Tuesday, February 16

The city of blinding lights (part II)

Couple of years ago, when I was working as a consultant/researcher for an English company, we (the team of researchers and consultants) had a set of key words we used in our reports, briefings, op- eds and etc. These were fancy words (if I might put it that way) like booming, hub, exponential growth and what not. And given most of our research centered around UAE, Saudi Arabia and North Africa, these words did serve their purpose.

Fast forward three years from then, I now see similar words used in connection with a more familiar place to me- the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. Indeed over the recent years, given large inflow of revenues from oil and gas exports, Baku saw an exponential growth (in double digits at times) and became a hub of growing economy and city with booming construction sector.

However, while many would be happy about such fancy words used to a small country in the Caucasus (though largest among other Southern Caucasus countries), this exponential growth with booming economy meant little on the ground. But this post is not going to be about tough living conditions in the country. No, this post is about how the haphazard, chaotic construction boom and numerous restoration work taking place in the heart of the capital (I write the heart, since this is where most of the renovation work is done).

For me, the saddest thing about all of this "renovation" is the destruction of the Old City- a site protected by UNESCO. Its the final reminder of our history, of Alis and Ninos and the colorful stories, I still hear from parents. Many old buildings are torn down in order to build new modern and yet old looking buildings. The question is, couldn't it simply be renovated rather than torn apart?

And also, one tiny little thing is forgotten that when all this renovation work is carried owntown- we all breath in that sand like stone thats coming off the buildings when the workers clean it.

The construction of hundreds, if not thousands of new residential blocks, not only worsen traffic and the aesthetic of the city but also fail to realize an important aspect- Baku is situated on an active seismic zone- one big earthquake, and thats it!

Growing up, I would always hear it from my father (who is a civil engineer) that sky scrapers are not for Baku. That its location is critical given that Baku's prone to landslides.

The city's mayor, appointed in 2000, Abutallibov was applauded for his swift reforms regarding capital's streets and parks. And honestly, I enjoy seeing old parks renovated but thats about it when it comes to enjoying the new- old Baku. Except maybe evenings, when things look generally nicer than they do in the day light.

I agree with Shamil Fatullayev, a well- known Azerbaijani architect when he said "
new buildings that are built all over the city don't have anything- they are simply grey giants created on computers without having anything close to architectural appeal, creativity, and harmony to the surroundings".

Did you know, that according to 1985 records of the old Baku, there were in total 855 historically significant buildings. I doubt this number was kept, if not its only been decreasing. This link has some nice photos of the old buildings around the city, probably facing collateral damage once its their turn (http://sapunov.livejournal.com/751668.html).


Unknown said...

The interesting side of cleaning process is that they clean one building not once.they clean twice or more.I don't know why? Maybe it's not cleaning process of buildings, maybe they clean "money".
Arzu thank you for post. But to say true now only interesting place in Baku for me is - Bukinist in Icerisheher.near Qiz qalasi.

Arzu Geybulla said...

Hi Javid,

Thank you for the comment.
Indeed, by the look of it, its taking ages for buildings to be cleaned. Just think of it, all throughout the summer we breathed in that crap coming off the buildings, its February now and we are still getting poisoned by that. But perhaps you are right, maybe its just another way to "clean" money.
I have never heard of that place actually. Where exactly is it?

Unknown said...

İt calls. as İ remember "Kitab magazasi"when you go from the side of Karvansarays to Qiz qalasi. left of the way and books are very cheap there:)

orujov said...

Arzu, thank you for this posting. Knew never before you are such a good writer.

Anonymous said...

This is very true. The desecration of the historical sites occurs with impunity. I remember before I left last year, the lurid purple clock the authorities installed on the wall of the old city. What were they thinking? Trying to imitate one of the discos where the children of the wealthy spend their late evenings?

Arzu Geybulla said...

Hey 'coach' :)))
Thank you!

Arzu Geybulla said...

Dear pol.sci.media,

yep, the clock is still there... and don't even start me with the weird lights... eh... its just sad...