Baku bits, what to see in Baku

The vertigo starts, as upon arrival in the airport there are few direct clues as to which country you might be in.  You will see people from every part of this hemisphere, and furthermore the Azerbaijanis won’t stand out as such.  The facility itself looks like an average of five or six other airports, like how some TV shows film in Canada to get that generically American look.

Matters seem to go downhill as one rides into town — “Dubai, yet without the charm” is how I described it to Yana in an early, premature email.  Yet this petro-city grows on you quickly, and I don’t just mean the cherry jam.  Closer to town center there are interesting buildings in every direction, and of three sorts: the medieval Old City with walls, a blossoming of late 19th century European architecture (and they are still doing contemporary copies of it), and the Brasilia-Dubai like modern buildings.

In 1905 about half of the world’s oil was produced in or near Baku.  In 1942, it was Stalingrad that stopped Hitler from taking the place over and perhaps changing the course of history.  Not long ago, oil and gas were estimated to account for sixty percent of the gdp of Azerbaijan.

And you can see that money being spent, to the benefit of the tourist I might add.  Baku has perhaps the most attractive and walkable seaside promenade.  The walker has views of the Caspian, of spectacular buildings, of the port, and there are multiple paths with beautiful gardens and cactuses and baobab trees, benches everywhere, Eurasians in abundance, and in August the weather is perfect for a long stroll every night.

Baku is reputed to be the world’s lowest capital city, standing about 28 meters below sea level.

It is the first Shiite country I have visited, and it seems less conservative than say the Turkey of ten years ago, for instance in terms of dress and demeanor.  A small percentage of women wear burkhas, most of all by the seaside walk, but the look of their companions suggests most are tourists or expats.

In short, several generations of communist-enforced atheism do have a persistent effect.  One Azerbaijani, with whom I had an extended dialogue through a translator, stressed to me how much universal Soviet education elevated the region (and she was not pro-Soviet or pro-communist by any means).  The Azerbaijanis address me in Russian, as few can converse with ease in English.

The police go to great lengths to limit jaywalking, which is in any case dangerous.  The city roads are wide, and like some parts of central Brasilia have few traffic lights.  Never have I wished so often that I was on the other side of the street as in Baku.

Baku has three working synagogues, and, unlike in almost every other country in the world, they do not require police protection.  It is a remarkably safe city.

There is strong sentiment here that Nagorno-Karabakh, technically a part of Azerbaijan but not controlled by the government in over twenty years, is ruled by “Armenian terrorists,” backed by Putin. This issue, largely neglected outside the region, is likely to flare up again.  When I applied for a visa, I had to answer whether I come from Armenian blood (no).  It seems like a much less friendly conflict than say between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Baku was the easternmost part of the Roman Empire — does that make it European?

“Relatives may eat your flesh but they won’t throw away your bones” is an old Azerbaijani saying.

Newborns are washed in salt water, to make them truthful and bold.

As a vacation spot, I recommend three to four days here for anyone looking for something off the beaten path, but without logistical difficulties.  Here is Wikipedia on Baku.


'does that make it European?'

Well, how European is Jerusalem, Damascus, or Istanbul, a capital city of the Roman Empire under another name?

Well, about two-thirds of Istanbul's population lives in Europe, so pretty European I'd say.

Awesome things here. I'm very satisfied to see your
article. Thanks a lot and I'm looking ahead to contact
you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

"technically a part of Azerbaijan but not controlled by the government in over twenty years, is ruled by “Armenian terrorists,” backed by Putin"

The problem is oh so much more complicated than that. Karabakh was a problem long before Putin and will probably remain problematic for ages to come. Caucasus is a boiling pot of very stern, very agressive, very stubborn and very hospitable and likeable people. It's great to visit as a guest, it's exceptionally hard to become anything more than a guest there. I would be surprised if at any point, one force would be able to hold it for a long time in the near future.

Azerbaijan lost control of Nagorno-Karabakh even before USSR lost control of Azerbaijan; the same, btw, applies to other cases, like Georgia and South Ossetia (making a bit ridiculous claims like "the sovereignty of country X over territory Y should be respected", when X, as an independent state, never was any kind of sovereignty over Y).

What's the relationship with Iran? Do people move from Iran to Azerbaijan? Does any one talks about how Azerbaijan was lost by Iran to Russians on war?

Most Azeris live in Iran where they are a dominant minority for, pff, 500+ years. For example, their supreme leader is ethnic Azeri. Therefore, in the war between Armenia and Azerbaidjan, Iran supports Armenia.

Is the Caspian Sea drying up, or is that just the Aral? How do they keep the waterfront promenade near the water?

When I was a kid, the Salton Sea below sea level in the Southern California desert was a big motorboating vacation spot. The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 by the Colorado River overflowing and filling in what had been the lowest spot in North America. (Since then, the lowest spot has been Death Valley.)

But the Salton Sea has been drying up ever since, so all the motels and piers built in the Postwar tourist boom got stranded far from the water's receding edge, and now all that's left is this post-apocalyptic looking shanty town for California's worst burnouts.

all that's left is a fetid stagnant pool and a stench that wafts for miles.

No, Caspian Sea is not drying up (at least not as quickly). But it is much much larger than Aral. Caspian has volume of 78000 km3, Aral now has 27 km3 (yes, not thousands, just 27). Sure, when Aral was full, it was larger, but it was still orders of magnitude smaller than Caspian. Even Baikal has 23000 km3, compared to those Aral was a small puddle, which had very narrow margin for error. And, no surprise, we did fuck up that margin.

What makes the case for Azerbaijan being European most strongly is their regular and successful participation in the Eurovision Song contest, which they won in 2011.

In short, several generations of communist-enforced atheism do have a persistent effect.

Not to doubt in the least that communists are far more effective in controlling Islam than libertarians that believe markets solve everything, but how does one know that this is the effect of communist-enforced atheism and not Shiites being milder?

Donald Trump has (or had?) an unfinished project in Baku, the Trump International Hotel and Tower (Baku). I can't tell if it is one of the three glass towers in the photo, but it is a 33-floor glass building with an odd shape. According to an article in the New Yorker, the project is controlled by the Mammadov family, oligarchs who collected billions in oil revenues from government-owned oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. The New Yorker describes Azerbaijan as corrupt: "According to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt nations in the world."

"The city roads are wide, and like some parts of central Brasilia have few traffic lights."

Brasília needs fewer traffic lights because it is a planned city. Also, people have cars.

"When I applied for a visa, I had to answer whether I come from Armenian blood (no)."
Did they check it or they work under the honor system?

unlike in almost every other country in the world, they do not require police protection.
I mean, almost like lots and lots of synagogues in the US, including exotic places like Mt. Airy in Philadelphia, or Boise, ID. This is sill and a bit embarrassing.

Baku was long said (well into the 2000s) to be the most polluted capital in the world. Did you notice this at all, or have they managed to clean up and/or hide it?

Cosmopolitan, friendly, peacefull, and pleasant.... clearly due for some CIA style havoc

Not if Putin has anything to say about it. And considering what sort of inside track Putin seems to have these days, it is likely that the CIA is more worried about some KGB style havoc happening to the U.S.

Bennan is out of a job, so not too much to worry about anymore.

Well, though she promises to never be involved in torture or destroy evidence of it ever again, who knows what sort of plans CIA Director Haspel might be attracted to, considering her career path - 'Haspel served as the Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service.

In 2005, Haspel was the chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, Director of the National Clandestine Service. In his memoir, Rodriguez wrote that Haspel had drafted a cable in 2005 ordering the destruction of dozens of videotapes made at the black site in Thailand in response to mounting public scrutiny of the program. At the Senate confirmation hearing considering her nomination to head the CIA, Haspel explained that the tapes were destroyed in order to protect the identities of CIA officers whose faces were visible, at a time when leaks of US intelligence were rampant. In 2013, John Brennan, then the director of Central Intelligence, named Haspel as acting Director of the National Clandestine Service, which carries out covert operations around the globe.'

Brennan left, but one of his hand picked appointees replaced him - you can decide how much worrying is required, if a former acting Director of the National Clandestine Service is getting a bit bored - or is told to create a distraction.

Which is why Brennan's security clearance was revoked when it was - at least if one trusts anyone in the Trump White House when they provide an explanation of the administration's actions. 'The senior White House official acknowledged that the step against Brennan had been prepared in late July, when Sanders first said Trump was considering it. But the decision to take that step was made this week to divert attention from nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Consideration is being given to holding other prepared documents in reserve for similar opportunities in the future, the official said.'

Dubai has charm? The charm of the shopping mall? Haven’t been there but know people who have and charming was not how any of them described it. Would be interested in hearing what I’ve missed.

Having lived there 4 years , the reality turns out far better than the low expectations one goes with . Far more liberal than most of the Arab world.

Sure, but is it aesthetically pleasing? Charming? Not saying it might not be a comfortable place to live and have some fun.

>some TV shows film in Canada to get that generically American look.

To be fair, it is only Canadians (and not even all of them) that insist Canada is a separate country.

Then there is Quebec, which has never considered itself part of the U.S. - Americans tend to forget that Canada is a country with its own history.

Well, Trump and the GOP believe Canada is not only a separate country, but a very dangerous country, that they increasingly consider an enemy, like Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Are there beautiful women?

In trendy restaurants

Here is a story right up your alley, Tyler.

It seems the Thai government has been subsidizing Thai restaurants around the world.


That article is a bit light on actual evidence that the Thai government does all that much subsidizing. Sure, they set up a program with lofty goals that claims loans up to $3m. But, as I'm sure readers of this site will agree, there are plenty of government programs that do pretty much nothing toward their stated goals. Is there concrete evidence that the Thai government provides extensive material support to many Thai restaurants?

Good questions. And it looks like Tyler has rated one of the examples:

And some old 2001 coverage:

I was in Baku about ten years ago and also thought it was an intersting and striking city. Some of Svetlana Alexievich's Second Hand Time depicts some of the horrific interaction between the Azeris and Armenians after the collapse of the FSU. Wonder how different the Azeris are from the Turks since Azeri is a Turkish dialect, i.e., an Azeri and a Turk can converse each speaking his own language.

It is a very beautiful city. From the looks of it, the economy has been very steady and growing.

There is a memorial park in Baku dedicated to Azeri-Armenian conflict. It's a pretty impressive place at night.

Re: street crossings. I was very impressed to see municipal workers trying to stop traffic at the pedestrian crossing for pedestrians to cross and drivers honking at them to get out of the way.

I can recommend Tom Reiss's /The Orientalist/, a bio of Lev Nussimbaum---who (re-)wrote the novel /Ali and Nino/. The early chapters portray the wealthy cosmopolitan Baku of the 1910s as it fell to the Soviets.

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