chapter V. The Human Cost

Brother and sister playing doctor inside their courtyard in Tsereteli village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Georgia. 2006

Brother and sister playing doctor inside their courtyard in Tsereteli village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Georgia. 2006

Brothers Hussein and Mustafa Ozkara, age 18 and 25, are third generation fishermen. Their daily fishing income dropped from $85 to $15 due to the effects of the BTC pipeline on Yumurtalik. Moreover, 1,800 m2 of their fishing area is now inaccessible because of the BTC.  Fishermen have to go further into the sea, which doubles their fuel costs. Yumurtalik, Turkey. 2007

Forming a thousand mile corridor of military control and exempt from international human rights legislation in its “state within a state”, the pipeline provokes further tension in a region of countries with an already poor human rights record. Initial promises and expectations of trickle-down wealth remain unfulfilled and political assurances mean nothing to people who have become victims in the New Great Game, victims who never were asked if they were willing to sacrifice. While governments promised better lives for their citizens who live in brutal poverty, most of those directly affected by the pipeline have benefited least.

In Azerbaijan, farmers all over the country have lost land to the pipeline while their compensation has been stolen by corrupt officials. Next door to the multi-billion dollar technological marvel of the Sangachal oil terminal where the pipeline begins its course, an impoverished community of 4,500 people is living and breathing the toxic air. “This oil is not for us, it’s for the West!” – says an elderly resident of Garaberk, a village above the pipeline, which has not had gas for over a decade. 

In Georgia the pipeline snakes through earthquake prone mountains accelerating the destruction of an already fragile environment where people are losing their homes in landslides. Youth flee the countryside in search of employment, leaving elder family members unattended; in the village of Tetritskaro, two kilometers from the pipeline, the entire population is above the age of sixty. “It’s like throwing a piece of bread to a dog to make it stop barking” – a resident of Tetritskaro refers to his meager compensation plan.

In Turkey on the Mediterranean coast, the BTC has caused further disruption to an already fragile environment of the Yumurtalik bay. Fish egg populations have been decimated by pipeline effluent and fishermen are forced to abandon their nets for employment opportunities in Iraq! “We want our sea back” – implore the fishermen. Ethnic tension simmers just below the veneer of professionalism in Kars, as Turkmen and Kurds endure employment and human rights abuses, adding resentment and pressure to the complex cultural and religious web of southeast Turkey. Mesheti Turk refugee and onion farmer. Meshadi Gara village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Barda. Azerbaijan. 2006 The newly weds by the cracked wall. Gunyaz Ibishov and his wife Zulfiya got married in January 2007. The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline is laid 30 meters away from the walls of their house in a 20-meter deep tunnel. Gunyaz says that his house cracked during the pipeline tunnel construction: “It was like an earthquake” – he says, referring to the tunnel digging. He was strongly opposed to the pipeline construction in such close vicinity to his house: “I am afraid to live right above the pipe full of gas. What if it blows up?” Gunyaz has appealed numerously to local authorities about compensation for safety and the damage in his house, but has received no response. Garaberk village. Ujar. Azerbaijan. 2007 Mentally unstable Ilyas Ibrahimov in his house under which the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline runs. Garaberk village. Azerbaijan. 2007 Zeynab Guliyeva’s family has not received any compensation for their land that is now no longer usable above the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Hajali village. Samux. Azerbaijan. 2007 The dilapidated Sangachal village of about 4,500 people is half a kilometer away from the Sangachal oil terminal, a state of the art facility frequently visited by international diplomats and officials. This is where the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline begins its course. Sangachal has been an environmental and health hazard since the Soviet times. Sangachal village. Baku, Azerbaijan. 2007 Brother and sister playing doctor inside their courtyard in Tsereteli village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Georgia. 2006 Yelena Rodina with her granddaughter Lika at home in the Dgwali village in Borjomi, approximately 800 meters from the BTC pipeline. Most houses including Lena’s were destroyed by landslide. The government promised to relocate residents and BTC promised to pay $1 million in compensation. Instead the residents received $400,000 for the whole village, which was not what they had been promised. People continue to live in destroyed houses. Georgia. 2007 Abandoned house destroyed in a landslide process accelerated by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline construction. Dgwali village, Borjomi. Georgia. 2007 Little bride. Djandarsky village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is predominantly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis. Some of the residents here complained that they had not received compensation for their land in connection with the pipeline construction. Marneuli, Georgia. 2006 Ajaran landslide victims spending last hour at home before eviction. Batumi, Georgia. 2006 Eshana Arviladze, age 81, is leaning against the doorway at the flooded ground floor of her house. Dgwali village. Georgia. 2007 The last Greek. Fyodor Islamidi, age 71, claims to be the last remaining Greek in the village of Tetritskaro, which once used to have a substantial Greek population. He plants vegetables in his garden to feed himself and his wife. His house was damaged during BTC construction as well. Georgia. 2007 Unfinished soviet housing blocks. Krtsanisi village, located between a US training site for the Georgian military and the BTC pipeline has not had electricity for months. Ktsanisi was originally planned as a collective farm (kolkhoz) but ever since the kolkhoz fell in 1994, the people are mainly unemployed. The BTC pipeline passes under the main road which has potholes and is in a state of disrepair. There are only three buses per day to and from the village. Georgia. 2007 Yumurtalik Bay. Named after “yumurta” (egg), this was a bay where fish laid their eggs. With the increase of BTC related tanker traffic, there was a dramatic decline of fish eggs in Yumurtalik. This environmental disruption had a negative effect on the nearby Chamlik Laguna where fish used to feed on plankton. As a result, fishermen of the Deveci Usagi village lost 80% of their daily catch, which forced them to look for other work. Nearly 200 of them went to Northern Iraq to find employment as cleaners. Turkey. 2007 Fisherman’s wife Birsen Goregen is making bread for the family. Her husband Binyamin Goregen, age 35, along with other fishermen filed suit at the local court against BTC demanding more compensation for his lost catch. “When BTC paid us the compensation, they did not say that they will take our sea away. We want our sea back!” – says Binyamin. Turkey. 2007 Fishermen by the café in Yumurtalik bay. Turkey. 2007 Chief of Haskoy, a Kurdish village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, receiving a phone call from military police prohibiting him to talk to journalists. Ardahan, Turkey. 2007 On the way to Kars. Turkey. 2007 Aliyar Gokchay, age 34, from Calabas village, writes poetry in the Kurdish language and articles for a local newspaper. Aliyar went to court against the BTC to claim $10,000 in losses for his land while because it was restricted from use due to BTC construction. “You can do anything here because people are illiterate and don’t know how to defend their rights” – Aliyar says. Turkey. 2007 Snow in Otagli village, 2 km off the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Turkey. 2007 Ilyas Alban with his family at home in Otagli village. Due to BTC construction, his family’s plot of land was degraded and is expected to recover its fertility only after 12 years. Ilyas applied to local courts against Botash and is still waiting for results. “Before BTC, I had everything. Now my roof is collapsing and I have no money to fix it”. – Ilyas says. Turkey. 2007 On the way to Erzurum. Turkey. 2007 Aynur Gokchay, age 45 with her husband Isa, age 50 at home in the predominantly Kurdish village of Calabas. Isa, along with five other villagers, was promised a job at Botash (a BTC contractor in Turkey), but never got it. “We are being treated as second-class citizens” – the villagers say. Turkey. 2007 View of Otagli village, 2 km off the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Turkey. 2007 Jelal Atbash, age 56, at home in the Kurdish village of Calabas. Jelal went to court against BTC claiming proper compensation for 5,000 m2 of his land rendered inaccessible due to BTC construction. Botash promised Jelal $10,000 in compensation for his land, but he only received $800. Turkey. 2007 Unemployed men gathered in a cafe in the Turkmen village of Otagli, 2 km away from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Kars, Turkey. 2007 Ilyas Alban’s two sons at their dilapidated home in Otagli. Turkey. 2007 Hussein Oner, age 41, at home in Sirataslar, a village in Kars. Hussein Oner is Kurdish and has seven children. BTC promised him a $5,000 credit through its community investment program, but he has not received it. Sirataslar villagers complain about the water: “The BTC fixed the water system here, but the water is not potable”. Turkey. 2007 Female farmer in Tifnik village, 2 km off the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Erzurum, Turkey. 2007 Map of Turkey at the abandoned school in Sirataslar. “The village is getting smaller everyday. People are leaving because there are no jobs. This school has not had lessons for thirteen years” – the villagers say. Turkey. 2007