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【Travel】Baku, AZERBAIJAN

石油景気に沸くカスピ海沿岸の都市

By Allison Kwesell, Photojournalist

写真 バクーの丘からカスピ海へ向かって伸びる線路

 今回の旅の筆者は、カスピ海に面したアゼルバイジャンの首都バクーに約2カ月滞在しました。アゼルバイジャンは旧ソ連の崩壊で1991年に独立した後、カスピ海で採掘される石油や天然ガスで潤い、急速な発展を遂げています。近代的なビルが次々と建設されていますが、筆者が滞在中に借りたアパートは旧ソ連時代の古い建物でした。カスピ海と黒海に挟まれたカフカス地方の中でも、アゼルバイジャンは国境の南をイランと接し、イスラムの色合いが濃い地域です。特にバクーはシルクロードの中継地だったため、ペルシャ、アラブ、トルコ、そしてロシアなどの影響を受けました。バクーは2020年夏季五輪の開催地に、東京などと共に名乗りを上げましたが、今年5月、都市基盤が未整備とされて1次選考で落選しました。

 郷土料理も豊かです。窯で焼いたパンや自家製チーズ、羊肉のグリルや、果物やナッツを詰めて焼いたチキンなどで、筆者は少し体重を増やしたようです。

 一方で、筆者は貧しい人々の暮らす地域も目にしました。バクーの郊外へ足を延ばした時には、避難民のキャンプも訪れました。隣国アルメニアとの間で紛争が続く、ナゴルノ・カラバフから逃れてきた人々でした。ナゴルノ・カラバフはアルメニアに占領され、死者を伴う発砲事件も頻発している地域です。バクー市内は比較的治安が安定していますが、過激派によるテロ計画が何度も持ち上がったこともあり、日本の外務省は、バクーを含みアゼルバイジャンへの渡航に注意を呼び掛けています。(あ)

 Azerbaijan is a vast country mixed with post-Soviet roots and Turkish flare.

 I stayed in Azerbaijan for two months and rented a flat in a very old Soviet-period building in the city center of Baku. A rickety staircase and planks of wood led to the front door on the fourth floor. My flat was romantic with a tall ceiling and much character even with its crumbling cement.

 I learned my first night that neighbors are important. Neighbors keep track of one another; they know each others' health and business. A good neighbor in Azerbaijan is gold. And mine was a beautiful grandmother who checked in on me daily. She showed me her home and always asked about my health. She would kiss me on the cheek and welcome me into the building almost every day when I arrived home.

 Baku, the capital, shines with oil money and rapid growth. It is built on hills surrounding the Caspian Sea. The sea is a beautiful sight, with a thin reflection of refined oil floating on the surface. The Caspian Sea also leaves Baku smelling a little like oil. The city is practically covered in white marble and the downtown is filled with a string of expensive brand-name shops.

 Azerbaijani women are a study in contrast: some move about with their heads covered while others wear high heels, short skirts and lots of makeup.

 Although I only spent two months there, I felt welcomed by the kind and gentle people and I believe I made some lasting friendships.

 There is no shortage of art in Baku. Every night there seems to be an opera, ballet or traditional mugham folk music concert. Mugham is a form of classical folk music and singing filled with emotion that tells a story.

 The old city is dotted with traditional chai walas (tea drinking cafes) amid winding cobblestone roads. Street vendors sell an array of wares, from beautiful scarves for just a few manat (about 100 yen) to Persian rugs costing thousands.

繁栄する首都の負の側面

 Although Baku has a shiny and beautiful side, there are many poor areas. Many families claim they were pushed aside without compensation during the economic boom.

 During my stay in Baku I traveled to different regions to photograph life outside the city. I can remember being shocked at the precipitous decline in living standards the first time I left the city center. Surrounding Baku are many camps for internally displaced people. They live in old dormitory-style buildings that appear quite sad.

 These people are from Nagorno-Karabakh, a slice of disputed land between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Although their living conditions are depressing, their hospitality is strong. I was invited time and again for tea and fresh fruits.

 I visited Sheki, Gobustan, Ismailly and Guba and hope to return someday to see more. Gobustan claims to hold hieroglyphs from the beginnings of civilization.

 My favorite was a place off the tourist track: Fatali village in the Saatli region. I am not sure what Fatali village is famous for, but I will always remember the horses, sheep and cotton pickers.

おいしい郷土料理の数々

 Azerbaijanis dine on flavorful food. A meal begins with a grand show of warm breads baked in a tandoori oven, fresh herbs and vegetables and homemade cheeses.

 Fatty meats come in the second course, minced-meat kebabs and grilled lamb. Or levangi, a whole chicken baked with a stuffing of mixed fruits and chopped nuts. Famous sweet baklava, from the Sheki region, is made of nuts and layered dough soaked in honey and sugar. A meal is always finished with azeri chai (tea) and fruits, nuts or even rose petals soaked in sugar water.

 Two months in Azerbaijan left me unfulfilled. I desire to return. When I first arrived I had no idea what to expect, and it took time for me to uncover some of the jewels within the culture.

 There are many things I would like to go back to see. Gunagli, a mysterious mountain village known to be perpetually hidden by clouds, is home to a friendly people who speak a language all their own. I would also like to see the famous Yanar Dag. Translated as "Fire Mountain,"it's an eternally burning hillside as natural gas seeps from the earth.

 One of my favorite memories (and souvenirs) was having a pair of shoes made for me. A friend's mother owns a little shop where they make shoes from scratch. I picked out the red leather and created a design.

 My feet were measured and drawn and I was able to watch, stitch by stitch, as a pair of red heels was created just for me.

 I left Azerbaijan with new friendships, recipes and maybe even a few extra kilos-the food was so good!


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