Vol. 3, No. 22 (November 15, 2010)

The energy dimension in Turkish-Azerbaijani relations

Didem Ekinci, PhD
Department of Political Science and International Relations
Çankaya University, Ankara

Not surprisingly, most Turks and Azerbaijanis have focused on the cultural, linguistic and historical commonalities of their two countries when they discussed bilateral relationships of any kind.  But in the years since 1991 when Azerbaijan reemerged as an independent country, energy issues have played a major role in defining the direction and shape of the relationship between Ankara and Baku (Kasım 2009, p. 95) even if or perhaps especially because these ties have never been independent of the broader cultural links. 

Azerbaijan has been a major oil producer since the Nobel family invested in the Absheron fields in the 1870s, and while its role was eclipsed in Soviet times by the discovery of oil in Western Siberia, the reemergence of an independent Azerbaijan prompted many countries to explore ways in which they could gain access to Caspian basin oil (Karagiannis 2002, pp. 15-18).  That Turkey was among them should not come as any surprise: Azerbaijan is a major energy producer and distributor while Turkey is a major energy consumer which also plays a role as a transit country. 

In 1993, Turkey signed a preliminary agreement with Azerbaijan concerning the construction of a pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan.  The development of that project has faced many difficulties.  On the one hand, Ankara had to convince Western majors that the pipeline could be built and would serve their interests.  And on the other, the Turkish government had simultaneously to convince European states that they would benefit and to avoid angering Russia which had its own plans for the export of oil from the region.  Finally, in October 1998, Azerbaijan and Turkey together with other actors signed a declaration in Ankara, affirming the importance of the BTC, and at the Istanbul summit of the OSCE in November 1999, they and the others signed additional protocols about the project.  That was followed by the Istanbul Declaration and a memorandum of understanding among Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia confirming their consensus that regional energy resources in the East-West energy corridor should be marketed through the BTC (Atmaca 2003, pp. 76–79).  Five years later, the project went online (Rogojanu 2009, p. 628). 

Turkish and Azerbaijani interests coincided on the BTC project.  Ankara wanted to meet its energy needs from the Caspian, while Baku wanted the pipeline to bypass Armenia and help Azerbaijan strengthen its links with the West.  The same considerations lay behind the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) gas pipeline operational since 2007 which carries natural gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea to Erzurum in Turkey.  In the future, these ties will be further strengthened by the Nabucco project.  

The success of these projects in the energy sector has contributed to the upgrading of relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan at the strategic level.  They have been the occasion for reaffirming the common values and views of the two countries on many issues.  They have involved working together in other related areas such as engineering and construction.  They have helped promote bilateral trade in other goods and services.  They have boosted the status of the two countries in the region.  And they have helped both Ankara and Baku gain influence in Western capitals. 

At the same time, however, this energy rapprochement between Ankara and Baku was not without a cost as far as regional actors were concerned. From the very beginning, both governments have been forced to deal with Russian and Iranian competition and even outright opposition.  Both Moscow and Tehran view Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation in energy not only as a threat to their economic interests but also as one to their geopolitical position vis-à-vis the West more generally.  So far, Ankara and Baku have been able to balance these concerns against their own interests, and the prospects are good that they will be able to continue to do so in the future.


Atmaca, Tayfun (2003) Küreselleşme Çağında Türkiye – Azerbaycan, Ankara: USAM.

Karagiannis, Emmanuel (2002) Energy and Security in the Caucasus, London: Routledge.

Kasım, Kamer (2009) Soğuk Savaş Sonrası Kafkasya – Azerbaycan, Ermenistan, Gürcistan, Türkiye, Rusya, İran ve ABD’nin Kafkasya Politikaları, Ankara: USAK.

Rogojanu, Dumitru-Catalin (2009) “The Role of Turkey in the Energy Security Environment of the European Union”, Philobiblion, Vol. 14, pp. 621-633.