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Home Sweet Home

I landed at Washington-Dulles Airport on schedule Saturday afternoon, 17 hours after leaving Baku.  I breezed through Immigration, the baggage carousel, Customs, went through the arrivals door, and found Roberta waiting with the car at the curb with a rose!  The police on patrol, eventually, told us to move on, and we drove to Reagan National where Chelsea’s flight from Denver arrived minutes later.  imgp2852It was a wonderful reunion, more so when we arrived home and saw the Welcome Back! sign Vanessa drew.  We had a wonderful home cooked dinner which included a fresh, hand-delivered Azerbaijan pomegranate.

Thanks to all of you who frequented The View from Baku over the past several months.  Your interest and comments reassured me that I was not alone on this project.  This probably will be the last post for a while, although developments in Azerbaijan might necessitate periodic updates.  b1 Meanwhile, the first ADA Majlis aired November 15 across Azerbaijan and into Iran, Turkey, Georgia, Russian and parts of Europe.  It now can be viewed at http://majlis.ada.edu.az.  Click below for some of the sights and sounds of the making of the first Majlis at the historic Ismailiyya building in the center of Baku.

The best to all my friends here in the US, in Azerbaijan, and to everyone in between who dropped in from time to time.

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ruby_slippersI wish it were as easy as clicking together my ruby slippers.  Instead, I get picked up at 4:30 Saturday morning for a 7am flight to London, connect there, and arrive in Washington at 3:30pm, 12:30am Sunday, Baku time.  But I am every bit as excited as was Dorothy!  Chelsea’s flight from Colorado arrives about an hour after mine, and it will be the first time the family is all together since early August.  Auntie Em! Auntie Em!

Make no mistake, my neighborhood isn’t Oz, but there are some things I won’t forget about this place. imgp2851One is the crumbled mass of concrete I faced every time I left my apartment.  It was a new building under construction then collapsed in August 2007, killing 25 workers.  The owner and project manager went to jail.  One of my Azeri neighbors said, “This kind of thing would not have happened during Soviet times.”

Saida, my upstairs neighbor and a certified English teacher, tried to teach me to speak Azeri.  imgp2752After four lessons I gave up, but she continued to delivery quince and pomegranates from her family’s country home.

The best food I ate in Baku, and several times a week, was homemade at a small Turkish restaurant around the corner.  imgp2768It’s open everyday, and the same two ladies are there cooking from 9 in the morning until 10 at night.  I couldn’t understand their language and they couldn’t understand mine, but we always enjoyed our conversations.

The one place I never bought food, but wanted to, was at the small “walkup window” on the corner, imgp28492much like Shirlington’s Weenie Beenie.  So often I was tempted to buy a chicken roasting on the sidewalk rotisserie, but my colleagues warned against it.

I said goodbye to my colleagues this afternoon, and they really made me feel like I would be missed.  I leave behind some very good friends, a new television program which I hope will take off without me and, best of all, twelve pounds.

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imgp2543When the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy acquired a three-story, store front building to call home for the next two years while its new campus is being developed, the Mayor of Baku promised to give the neighborhood a facelift.  In less than a month’s time, that’s what he’s done! 

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What’s been done to this building across the street is being done all up and down the block.

My colleagues, Ambassador Pashayev included, held a farewell dinner for me Wednesday night at the very posh Crescent Beach Club on the Caspian Sea.  imgp2838Toasts were exchanged across the tables for some two hours as we dined on Beijing Duck, sturgeon in champagne sauce, and french apple pie.  The sentiments expressed to me, and directed toward Roberta who visited three weeks ago, were very touching.  These are special folks, and I realized how closely attached we had become in such a short period of time. I assured them that Azerbaijan now would have two ambassadors in Washington DC.  My return trip, Baku-Heathrow-Dulles, begins early Saturday morning.

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imgp2832That was the running time of the first ADA Majlis which aired Sunday evening on ITV, the Azerbaijan Public Television Network.  It was preceded and followed by popular soap operas, so we imagine the ratings were high.  The 11-hour editing session on Sunday to ready the program for air was a group effort of ITV and ADA staff.  Special credit to our editor, Dima, who delivered a very polished program.  The first ADA Majlis can soon be viewed at http://majlis.ada.edu.az/

Minister Christos Folias, Greece

Minister Christos Folias, Greece

Khazar and Ambassador Pashayev introduced the program in front of the wall of Baku’s Old City. Our discussion with energy ministers, recorded Thursday in English and translated to Azeri, finished out the first half hour, imgp2831followed by the panel of energy analysts and audience questions inside the Ismailiyya building.  It all came of wthout a glitch. 

imgp2825One Baku broadcast journalist described the program as, “intellectual, sincere, and different,” and wanted to know why we didn’t partner with his TV station.  imgp2818Planning is underway for the next ADA Majlis to be recorded in the forum at the new ADA location.


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When I began to consider coming to Azerbaijan, when I imagined making “television” here, I could not have envisioned a scene like Saturday night.  It turned out to be much more than just the first ADA Majlis.  It was an event.  imgp2803The Ismailiyya building was brilliantly illuminated outside and in.  The audience numbered around 35, and included ambassadors from Great Britain an Lithuania, several high-ranking Azerbaijan government department officials, about a dozen diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and colleagues from the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.  The couches of experts – a British Petroleum VP, a former Chevron executive, a well-respected political commentator, and our own Fariz Ismailzade, analyzed results the just completed 22-nation Baku Energy Summit. imgp2799SOCAR VP Elshad Nassirov had to cancel his appearance, sent out of town on business following the summit, but sent his regrets.  Khazar, our moderator, injected his own insights formed during his many years as an official with Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry.  Several audience members asked questions but, more impressively, expressed opinions on how Azerbaijan should capitalize on its role as a major energy provider.  It was something you just don’t see and hear in Azerbaijan.  

The attentive audience

The attentive audience

We hired a translator for those, like me, who don’t speak Azeri, and a caterer for the reception that followed.  
The loaned furniture arrived on time, and blended well with the classic European design of the hall.  Almost everyone at the ADA played a role in what happened tonight.  There were some communication problems and technical glitches but, overall, a very strong beginning for ADA Majlis, and as the British Ambassador said afterwards, a very “important” program for Azerbaijan. 

Here are some scenes from the day.

Arriving at Ismailiyya

Arriving at Ismailiyya

 

Furniture arrives soon after

Furniture arrives soon after

Baku's brightest keeping watch

Baku's brightest keeping watch

Replaying the ministers meeting

Replaying the ministers meeting

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Preparing the open pretape
Preparing the tape the show opening

 

Afag, Gunay, Aygun, and Jim

Afag, Gunay, Aygun, and Jim

 
 

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Energy & Excitement

imgp2763Even with delegations from 22 nations, many arriving the same day, Azerbaijan’s Energy Minister, Natiq Aliyev, opened Thursday’s crucial pre-summit ministers meeting at the Hyatt precisely at 4pm and ended it precisely at 6pm.  The participating countries all have different needs, but can be divided into three categories:

  1. The Haves – Caspian Basin countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Russia (not attending), which tap plentiful oil and gas deposits from the Caspian Sea and sell to the West.
  2. The Have Nots – European and Baltic countries such as Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Italy, that don’t have vast amounts of available energy, and must look east toward the Caspian Sea, instead.
  3. The Go Betweens – Well-positioned countries such as Turkey, Georgia, and Greece, that profit by providing the transportation routes for energy deliveries from east to west.

Odessa-Brody pipeline
Odessa-Brody pipeline

Ukraine desperately wants to be a Go Between.  It wants oil piped from Azerbaijan to Georgia, shipped to its Black Sea port of Odessa, refined at new plants, and sent through pipelines to Poland, the Baltics, and west to Europe.  That would be a major revenue-generator for Ukraine.  But Ukraine’s lone existing pipeline extends north from Odessa only to the city of Brody.  It’s delegation is here in Baku urging other nations to invest millions in extending the pipeline, but everyone here has their own priorities.

Thursday, 1:15pm:  Less than five hours until showtime, and a grey-suited security detail is threatening to scuttle it by ordering ITV’s production truck away from the Hyatt.  The ADA makes a few phone calls and, imgp2764within an hour, the security detail has a faxed letter of approval with all of our names, and the 12-man ITV crew is back stringing cable through the window to prepare for our broadcast. They work fast and efficiently, setting cameras, microphones, and lighting, leaving themselves two hours to relax and have a smoke.  Many smokes.

Thursday, 3:45pm:  15 minutes before the ministers meeting begins, I’m inside the room, gazing at unfamiliar faces, speaking in unfamiliar tongues.  But, at least, I can read the names of the countries placed at tables that form a giant rectangle.  I do recognize C. Boyden Gray, the lead member of the US delegation attending this meeting.  I remind him that he committed to our taped discussion immediately following.  He vaguely remembers, and inquires again about the time.  sbdebate_grey2“I’m sorry.  I have to leave immediately following this meeting for another meeting.  Bi-lateral talks (with Turkey, I was told)!” 

This is a situation I faced dozens of times at the NewsHour; senators and congressmen canceling at the last minute.  No problem!  Just find another one.  But looking around this room, I was draw a blank.imgp2767  Minister Natiq Aliyev tries to recruit the minister from Kazakhstan, who smiles sheepishly, and I know, immediately, he won’t come.  I do confirm with Georgia and Ukraine. But Lithuania just called our office and confirmed as well.  Greece too!  We’ve got a show!  The trick, now, is get them there.

Thursday, 6:00pm:  I first heard the term, “like herding cats in a wheelbarrow,” from Senator Trent Lott, referring to his attempt to enlist colleagues’ support for controversial legislation.  That’s what I am envisioning as the ministers meeting is about to break up.  All I have to do is grab all our confirmed ministers at once before they try to escape, gather them at the door, lead them out through one door, past the hotel pool, through another door, up the stairs, sit them down in front of the television cameras, start recording, and get them to talk, and be interesting!  Azerbaijan Minister Natiq Aliyev does us a big favor, announcing, just before he adjourns the meeting, that ministers from the following countries (and he lists them) have agreed to appear with him at the taping of a new program produce by the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.  As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate!  My ADA colleagues are helping grab arms as well!  We’ve got Greece.  We’ve got Georgia.  Azerbaijan’s Aliyev is in a hurry.  He’s got more work to do after our taping.  But the Ukrainian minister wants to unwind with a cigarette.  The Lithuanian minister agrees to stand with him.  We’re now moving toward our TV location in small packs.

Thursday, 7:00pm:  After a long travel day, and following an often-contentious two-hour meeting, the ministers could not have been better.  Once the cameras started rolling, and with their limited command of English, they were expressive and candid as each stated the energy interests and needs of their countries.  Minister Aliyev, in turn, was just as candid, and funny in response, alluding to the fact that, when it comes to energy, Azerbaijan is holding all the cards.  They didn’t make speeches, they talked to each other.  Even the minister of Ukraine, who warned he would only speak Russian, went right to English after his first response.  Khazar kept the conversation moving, and the Ambassador drew on his own experiences in the US during the early, critical times of Azerbaijan’s energy development.  Everyone was natural, and witty, and no one seemed to notice that cameras were rolling.  I was too busy holding my breath and forgot to take photos.  But the lead segment of the first ADA Majlis is done!  Well, not quite.

Friday, 7:00pm:  The edit session at ITV today went very smoothly.  We trimmed only three minutes out of last night’s 27 minute roundtable with the ministers.  My editor couldn’t speak English, nor I Azeri, so Gunay translated my directions; where to start a soundbite, where to end, what shots to change.  Tonight, Gunay is completing the transcript and will send it to Aynura who will translate it into Azeri.  Then, tomorrow, we’ll be back at ITV to record the audio translation and dub it over the English.  Several ADA staff have volunteered to provide the Azeri voices for the ministers.  Then, it’s on to the historic Ismailyya building for the high-profiled televised discussion and debate among energy analysts, and Q&A session with the audience – all in Azeri.  That will be a challenge.

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Reckless optimism

 

 

 

summit1Thursday 9:00am:  Ten hours to go until we finally roll tape on the “kick off” segment of the first ADA Majlis, a roundtable discussion with several energy ministers who are just arriving for the Baku Energy Summit.  The program has to be strong!  A lot of people in Azerbaijan, a lot of important people, will be watching Sunday night when this “experiment” in post-Soviet television hits the air.  But how interesting, how candid, how telegenic can I expect these mostly-Eastern European ministers to be?  Never mind that I’ll be asking them to be brilliant and funny in English!  Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a Joe Biden or Orrin Hatch in the bunch!  sbdebate_grey2Well, I do have former GOP White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, from the US delegation, committed to appear – for probably the 25th time in my television career.    

There is a major buzz around the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  The presidential summit is Friday, but it’s the ministers who actually will do the work this afternoon.  Delegations are arriving and security is tight.  Grey suits everywhere!  I’m in the dinning room eating pork sausages, fried tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and drinking real coffee with Haver Kambaizade, the former head of Chevron in Baku.  Chevron is a distant second to BP in influence in Baku, but a big player in Kazakstan where it owns the drilling rights on the north slope of the Caspian Sea.  Haver is a woman, one of the few who’s been on top in the oil game here.  She’s blunt, and funny, and she’ll be a refreshing addition to our energy analyst panel Saturday evening.

Thursday, 10:00am:  Alex from the Romanian delegation has called three times, but he doesn’t want to commit his minister to our afternoon roundtable until he finds out what other countries will be there.  It’s just like booking senators and congressmen on the NewsHour!  I’m fine with that because I’m not sure we have room for him.  A panel of eight, including Khazar and Ambassador Pashayev will be ideal!  Meanwhile, I just got off the phone with Beka from neighboring Georgia, and I’ve locked in that minister. He’s a must! baku-ceyhan-pipeline-2Georgia’s summertime skirmish with Russia shutdown the flow of oil through the BTC pipeline that stretches from Azerbaijan through Georgia and on to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.  I don’t expect anyone will refer to that directly during the ministers meeting, but it certainly will be the “elephant in the room.”  However, I expect the term, “energy security,” will be used freely.

Thursday, 11:00am:   This afternoon’s production has now doubled in size. What, originally, was planned as a conversation with three or four ministers, requiring two or three cameras, now might include six or eight ministers and five cameras.  We need more space at the hotel, and a production truck – a mobile “control room” through which the video and sound from all of the cameras can be fed at one time, switched, and recorded as if it were a “live” program.

Thursday, 12:30pm:  I meet at the Hyatt Regency with Ruslan from ITV, who will direct our program.  He has brought with him several camermen and engineers.  And they’ve brought a truck!  I must say, ever since I chose ITV to be our broadcast partner, they have given me everything I have needed, and have been everywhere I have asked them to be whenever I’ve wanted to scout out another program location, often sending three times as many managers and technicians than I need.   Ruslan and I agree on a square-shaped table, instead of couches and chairs, setup on a balcony overlooking the lobby.  It will be just a short walk for the participating ministers once they’ve wrapped up their meeting.  

Thursday, 1:15pm:  BIG TROUBLE.  Here come the grey suits, the security detail for the summit, along with a bomb-sniffing dog.  They are closing the street in advance of the meeting and, as Gunay translates for me, ordering the ITV production truck off of the hotel premises.  The truck is essential to produce our upcoming roundtable with the ministers in less than 5 hours!   But as far as these suits are concerned, without a letter of approval from the President of Azerbaijan, I might as well be speaking English

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