Oil and European Games in Azerbaijan

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Oil and European Games in Azerbaijan

The media of the world will be looking at Azerbaijan this month. But they should write about other things, not the European Games. By Emma Hughes and James Marriott.


We need to know about the oil secrets from Azerbaijan. © drmakkoy/Getty

The Baku 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan will begin on 12 June. There will be fireworks and music that people will be able to hear far away over the Caspian Sea.

Many people across Europe and the world will watch the opening ceremony on TVs and laptops. Fifty countries and 6,000 athletes will be taking part in the Games. It’s the first big event in Azerbaijan.

But in April and, at the Court of Grave Crimes in central Baku, a young man, Rasul Jafarov has to go to prison for six and a half years for a crime he didn’t commit.

Jafarov suddenly became important in Azerbaijan when he led the Sing for Democracy campaign in 2012. The campaign showed that there is little democracy in Azerbaijan. The ruling Aliyev family stays in power because of corruption in elections. They attack independent media and arrest people who do flashmobs.

But the Aliyevs love Euro-pop. The Eurovision Song Contest, in Azerbaijan in 2012, was the perfect opportunity to show the world that the Aliyev family ran a modern, secular, European country.

So the Aliyevs did not like it at all when Jafarov got the Eurovision winner, Loreen, to meet him and to support Sing for Democracy.

After that, Jafarov has supported political prisoners in Azerbaijan. He started the Sport for Rights campaign last year before the Baku European Games. And he was arrested soon after this (for illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion).

He was in prison for eight months before the trial. Human Rights Watch does not agree with the charges. At the trial, the people that the prosecution called ‘victims’ said they were fully paid by Jafarov and did not think they were ‘victims’. But the judge refused to look at their documents.

Family links

In Azerbaijan, trials are not for truth or justice – but to attack people who are against the control of the Aliyevs, to make sure no-one else says anything against them.

Rasul Jafarov is not alone. Human rights in Azerbaijan has got worse in the last year and there are at least 100 political prisoners there. There are probably more, but it is impossible to find out how many prisoners there are.

At the same time as Jafarov got his sentence in Baku, Bob Dudley (CEO of BP, the oil company, which is supporting the Baku Games) was talking at the ExCel convention centre in London, at BP’s annual general meeting. Dudley talked about BP’s close, 21-year relationship with the Aliyevs.


Everyone is looking at Azerbaijan: a Baku taxi promoting the European Games. Oguz Dikbakan/Alamy

His talk sounded like a tourist-board talk about Azerbaijan. He told everyone to visit this great country. Dudley also talked about the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline. This is a new pipeline - the Aliyevs are working on this with a number of oil companies and other governments.

This gas pipeline will run about 3,500 kilometres between the Caspian Sea and Italy. Before 2050 it will put more than two billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. People asked Dudley about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, but he replied: ‘Go to Azerbaijan. It’s a great place.’

The Aliyev regime and the oil company BP have been close since 1994, when they signed a big contract to extract crude oil from Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (the oil field under the western Caspian Sea).

The relationship is still very important for both of them. BP said in its annual report that it invests more in Azerbaijan than any other foreign company (but BP pays no tax for the export of oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands – so they make a lot of money from this).

In 2014, Azerbaijan was BP’s fourth-biggest supplier of oil (after Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and Angola). But Azerbaijan is also important to BP for its security. BP expects to be able to rely on Azerbaijan even in difficult times.

They showed this in July 2010, at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. To get support for BP, Tony Hayward (who was CEO) flew to four important cities: Moscow, Abu Dhabi, Luanda – and Baku. When Bob Dudley became CEO in October 2010, the first new agreement he made was to share production of gas from the Shafag and Asiman gas field with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan.

This was important because BP is planning to test its new Project 20K high-pressure, high-temperature drilling in Shafag and Asiman.

BP hopes that this technology will allow it to extract oil and gas more than 10 kilometres below the seabed. Temperatures can rise to 150oC and pressure can increase to 20,000 psi.

This new deepwater drilling is risky. It is difficult to know what the dangers will be. If something goes wrong, this will damage the reputation of BP. But BP wants to take this risk in Azerbaijan.

It is very important for BP to have a good relationship with President Ilham Aliyev. ‘The Number One priority [for Gordon Birrell, BP’s regional president],’ said an important BP executive in private, ‘is the relationship with Aliyev.’

It seems as if BP has made Azerbaijan into a colony for resources. Ecology, social justice and human rights are not important if they might stop the most important industry: extracting and exporting oil and gas.

‘Before we had money from oil and gas in Azerbaijan,’ said Rasul Jafarov, ‘we had more democracy and freedom. A lot of money came from oil in 2006 when the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline started. And from that time the situation started to get worse.’

The BP-Aliyev Alliance is taking a lot away from Azerbaijan – fossil fuels, money and democracy. But the wonderful opening ceremony of the Baku Games will not show the world this terrible reality.

Emma Hughes and James Marriott work for Platform - arts, activism education and research to challenge the global oil industry. This article is from All That Glitters: Sport, BP and the Azerbaijan Crackdown, a new book by Platform for the Baku 2015 Games.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2015/06/01/dirty-games-azerbaijan/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).