Azerbaijan has always been located between cultural traditions, absorbing words and ideas from the vast empires that have surrounded it. So it is fitting that the only thing everyone agrees about today’s meykhana – a form of poetic improvisation – is that it is a unique product of the Absheron peninsula where Baku is located.Read More
On May 10 Heydar Aliyev, the former president and current billboard favorite in Azerbaijan, would have turned 88 years old. So naturally, the government pulled out all the stops. Like last year, thousands of flowers from 50 countries literally covered the park between the Heydar Aliyev Palace and the statue of Heydar Aliyev as two hot air balloons were inflated in front of the giant flower mosaic of Heydar Aliyev, ensuring that his unmistakable Kremlin-Mona-Lisa smile would soar above the city already covered by his portraits.Read More
That’s the question facing anyone covering today’s protests in Baku. Is the opposition too weak or is the ruling YAP party too strong?Read More
Heading southwest out of Baku you can expect a few sights worth noting, but the good stuff is hidden behind the walls of Azerbaijan Methane Company. There are other stops worth pointing out on the road to Gobustan, but my favorite was the tank cemetery we found on the way to Lenin’s giant head. There’s the tranquil Bibi Heybat Mosque, The famous “James Bond” oil fields where they filmed The World is Not Enough, a few beaches, and some overpriced resorts in various stages of construction. Otherwise there is a mostly a big wall on the right and the Caspian shore on the left. There’s a hole in that wall that leaves to a barren world of pipes, more walls and petro-chemical plants across the horizon.
I went to front gates of AzMeCo and asked to see the giant head of Lenin. The guard was in a good mood and laughed about the question. He sent me around the factory to the back where he said I might be able to find it.
The trick to sightseeing in Azerbaijan is to appreciate the unexpected. Call it absurd, but spending an hour trying to track down a giant bust of Lenin’s head is exactly how to get a sense of the country.
Here’s a warm up example:
This is a guy in Sheki who sites near the main tourist attraction in the city carrying around his stuffed wolf under a colorful sheet. For a few kopeks, he’ll show it to you along with some yellowed pages he said were registration documents. For a few more you can take their photo. You’ll notice in the detail that the wolf’s eyes have been replaced with light bulbs - there’s a switch on his belly turns them on.
That said, lets return to Lenin and the tanks. On page 139 of Mark Elliot’s extraordinary travel guide to Azerbaijan is a little hand drawn map pointing out a gas station, some chemical works and a little box labeled “Lenin still stands in grounds of factory.” Unfortunately, I have to report that according to the guards he has been removed into storage inside the factory just a few months ago. The pedestal remains though – I wonder what will take his place?
I couldn’t get permission to enter the factory’s storage room because it was a Sunday and there was no one available to give me permission. That also meant there was no around to shoo me out of the tank cemetery down the road. There are two actually, but the one Elliot marked as “Now a closed military zone – Keep Away!” is apparently mostly parts, while this little fenced in yard is full of the chassis.
I asked a plant supervisor nearby about the tanks and he explained that they were all brought here under an executive order from the President after the Soviet Union was dismantled. All the tanks are gutted for any salvageable parts and there is a tank factory right nearby, with shiny new painted tanks parked outside. See those hills in the last photo, that’s where they test out the munitions. Cool, huh?
Tucked into a sidestreet just off an improvised bus terminal along one of the busiest road in Tbilisi is Rezo Gabriadze’s pet project: a three year, three story clock tower that is perpetually falling down. It’s a very young structure in a very old place, made by a world famous puppeteer who cobbled it together himself in the street, brick by brick.Read More
The storefronts and billboards throughout Baku are still covered in election posters, but a brief conversation with the stores' owner reveals the cynicism of the recent elections here. In most cases, the owner did not support or oppose the candidate, did not know who put up the poster inside his shop and didn't remove it because, in the words of one woman, "Why would I do a stupid thing like that?"Read More