Magazine article Foreign Policy

Exit the King

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Exit the King

Article excerpt

In Azerbaijan, oil reigns. The country sits atop some 7 billion barrels of reserves. Post-Soviet industrial development, along with surging oil prices, generated monumental economic growth starting in the early 2000s. So prized is black gold that spas in the central town of Naftalan try to treat psoriasis, arthritis, and gout with crude soaks (right). * Yet oil's recent slump has sent Azerbaijan, where energy provides 67 percent of fiscal revenues and 95 percent of exports, into crisis. GDP growth, already down to single digits after the boom years, contracted in 2015 along with barrel prices. To deflect a bailout, the government floated the manat in December and enacted strict currency controls in January. Meanwhile, oil wealth lines politicians' pockets: Azerbaijan ranks 119 out of 167 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. * Belgian-French photographer Mathias Depardon documented oil's slippery legacy in Azerbaijan over several years "to show," he says, "the sociopolitical transition and untethered urban gentriheation of an authoritarian society based on the economy of oil."

In 2007, construction began on the Flame Towers, gaudy additions to Baku's skyline; projected to cost $350 million, the towers--photographed in May 2012--now house luxury apartments, a Lamborghini dealer, and a Fairmont resort.

Top: In May 2015, people relax on Baku's historic seaside promenade. Built in 1909, the walkway was recently extended in an oil-funded construction blitz. …

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