A guide to the New East

Booming Baku: lifting the veil on social divisions in the new Azerbaijan

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“I’ve never seen so many luxury brands on the streets,” was how Italian photographer Flaviana Frascogna described Baku after spending a month travelling around Azerbaijan. She arrived in the capital at night after taking a bus from Tbilisi, greeted by the city’s dazzling Flame Towers, lit day and night by 10,000 LED panels and impossible to miss from any vantage point. Baku’s recent luxury facelift is fuelled by oil and gas money, yet the lifestyle it purports is hard to come by for everyday citizens. Frascogna gives us a glimpse into modern Baku, a fairground for those who can afford it. Her photos also take us to the capital’s largely uninhabited suburbs, more specifically the Absheron peninsula where oil is actually extracted. “If you continue north the landscape becomes apocalyptic, with derelict drilling towers, pylons, abandoned factories on land poisoned by slag and waste,” she says of an area a world away from the grand architecture of the capital. “Outside of Baku, the country lives below the poverty line. Much of the wealth of natural resources goes into the pockets of the elite.” One of Baku’s most popular spots is Shikov Beach, recognisable for the large disused oil rigs that break the sea-view. This much-frequented resort area in polluted waters is more emblematic of Baku’s real identity than the ambitious projects of star architects springing up around the city.

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