Turkey’s Geopolitical Position and its Role as an Energy Corridor, speech delivered at the International Youth Conference “Turkey on the European Doorstep, European Parliament, Brussels, 22 June 2011 (text and Power Point)


Lecture delivered at the International Youth Seminar held in the European Parliament, Brussels, 22 June 2011

Turkey’s geopolitical   position and its importance as an energy corridor will be discussed in this article under four chapters namely 1) the historical background; 2) the present situation; 3) Turkey’s multiple identities; 4) Turkey’s importance as an energy corridor.

position and its importance as an energy corridor will be discussed in this article under four chapters namely 1) the historical background; 2) the present situation; 3) Turkey’s multiple identities; 4) Turkey’s importance as an energy corridor.

 I – Historical background

Turkey is located at the intersection of two important axes: 1) East-West axis that goes from the Middle East overland through the Anatolian peninsula to the Balkans; 2) North-South axis that goes from the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits to the Mediterranean.

East-West axis (Anatolia)

The East-West axis, that is to say the land mass called Anatolia, served as a cradle to many civilisations that followed one another: Hittites began to arrive in Anatolia at the turn of the second millennium BC from an area not yet known for sure and established their empire ca. 1750 BC in Hattussas in Central Anatolia. Babylonians formed their trade colonies in the capital city of the Hittite empire at the centre of Anatolia. 3500 years old cuneiform tablets reflect a sophisticated urban and commercial life in the middle of the second millennium BC in Anatolia. Trojan Wars were fought at the western coasts of Anatolia.

Hittites were succeeded by the Phrygians, Bythinians, Lydians, Persians, Alexander the Great, Byzance, Seljuks, Ottomans and the Republican Turkey. This multitude of civilisations that followed one another is an indication that the history of the Asia Minor, which constitutes most of Turkey’s present territory, was not calm. Areas that have no geopolitical importance remain relatively calm and their history is much less disturbed than the history of areas of geopolitical importance. The turbulent history of Anatolia is a telling evidence of its geopolitical importance.

North-South axis (Bosporus and Dardanelles)

The North-South axis is a seaway that links the Black Sea basin to the “warm seas”. This axis was used intensively since the mythological eras. It played important roles in the shaping of the history of the Black Sea basin.

According to the Greek mythology, it is through this axis that the ship named Argo” with a group of 50 or more courageous Greek sailors including mythological figures such as Jason, Heracles, Orpheus, Telemont and others sailed to Colchis (the present Georgia) to get hold of the Golden Fleece.

Many Greek colonies all around the Black Sea were established by people who used the same seaways. These colonies played an important role in the shaping of the history of the coasts of the Black Sea, especially in the Eastern and Northern shores. The vestiges of the Greek culture that survived in these regions until today are the remnants of these Greek colonies.

Napoleon must have been inspired from this location of the Bosporus when he said that “if the world was to be governed by one single State, its capital would be Constantinople (Istanbul)”. This central position of Istanbul could be seen at the Map-1, where it spans Asia and Europe and is close to the point where Africa meets Asia.

MAP-1: Turkey’s location at the crossroad of continents

 The seaway that goes from the Black Sea to the “warm seas” crosses the Turkish Straits. The control of these straits has always been a major foreign policy goal for the Russian Empire since it gained access to the Black Sea in 1711 after the Ottoman-Russian Treaty of Prut. One century later, in July 1807, when the Russian Tsar Alexander I insisted in Tilsit to get the control of the Turkish Straits, Napoleon retorted by saying “Constantinople? Mais Constantinople c’est l’Empire du monde” (Constantinople? But Constantinople means the world empire).

In 1943 when Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were discussing in Potsdam the aftermath of the Second World War, Stalin insisted that Russia should have a say on the Turkish Straits.

II – The present situation

The parameters that made this region important in the past continue to prevail today as well. Every region in the world is entitled to claim that it is the epicentre of world events. Or any point on the world map may be regarded as the centre of the globe. However to make a more rational comparison from the geo-strategic standpoint, we may draw a circle on the world map with Istanbul at the centre and with its perimeter stretching as far as the United Kingdom (Map-2). Such a circle will cover the major part of areas where the history of the world is shaped. It will cover almost all of the European countries, North Africa, the Caucasus and the entire Middle East. 70 % of the world gas and oil reserves lie in this geography. 40 % of the world oil and gas is consumed in this geography. Most of the conflicts that fill the agenda of the international relations take place in the areas that are covered by this circle. It is not easy to draw a circle with similar effects if you take as its centre another major metropolis in the world.

MAP 2: Istanbul as an epicentre

There are several hot points in the world that may affect negatively the security or economic interests of the West in general and those of the European countries in particular. Many of them are in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, in Central Asia and in the Middle East. Almost all of these regions are in the immediate neighbourhood of Turkey. Central Asia is not in the immediate neighbourhood, but Turkey has historical, linguistic and ethnic ties with the peoples of this region and has relatively strong presence in the countries of this region.

Before elaborating on the geopolitical importance of Turkey, it may be appropriate to say a few words on the importance of the sub-regions that surround Turkey, namely the Black Sea basin, Caucasus, Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia. Each one of these regions is important for different reasons. And the role that Turkey could play varies also from one region to the other.

Black Sea basin    

The Black Sea basin could be divided into two regions 1) Black Sea maritime area, 2) Black Sea basin as a whole that covers the territories of all littoral countries as well as countries that are not littoral but use the Black Sea as their main outlet to the world such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Black Sea maritime area

The strategic importance of the Black Sea maritime area stems, among other reasons, from: 1) the energy routes; 2) Montreux convention, and 3) potentials for military cooperation.

Energy routes

An important part of the oil and gas originating in the Russian Federation or in the Caspian Sea basin is shipped through the maritime area of the Black Sea either by oil tankers or through pipelines laid in the sea bed.

The oil tankers that cross the Black Sea maritime area have to cross also the Turkish Straits to reach the international markets. Therefore the importance of the Turkish Straits cannot be dissociated from the importance of the Black Sea maritime area when considered from the standpoint of the energy security.

The Russian Federation uses the Black Sea maritime area in order to diversify the routes of its gas exports towards Europe. The details of this subject are discussed in the chapter “Turkey as an energy corridor”.

 The security of this area is therefore of vital importance both for the recipient and supplier countries of the oil and gas of this region and Turkey is in a position to contribute to this security as explained below.

b. Montreux Convention

The Black Sea has a unique status defined by an international Convention signed in Montreux in 1936. This Convention makes a distinction between the rights of the littoral countries of the Black Sea and those of non-littoral.

  • The most important provisions of the Convention that limit the tonnage of the military vessels of the non-littoral countries could be summarized as follows:
  • The tonnage, which any one Non-Black Sea Power may have in the Black Sea, shall be limited to two-thirds of the aggregate tonnage of the strongest fleet in the Black Sea
  • The aggregate tonnage of the vessels of the non-Black Sea Powers shall not exceed   30 000 tons.
  • This upper limit may be increased to 45 000 tons in case the tonnage of the strongest fleet in the Black Sea is increased above this figure.
    Non-littoral countries are not allowed to keep their military vessels more than 21 days in the Black Sea.

The aim of these restrictions was not to discriminate one set of countries from another, but to avoid a military confrontation in the Black Sea. This aim seems to have been achieved since the Black Sea was spared from the military confrontation despite the fact that it constituted the dividing line between two opposing military alliances, namely NATO and the Warsaw Pact for several decades.

The Convention was signed for a period of 20 years; thus it was going to expire in 1956 in case any of the States Parties were to object to its tacit renewal. Since no country took such an action, one may presume that the balance struck in 1936 between the rights of the littoral and non-littoral countries was reasonable.

The provisions of the Montreux Convention came recently to the forefront during the Georgian crisis of August 2008, because, when the crisis broke out, the United States wanted to send a hospital ship of 69 000 tons to the Black Sea. When the relevant provisions of the Convention were brought to the attention of the United States, it did not insist and sent another ship within allowed limits.

Turkey, in its capacity of the country that controls the Straits leading to the Black Sea, presents each year a report to State-Parties of the Convention informing them on the movement of naval vessels that crossed the Turkish Straits. In a way the Convention entrusts Turkey with the task of registrar of the proper implementation of the Convention.

c. Military cooperation in the Black Sea

As far as the security is concerned, we may talk of risks rather than threats in the Black Sea region. The littoral countries have the capability to cope with these risks. There are two indigenous initiatives, both launched by Turkey, to address such risks: Blackseafor and Operation Black Sea Harmony. These two initiatives are at present major security providers in the Black Sea maritime area. They are based on two pillars: a) to attain all littoral countries; b) maritime security should be complementary to the Euro-Atlantic system, because security is indivisible.

The accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union added a new dimension to the importance of the Black Sea maritime area, to the Black Sea basin as a whole and to the North-South axis.

In this context, the role that the Black Sea could play in the international politics transcends the limited geographical area of the coastal countries that surround it. Its role extends to Euro-Atlantic relations. It may affect the power balance in the Caucasus region, including non-littoral countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan. It may also affect the power balance further away in the Middle East. Furthermore, the Black Sea geographical area, which was virtually ignored during the cold war era, has to be regarded now as an integral part of the reconstructed Europe.

 Black Sea basin

The Black Sea basin in a wider sense is a vast geography that covers the territories of all littoral countries. It has a surface almost double as big as the entire European continent.

The role of the Black Sea region as an energy corridor and an area of frozen conflicts make it an important region from the military standpoint, but it also offers huge potentials for economic cooperation.

a. The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)

After the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, Turkey took an initiative to establish a regional economic cooperation organization with a view to reaping the advantages that the region offers. The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) that was established in March 1994 is the result of this initiative. It is the only indigenous initiative to capitalize on the new parameters that were emerging in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is the first example of an institutionalized and widely inclusive multilateral cooperation platform in the Black Sea region consisting of member countries with divergent economic and social experiences, as well as different visions and agenda for their future. BSEC was established on the idea that stronger economic cooperation among the Black Sea countries would enhance stability in the region by helping the member States to achieve sustainable economic structures. Thus, its institutional framework was set up with the underlying motive of integrating the region into the world economy.

The Headquarters of the Permanent International Secretariat of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation is in Istanbul.

b. Black Sea Synergy 

The EU is closely interested in the region and more specifically in the activities of the BSEC. The European Commission developed a concept called Black Sea Synergy in its paper entitled Commission’s 2007 Enlargement Strategy Paper. The European Parliament adopted on 10 July 2008 a Resolution based on this Strategy Paper. In this Resolution there is a specific reference to the Black Sea region and more specifically to the BSEC. It reiterates the “importance of devising a more sophisticated and comprehensive EU Strategy for the Black Sea region that goes beyond the current synergy initiative and envisages the establishment of a Black Sea Cooperation Agreement, which should include the EU, Turkey, all Black Sea littoral States as equal partners, while seeking the full involvement of Russia, and which could, at a later stage, develop into a Union of the Black Sea countries ”. The EU believes that such a multilateral framework would offer the countries involved the possibility of strengthening their cooperation with the EU across a wide variety of policy fields.

c. Frozen conflicts

Another reason that makes this region important is the existence of several frozen conflicts. It has become a tradition to call them frozen conflicts, but some of them are not entirely frozen since they break out again from time to time.

There are several common features in 4 frozen conflicts of the Black Sea basin, namely Transnistria, Nogorno Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. One of the common features is that they all resulted from the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Second, all of them are within the territory of the former Soviet Union. Third, the Russian Federation is the major player in all of them.

Only Transnistria will be taken up under this chapter and the three others will be taken up under the chapter of Caucasus.

Trans-Dniester (Transnistria)

The breakaway State of Trans-Dniester (Transnistria) was born when the Soviet Union began to fall apart. The Moldovan territories on the left bank of the river Dniester were inhabited by mainly Russian speaking population while the population living on the Moldova proper spoke Moldovan and identified strongly with the neighbouring Romania. This frightened the Russian-speaking population of Moldova living on the left side of Dniester who felt a much stronger allegiance to Moscow. As a result of this, Transnistria proclaimed its independence in 1990.

The independence of this territory of 555 000 inhabitants is not recognized by any country. Its sustainability as an independent State is questionable without the diplomatic recognition of the international community. Its annexation to the far away Russian Federation is neither easy nor practical. And a solution that will satisfy both the Russian Federation and the remainder of the international community is not yet at sight.

3. Turkey’s role in the Black Sea basin

Turkey is one of the major players in the Black Sea basin. It has the second longest coast line in the Black Sea after Ukraine. However from the standpoint of the handling capacities of harbours on the Black Sea coast it is the biggest, because the number of Turkish harbours on the Black Sea coasts is by far higher than those of all other littoral countries.

Turkey is the second biggest military power in the Black Sea basin after the Russian Federation. It is a major NATO country.

In light of these parameters Turkey has means to contribute to both military and economic cooperation in the Black Sea basin.

B. Caucasus

Caucasus has become one of the volatile regions in the close neighbourhood of Europe. Three of the so-called “frozen conflicts” are in this region. Furthermore its closeness to energy sources and energy routes is another reason for it to be important. One of the frozen conflicts, namely Nogorno Karabakh, is between Azerbaijan and Armenia; the two others, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are between Georgia and its autonomous regions that declared their independence. However Russia, rather than the autonomous republics, has to be considered as the main interlocutor.

Turkey is engaged in the Caucasian affairs because of its special relations with Azerbaijan, its close relations with Georgia and its unsolved problems with Armenia. Furthermore there are sizeable Georgian and Abkhazian communities in Turkey. The number of ethnic Georgians and ethnic Abkhazians in Turkey are more than the Georgians and Abkhazians it their respective countries.

One fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan is occupied by Armenia. Turkey and Azerbaijan have close linguistic, cultural and ethnic ties. These ties are sometimes described as “two States but one nation”. It is difficult for any Turkish government to turn a blind eye to the problems of Azerbaijan. This is the main reason that forced the Turkish government to close its borders with Armenia after the Armenia invaded seven provinces of Azerbaijan in early 1990s.

1. Nogorno-Karabakh

This geographical region was an oblast within the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. It has around 190 000 inhabitants. It is officially part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It declared independence on 10 December 1991, but it is not recognized by any country including Armenia. However Armenia does not recognize its being part of Azerbaijan either, claiming that the region declared independence at the same time that Azerbaijan became an independent State and that both of them are equally successor States of the Soviet Union.

This approach contradicts several international resolutions:

a. Three UN Security Council Resolutions (853, 874, and 884) and two UN General Assembly resolutions (49/13 and 57/298) refer to Nagorno-Karabakh “as a region of Azerbaijan”.

b.      A Council of Europe resolution states that “the territory of Azerbaijan includes the Nagorno-Karabakh region“. Another Council resolution states that “Considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces”.  The resolution further states that “the occupation of foreign territory by a member State constitutes a grave violation of that State’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe “.

 The EU declared that “it does not recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh. The European Union cannot consider legitimate the ‘presidential elections’ that were scheduled to take place on 11 August 2002 in Nagorno Karabakh”.

The US State Department issued a Report where it stated that “Armenia continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories”.

Despite this unequivocal position of all major international organizations, no concrete step is taken to resolve the dispute.

This conflict kept Armenia outside of at least three regional economic cooperation projects: 1) Baku-Tbilissi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project; 2) Baku-Tbilissi-Erzurum gas pipeline project; 3) Kars-Baku railway project. Despite the fact that the shortest routes for the first two projects were through Armenia, Azerbaijan did not want to pump its oil and gas through a country that occupies one fifth of its territory. And despite the fact that there is already an existing railway that links Azerbaijan to Turkey through Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan decided to construct a new railroad that circumvents Armenian territory. Armenia could have benefited to a great extent from these projects if the conditions were suitable for its participation in them.

2. South Ossetia

South Ossetia was an autonomous oblast of Georgia in the Soviet times. The Republic of South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in 1990. The Georgian government responded by abolishing South Ossetia’s autonomy and trying to retake the region by force.

On 6 December 2006, the OSCE Ministerial Council supported the Georgian peace plan which was subsequently rejected by the South Ossetian de facto authorities. One can guess that the Ossetians authorities could not do it without the support of the Russian authorities.

On April of 2007, the Georgian government created a temporary administrative unit (Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia) for this territory of 70 000 inhabitants.

On 8 August 2008 the Russian Federation, using a military move by Georgia as a pretext, invaded the South Ossetia and recognized its independence. Other countries such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru (an island State in the Pacific with 10 000 population) followed suit most probably at the behest of the Russian Federation.

Turkey’s means to contribute to the solution of the South Ossetia problem is limited because it has no leverage on the parties.


Abkhazia is recognized as an autonomous republic of Georgia. It has a population that dwindled from 550 000 in 2002 to 190 000 in 2007. Only 18 % of this population is Abkhazian. The secessionist movement of Abkhaz ethnic minority declared independence from Georgia in 1992. An armed conflict broke out in 1992 and 1993 between the de facto independent entity and Georgia. With the military assistance of the Russian army the Abkhazians forced the Georgian army to retreat and it resulted in an ethnic cleansing and mass exodus of Georgian population from Abkhazia.

The Georgian crisis of 8 August 2008 resulted in the recognition by Russia of Abkhazia’s independence as well. This recognition is also followed by the countries that recognized South Ossetia’s independence namely by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru, as well as by South Ossetia and Transnistria, which are themselves in a situation similar to Abkhazia’s.

Each one of the frozen conflicts enumerated above is shaped by different parameters. The solution applicable to one of them may not be valid for another. However we may say that 1) the political will of the major players is not strong enough to place these conflicts high on the agenda; 2) progress cannot be expected to resolve these conflicts without the cooperation of the Russian Federation

Platform for Cooperation and Stability in the Caucasus

After the Georgian crisis of August 2008 Turkey launched an initiative that is called the Platform for Cooperation and Stability in the Caucasus. This initiative does not aim at substituting any existing organization, forum or platform. It is complementary to them. Subjects that cannot be discussed in other fora may be brought to this forum. The advantage of the forum lies in the fact that it comprises only the Caucasus countries that have direct stake in the region, namely Turkey, the Russian Federation, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, in other words there will not be exogenous participation in the Platform. It was thought that exogenous participation would carry the risk of diluting the subjects of cooperation with inputs alien to the region. Countries of the region are the ones who will benefit from the advantages that will accrue from the cooperation and who will suffer from the failure of their cooperation.

Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia had already extended their support to the initiative. Georgia had misgivings at the initial stage on the grounds that it could not sit around the same table with a country that occupies its territory. This was not a convincing reason since both Georgia and Russia were sitting around the same table in the BSEC. The support of Armenia for a project launched by Turkey was welcomed with appreciation in Turkey. The football diplomacy must have played a positive role in this attitude of Armenia. Whatever the reason, the outcome is positive both for Turkish-Armenian bilateral relations and for the success of the Platform initiative.

C. Middle East

Turkey stayed with its back turned to the Middle East for scores of years. Actually this was a deviation from the policy line initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Turkey was the promoter of other initiatives in the Middle East in 1930s, such as the Sadabad Pact that was signed in 1937 between Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. This policy of active engagement in the Middle East was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. After the War Turkey and some of the Middle Eastern countries found themselves in the opposing blocks in the bipolar world and this made difficult a meaningful cooperation among the countries of the region until the dismemberment of the Soviet Union.

Middle East continues to be one of the most volatile regions in the world. Turkey contributed to the best of its means to the re-establishment of the peace and stability and to the democratization process in Iraq. It remains to be seen whether this country will see the end of several turbulent and painful years during which the Iraqi people had to pay a very heavy toll.

Iran seems undeterred to continue its nuclear enrichment program. Iran with nuclear technology and the strengthened role of Shia in Iraq will definitely upset the power balance in the Middle East with all its incalculable consequences. Turkey’s attitude on the nuclear program of Iran could be summarized as follows: All countries have the right to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Neither Iran nor any other country in the region should acquire nuclear weapons. Diplomacy should be given priority to dissuade Iran from acquiring weapon-grade enriched uranium. Turkey is the country that will be affected the most from Iran’s acquisition of the nuclear weapons.

Israel continues to turn a deaf ear to the advice of all its allies in the West to refrain from the disproportioned use of force against the Palestinians and from the construction of new settlements beyond the 1967 lines. An opposition is also building up to this policy both in Israel and in the Jewish Diaspora in the United States. Indirect talks between Israel and Syria, where Turkey was serving as message carrier, are stalled as a result of the bombing and occupation of Gaza on 3 January 2009.

The relations with Syria evolved in the right direction very rapidly in recent years. In 1998, Turkey was almost going to send troops to Syria to force it to expel Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the PKK terror gang. Syria felt compelled to this expulsion. This was the beginning of a complicated process whereby Ocalan was captured with the tacit tolerance of the Greek Embassy in Nairobi and brought to justice in Turkey. As a result of this and other developments, the relations between Turkey and Syria improved in 2009 to the level of lifting of the visa obligation reciprocally.

The relations between Turkey and the various Middle Eastern countries put Turkey in a privileged position to contribute to the peace and stability in the region because: 1) it understands better the mentality of the peoples of the region; 2) it enjoys the trust of both sides to various conflicts in the region; 3) it is part of the Islamic world together with all of the Middle Eastern countries; 4) it has means to use its soft power both to contribute to the peace and stability and to the solution of conflicts in the region.

D. The Balkans

Turkey is actively engaged in the Balkan affairs not only because of the historical Ottoman background but also because of its geographical proximity and the existence of Turkish speaking communities in many Balkan countries. As a result of this Turkey took active part in the NATO operations in Serbia. It contributes with police and military contingents to the international peace efforts in Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo. More recently it started to use its soft power to broker normalization of relations between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The existence of ethnic Turks in many Balkan countries affects the relations between Turkey and these countries in a manner that varies from one country to the other. Every effort should be made to transform the existence of such communities as a bridge that could contribute to further strengthening the bilateral relations and to make it an asset rather than liability.

Turkey’s relations with Greece have to be considered from a wider perspective, because these two countries are NATO allies; democratic institutions are in place since relatively longer time in both of them and they are neighbours. None of the disputed issues between Turkey and Greece is of insurmountable nature. Some of them are hostage of strong nationalistic feelings that are exploited for domestic political purposes. School curricula continue to depict a negative image of the other side. However big masses and economic actors have much lesser problem to understand and appreciate each other. Therefore a strong political will could pave the way to the gradual elimination of the existing disputed issues. Steps are made recently in this direction. It remains to be seen whether it will succeed this time. If it succeeds tremendous potential will be released to cooperate on bilateral, regional and global issues. Transforming the Aegean into a sea of peace will not only increase the welfare of the people of both countries, but it will also have spill over effects in the entire Eastern Mediterranean and perhaps in the Middle East.

Turkey’s relations with Bulgaria evolved in an exemplary manner. In 1980s the Jivkov regime put into force a very harsh assimilation policy that forced at the gunpoint ethnic Turks living in Bulgaria to change their Muslim names into Christian names. However this policy was soon abandoned and ethnic Turks started to constitute now a strong bridge of friendship between Turkey and Bulgaria.

E. Central Asia

 Central Asia is a vast geography that covers the territories of Kazakhstan (a country as vast as one quarter of the entire European continent with its 2.5 million square km territory), Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These countries are important either because, among other reasons, they are in transition from the communist era to the post-soviet era or they are rich in mineral or hydrocarbon reserves or because they are unstable or because they are located in areas where the interests of the major world powers clash.

Turkey is present in this region either within the framework of cultural cooperation such as “Union of Turkic Republics”, or economic organizations such as ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization that encompasses Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Afghanistan addition of the aforementioned 5 central Asian countries) or Islamic Conference Organization or because of the strongly entrenched Turkish businessmen in the economic life of several countries of the region. Turkey is in a better position to understand the mentality of the peoples of these countries and to communicate with them because of the cultural and linguistic affinity.

 III – Turkey’s multiple identities

Is Turkey is a Middle Eastern or a Balkan country?  This question implies that a country may have only one single regional, cultural or political identity, whereas it may have more than one identity. In fact Turkey has several identities. It is a Middle Eastern country; it is a Balkan country; it is a Caucasian country; the ancestors having come from Central Asia, it has strong ties with Central Asia; it is part and parcel of the Islamic world (the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference Organisation is a Turk); it is a major Black Sea country; it is Mediterranean country; it took determining part in the shaping of the history of Europe, sometimes being in military conflict with various European countries, sometimes one European country seeking alliance with the Ottomans against another European country; it is a negotiating country with the European Union for full membership; being a secular country with predominantly Muslim population and embracing universal values as do all European countries, it is part of the same value system with the European countries; together with Spain it is the co-chairman of the Alliance of Civilisations; it is an important member of NATO; it is the founding member of the Council of Europe; it is member of the OECD.

Turkey is the sixth biggest economy of Europe and seventeenth biggest economy of the world. These multiple identities and its economic size, in addition to its important geopolitical location, make Turkey a special case in the world chess board.

IV – Turkey as an energy corridor

Oil reserves of the Caspian Sea and Gulf basins

A new and important factor is now added to the role that Turkey was able to play so far because of the features described above. This new factor is the increasing need for energy in the European countries. Map-3 shows the countries East of Turkey that possess oil and natural gas reserves. 72 % of the world oil gas reserves are in this region. Table-1 shows the distribution of these reserves among the countries of the region.

EU’s demand for gas 

Europe is the second largest oil and gas market in the world. Many European countries receive the natural gas that they consume from Russia. They suffered in the recent years from the disruption of gas supply in the critical months of the year because of the bilateral conflicts between Russia and transit countries, namely Ukraine and Belarus. These disruptions pushed both Russia and the consumer countries of the Russian gas to diversify the routes through which the gas will to be carried.  On the other hand, some EU countries are over-dependent on the Russian natural gas with proportions going as high as 70 or more per cent of their consumption. This led them to look for ways to diversify not only the routes of energy but also the sources of energy.

MAP-3: Oil and gas reserves in the countries East of Turkey

It is in light of these two requirements for diversification that Turkey option comes forward. Turkey is located in between the main hydrocarbon reserves of the world on the one hand and a major consumer of hydrocarbon, namely Europe, on the other (Map-4). It may contribute to

the diversification of both the sources of energy and routes of energy, because Turkey is not major oil and gas producing country. It imports oil and gas from 5 different countries namely, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia and Egypt. This does not mean that all oil and gas has to be transported through Turkey. Other routes do exist and they are being fully utilized. In fact a sizeable part of the Russian gas consumed by the member countries of the EU are transported through the pipelines laid on the North of the Black Sea. These routes will continue to be utilized with the addition of other routes.


      Countries Oil reserves

(billion barrel)

     Gas reserves

( trillion cubic meter)

Russia      79          44,7
Kazakhstan      30            2,8
Azerbaijan        7            0,8
Uzbekistan        0,6            1,8
Turkmenistan        0,6            2,8
Iran    138,4          26,9
Iraq    115            3,2
U. Arab Emirates      15,21          25,6
Saudi Arabia    266,8            7,2
Egypt        3,7            1,7

The EU consumes at present around 530 billion cubic meter gas per year. Estimates vary regarding its future need; however it is safe to say that towards 2025-2030 an additional quantity of 300 billion cubic meter of gas will be needed in the EU market. EU will meet this demand from various sources. For the sake of diversification it is expected that one third of

this demand may be supplied through Turkey. Therefore one may speculate that around 100 billion cubic meter of gas will have to be shipped to EU countries through Turkey in the next 15 to 20 years. In the short to medium term this requirement may stay around 40 billion cubic meters. Turkey’s oil and gas transport infrastructure is being developed to meet this requirement. Here are already existing and prospective oil and gas pipelines in Turkey:

Existing pipelines in Turkey

                  1. Russia-Turkey gas pipeline (Turusgas)

A pipeline carrying Russian gas to Turkey through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria is operational since 1988. Initially it had a capacity to pump 8 billion cubic meter gas per year. In 1996, this capacity is increased to 14 billion cubic meters per year.

                  2. Blue Stream gas pipeline 

A gas pipeline called Blue Stream crosses the Black Sea. This pipeline laid on the seabed has a capacity to carry 16 billion cubic meter gas per year. The offshore part of it runs 3 996 km. from a point south of Novorossiisk in the Russian Federation to the Turkish Black Sea port of Samsun.

                  3. Baku-Tbilissi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline

This pipeline is 1 760 km. long and carries Azeri oil through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean harbour of Ceyhan. The shortest route for this pipeline was through Armenia. However because of the unsolved Nogorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan did not agree that its oil be shipped through Armenian territories. The pipeline is in operation since 2006. It has a capacity to carry 50 million tons of oil per year and provides approximately 1,5 % of world oil supply.

 MAP-4: Turkey as a corridor between oil producing and oil consuming countries



Natural Transit Route

                 4. Kirkuk-Iskenderun Oil Pipeline

This is the oldest pipeline in Turkey. It is in operation since 1976. It carries Iraqi oil from Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean harbour of Iskenderun (Ceyhan). Its total length is 986 km and has a maximum capacity of carrying 70,9 million ton of oil per year.

                 5. Baku-Tbilissi-Erzurum Gas Pipeline 

This 915 km long pipeline is in operation since July 2007 and carries natural gas of the Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan to Eastern Anatolian city of Erzurum and joins there the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline. It is in operation since July 2007. It has a maximum capacity to carry 20s billion cubic meter of gas per year.

                 6.Iran-Turkey Gas Pipeline

This pipeline carries Iranian natural gas to the Eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. It starts in the Western city of Tabriz in Iran and ends in Ankara. It is 2 577 km long and is in operation since July 2001. It carries 11 billion cubic meter of gas per year.

                 7. Arab Gas Pipeline

There is another pipeline under construction that is nearing the Turkish border. It carries Egyptian gas from El-Arish in Egypt to Turkey through Jordan and Syria. It has a total length of 1 200 km. The construction of the pipeline is completed until the Syrian city of Hamah. The pipeline is scheduled to be connected to the Turkish grid in 2011. It has a capacity of carrying 10 billion cubic meter of gas per year. Turkey will buy 1.2 billion cubic meters and the remainder will go to Nabucco.

                 8. Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy

In addition to the incoming pipelines to Turkey there is also one outgoing pipeline that goes from Turkey to Greece and from there it will continue to Italy. Turkey-Greece part of this pipeline is in operation since 2007. It started by carrying 700 million cubic meter of gas per year. This volume is going to be increased to 3 billion cubic meters in the years to come. The total capacity of the pipeline is 12 billion cubic meter, therefore 9 billion cubic meter gas will be destined to Italy. The pipeline will cross the Adriatic Sea from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Lecce in Italy. When the Greece-Italy part of the pipeline is completed in 2013 it will have a total length of 808 km (Map-5).

D. Prospective pipelines

 Apart from the above mentioned existing pipelines there other pipelines at various stages of materializing. Some of them are at the preparatory stage, some others at the stage of ideas.

             1. Nabucco Gas Pipeline

 This project is at the stage of programming. The intergovernmental agreement is signed in 2009 in Ankara. The project is called Nabucco, because the idea of constructing this pipeline was first discussed after the initiators watched in the Vienna Opera House the Nabucco Opera composed by Guiseppe Verdi. The pipeline will cross the territories of 5 countries namely Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria (Map-6). It will start from Eastern provinces of Turkey because major part of the gas will have to come from Azerbaijan and Iran. It will have a total length of 3 300 km, 2 000 km of which will be in Turkey. It will have a capacity to carry 31 billion cubic meter gas per year.

The gas that will be carried is not yet secured. There is a promise by Azerbaijan to give gas from its reserves on the coasts of the Caspian Sea; however the capacity of the reserves in that area is not sufficient to fill the full capacity of the pipeline. Therefore other sources are required. Iran could be one of the alternative sources. However the restriction imposed on Iran not to invest more than 20 million dollars in this country limits the freedom of action of the initiators. The other sources that may substitute Iran are Turkmenistan if the question of crossing the Caspian Sea is solved or Iraq or Qatar.

Russia plans to construct an additional pipeline to be called South Stream that will carry gas through a pipeline to be laid across the Black Sea from Dzhubga in the Eastern Black Sea coast of Russia to the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna. Some observers see it as a rival to Nabucco. This observation does not hold in light of the data mentioned above,  because EU’s additional need for gas in the coming years amounts to hundreds of billion cubic meters, whereas the capacity of Nabucco  is 31 billion cubic meter and that of the South Stream is only 10 billion cubic meters. Therefore several South Streams and several Nabuccos are needed to meet the EU’s shortfall in the demand for gas.

MAP-5: Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy

2. Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project 

This project will carry 30 billion cubic meter gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan by crossing the Caspian Sea with pipeline laid on the sea bed. 16 billion of it will be destined to Turkey and the remaining 14 billion to the EU countries. The Kazakh branch of the pipeline will start from the Kazakh city of Atyrau in the Northern coast of the Caspian Sea, will cross the Caspian Sea to Baku and will then run parallel to the existing Baku-Tbilissi-Erzurum pipeline. The Turkmen branch will start from Turkmenbashi and will cross the Caspian Sea to Baku and will follow the same route as the existing Baku-Tbilissi-Erzurum pipeline.

3. Samsun-Ceyhan Oil pipeline project

This project will run from the Turkish Black Sea harbour of Samsun to the Mediterranean city of Ceyhan and aims at decreasing the oil tanker traffic through the Turkish Straits. It will carry 55 million ton oil per year. It will be 551 km long.

3.7 % of the world’s oil transports are carried through the Turkish straits. Any mishap in the traffic of the Turkish straits will constitute a serious hazard for a metropolis of 16 million inhabitants like Istanbul and will have an important impact on the world’s oil supply. Samsun-Ceyhan is designed to alleviate this heavy traffic.

MAP-6: Nabucco Project

4. Iraq-Turkey gas pipeline project

 As it was mentioned earlier, Iraq has 3,2 trillion cubic meter reserves of natural gas. It is expected that these reserves will be utilized when the political stability is established in Iraq.

Map-7 shows all exiting and prospective oil and gas pipelines in Turkey.      

E. Electricity

Electricity differs from the other sources of energy in the sense that it is not economic to use a country’s territory as a corridor to convey electric power. It makes sense only in case the power grid of a country is interconnected with the grid of a neighbouring country. Several common standards and compatible equipments are needed for two neighbouring countries to interconnect their power grids.

The interconnection of power grids will allow neighbouring countries to import or export power from each other. It may allow another type of cooperation mutually beneficial for them:

–    Electricity authorities of countries have to keep up to 15 to 20 % of their power generation capacity in reserve for cases of emergency. However this percentage will go down when a country’s power grid is interconnected to the power grid of another country, because power cuts are not likely to occur at the same time in all interconnected countries.

MAP-7: All oil and gas pipelines in Turkey

–     Weekly, national or religious holidays may be at different days in many neighbouring countries that interconnected their power grids. Therefore the surplus power of one country could be utilized by another interconnected country whose requirement of power remains unchanged because of holidays that are at different dates.

–    Working hours or peak and low consumption hours may be different in the interconnected countries. This will allow the consumption of surplus power saved because of low consumption by the other interconnected country.

Turkey’s Southern neighbours and especially Gulf countries are interested in generating power from power stations run with oil and gas, to keep the value added in their own country and to export electricity instead of oil or gas. If this project is materialized, the most economical transmission corridor will be again Turkey.

If the solar energy becomes economic in the long run, the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia possesses almost unlimited solar energy potentials.

Turkey’s Eastern neighbours are countries that can generate power at relatively low cost because they are oil or gas rich countries or they are countries with high hydroelectric potential like Georgia.

Map-8 shows the physical integration of Turkish electricity market with that of the EU by 2010 as well as with its neighbouring countries.

MAP-8: Interconnection of power grid of Turkey

There is already an agreement to interconnect the power grids of seven countries namely Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Libya.

Therefore cooperation with Turkey may also be interesting this field of energy.

V – Conclusion 

Turkey is located in a geopolitically sensitive area. Its multiple identity, its young and dynamic population, its hard and soft powers are important assets that could be utilized for the benefit of peace and stability in the region. The energy routes that cross Turkey are additional factors that enable it to contribute more to the welfare of Europe.

Turkey does not claim that its cooperation is indispensable for the Western countries to take an initiative in the region. Neither is it necessary to cooperate with Turkey in order to project any type of presence in the region. However by cooperating with Turkey, the EU or the West in general may achieve its goals in the region with lesser financial resources, with lesser human resources, with lesser acrimony and more efficiently.

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