Armenian Armed Forces Celebrate 32nd Anniversary, Reiterate Sovereignty Pledge

Feb 12 2024
Momen Zellmi

In a gathering that brought together representatives from the US Department of Defense, State Department, Military Diplomatic Corps, and a delegation from the Kansas National Guard, the Armenian Embassy in the United States hosted a reception to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Armenian Armed Forces. This event, held on , served as a testament to the enduring partnership between Armenia and the United States, as well as a reaffirmation of Armenia's commitment to protecting its sovereignty.

The reception featured speeches by the Armenian military attaché to the US, the Armenian Ambassador to the US, and the US Deputy Secretary of Defense. Each speaker emphasized the importance of the Armenian Armed Forces in maintaining peace and stability in the region, as well as the strong ties between the two nations. The atmosphere was one of unity and strength, as guests paid tribute to the sacrifices made by Armenian soldiers in defense of their homeland.

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan underscored the importance of a strong and combat-ready army for the Republic of Armenia. "We have a sovereign right to have a strong and combat-ready army to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, and statehood," he stated emphatically. Pashinyan also highlighted Armenia's recognition of the territorial integrity of all countries in the region, expecting the same recognition in return.


Addressing recent statements made by the President of Azerbaijan regarding the Armenian armed forces, Pashinyan emphasized that as long as Azerbaijan does not announce its withdrawal from the Sochi and Prague statements, it is clear that both Armenia and Azerbaijan recognize each other's territorial integrity based on the 1991 Alma-Ata declaration. This call for respect and diplomacy reflects the ongoing efforts by Armenia to maintain peace and stability in the region, even in the face of challenges.

Armenia's Unwavering Commitment to Sovereignty

As the Armenian Armed Forces mark their 32nd anniversary, the Republic of Armenia remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting its territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, and statehood. By fostering strong partnerships with nations such as the United States, Armenia continues to demonstrate its dedication to peace and stability in the region. The recent reception at the Armenian Embassy in the United States served as a poignant reminder of the strength and unity that underpin Armenia's efforts to safeguard its sovereignty.

In the words of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, "We have a sovereign right to have a strong and combat-ready army to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, and statehood." This conviction, echoed by Armenian leaders and reaffirmed through events like the recent reception, stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Armenian people and their unwavering commitment to their homeland.

[Senator] Portantino’s Unique Healthcare Provider Bill Offers Armenia Educated Doctors Ability to be Physicians Assistants in California

Senator Anthony J. Portantino
Feb 9 2024
Friday, February 9 2024

For Immediate Release: February 9, 2024

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Portantino’s Unique Healthcare Provider Bill Offers Armenia Educated Doctors Ability to be Physicians Assistants in California

Sacramento, CA – Recognizing the severe shortage of healthcare providers in California, Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank) introduced Senate Bill 1041. The bill creates a pathway for foreign educated doctors to practice as physician assistants in California through a pilot program. The program establishes a partnership with Yerevan State Medical University to allow clinically trained healthcare professionals to work in healthcare at a time when our system needs more providers.

“There are many highly skilled medical professionals who reside in California but cannot practice medicine,” stated Senator Portantino. “This program would help address our healthcare provider shortage while offering immigrant doctors the opportunity to take steps to become qualified to practice their chosen craft here. It’s a win-win for the patient and the healthcare system.”

Foreign educated doctors often face challenges in leveraging their higher education qualifications in California. In particular, a significant number of Yerevan State Medical University graduates who practiced medicine in Armenia are not able to practice here.  These doctors, however, have received more clinical education than the typical physician’s assistant has. Rather than being welcomed into our healthcare system, many must accept other forms of jobs outside of healthcare because the process of undergoing licensing or certification to practice medicine is complex, time consuming, and challenging.

SB 1041 would establish a two-year Armenian Doctor Pilot Program. The program requires participants to enroll in a medical refresher course developed by Yerevan State Medical University and an accredited academic institution in California with an approved physician assistant program. It also requires classes to be provided by Yerevan State Medical University and the approved California educational institution via a distance learning program, clinical training undertaken in a federally qualified health center that serves the Armenian community in southern California. The unique program will be eligible only for permanent residents and the citizens of the United States.

“We welcome Senator Portantino's efforts to establish the Armenian Doctors Pilot Program, which would create a pathway for Armenian educated physicians to practice as physician assistants for two years in qualified health centers in California,” stated Sarkis Balkhian, Executive Director of ANCA-Western Region. “This program is paramount not only because it provides a professional pathway for Armenian doctors to resume their medical careers but also addresses the shortage of primary care physicians with the cultural and linguistic diversity and skills required to service Armenian-Americans across California, especially those who lack the socioeconomic resources and are often left behind by the system. SB 1041 will also foster further collaboration between the medical institutions of Armenia and California.”

###, the apparel brand bringing the past into the future

Enter a Diasporan Armenian home and you’ll likely come across these decor staples: a Mt. Ararat painting, a framed թռչնագիր (bird letter) alphabet, a blue glass evil eye, an Armenian carpet, a glass jar of dried apricots or pistachios. But some homes now have replaced their traditional flowery bird letters for graphic designer Alek Surenian’s more modern take. The refreshed look uses a “flat” graphic style and a muted, curated color palette. When explaining his process, Surenian noted, “I think it’s good to evolve what’s been done in the past and turn it into something new and fresh.”

Alek Surenian

Much of his work draws inspiration from the past – whether it’s old Armenian posters, illuminated manuscripts, carpets, architecture or family heirlooms. The Armenian rug tote bag he created, for example, was inspired by a doily his great grandmother made. “It’s pretty sacred to my family, since it’s one of the few items in our possession that was owned by her,” he said. “The doily has a circular composition, so I pulled patterns from that and a Persian rug in our home and combined them together.” 

Armenian rug tote inspired by Surenian’s great grandmother’s doily (Photo: Alek Surenian)

Surenian’s latest drop and fifth release, The Yeraz Collection, is inspired by William Saroyan’s The Armenian and the Armenian. Featuring a cap and T-shirt with custom typography – squiggly, cloud-like letters that spell out the word երազ (dream) – the collection is “an ode to the dreamers” and those “longing for a world where a ‘New Armenia’ can become a reality.” For all of the products Surenian sells, he also sets aside a portion of proceeds for an Armenian organization. “I’ve had the great pleasure to donate to organizations such as the ARS, With Our Soldiers, Tufenkian Foundation, and now, All For Armenia, with this recent collection,” Surenian explained. “Yeraz” collection (Photo: Sepahn Chiloyan)

While launched in 2021, many AYF members in the United States already owned some of Surenian’s designs, as he created designs for the organization’s branded merch for many years. “As a Junior growing up in Chicago, my first experiences doing product design began with designing t-shirts for local midwest AYF events,” Surenian said. Later, he served as a member of the AYF Central PR Council, during which he designed the swag for regional events. “Without these experiences, I wouldn’t be the designer I am today, and most importantly, I’ve learned new skills which I added to my ‘design tool box,’” Surenian noted.

Outside of his work for the AYF and his brand, Surenian’s graphic design skills have shaped the aesthetic of the promotional materials and artwork for his two music projects: the Norkef Ensemble and Armadi Tsayn band. Since the Norkef Ensemble performs traditional kef music at dances, picnics and regional events like AYF Senior Olympics, the art draws inspiration from old album covers. Armadi Tsayn, on the other hand, is “more contemporary and artistic” so the visuals have a modern flavor; the logo is an outline of a sun peeking out over a minimalist Mt. Ararat, with an array of roots stretching into the ground. Though it’s a symbol representing a specific musical project, the logo is reflective of Surenian’s approach to art as a whole: shining light on a new future while still staying true to his origins. “I think that being Armenian is all about bringing the past into our future,” he said. “Our ability to preserve and find ways to evolve our culture from generation to generation is essential to the survival of our identity.”

Catch Surenian and folk band Armadi Tsayn at upcoming live performances in Boston on February 10, New York City on February 24, and Los Angeles on March 16. 

Knar Bedian is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has been published in NPR, Gizmodo, Wired Magazine and Boston Art Review, among others. She is also the founder of a local music publication called Sound of Boston.

AW: SAS announces Best Conference Paper Awards

The Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) recently announced the recipients of its 2023 Best Conference Paper Award: Daniel Ohanian, for his conference paper on the autobiography of Awetikʿ Tʿōkhatʿetsʿi, and Lori Pirinjian, for her conference paper on domestic violence in post-Soviet Armenia. Each of the winning recipients was awarded a $1,000 grant by the Society. 

Daniel Ohanian’s conference paper titled, “An Autobiography Written in Captivity: Awetikʿ Tʿōkhatʿetsʿi’s Account of His Own Life, c. 1657–1710,” focuses on the autobiography of Awetikʿ within the general scholarship of early modern captivity narratives. Ohanian analyzes four aspects of the autobiography: cross-cultural contact, self-fashioning, authorship and readership.

Ohanian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He holds a B.A. and M.A. from York University in Canada and an M.A. from Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey. A specialist in Ottoman-Armenian history from 1660 to 1930, he has published articles in the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies AssociationGenocide Studies International and Turcica: Revue d’études turques. Ohanian’s conference paper grew out of his dissertation research, which focuses on the spread of Roman Catholicism among Ottoman Armenians around 1700. His paper was presented as part of the SAS-sponsored panel (at the 2021 MESA annual meeting) “Early Modern Mobilities: People, Animals, and Objects within and beyond the Ottoman Empire.”

Lori Pirinjian’s conference paper titled “From Anti-Genderism to Law: An Analysis of Domestic Violence in Post-Soviet Armenia” addresses issues with the law entitled “On the Prevention of Family Violence, Protection of Persons Subjected to Family Violence, and the Restoration of Family Cohesion” that the government of the Republic of Armenia recently passed. What was initially presented by Armenia’s Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women to the Armenian Parliament quickly developed into a law primarily concerned with the preservation of patriarchal values under the auspices of the maintenance of traditional Armenian family structure.

Pirinjian is a doctoral candidate in Armenian Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of San Francisco and an M.A. in Anthropology from San Francisco State University. Pirinjian’s research at UCLA, as well as the topic of this conference paper, centers on Armenia’s 2017 Domestic Violence law.

SAS President Christina Maranci congratulated both awardees: “We are proud to fund such excellent graduate students. The nature and the depth of their work demonstrate the multi-disciplinary aspect of Armenian Studies as a field of inquiry. I would like to encourage all those who are interested in the activities of SAS to join us in supporting such promising young scholars.”

The Society of Armenian Studies is an international body composed of scholars and students whose aims are to promote the study of Armenian culture and society, including history, language, literature and social, political and economic questions; to facilitate the exchange of scholarly information pertaining to Armenian studies around the world; and to sponsor panels and conferences on Armenian studies. 

The Society of Armenian Studies would like to thank the Best Conference Paper Committee for reviewing all the submissions and selecting the winning papers.

The SAS Best Conference Paper Award was made possible through the generous institutional support of the Armenian Studies Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; the Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies, University of California, Irvine; the Hovannisian Chair of Modern Armenian History, University of California, Los Angeles; the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Chair of Armenian Art & Architecture, Tufts University; the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR); the Armenian Communities Department, Gulbenkian Foundation; the Armenian Studies Program, California State University, Fresno; the Institute of Armenian Studies, University of Southern California; AGBU Nubar Library, Paris; the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center; and the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute. 

If you are interested in contributing to support the SAS award and grant funds, please contact Prof. Christina Maranci at [email protected].

The Society for Armenian Studies is an international body, composed of scholars and students, whose aims are to promote the study of Armenian culture and society, including history, language, literature and social, political and economic questions; to facilitate the exchange of scholarly information pertaining to Armenian studies around the world; and to sponsor panels and conferences on Armenian studies.

Ratification of EUMA status agreement on Cabinet meeting agenda


YEREVAN, JANUARY 24, ARMENPRESS. The Armenian government will discuss at the January 25 Cabinet meeting the ratification of the agreement with the EU on the status of the EU Mission in Armenia.

On November 20, 2023, Armenia and the EU signed an agreement regarding the status of the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA).

Armenian Deputy FM Paruyr Hovhannisyan explained after the signing that the agreement on the status is about creating facilitated conditions for the monitors, ranging from healthcare to technical issues. “It’s similar to the authority that diplomats have in every country,” the Deputy FM had said.

Regional Destabilizer: Who are the Victims of the Lost Armenian Assault Rifles?

Jan 22 2024

The Armenian military has somehow managed to lose 17,000 assault rifles. It is not a joke, according to the Armenian Minister of Internal Affairs of Armenia Vahe Ghazaryan this amount of assault weapons is missing from the armouries. The main assault weapon of the Armenian military are Russian-produced Kalashnikov rifles – writes Sarah Miller.

It is difficult to comprehend this number – 17000. Just imagine – this is enough weapons to arm three and a half infantry brigades! The whole Armenian military is 65 thousand strong – so the missing weapons would be enough for a quarter of its personnel. If they are properly packed, it will be over 1400 pretty large and heavy boxes (of 12 rifles each), which would take more than 10 military trucks to move.

According to Ghazaryan, the weapons went missing after the so-called 44-days war at the end of 2020 – when Azerbaijan liberated most of the Armenia occupied Karabakh region. They were not lost during the war, or captured by enemy troops – the assault rifles went missing after the conflict.

Ghazaryan also noted that he is “concerned about the issue related to weapons and ammunition”, as it might have “potential consequences for regional security and stability”.  So, there is also ammunition missing, and nobody knows how much.

If the weapons were stolen by the local population, any citizens’ revolt is likely to turn into a bloody mess and collapse the state. But considering the political situation in Armenia, and recurrent mass protests that have not turned into armed insurrection, the guns are probably not in the country anymore. Hiding 17 thousand assault rifles would be difficult in a country the size of Armenia.

Where are these weapons now? They definitely did not leave Armenia through Turkish, Georgian or Azerbaijani borders. There is only one neighbouring country, which is very interested in purchasing weaponry anywhere on the planet – Iran. As the backbone supporter of various terrorist organisations, Tehran regularly supplies them with light and heavy armament.

The Russian-produced assault rifles have an added value. They are actually untraceable. Iran produces its own analogues of Kalashnikov – the KLF or KLS rifles. But they are easily identifiable by slight design differences, overall low quality, manufacture markings and the fire selector markings on the weapons. Supplying Russian manufactured weapons to Houthis, Hezbollah or HAMAS is preferable – nobody knows where they came from exactly, as the Russian markings may be found in many places.

Armenia, being today an important part of an Iranian – Russian axis, due to Yerevan's eager  assistance in circumventing sanctions, is a likely place to get such weapons.

Just imagine that “missing” from the Armenian military stockpiles since 2020 Kalashnikovs’ might have reached HAMAS, and may have been used in the October 7th massacre in Israel.

A year ago, Russian propaganda was actively pushing the narrative that arms sent to Ukraine will end up in criminal hands. The claims were that hundreds of units of firearms were sold to the different gangs in Eastern Europe. There was a big fuss in the media about that, though the evidence was pretty vague. Of course, it is totally plausible that criminals could get weapons from a war zone.

But surprisingly we are not talking about 17 thousand assault rifles, which disappeared in a country bordering Iran – the biggest known supplier of weapons to terrorists around the globe.

Compared to 2020, Armenia’s defense spending in 2024 is to increase by 81%- Ministry of Finance


YEREVAN, JANUARY 22, ARMENPRESS. The Armenian government plans to allocate around 557 billion drams to the defense sector in 2024, which is 6% more than the amount envisioned by the revised 2023 budget, the Ministry of Finance reported.

Defense spending in 2024 is to increase by 81% as compared to 2020.

In 2024, more than 17% of the budget expenditures will be allocated to the defense sector.

Azerbaijan demands are a ‘blow’ to peace process, Pashinyan says

Jan 15 2024
By Ani Avetisyan January 15, 2024

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has expressed concern over recent demands by Azerbaijan for the transfer of villages lost in the early 1990s, which he sees as a major setback for the peace process. 

On January 10 Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised interview that the Azerbaijan exclaves and the "four villages that are not exclaves […] should be returned to Azerbaijan without any preconditions".

The issue of the exclaves, along with the question of the exact borders, have long been debated by the two neighbours, with the relevant border commissions continuing meetings on the issues of border demarcation and delimitation. 

In a parliament meeting on January 13, Pashinyan stressed that the agreed basis for peace, border demarcation and delimitation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration. This document recognises the territorial integrity of both nations on the basis of their Soviet-era borders.

Pashinyan stressed that these principles were reaffirmed in agreements following the Prague meeting in October 2022, the subsequent Sochi meeting and the Brussels meeting in July 2023. He criticised Azerbaijan for contradicting these agreements at the highest level, suggesting a shift in the established logic. 

Pashinyan warned against Azerbaijan's alleged attempts to assert territorial claims against Armenia, calling such actions unacceptable. Pashinyan referred to Azerbaijan's demand for Azerbaijani exclaves in Armenia, saying that if Azerbaijan demands "four villages, then Armenia raises the issue of 32 villages", referring to Armenian border villages currently under Azerbaijani control and the Armenian exclave of Artsvashen, which were occupied by Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. 

'Given our commitment to recognising each other's territorial integrity on the basis of the Alma-Ata Declaration, we state that there should be no occupied territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan', Pashinyan said. 'Therefore, if it is determined that Armenia controls territories that 'de jure' belong to Azerbaijan, Armenia will have to withdraw. Similarly, for territories that 'de jure' belong to Armenia but are currently controlled by Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan will have to withdraw'. 

The first rumours about the demand to return the exclaves to Azerbaijan started circulating in Armenia shortly after the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. Later, Baku started demanding the exclaves and a connection to the exclaves guaranteed by Armenia. Azerbaijan has called the territories 'Western Azerbaijan' and demanded the return of the former Azerbaijani inhabitants to Armenia. 

On January 10 Aliyev said: "For the villages that are enclaves, a separate expert group should be established and this issue should be discussed. We believe that all enclaves should be returned."

Aliyev also said his army would not be withdrawing in the near future. "Neither from the positions of May 2021 nor from the positions of September 2022.  We are not taking a step back because that border must be defined. However, our location, which is currently disputed by Armenia, does not include any settlement. The positions and heights where we stand have never been inhabited before. Today, Armenia continues to occupy our villages, and this is unacceptable. I want to note again that this issue will be clarified during the meeting of the commissions at the end of this month," Eurasianet reported him as saying.

While the sizes of the Azerbaijani exclaves and Armenian Artsvashen are almost the same, Armenia will find itself in a difficult situation should the exchange occur, as the country’s two important international roads lie on or nearby the exclaves, one connecting the country to northern neighbour Georgia and the other, Iran.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino congratulates Armen Melikbekyan on re-election

 15:30, 8 January 2024

YEREVAN, JANUARY 8, ARMENPRESS. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has congratulated Armen Melikbekyan on his re-election as President of the Football Federation of Armenia.

"Dear President, please accept my warmest greetings and sincerest congratulations for your re-election as President of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA).
I seize also this opportunity to thank you for all your efforts, your work and your important contribution to the development of our sport and the promotion of its values in Armenia. Sending you and your team my best wishes for this new mandate and every success for all the challenges that lie ahead, I look forward, dear President, to continuing to work with you for the growth and prosperity of football in Armenia in the years to come,” Infantino said in the addressed to Melikbekyan.

Memoir: Clinching the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline

Jan 3 2024
Steven Mann Jan 3, 2024

This essay is part of a series by American diplomats sharing their impressions of the dramatic early years of Central Asia’s independence from the Soviet Union. These memoirs were written at the invitation of the DavisCenter for Russian and Eurasian Studies at HarvardUniversity. We publish these with special thanks to Nargis Kassenova, director of Davis’s Program on Central Asia.


Joe Presel was a singular American diplomat. When I was stationed as US ambassador to Turkmenistan in the late 1990s, Joe served as the US envoy in Uzbekistan. Fluent in Russian, Turkish, and French, Joe was a true bon vivant, yet also a streetwise product of Providence, Rhode Island.

Joe was visiting me in January 2001, near the end of my Turkmenistan assignment, when I opened an email from Beth Jones, the State Department’s Caspian energy envoy. “Have I got a job for you!” it read. Beth had been promoted to a new assignment, so she needed a successor. Though she never made it to Ashgabat, I had worked closely with her predecessors, John Wolf and Dick Morningstar, exhorting the then-Turkmen dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, to greenlight a trans-Caspian gas pipeline.

I told Joe I was turning the job down; I didn’t think I’d thrive in a job so free-wheeling. “Wadda you, nuts?” he rejoined, conjuring visions of top-tier negotiations and billion-dollar projects. A reflective cup of coffee later, I took the job. I have long been indebted to the Hon. Ambassador Presel for that nudge to new vistas.

Happiness is Multiple Pipelines

In the 1990s Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan had massive oil and gas fields that had languished under Soviet management. These countries were, in energy-speak, the “upstream.” Oil and gas money could transform those emerging nations if they could lure companies to develop the fields, and if they could get adequate volumes to market.

The first “if” happened fast. Soon after the Soviet implosion, companies thronged, led by Chevron, developing Kazakhstan’s supergiant Tengiz oil field. Turkmenistan had the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves. Azerbaijan had the massive Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) fields. BP, Total, Shell, Exxon, Mobil, and others soon followed. 

The second “if” was harder. Export routes – the “midstream” – had long existed: the Soviet Union had shipped oil and gas from the Caspian region into the industrial heartlands of Russia and Ukraine. Now, in the independence era, those pipelines were controlled by the Russian monopolies of Gazprom (for gas) and Transneft (for oil), and they squeezed the producers on transit fees. 

That was bad enough economically, but Gazprom and Transneft, then as now, were under the thumb of the Kremlin. If Moscow wanted to crack the political whip on its former vassals, the pipelines were easy-to-use instruments of coercion. Meanwhile, the United States wanted new, strong independent countries to emerge from the rubble of the old empire: new, multiple pipelines outside of Moscow’s grasp were thus a geopolitical game-changer. Accordingly, the Clinton administration created a special envoy for Caspian Basin energy diplomacy in 1998, and that was the assignment I took. 

Pipelines in Play         

By May 2001, when I started the job, some of the lines were settled, for good or for ill. That year the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) line opened, carrying oil from Tengiz in western Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiisk. True, the route ran through Russia, but legal agreements helped shield the route from Russian interference, and Kazakhstan has benefited to this day.

Two Turkmen gas pipelines had been in play: TAP, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline; and TCP, the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Taliban rule in Afghanistan killed TAP, and Niyazov’s mercurial governance twisted the knife on TCP. Ashgabat’s investment-hostile policies daunt those pipelines to this day.

The process of elimination, then, made one trans-Caucasus pipeline the centerpiece of US policy: BTC, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, designed to carry 1 million barrels per day of Azerbaijani crude oil to the deep-water Turkish port of Ceyhan. From there, the crude would reach world markets via supertankers. BTC construction would make it feasible to build a parallel South Caucasus gas pipeline (SCP) in the same hundred-meter corridor, sending Azerbaijani gas to Georgia and Turkey, but BTC had to come first. 

My predecessors had done the heavy lifting on BTC, forging regional cooperation and tightening the ties among governments and investors, leading to President Clinton presiding over BTC milestone agreements at a November 1999 Istanbul summit. Still, years of work remained.

17,000 Signatures 

I’m a diplomat. I can’t map a subsurface reservoir or calculate return on capital invested. That’s private sector work, and BP, as the main energy investor in Azerbaijan, oversaw BTC construction and appointed two top oilmen, David Woodward and Michael Townshend, to spearhead the project. 

But a clock was ticking. BP and its partners agreed to put up 30 percent of the project’s $3-billion cost, in addition to the billions they were spending for work on the ACG fields. Commercial and development banks agreed to finance the remaining 70 percent. To get this cash, the bankers’ severe standards had to be met, not just financial metrics, but environmental, social, and pipeline security criteria. 

The toughest lending conditions came from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank: the environmental and social documentation submitted to them filled 11,000 pages in 45 volumes. We had to have those banks because their participation provided needed confidence to the commercial lenders involved. Each bank also had to be sure that the political will to make the pipelines happen remained strong. At the end of the day, it would take 17,000 signatures on project-related agreements to get the BTC and SCP pipelines off the drawing board. 

The Caspian envoy had two key tasks. First, reassuring the Caspian governments (and the onlooking banks) that the United States was rock solid in its support for the pipelines, and that the transition from the Clinton to Bush administrations in early 2001 had not changed this. Secondly, the envoy mediated between the companies, banks, and governments, brokering, badgering, and problem-solving on the unending actions needed to make the projects a “go.” What did it profit the Caspian governments if they attracted upstream investments only to have the projects bog down in bureaucracy? 

At this point I should note: in this account, I describe my own experiences, but the record should be clear that the Caspian envoy was just one part of an exceptional US team, including Dan Stein of the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), Ed Chow, a USTDA consultant, Bud Coote of the CIA intelligence directorate, Geoff Lyon of the Energy Department, and a series of my long-suffering assistants: Justin Friedman, Eric Green, Mary Doetsch, and Rebecca Kinyon. 

Colorful Conversations

Travel as the envoy was a treadmill: midnight arrivals, 2:00 am room-service burgers, predawn departures in armored Chevy Suburbans, and more pilfered hotel soaps and shampoos than my guest bathroom could hold. To reinforce political will, I thumped the theme of “sovereignty and independence” across Eurasian conferences like an old-time politico stumping for votes. The centerpiece event was Dan Yergin’s annual Tale of Two Seas conference in Istanbul, and the Turks were key players, thanks to the calm humor and negotiating prowess of Energy Undersecretary Yurdakul Yigitguden. 

Solving practical problems meant governmental meetings, starting in Baku. All successful pipelines begin at the upstream, and for BTC, that meant Baku. Azerbaijan had been producing oil since 1846 and built its first pipeline in 1878. The Azerbaijanis were old hands at the oil business, and the state oil company (SOCAR) was stocked with smart execs, starting with their incisive chief negotiator, Valekh Aleskerov. We had few pipeline issues there.

And as for Georgia. . . since 1995, Georgia had been under the wise but sclerotic rule of Eduard Shevardnadze. A joke made the rounds: Shevardnadze was playing with his grandson, who asked;

“Grandfather, do you think in our free and independent Georgia, someday I could be president?”

“Why would Georgia need another president?”

Winters were hard in Georgia at the time, thanks to corruption and the country’s dependence on Gazprom. “There are only two seasons in Georgia: winter and preparing for winter,” went one proverb. The BTC and SCP pipelines promised to help this, but hard work was needed. Across the entire project, Washington liberally offered aid: on pipeline security and geological analysis, helping to rewrite outmoded legal codes, and offering export credit funding and insurance. Particularly in Georgia, environmental concerns proved a major issue: politicos and citizens had scores of questions and concerns. BTC needed Georgian officials to approve an environmental decree before it could sign an accord with the government and move ahead. 

Georgia’s point man was the late Gia Chanturia, the whirlwind CEO of the Georgian national oil company. Despite his hard work, the decree was entangled in the country’s bureaucracy as the 2002 Georgia Oil and Gas Conference began in Tbilisi. Then, at the opening ceremony, Gia proclaimed that all obstacles had been overcome. TV cameras rolled and spectators applauded as he and BP inked the environmental accord.

That night we convened for a celebratory banquet. Georgians prize a good tamada, or toastmaster, and Gia was in exuberant form that night. Yet as the wine bottles toppled, he confided: “You know, the president hasn’t gotten around to that decree yet.” Brilliant rascality! A conference splash Gia wanted, and a splash he got. Only months later, however, did the actual decree emerge. 

Kazakhstan, like Azerbaijan, had a deep and skillful bench, with no official sharper than the President’s energy advisor, Maksat Idenov. But the state energy company, KazMunayGas, along with the Ministry of Energy, while professional, had some quirks. March 2002 saw the first US-Kazakhstan Energy Partnership meeting in Astana. At nine o’clock on the morning of the meeting, our US and Kazakh teams met to begin a day of expert talks, and Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik and I, with senior staff, repaired to a conference room. Shkolnik was the rare non-ethnic Kazakh in Nazarbayev’s cabinet, a learned physicist with his heart in nuclear energy, not oil. He spoke: “I gotta get to Shymkent. Write what you want for a declaration, and we can sign it. This was the concluding declaration, summarizing the day’s talks and our plans for the next meeting. We scribbled something out, Shkolnik barked a quick assent, then cracked open the vodka. 

We traded toasts, stories, and jokes in a well-lubricated start to the partnership. The minister, a doppelganger for comedian Rodney Dangerfield, brought down the room with a few humorous anecdotes before dashing to his plane, leaving the rest of us to walk out to a room full of experts whose talks had already been summarized and praised.

No capital, of course, was quirkier than Turkmenistan’s Ashgabat. In April 2002, Ashgabat hosted the first Caspian Sea delimitation summit. Delimitation had long been a thorny issue. The adults in the room – Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia – all held reasonable positions, while Iran and Turkmenistan were outliers, making extreme demands. Iran claimed a flat 20 percent of the Caspian Sea, and Turkmenistan claimed most of Azerbaijan’s oil fields. 

Niyazov, the self-styled “Turkmenbashi” (leader of all Turkmen), often boasted that he could solve the delimitation issues “in one day.” (What is it about blowhards that makes them love that phrase?) That day came in April 2002, when he convened the summit, with the leaders of all five Caspian littoral states meeting in Ashgabat. No US official attended, but I heard an identical readout from members of two delegations.

The foreign ministers and their experts negotiated throughout a long day, but came up time and again against Turkmen and Iranian intractability. Niyazov had scheduled an evening banquet to celebrate his expected triumph, and he pressed on despite the diplomatic flop. Iran’s then-president Muhammad Khatami flatly boycotted the banquet, ostensibly because alcohol was served. (Niyazov notoriously loved long, alcohol-soaked fests. In my time as ambassador in Ashgabat, I struggled to ambulate out of a few.) Niyazov also loved the role of tamada, and at the banquet, he announced: “Well, guys, we had this summit to solve our problems and we failed. Whose fault was that? Ours! We’re no better than the Soviet Politburo!” This instantly frosted the Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev and Vladimir Putin. 

The feast proceeded, and when the dishes had been cleared, Niyazov stood up again and said, “Guys, we have another hour left! What should we do?” Directed merriment often followed Turkmen banquets. In Turkmenbashi’s gala for Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, for example, he split the delegations and diplomatic corps into two teams for a song contest.

But on this occasion, Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev snapped, “We can go home!” 

Turkmenbashi turned on him: “Heydar, I don’t know what’s the matter with you! When you were young, you used to drink and dance all night! Now that you’re old, you don’t want to do that anymore!” This had a predictable effect on Azeri-Turkmen relations. With dignitaries alienated, the first Caspian summit concluded.

And what of Russia’s stance on the new pipelines? Russia kept a watchful eye on our energy diplomacy, and sent its own special envoy, Viktor Kaluzhny, on the Caspian trail. Viktor was a former deputy energy minister. He and his ambassadorial deputy, Andrei Urnov, were consummately professional and knowledgeable, but burdened by an unclear brief. Putin was still consolidating control; in those years Russia didn’t oppose the new export routes, but wasn’t quite comfortable with them either. Viktor and I paneled and podiumed from Tbilisi to Houston, and in a quiet moment, he asked me, how do you think America would feel if we named a Great Lakes envoy and sent him to Canada? Whatever fumbled reply I had was only l’esprit de l’escalier, when you think of an answer too late. What I should have said was, what is it in our behavior that would make our neighbor welcome such an envoy?

Presidential Meetings 

The most valuable part of the envoy’s work was done in small-group meetings with the presidents and their ministers. We had to go to the top to crack the bureaucracy, and I entered each meeting with a list of government actions needed to keep the projects on track.

The US ambassador joined me in every presidential meeting, and for our chiefs of mission, the envoy’s visit was welcome. Energy was one of those rare issues where the US and the host government sang in harmony, and those meetings contrasted with the steady and necessary encounters our embassies had on tense topics, from political reform to human rights to ties with Iran.

I was a frequent traveler to Kazakhstan, beginning in March 2002, when I met with President Nazarbayev in Astana, still a small city with construction everywhere. Nazarbayev was foursquare behind energy development, and with CPC achieved, much of our talk involved the next-phase concept of connecting Kazakh oil south into BTC. He had a suitably cavernous office, and we sat at a long, polished side table. 

The discussion turned to Caspian delimitation, and how, the previous summer, Iranian gunboats chased away a BP research vessel from a disputed Azerbaijani field. Always happy to discredit Tehran, I noted that for Iran to take its claimed 20 percent of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan, with the longest coast, would have to shrink its sector. In short, “Iran hit Azerbaijan, but they were aiming at you.” Nazarbayev boomed to his notetaker: “Write that down!”

The president extolled Kazakhstan’s development, rightly so: Kazakhstan then as now outpaced the rest of Central Asia. Then pounding the table with his fist, he thundered: “They say there is corruption in Kazakhstan! Where, where is corruption!?” 

For an eyeblink, I thought of quipping, “And how are your children, Mr. President?” – but opted instead just to nod thoughtfully. Nazarbayev continued, “They say my children shouldn’t be in business, they say they are making a lot of money! But it’s a free country. Everyone is free to pursue his activities. What can I do?” 

What indeed?

In that moment, why didn’t I pursue the issue of corruption, and in other top-level Caspian talks, push the other issues that were and are important to the United States: democratization, human rights, regional conflict? Fundamentally, I had a specialized brief to carry out on behalf of the US government, building the energy infrastructure that would help these countries break free of Moscow’s gravitational pull. Securing that degree of independence was a prize in itself, something that could open a path for these countries to shed the Soviet legacy and the crippling imprint of Leninism. 

I also saw how difficult it is to advance our human rights goals with presidents who relished power and the wealth it brought. I knew from 25 years as a diplomat that blunt demands win kudos at Cleveland Park dinner parties, but rarely deliver the goods. I knew also that you have to build a relationship before you can trade on that relationship, and working as partners on energy was a way to build that connection – not for me to cash in, but for the resident US ambassadors. The ambassador was the quarterback; I was a special-teams player. 

And finally, I held the conviction that the way to advance our democracy and human rights goals was through stressing the rule of law, and the practical starting point for the rule of law was commercial law: property rights, land ownership, contract adjudication, and business creation. With the help of the American Bar Association and others, we worked to put into practice these new legal standards, while exchange programs sent dozens of local lawyers abroad. I also valued the social change aspect of Western companies moving into the Caspian: hiring local employees, then sending them to the US and Europe for training; introducing them to international standards of management; enshrining safety and environmental safeguards; and having personnel systems in which you didn’t have to kick back money to the boss, or sleep with him to keep your job. 

Success with BTC

As 2003 began, momentum was on the side of the BTC pipeline. Financing was falling into place, so I was able to travel to Iraq in August 2003 and take on new tasks after the US invasion, managing the end of the UN Oil-For-Food program and transitioning its $10 billion in assets to the new Iraqi government. The UN set a November 21 deadline to end the program. 

Given the epic incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, our team of logisticians and lawyers was quarter-staffed, but we finished the work in time. I left Baghdad in December, spent Christmas at home, and the BTC team and its lenders polished the details early in the new year. On February 3, 2004, in Baku’s Gülüstan Palace, the final agreements were signed, and though two years of construction remained, BTC was a reality. The South Caucasus gas pipeline (SCP) was soon to follow.

More Pipelines in Prospect 

Even as BTC progressed, we were looking at the next phase of pipelines. How would the companies export the volumes from new exploration in the central Caspian? And what about exports from the gargantuan Kashagan offshore oil field in Kazakhstan’s zone of the Caspian?

Production estimates for Kashagan’s three phases of development were 475,000 barrels per day; then 1 million barrels; and eventually 1.5 million barrels per day. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) line, and even a parallel CPC line could handle exports to the Black Sea, but what then? Oil tanker capacity through the treacherous Bosporus Straits had long been a challenge, and the Straits would be hard-pressed to handle new huge volumes. Thus, we and the companies eyed two options: sending Kazakh oil south and into BTC; and creating new pipelines from the Black Sea to bypass the Bosporus. 

The US steadily encouraged Azeri-Kazakh cooperation and convened the first Aktau-BTC talks in London in 2002, with Kairgeldy Kabyldin representing Kazakhstan, and then-SOCAR vice president Ilham Aliyev – soon to get a major promotion – in the chair for Baku. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs proposed a variety of Bosporus bypass solutions: Samsun-Ceyhan, Burgas-Alexandropolis, Burgas-Vlore, Constanta-Omišalj. Against all sober advice, Ukraine built the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline on spec in 2002 and watched it sit empty. No one had coordinated with oil companies to make sure there were entities ready to ship oil into it, or refineries ready to buy the oil from it. But this was Kuchma‘s Ukraine, a time when normal commercial practices didn’t apply.

Kashagan’s halting progress, however, made our brainstorming moot. Costs skyrocketed, thanks to development missteps, and to the sheer difficulty of developing a high-sulfur, high-pressure field in the shallow Caspian. Delays and cost overruns made it a nightmare, the most expensive infrastructure project on the planet. The cost burden meant that Kashagan might never get beyond the first-phase development. As a result, the idea of a Bosporus bypass pipeline faded from thought.

By the time I left the Caspian envoy position in the summer of 2004, BTC and SCP were assured, CPC was running smoothly, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan had become familiar destinations for Western energy investment, and the State Department phased out the envoy position.

Lessons in Energy Diplomacy

At a key moment in the post-Soviet era, America catalyzed energy development for countries whose destinies were still uncertain. Energy was the foundation of three new nations’ economies, and critical to an ever-threatened fourth, Georgia. The United States’ convening power and hard work as an honest broker infused international companies, development agencies, and banks with much-needed confidence to make these multibillion-dollar projects a reality.

And now, as Europe shuns Russian gas, this Caspian energy corridor is bringing modest gas volumes into Southern Europe. It will be challenging and very expensive to go beyond modest deliveries, but if Ashgabat ever gets serious about cross-Caspian gas exports – a steep “if” – the volumes could be profound.

A few lessons emerge from this experience. First, that was then, this is now. In that special dawn of post-Soviet sovereignty, energy diplomacy was key in making that link between fledgling governments and the expeditionary private sector. Today’s Eurasian energy challenges are not as simple and involve the complex tasks of alliance management and security affairs, framed by the overarching issue of climate change. 

Yet now as then, the private sector plays a seminal role. Diplomacy and political will alone can’t deliver the goods. The private sector needs to thrive for energy diplomacy to succeed. BTC and its sister pipelines succeeded because credible corporations invested billions in oil and gas fields. A few years later, promoters proposed the Nabucco pipeline, a line to bring gas across Turkey into Europe, but Nabucco never partnered with upstream producers, so despite cascades of political will and years of US cheerleading, the pipeline never happened.

And now Europe is successfully replacing Russian pipeline gas with liquefied natural gas (LNG), but those volumes aren’t moving because of government pledges and pleas – they are moving because companies and energy traders are reacting to price signals. And to get more pipeline gas into Europe from the Caspian and Mediterranean, international oil companies will have to step up their upstream and midstream investments in those regions.

For the Caspian, that’s tricky. The Caspian region is no longer as “hot” in investment terms as it was. Azerbaijan’s oil production is in a steady decline. The expense of Caspian oil and gas development remains high. Oil and gas excitement has moved to Guyana, Africa and, powerfully, US shale. The industry is always shifting, always exploring. Governments from Astana to Kyiv – to Washington – can get new volumes onto the market by offering competitive investment terms and by slashing the bureaucracy and tax burdens that impede oil and gas production. Ultimately, new oil and gas volumes flow because of decisions in boardrooms, not situation rooms.

In Debt Again

The years that followed saw other assignments, including a return to Eurasian energy diplomacy in 2008. Congress had become concerned about Russian energy leverage, after the January 2006 cutoff of gas to Ukraine and Europe, and ordered the State Department to get more active, so Ambassador C. Boyden Gray and I formed a duo to press the Europeans for energy diversification and the Caspian governments to keep their investment climates healthy. 

Just after New Year’s 2009, however, ExxonMobil called me with an offer to join their international affairs group. I pushed off the answer. My heart was firmly in the Foreign Service. My 32 years as a diplomat had seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and I wanted to keep it going. The Obama administration was about to take office, and the day before the inauguration, I had sandwiches with one of the incoming president’s lieutenants, an old friend. I reminded him of the new president’s campaign pledge to give major ambassadorships to career officers, not as payoffs to campaign donors.

“He said that?” Pause to digest, and not the sandwich. “Ok, what do you want?” I named a couple of European posts; I didn’t want to keep treading the same career ground. “Sounds reasonable to me, I’ll ask the guys.” 

A few days later, I opened an email: sorry, they’ve gone to contributors. How about Ukraine or Azerbaijan?” That week I accepted Exxon’s offer and began a rarefied education in energy from the private sector-side of the table. For that, I have long been indebted to the Hon. President Obama.

Editor’s note: In addition to serving as US ambassador to Turkmenistan and as the US Caspian energy envoy, Steven Mann was a fellow of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University in 1985-86.