Who’s afraid of war? Certainly not the 200 brave souls who packed into the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul to attend the first ever Caspian Banking & Finance Summit on March 19.
There was one notable absentee on the first day of the conference: Keynote speaker Kemal Unakitan,Turkey’s finance minister, was forced to stay at his desk in Ankara to deal with a mounting economic crisis. Turkey had stood to get a $6 billion aid package—extendable to $24 billion in cheap loans—for allowing US forces to use the country’s land and airspace to attack Iraq. As the conference opened, the US 4th infantry division was still bobbing off Turkey’s west coast. Fear over the consequences of the missing paycheck slashed 8% off the Turkish stock market the day before the conference, on top of alreadyweak bond prices.
But it wasn’t just Turkish attendees nursing off-agenda worries.
The fortunes of the Caspian Sea region— an amorphous geographical grouping of countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan—are intimately tied to the exploitation of the vast oil and gas resources under and besides the Caspian Sea. A quick end to the Iraq war could slash oil prices by up to $10 a barrel on some estimates, reducing the tide of cash sloshing into some regional coffers.