Baku and Turkmenbaši

One opposite to the other on each bank of Caspian, Baku and Turkmenbaši have only in common the oil installations and the pollution which they involve on the soil and in the sea. Baku is a town of arts whereas Turkmenbaši is only interesting by the wild nature which extends from its suburbs to Iran. Both cities are threatened by a whole series of environmental misadventures.

The richness of Baku dates from the XIXth century, when the Nobel drilled there the first oil well of the history. The Nobel and their local collaborators were in Baku what the Medicis were in Firenze. A part of their fortune was devoted to emphasize the azery capital and its archeological sites and to build there a university where, later Lev Landau will study physics and chemistry.

Temple du Feu

But the oil past of Baku is quite former than the Nobel oil well. If it was not industrially exploited, it was extracted there since VIIIh century at the places where it levels the ground. Zoroastrians built temples in the honor of the liquid combustible and they even used natural gas without knowing how to control its flow. The first fire hill is born in the middle of the mud volcanoes. The last in date, lit by a volcanic eruption is unfortunately the source of an unpreceding air pollution and will be very difficult to extinguish.

Unfortunately it is not the only case of pollution by oil in Azerbaijan. It is only recently that one started to modernize the equipment of offshore drilling which dated from the time of the Soviets if not of the Nobel themselves. The crude being abundant and cheap, the Soviets were never concerned too much with what escaped by leaks. The Caspian Sea is extremely polluted in a radius of 20 km around the installations of the Island of Neftyanye Kamni where the material is obsolete and not maintained.

Pollution by hydrocarbons is nothing beside that the rivers. The fault does not fall about it to the Azeri but well to their Georgian and Armenians neighbors which use the Kür river and its tributaries as a waste bin. The water of this river but also that of the artificial lake Mingäçevir which it feeds, knows a so high level of pollution by copper and molybdenum that it is not even any more question of purifying it. Therefore, Azerbaijan misses drinking water cruelly.

But fortunately, Azerbaijan is more than just environmental problems : it is really a beautiful country and its inhabitants are accessible and hospitable. A subtropical climate makes of Azerbaijan a small piece of Africa between the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. One cultivates there cotton, rice and a set of delicious fruits among which grape which is at the origin of a very good level wine production, ideal to accompany the local dishes which are worth the travel. We will mention the plov, dish containing sheep, rice and plums and also the dolma or vine leaves stuffed with thin slices of mutton.

We have just evoked the natural monuments of Azerbaijan like fire hills and mud volcanoes but its historical inheritance does not have anything to envy to them. With its petroglyphs and its testimonies spreading out from Mesolithic era till the Middle Age, the prehistoric site of Gobustan is a real wonder.

Some said that Turkmenbaši is the most depressing city of the world. It was probably true at the time when it was still called Krasnovodsk. If, to be attractive, a city must have dancings and attraction parks, then, it is true, Turkmenbaši is not very interesting. But, on the other hand, for people interested in nature, it is in an especially rich area, as well at sea as along the coasts. The bay of Turkmenbaši as all the coast as far as Iran are classified natural reserve. It is the habitat and the nesting place of a very large variety of migratory birds among which most famous are the pink flamingos.

But these natural reserves should not make us be unaware of the serious ecological threats which weigh on the area. As on the other bank, in Baku, oil is escaping from obsolete installations. That of offshore polluted the sea, that of onshore infiltrated the soil. On the Chelensk peninsula, the floods due to the rise of Caspian spread chemical and radioactive waste.

It is urgent that, not only Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan but also the three other riparians of the Caspian Sea, take necessary measures to stop this disaster and to repair the damage caused to the ecosystems. Four of the five bordering countries can profit from the TACIS program of the European Community but not Iran. Fortunately, motivated by the frequentation of its seaside resorts by the powerful of the Middle-East, this last country preserved its littoral rather well and the forests which skirt it.

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