Part One: Crude Measures

At the Gates of a Global Oil Rush, Turkish Fishermen Threaten a Blockade

Last year, the Kurdish group, along with Friends of the Earth, Platform, the Corner House, CEE Bankwatch, and Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale, published a 202-page report that explores the project's potential environmental and social impacts. It also challenges the pipeline's legal underpinnings, which place sizable burdens on the host governments should they decide to pass new legislation affecting the project.

These fixed agreements are of obvious importance for the pipeline's operators; in the Caucasus, corruption and lack of democracy mean that largely unaccountable leaders can make deal changes on whims. The downside, as activists see it, is that legitimate changes to correct unforeseen effects will be very hard to implement.

In protest of the pipeline, nine members of the activist group Rising Tide stormed the European development bank's London offices last month. With concerns mounting that the route might threaten a prized aquifer in Georgia, both the EBRD and IFC have stated that they intend to proceed cautiously.

illustration: Suzanne Allen

Details

Oil, Empire, and Influence in the New Eurasia

Deep beneath the waters of the Caspian Sea lie oil reserves rivaling those of the entire United States. Extracting the crude is one problem; finding a way to bring it to Western markets has been almost impossible. Backed by the U.S. government and a collective of 11 major oil firms, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will cross mountains, desert wastes, and earthquake zones, while skirting potential battlefields and terrorist hideouts as it covers a distance equivalent to that from New York to Miami.

Construction will begin this spring, officials say, whether American troops invade neighboring Iraq or not. In this series, correspondent Raffi Khatchadourian explores the geography-political, economic, and social-of a conduit for coveted oil.

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But in Incirli, people's concerns are more immediate. Many of the men call themselves fishermen, but only a few continue going out on their boats. "The docks have powerful lighting systems that attract the fish," said Ali Soylu, 29. "And we can't go there. When they add the new pier, our fishing space will diminish even more." Worse, villagers say, when they look over the terminal's fence, they see gardeners and cafeteria workers who they know are not from the area. Their first instinct is to believe that somewhere a deal was cut.

Privately, BTC officials concede that they must deal with whatever inheritance, in terms of community relations, Turkey's embattled state pipeline agency has left them. That's liable to be an increasingly complex task. According to a BTC study, construction teams inevitably bring other ills: prostitution and communicable diseases, to name just two. The study also states that new terminals can spur greater urbanization, with a slow but steady influx of migrant workers and an overall shift in the way of life. Halton, the BP spokesman, says the company is trying its best to avoid that.

Regarding Incirli's specific complaints, BTC explained in an e-mail that the new jetty will reduce the gulf's fishing area by 16 percent. It also noted, "A majority of the presently working staff in the region and BOTAS's service contractors in the region are local hires," and promised an independent third party would be present during future recruitment.

That may not be enough for Ali Askin, the out-of-work mechanic who's ready to blockade the terminal. "When there are no options left," he says, "as the people of this village, that is what we will have to do."

Still, the company says it wants this project to set the standard of business in the countries hosting it. The true test, activists say, is whether it can redefine global norms on a local level, right here in a place like Incirli.

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