Azerbaijan's capital Baku is a Strategic Pearl of the Caspian Sea

Image credits: Panoramic view of Baku - the capital of Azerbaijan located by the Caspian Sea shore.. Picture by Arthur Blok.

I had the pleasure of visiting Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in early April. To avoid losing the thrill of discovering things, I went easy on the literature about its culture and its must-see sites. Baku is one of those places you regret you did not discover earlier. While preparing, I found interesting pieces on Azerbaijan's leadership and (geo) politics; most of what you read online in the mainstream media is colored or suits a particular political agenda. It figures.

By Arthur Blok
“Baku is like an old forgotten book you discover in your grandmother's attic. Once you've wiped off the dust and delved into its pages, you stand amazed at its treasures. Azerbaijan's intellectual resources far exceed its natural resources. The real prize here is not oil but rather history, culture, and people."

These beautiful words by internationally renowned Iranian-French photojournalist Reza Deghati were taken from an interview in the late 1990s. Deghati, who is of Azerbaijani origin, won various - international - photo awards for his work in conflict areas.

I had a similar experience after my visit. Baku takes your breath away.

Its name is derived from the old Persian Bhagavan, which translates to "City of God." A folk etymology explains that the name Baku is derived from the Persian Bādkube (بادکوبه ), meaning "city where the wind blows" due to the frequent winds.

Honestly, the latter makes perfect sense to me. During my stay, a harsh wind blew from the Caspian Sea, which was pretty cold. It could have been just bad luck as well. I do realize that.

The city's history goes back 5,500 years and is home to numerous architectural wonders. The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways with beautiful buildings, palaces, mosques, and other historic structures—not to mention the finest restaurants.

A segment of Baku's Fortress Wall built in the 12th century.

Its medieval walled old city contains the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a vast royal complex, and the iconic stone Maiden Tower. Outside the fully renovated medieval walls, the architecture is best described as French Gothic: a fusion where the East meets the West, which is why Baku was nicknamed the 'Paris of the Caucasus.’

A name once reserved for the Lebanese capital, Beirut, my city of birth. In its heyday, Beirut was celebrated for its rich culture, architecture, food, and lifestyle. That is something of the past. Beirut's reputation is flushed down the toilet by war and greedy politicians who rape the country on every single occasion they get.

I have to admit: Baku is everything Beirut could have been.  As a proud Lebanese, I acknowledge that it hurts a bit. That is understated.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has focused on establishing (upper) middle income, economic development, and improving people's literacy. Despite  Western criticism of his long rule (since 2003), he has a clear plan to improve the lives of his people. That is visible wherever you go.

Which neighboring country can say the same?  

After succeeding his father, Heydar Aliyev, the nation experienced remarkable economic growth, primarily due to the progress of sustainable economic reforms. While the economy mainly depends on oil and natural gas production, Aliyev opened the door to foreign visitors, and tourism took a leap.

Aliyev's - and his father's - rule could be compared to leaders of the Arabian Gulf's rich oil states. His foreign policies are best described as progressive. He is a strategic mastermind who knows how the geopolitical game is played. In the past decade, cooperation with the European Union was strengthened while maintaining strong economic ties with Russia.

At the same time, he maintains strategic relations with its neighboring countries, except Armenia. His alliances go far beyond Azerbaijan’s borders; his partnership with Israel illustrates that best. That is interesting, to say the least, for a Shiah-dominated country that enforces secularism.

Compare that to Western Europe and the USA. With some exceptions, governed by mediocre leaders obsessed with opening their borders for migrants while ignoring the will of their people. Bound by a vague and perverse woke agenda where derained transgender rhetoric is the new normal. Policies that killed economies compromised democracies and turned large parts of beautiful historic cities into no-go areas.

This is not the case in Azerbaijan. Aliyev does not allow anybody to tell him what to do. Azerbaijan is a nation of pride; once you visit, you understand why. This is inconvenient for many in the West, who still suffer from a superiority complex when it comes to this part of the world.

Back to the interview with Reza Deghati and the recent developments in Nagorno-Karabakh last year. After a relatively brief military campaign, the by Armenia illegally occupied enclave was taken back by Azerbaijani forces, and the enclave was officially dissolved.

Deghati eye-witnessed the first Karabakh war (from 1988 to 1994) and commemorated the more than thirty thousand casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees. In the interview, he raised awareness of the atrocities committed by the Armenian forces, in particular the Khojali massacre.

On the night of February 26, 1992, hundreds among the town's population of 8,000 were murdered in cold blood. Survivors were left to stumble through the darkness to neighboring villages and towns.

This 'ethnic cleansing,’ or better said, destruction, did not get too much attention in the West, which reported the conflict mainly from Armenia’s (or better said, ‘Westen’ perspective). The mutilation and brutality that he saw inflicted on the victims still keep him up at night.

For those interested, it's advisable to research the history of the conflict to understand better what happened last year. Studying the 1993 UN Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884) is a must in that perspective. Faced with the prospect of rule by Azerbaijan, tens of thousands of Armenians most of whom were illegally occupying Azerbaijani land, fled back to Armenia.

Baku is reintegrating the region and its remaining population into Azerbaijan, promising economic development. Attention has now turned to normalizing relations and reaching a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Given the hostile rhetoric between the two nations, such an agreement will probably take a long time.

Such ethnic geopolitical disputes always start with bloodshed and destruction, resulting in generations of pain and misery for those innocent involved. Despite how recent developments were depicted and what you might read about Azerbaijan in the mainstream media, there are always two sides to every story. Both deserve the same attention and consideration.


Arthur Blok

Veteran journalist, author, moderator and entrepreneur. The man with the unapologetic opinion who is always ready to help you understand and simplify the most complex (global) matters. Just ask.
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