Monday, September 20, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 12

The plane to Istanbul was full of workers returning to Turkey after their temporary visas had expired. The plane to Baku was half full of oil workers returning after some R & R, half full of Azerbaijani returning with duty-free shopping. The plane to Tabriz was almost empty, two Mullahs, & a Belgian ecologist who insisted on sitting next to Allegrezza.

The ecologist was part of a survey team employed by Petrofina but currently working for Total — "They’ll be the one company before too long" — identifying the best route for an oil pipeline from Baku to Tabriz where it could then join the existing pipelines to either the refineries of Tehran or the export port of Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Iran, he explained, wanted to assert a measure of control over the oilfields of the Caspian.

"The Iranians lay claim to half the floor of the Caspian Sea, but if they progress this claim it will alienate the other littoral countries. So, since the embargo makes it extremely difficult for them to export their oil, what they're trying to do is not only provide a pipeline that is cheaper, & therefore more economically attractive, but by bringing foreign oil into Iran, refining it & using it for local consumption, they can then exchange an equal quantity of Iranian oil back to their neighbours who then re-export it as their own.

"The Americans want to build a pipeline across the floor of the Caspian, but the ecological implications of that are frightening so it'll never get the go-ahead. Just think, caviar in oil, crude oil. & to put a bit of a fright into those who are planning alternative routes, there are elements in Iran who are not above destabilising the regions around. It's Georgia now. Before long it'll be Chechnya, then Ingushetiya, then Ossetia. The Caucasus will be a bloodbath. Iran will look like a haven of stability.

"Ask the Mullahs up there," he said, nodding his head in their direction. "Publicly they will say that it is the light of the Book, the holy Koran, whose wisdom shines most brightly through the accumulated learning of generations of Iranian Shi'a scholars that brings the surrounding countries into Iran's sphere of influence. But when they are away from the mosques & unlikely to be overheard they will admit that the prospect of prosperity also helps. Where the oil flows the mind will follow."

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