has done much to produce a well-educated populace. In the end, the Soviet system stagnated and strangled upon itself primarily because of its policy of isolationism from the Western community.
Now since Azerbaijan's independence in 1991, a new era has begun. Azerbaijan has made another step towards the West with its adoption of a Latin-based alphabet instead of the Cyrillic (See Azerbaijan International, September 1993).
The signing of the Oil Contract marks a new stage which will help pave the way for economic development and democracy. Now other nations have vested interests in the area and it is their responsibility to assist and strengthen Azerbaijan in these critical days when it is suffering from the additional economic burdens of a six-year old war and the care of one million refugees. Azerbaijan has opened itself to the West; now it is the West's turn to support Azerbaijan, so that it does not succumb to Russia's artificial pressures (coup d'états, unrest, and imposition of economic sanctions). Russia must not be allowed to disrupt the democratic process and economic development in the countries of their "near abroad". Today, these Republics are legitimate countries with their own territorial integrity and sovereignty.
When it comes to Azerbaijan, we don't believe that, "West is West and East is East, and ne'er the twain shall meet." A unique synthesis has been going on for years and now with the economic boost that will come with the realization of Oil Contract, the process is guaranteed to continue, both for Azerbaijan and for the West. For those who are involved with Azerbaijan, it's a two-way street, and truth lies closer in the rephrasing of the adage, "West is East and East is West and already the twain have met."
From Azerbaijan International (2.4) Winter 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.