TOL has documented the makeshift, squalid lives of people living on the polluted outskirts of Baku. Many of them are internal refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet this part of the Absheron Peninsula is no stranger to waves of migrants, and the oil-soaked ground today’s inhabitants live on bears witness to many centuries of oil production here, where oil has been extracted commercially longer than anywhere else on earth. A new e-book documents the fascinating story of oil in Baku, paying particular attention to the socio-economic effects as wealth poured in during the 19th century, making many local peasants into millionaires, then leaked away again as oil production moved offshore.

Published by the Center for National and International Studies in Baku, the book has chapters on the economic history of Baku’s oilfields, the social changes that came to the nearby villages as Baku boomed and grew into one of the Russian Empire’s wealthiest, most vibrant cities, and the situation in more recent times. In his chapter, Azer Amiraslanov notes that villages such as Surakhani and Balakhani (where our correspondent Abbas Atilay’s story and slide show were set), “which played an important role in the history of Azerbaijan’s oil extraction, are crying out not just for development, but also for rehabilitation.” Several authors in the volume suggest that the development of tourism might bring much-needed investment to the area, with its historical structures, the “Fire Temple” in Surakhani, ancient wells, not to mention many example of 19th and 20th century industrial heritage. On visitor in the 15th century wrote that in “Bakuya” the oil industry employed more than 200 herds of camels, and that locals dug up pieces of yellow soil “which burns like candles” and used it to heat their houses.

Well worth downloading, the book is more readable than most think-tank productions, although the English is a bit patchy.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email:

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