In contrast to the rest of Azerbaijan, the capital city Baku is as modern as any city and demonstrates all the glitz befitting an oil kingdom. From the abundance of Maserattis, to the Paris-meets-Dubai architecture, through to the proliferation of restaurants and bars it is difficult to reconcile the Azerbaijan’s capital with the dirt poor shepherds of the countryside or the micro retailers selling their meagre inventory in the provincial towns.
The oil wells offshore dotting the skyline of the Caspian provide the appropriate backdrop to the bling that lights up the capital at night. It is reminiscent, although not as weird as Ashgabat, the Turkmenistan capital just across the sub sea-level Caspian to the east and I suspect as ostentatious as the third of the Caspian oil capitals, Astana (capital of Kazakstan). We will get to Astana later in this ride.
And of course let’s not forget the garish billboards that remind the populace just who their political master is. As was the case we found in Turkmenistan with leader for life Turkmenbashi, and in Libya with Gaddafi, the Azeris have to gaze multiple times per day on the mug shot of El Presidente Aliyev as he smiles down on them from one of the hundreds of billboards that adorn the country’s highways.
Swank, ego, kitsch – such is the essence of the fiefdoms oil wealth have spawned. Turning off the emissions that fuel these displays seems a faint prospect when you’re this close to the rewards that global demand for oil confers.