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Grand Ambitions In Azerbaijan
March 26, 2008 12:33 GMT
Photos by RFE/RL. Illustrations courtesy of Dia Holding.
Architect's illustration of the new Heidar Aliyev Cultural Center in Baku, now being built by Turkish-Azerbaijani partnership Dia Holding - The government of Azerbaijan is spending unprecedented sums on grand development projects that flaunt the country's wealth and rapid modernization. The flagship project, designed by well-known Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, is the Heidar Aliyev Cultural Center in Baku, an entertainment complex glorifying the legacy of the late former president, who was the current president's father.
Architect's illustration of a proposed business and entertainment center in downtown Baku - The total cost of the Heidar Aliyev Cultural Center has so far been kept secret. But with Azerbaijan projecting oil revenues of $250 billion over the next 12 years, foreign firms are seeking a piece of the action. A South Korean developer, for example, has proposed a futuristic business center that would transform the face of the capital.
Children stand in front of a newly built Olympic complex in Mashtaga, outside of Baku - Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games has prompted a separate construction boom; since 2000, 13 new sports complexes have been built, and another 23 are under construction. The Olympic bid is widely seen as President Ilham Aliyev's attempt to raise Azerbaijan's profile worldwide, and to draw on untapped tourism dollars.
An Olympic sports complex in the southern town of Masalli, estimated to have cost $22 million - Until Azerbaijan succeeds in its Olympic bid, however, the expensive new sports complexes are likely to go unused. Fees to use the facilities are beyond the reach of most Azerbaijanis, and some centers, like the one in Masalli, are inaccessible by public transportation.
Portraits of President Ilham Aliyev, who previously headed Azerbaijan's Olympic Committee, and his late father, Heidar Aliyev, watch over an empty gym - The swimming pool at the Masalli sports center remains dry -- and locals say the complex has just one regular visitor. Meanwhile, its upkeep and maintenance cost some $10,000 each month.
A reporter poses outside the crumbling soccer stadium in Masalli - While the new sports facilities stand empty, Azerbaijanis complain that there has been no state investment to reconstruct facilities that are actually in use, such as this soccer stadium, home to a second-tier league.
Workers sort through garbage at a dump in Baku - That complaint applies to other sectors as well. The grandiose construction projects have done nothing to improve the economic status of most Azerbaijanis. And while new hotels and entertainment complexes sprout in downtown Baku, other parts of the capital remain devastated by the environmental impact of the oil industry.
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