Three numbers make up a code, a code that stands for an address; if U2 knew of Aktau they would want to dedicate one of their greatest hits to this city, “where the streets have no name”. Built after oil was discovered around the Mangyshlak peninsula, west Kazhakstan, in the 1960s, Aktau has a deep and sticky relationship with this infamous energy source. It is a relationship that runs as deep as the subterranean estates from which the crude is extracted; it is a relationship that feels as sticky as the viscous oil underground; that strolls through the districts, blocks, and apartments that designate the city’s codes/addresses. One resident once told me that “oil created life from nothing” here, another that “if there wasn’t oil, there would be no Aktau”. The city has changed much from the days when it was emblematic of the expansion of Soviet modernity into the “exotic” deserts of the south; when popular documentaries showed Slavic settlers encountering Kazakhs on camels. Its planners were awarded a prestigious international prize for having …
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Johanna Pruessing explores the past, present and future of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, a city of contrasts and contradictions.