Azerbaijans maneuver in the Caspian Sea: Who is the hypothetical ene

Azerbaijan’s maneuver in the Caspian Sea: Who is the hypothetical enemy?
By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD. Int. Law of the Sea

Payvand, Iran
May 12 2004

The Republic of Azerbaijan will be conducting naval maneuvers in the
Caspian Sea. The aim of the maneuver is declared as upgrading the
ability of the Azeris Coast Guards for protection of boundaries in
the Caspian Sea. But the question is: What boundaries?

There are no borders in the Caspian Sea yet. Even the Russian tailored
and imposed formula of Modified Median Line (MML) is only supposed to
divide the seabed in the case of the countries that have accepted it
(including Azerbaijan) and it has nothing to do with the maritime
territories, over-flight, navigation of the commercial and military
units of the coastal and non-coastal states and so on.

The Caspian Sea littoral states have not yet succeeded to define
commonly accepted formula for the legal regime of the Caspian Sea.
Azerbaijan has no arrangements with Iran and Turkmenistan in
the Caspian Sea. The existing agreements of Azerbaijan with
the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan are only about the Seabed.
Iran believes that MML is not able to create an equitable situation
in the division of the Caspian, and Turkmenistan believes several
oil fields that Azerbaijan controls them according to the MML must
be the Turkmenistan’s share.

The failure in the agreement has led to several instances of
conflict like 2001 incident of Iran-Azerbaijan dispute and the
Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan dispute. The latter led to the closure of
the respective embassies in their capitals for some time.

Another phenomenon of the failure was the militarization and
naval maneuvers. This was first started by the Russian Federation.
The biggest maneuver since the collapse of the USSR was conducted
immediately after the Asghabat Summit Conference failed even to produce
a final document. Now it’s the turn for Azeris. As always, every
military maneuver has a hypothetical enemy. Who is the enemy for
the Azerbaijan Republic? It is not definitely the Russian Federation
because the Russian Federation is a great nuclear power with the
ability to kill all population of the earth 10 times, and its naval
fleet in the Caspian Sea is a powerful force. Kazakhstan has no
special problems with the Azeris, but in the south Caspian there are
several disputes:

Azerbaijan believes that the seabed must be divided according to
the MML. This gives Azerbaijan 21% of the Caspian Sea and control
over all 15 major oil fields that it is claming now, including the
Alborz Field claimed by Iran. This area is not the biggest share
of the seabed for a single country in the Caspian (the biggest share
goes to Kazakhstan with almost 29% of the Caspian seabed), but it is
the home to the vast resources of the Caspian oil (compared to the
Iranian hypothetical share of the seabed, using the MML, which is
almost 13 percent and free from any major known resources. The deep
Sea in the Iranian part makes the exploration and exploitation even
more difficult). Azerbaijan’s position in this field is supported by
the Russian Federation, the founder of the MML in the Caspian Sea,
and it is also supported by US. US has clearly rejected Iranian
positions for the division of the Caspian Sea and almost all other
matters (routes of the oil and gas pipelines, navigation of the
non-littoral states, military presence and so on).

So far, a clear case of confrontation has happened in July 2001 between
Iran and Azerbaijan. The incident, which has been played down by both
sides, had many elements of a dangerous hostility. Iranian gunboats
asked the British research vessel that worked for Azeris to leave the
disputed area. The Iranian aircraft flew over the area constantly.
The Azeris claimed that the Iranian aircraft had violated the airspace
of Azerbaijan and threatened the country. A short while later, several
Turkish Air Force jets flew to Baku, apparently to take part in an
air show, but everybody in the involved countries knew that it was a
demonstration of support for Azerbaijan by the big Turkish brother.
The Azeris extensively welcomed the Turkish show of support and
arranged street demonstrations, shouting slogans against the Islamic
Republic of Iran and they condemned the violation of their “rights.”
The British Petroleum, which operated the research ship, declared
that it would not return to the concerned area until the two sides
have made some kind of agreement. A cursory look reveals that the
characteristics of this incident look exactly like the stated aim of
the maneuvers of the Azerbaijan forces in the Caspian Sea.

At the same time, the problems of the two states are not limited to
the Caspian per se. The special interest of Azerbaijan to affect the
Azeri section of Iran is an important problem for both sides. The
Azeris on both sides of the border have common culture and language.
In fact a large part of the present Azerbaijan Republic consists
of the territories separated from Iran, after 20 years of unequal
wars between the Iran and Tsarist Russia, and two imposed treaties.
Therefore, there are important unifying feelings on both sides.

Although at the moment Azerbaijan Republic only tacitly confirms the
inclination to attract the Iranian Azeris, and the government of Iran
(and sometimes people of Iran) deny that there are such important
social forces in the region, the issue is as alive as it can be.

The Iranian Azeris, who have been deprived of their fundamental
rights and freedoms, are also humiliated, despite being an important
part of the Iranian population, and they are stopped from using the
local language. They have been subject to mockery as idiots (usually
resembled to donkey as a symbol of idiocy). Now, the political
movements of the Iranian Azeris, like the Chehreghani group, are
benefiting from the discriminatory and humiliating behaviors to follow
their political goals. The problem of Iranian Azeris may turn into
an international crisis in a short time unless the Iranian government
takes serious steps to defuse the situation.

Another point of contention is the foreign policy of the two
countries. Azerbaijan considers itself a European country and wants
to become a member of the European Union (EU) and NATO as soon as
possible. Therefore, it has been inclined to invite the Western forces
to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has taken part in any NATO program that
it could, and it has invited US and NATO to establish a military base
in Absheroon Peninsula in the Caspian Sea. Also due to the military
stand off with Armenia over Nagorno Karabagh, it has entered into an
Axis of Azerbaijan-Turkey-Israel. Iran on the other hand is afraid
of the Western presence and considers this as a part of preparations
for possible military intervention in all or parts of Iran by US
(after getting the tacit agreement of the Russians who have always
wished to see the disintegration of Iran). Iran is worried about the
standardization of the Azeris army with NATO rules and the existing
reports about contacts with Israel, which has constantly threatened
to attack the nuclear facilities of Iran.

Let us add to this picture the prospects of starting to use the
Baku-Jeyhan pipeline. The famous pipeline, which has been called
by some experts as the most important development in the Caspian
region since the collapse of the USSR, will be operational in 2005.
The pipeline, which will be the major outlet of the Caspian oil for
the foreseeable future, is the symbols of several points:

Defeat of Iran in the pipeline diplomacy (It will probably mean the
death of Iranian swap plans and discarding the pipelines that Iran
is building unilaterally)

Defeat of Russians in the implementation of their policies in the

Victory of US-Azerbaijan-Turkey axis in implementation of a project
based on political considerations (support of the US allies, depriving
the US opponents from the transportation of oil from the landlocked
states of the Caspian Sea region).

Undoubtedly, the NATO and Azerbaijan will be in charge of providing
security for the expensive pipeline, and the Azeris maneuvers are
somehow based on the same notion up to a limit.

There are two more points that should be added: The war against
terrorism and the combat against the trafficking of the narcotic drugs.
Terrorism hotbeds are very close to the Caspian Sea area and all
countries around the Caspian Sea have to make themselves ready to
confront the effects of the international terrorism activities.
Also, since the independence of the new republics in the south of
the former USSR, the traffickers of the narcotic drugs are showing
new interests to use the Caspian route rather the traditional the
Golden Triangle Afghanistan-Iran-Turkey route.


The end result is that the main hypothetical enemy in the Azerbaijan’s
military maneuvers in the Caspian Sea is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Although, there are several other issues of concern for the Azeris,
what is stated as the official reason of the maneuvers is compatible
with a possible situation that Iran may cause. At the same time,
the different policies of the two countries are going to constitute a
great source of threat between the only two Shiite states of the world.

About the author:

Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD Int. Law, is a consultant in international
law to the World Resources Company in the Washington DC area.