The capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, is an ancient city dealing with the modern realities of internal warfare.
A nearly decade-old war with Armenian Karabakhs over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has transformed twenty percent of the country into hostile territory and is said to be swallowing a quarter of the nation's economy. In 1990, Armenians in Baku were killed as the hostilities escalated, and Soviet troops occupied the city to regain control and ward off a coup by the nationalistic Azerbaijani Populist Front.
Conflict is nothing new to Baku, a city controlled by Persia in the 11th century, then by the Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries, not to mention a conquest by Peter the Great in 1723 (Persia got it back in 1735) and another Russian take-over in 1806. In 1920, the Soviet Red Army took the city.
The city of 1.2 million has produced its share of intriguing world citizens, including chess master Gary Kasparov, and cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. Its architecture, too, is a fascinating blend -- ranging from elements of an 11th century Persian mosque and palace, to Soviet-style structures built for efficiency, not beauty.
The city's narrow streets and bustling markets seem timeless, while the industrial infrastructure of this, one of the world's largest petroleum producers, shows a decidedly modern face to the world.
As early as the eighth century, Baku was known for its oil, and, by the 15th century, lamps were being fueled by the surface wells of Baku. By the turn of this century, Baku's oil fields were the world's richest, spurting liquid gold for Imperial Russia. Today, the fields are largely depleted and the drilling has moved out into the Caspian Sea.