German TV: “Without your kind cooperation it would not have been possible for us to realise the film…”


Guivami Rahimli, Senior Government Affairs Advisor for bp Azerbaijan-Georgia-Türkiye region has shared with AZERTAC his memories about a documentary film produced by the Germany’s national television, ZDF, on the “Contract of the Century” signed in 1994 to develop Azeri, Chiraq and Gunashli (ACG) fields in the Caspian.

The ZDF’s documentary, called “Fire under Water - How Caspian Oil and Gas is Transported to the World Markets” is based on the recent history, economics, and politics of the Caspian region. This film, directed by Hans Peter Kochenrath and Alexsander Bohr reveals how political influence can outperform economic pressures and trump risk management, to benefit the development of the region, sprouting long term economic returns, as well as political leverage.

The early years of Azerbaijan’s renewed independence was an incredibly challenging time with multiple, complex crises - the occupation of its territory by Armenian forces, post-independence instability and the subsequent economic decline of the young country.

President Heydar Aliyev, who once was one of the most influential leaders of the Soviet Union, returned to the political arena in 1993 and introduced a pragmatic foreign policy. His multi-vector policy approach avoids allying with any geopolitical bloc but opting for wise partnership in economic, energy, and military spheres, with global powers like USA, EU, as well as regional actors, especially Russia and Iran, ensuring balanced relations with major global and regional powers.


Heydar Aliyev was also experienced in petro-politics and in 1994 he brought in 11 foreign oil companies from 7 countries - the USA, UK, Russia, Turkey, Norway, Japan, and Saudi Arabia to sign an agreement to develop the Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli (ACG) fields in the Caspian, known as the Contract of the Century. It was an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar production-sharing agreement and, the largest contract ever signed in the former Soviet Union.

The consortium - Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), established by the oil companies, most of them big players in the oil and gas business, started a pilot – an early oil project.

On November 7, 1997, the first oil was produced from the Chirag platform, and the Government of Azerbaijan celebrated the start of oil production from the offshore field. The ceremony attended by numerous foreign dignitaries, including First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Minister of Fuel and Energy Yuri Shafranik from Russia, US Secretary of Energy Federico Pena, President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze, and Prime Minister of Turkey Mesut Yilmaz.

It was a field day for President Heydar Aliyev. He was the one who had the vision to see the benefit of the oil and gas project developments while balancing the interests between global powers and powerful neighbours would bring to young Azerbaijan. The first oil barrel from Chirag field was the embodiment of his vision.

Heydar Aliyev also participated in the opening ceremony devoted to the commissioning of the “Dada Gorgud” drilling rig in the framework of the Contract of the Century in August 1996, acknowledged the great achievement in modernising this semi-submersible drilling rig by AIOC.

With all this progress, the main objective for Azerbaijan was to build trust and confidence with foreign investors and attract sufficient investment for full-field development of the ACG project and construction of the main Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export pipeline, initiated by Heydar Aliyev.

The BTC vision was ambitious, needed an in-depth commitment and understanding in the intertwining of the worlds of business, politics, and technology. If such a pipeline could run to the Mediterranean, it would create a critical new source of supply meeting the demand of vast regions in the West that are so hungry for oil.

These developments which impacted the whole region during 1st decade of Azerbaijan’s independence was in the spotlight of international media outlets.

Germany's ZDF broadcasting company saw the importance of creating a major film on Caspian oil production, documenting its fundamental development, and approached AIOC with an idea of making such a film.

The focal point of the film is the ‘Contract of the Century’, the activities of the oil consortium operated by AIOC. It includes interviews with President Heydar Aliyev, AIOC president Terry Adams, SOCAR president Natig Aliyev, other dignitaries and experts, including Washington’s Johns Hopkins University. AIOC has contributed a great deal to this film, providing the ZDF film producer with footages from the video archives, arranging the film crew members’ visits to various facilities for shooting, and so on. This documentary was a great success and had been broadcasted by ZDF and ARTE TVs channels in Germany and France.

I was directly involved in the production of this film and provided all requested support that came from ZDF film directors. This included the arrangement of the interviews, as well as meetings of film producer Friedhelm Brückner in the Presidential Administration, also with the president of AIOC consortium and the chairman of the Azerbaijan national television, helped ZDF to broadcast this documentary on AzTV channel.

In one of ZDF’s appreciation letters, the film director Alexsander Bohr, on behalf of producer Mr. Brückner and his colleague Mr. Kochenrath, emphasizes this contribution:

“Without your kind cooperation it would not have been possible for us to realise our film the way we did.”

AIOC also organised presentation of the film in Hyatt Regency in Baku, on 15th of December 1999.

Producer Friedhelm Bruckner and Madeleine Avramoussis, a representative of ZDF and ARTE came to Baku on this special occasion and participated in the presentation ceremony of this film. It was one of bp’s major projects carried out in cooperation with SOCAR and the embassies of Germany and Georgia. A large number of special guests, including government officials, representatives of foreign diplomatic mission and other VIP groups attended the event.

BP president David Woodward addressed the audience and highlighted the importance of the film:

“…Being the first international oil consortium in Azerbaijan, at the start of its third oil boom we are one of Azerbaijan's modern-day oil history-makers. The film we believe is a major historical document to deliver the message of doing oil business in Azerbaijan in these exciting times to future generations.”

Now, looking back, we can witness the tremendous success Azerbaijan has achieved in building a prosperous nation, thanks to Heydar Aliyev’s strategy. His balanced, multi-dimensional policy played an exceptional role in the development of Azerbaijan, making it a notable member of the global community.

The BTC pipeline has transformed strategic realities in the South Caucasus and new Southern Gas Corridor project today is a major component of EU energy policy, increasing the significance of the East-West energy corridor. These supplies are a blessing to Europe, which were almost dependent on the pipelines from Russia.

Today, this is a history that fills me with deep emotions, most notably a feeling of gratitude for being a part of Azerbaijan’s history in the making, a history that has changed Azerbaijan into a successful model for the world.


Guivami Rahimli, PhD,

Senior Government Affairs Adviser in

bp’s Azerbaijan-Georgia-Türkiye region