Oil Village

Boy holding a puppy smudged in oil. Balakhani village. Baku, Azerbaijan. 2010. Photo by Rena Effendi

Boy holding a puppy smudged in oil. Balakhani village. Baku, Azerbaijan. 2010. Photo by Rena Effendi

Soviet era industrialisation program and mostly petroleum-related production created an environmental crisis both in the Caspian Sea and onshore in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city. In addition, the economy’s heavy dependence on the oil sector brought people from the villages into the city in search for work. As a result, nearly 4,000,000 people, half of the country’s population now lives in Baku, which is imploding with overpopulation and urban decay. In 2008, Forbes magazine named Baku as the most polluted city in the world.

This project documents communities in Baku and suburbs – what has now become a sprawling Oil Village. People live here dangerously – in hazardous environments, among industrial ruin. In the suburbs of the city they inhabit makeshift homes, oil fields and abandoned factories. Their numbers grow with new children being born. Many are refugees of war – rural populations who lost everything and ran to the city to be safe and find work. Living in these inhuman conditions for two decades now, they are no longer in the village, but they breed livestock among the metal waste of factories and hang their laundry on oil-rigs. The air they breathe, the water they drink, the playgrounds for their children are contaminated and hostile. Yet life goes on in this dangerous urban concoction – people decorate their crumbling homes with peacock feathers, a boy plays his drum on a heap of construction waste, an elderly couple plants potatoes in an oil field, and a woman is expecting a child in a cardboard home.

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