Mention Azerbaijan in conversation and you’re likely to get: Azer-what? Is that a country? How do you even pronounce it?
But in Europe and the Middle East, Azerbaijan is a vital oil hub, where Marco Polo reported in the 13th century that gushing geysers could be seen spewing crude oil that lit up the night sky.
Azerbaijan is culturally and geographically wedged between Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Russia looms to its direct north while Iran cradles its southern border and to its east, the Caspian Sea lends an ethereal backdrop to its sleek, oil-money-drenched capital, Baku.
This little Saudi-Arabia-of-The Caucasus was recently in the spotlight for hosting the European Games — and with the increased media attention on its glitzy digs in the big city has come prying eyes into those struggling in the country dotted with oil wells.
A recent report from VICE News pulled back the veil on how wealth from Azerbaijan’s petro industry has failed to economically bolster many of the neighborhoods around the oilfields. And despite promises from the government for years that the economy would be diversified, the oil-dependent country could be in danger of tumbling down the same hill as many kissed by a resource curse. The collapse of the oil market has caused a 30 percent devaluation in the country’s currency and has many worrying about years of depressed prices.
But as the birthplace to the petro industry, which in 1900 provided half of the world’s oil, the country is still capitalizing on its God-given goods.
Spas and health centers in the town of Naftalan still offer petro baths in pure local crude. Locals say the dunks can help psoriasis and joint pain, while calming nerves and beatifying skin. (Meanwhile, many Western experts say the treatments can cause cancer.)
And with the EU looking for ways to reduce its dependence on Russian oil, plans have been cemented to connect Azerbaijan’s oilfields to the Mediterranean market with a new pipeline.
Only time will tell if the country can handle years of a moody oil market and turn its black gold into wider-spread wealth.
These amazing shots were found via VICE News, The New York Times, and the Associated Press.