I first became interested in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline in the mid-1990s, when the Clinton White House Special Envoy Bill Richardson and Azerbaijani government were pushing oil companies to build the massive multinational infrastructure project. In the tumultuous post-Cold War period and with the demise of the Soviet Union, major oil companies preferred a more direct and less expensive route through Iran, but American interests prevailed. Oil from the BTC pipeline first reached the port of Ceyhan in southeast Turkey in May of 2006, an event hailed as the greatest geopolitical victory for the West in the aftermath of the Cold War.
Since 9/11, however, the same interests that enthusiastically backed the project initially have now shifted their attention elsewhere — towards the Middle East and South Asia. In the summer of 2010, with the assistance of a Young Explorers Grant from the National Geographic Society, I followed and photographed the pipeline’s 1,100-mile route, which skirts five conflict zones in three countries representing believers of both Islam and Christianity.
That trip was a profound study in contrasts. The money brought in by the oil revenues converted Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, into a wealthy boom town, with elegant cafés, designer shops, and the Caspian seaside promenade, Bulvar. The low-rise old neighborhoods in the center, including large sections of the Besh Mertebe neighborhood where I now live, were being destroyed to build modern high rises. In one village in Georgia, the locals had been given compensation money for the pipeline’s disruption to their agricultural lands, and many had purchased cars. As we drove through, they were literally laying down new pavement.
Photographing and living in the region, I have seen how development can go right and wrong. With such a fragile cohesion in this geopolitical powder keg, it is critical for me to return this winter and visually catalogue the slow evolution of the region around the pipeline. As a backer of this project, you will become a participant in an overlooked but crucial angle of history and help others to develop an understanding of the complicated Eurasian puzzle.
Depending on your particular level of support, you will also be privy to a signed postcard, soft or hardbound book, or a limited edition print from this series. All backers will receive exclusive access to the “making of” zone, which includes regular updates from the field, the region, travel tips, visual notes and insights to the evolution of this project. Buy Access