Autumn 2005 (13.3)
here we are - the end of 2005, the long-awaited date that Azerbaijanis
have been anticipating for a long time. Eleven years have passed
since September 1994 when the "Contract of the Century"
was signed for the development of Azeri, Chirag and Gunashli
Finally, the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline
is finished. The long-awaited date has been pushed back on a
number of occasions. That black liquid from the bowels of the
earth is now being pumped into the pipeline and has nearly completed
its 1,100 mile journey across three countries - Azerbaijan, Georgia
and Turkey. Soon tankers will slip into the dock at the Turkish
seaport on the Mediterranean, and fill up with its prized cargo
en route to Western markets. The event is a significant milestone
in the history of Azerbaijan. It should be a moment of celebration
- brimming with joy, immense pride and the satisfaction of accomplishment
for a brighter future.
But here we are at the magazine, like Chicken Little of the well-known
children's tale, raising our voices in alarm: "The sky is
falling! The sky is falling!"
And how did Chicken Little know to sound the alarm? "I saw
it with my eyes, I heard it with my ears, and a bit of it fell
on my head," said Chicken Little, after getting hit on the
head with an acorn while walking through the forest.
And so, as the story goes, she gathered her barnyard friends
- the hen, the cock, goose, gander, and duck-all together headed
off to find the King and warn him of the approaching danger.
Sometimes this tale has come to symbolize media-driven scare
tactics created artificially. But in terms of Baku, disaster
truly is imminent if nothing is done to rectify serious trends
that have been ushered in with this construction boom in downtown
During the past five years, Baku has grown at a phenomenal rate.
More than 500 high-rise buildings - many of which tower 15-25
stories - have totally altered the character of Baku as a city.
In this issue, two authors plead with Azerbaijanis and officials
to heed the ominous situation and move strategically to avoid
two major irreversible situations: (1) the destruction of beautiful,
century-old buildings dating from the Oil Boom - the likes of
which will never be built again on such a wide scale in Baku,
and (2) the critical need to address safety issues related to
the potentially fatal building practices so common to the city,
given that it is situated in a very active seismic zone.
Both authors - Pirouz Khanlou and Thomas Goltz - write out of
a deep concern that these catastrophes are inevitable unless
major steps are taken. Both are long-time friends of Azerbaijan.
They write - not for the sake of pointing fingers or making accusations
- but primarily to generate community discussion that can lead
to correcting the situation.
Both writers developed extremely close emotional ties to Azerbaijan
nearly 15 years ago, having set foot in the country even before
the Soviet Union had collapsed (late 1991). Both are among a
mere handful of foreigners who have sustained relationships with
the country, unlike the majority of foreigners, who come and
go. On average, international companies and embassies have changed
their management at least five times during that same period.
Thomas Goltz knows the territory well. He risked his life on
more than one occasion to document the ethnic wars of the Caucasus.
He has authored three books about Azerbaijan (1998), Chechnya
(2003) and Georgia (forthcoming in 2006). He is highly respected
among Azerbaijanis for his passionate stand against the massacre
that took place in the Azerbaijani town of Khojali (part) in
1992, which set off the "ethnic cleansing" process
by Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh. (Obviously, this term has Orwellian
implications as it has nothing to do with cleansing, and everything
to do with the absolute annihilation of any Azerbaijanis who
dared to remain in Karabakh, their home).
Khanlou, a Los Angeles based architect, has carried out several
very successful construction projects in Baku. His experience
working in earthquake-prone California makes him extremely conscious
of the Building Codes and Regulations that must be scrupulously
followed to ensure safety under such precarious conditions.
Left: Limestone sculpture, characteristic
of the oil boom architectural era (1880-1920). Today, so many
buildings of this period are at risk of being demolished because
of Baku's new construction boom. Photo: Blair.
Khanlou fears that Baku is woefully unprepared should an earthquake
strike again as it did in November 2000 which brought quite extensive
damage. This was before the recently constructed towers, so poorly
built had sprung up all over town. Khanlou is concerned that,
sooner or later, the inevitable will happen. Nature will take
its own course and Baku will be suffer devastating loss. Baku's
difficulties, he insists, stem from a serious lack of Urban Planning.
The capital has been allowed to develop haphazardly without a
clear plan or strategy. The future looks even less promising,
insists unless serious steps are taken to rebuild the infrastructure
at a deep level.
Most people throw up their hands in total frustration when they
understand the complexity of these issues. Khanlou, an eternal
optimist, attempts to offer a concrete approach so that the City
can begin to tackle these problems, both on a short-term, as
well as long-term, basis.
That's why we've made such an enormous effort to translate his
article, "Construction! Destruction?" [see page 32]
into Azeri [page 48] as well. Usually our articles are written
to target international readers. This time we wanted to make
sure the Azerbaijani community was conscious of our concerns.
On a happier note, with this issue - Autumn 2005 [AI 13.3] -
Azerbaijan International magazine celebrates its 50th issue.
Published quarterly since 1993, the magazine now boasts nearly
5,000 pages and is subscribed to by some of the world's most
prestigious universities including Oxford, Harvard, Princeton,
Colombia, Cornell, Stanford, Georgetown, Texas A & M, Fletcher
School of Business at Tufts, and state universities such as UCLA,
Berkeley, Penn, North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, and numerous
other public libraries, including New York City and Los Angeles.
Our Website - AZER.com - archives the entire contents of these
50 issues. We were one of the earliest (May 1996) to launch a
Web site about Azerbaijan and now can claim far beyond dispute
to be "The World's Largest Web Site about Azerbaijan"
with approximately 1,840 articles and 5,300 photos.
And that brings us to mention how the tale of Chicken Little
ends. As is true of all fairy tales as they get told and retold
across time and space - across history and geography, there are
various endings depending upon who tells the story. One concludes
with Chicken Little and her friends being tricked by Foxy Woxy
who makes a scrumptious dinner of them all.
Another version ends "happily ever after" by announcing
the arrival of the King's hunters and their dogs, just in the
nick of time, to chase away the wicked fox and rescue the barnyard
crew. "After that day, Chicken Little always carried an
umbrella with her when she walked in the woods. The umbrella
was a present from the King. And if - KERPLUNK - an acorn fell,
Chicken Little didn't mind a bit. In fact, she didn't notice
it at all."
How much we hope that our efforts to publish on this topic will
help to raise community consciousness which, in turn, will facilitate
the opening of a huge protective symbolic umbrella over those
who love Baku, including foreigners, and all those who call it
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