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The New York Times, November 15, 1884, p.3:




    BALAKHANI, on the Caspian Sea, Oct. 10.--There is a well-known story--none the worse for possessing the somewhat rare merit of being true--of a French sea Captain who, when describing a midnight shipwreck in the Channel, was asked how he could tell on such a pitch-dark night that is was the English coast upon which he was stranded. "I knew it at once," answered he, "by the brisk way in which the lifeboats came out to help me."
    In the same way, were I asked how I can be certain that we are now in Russia, I should answer that I know it by the hearty welcome that we have just been receiving. Both Englishmen and Americans appear to be rare guests in these parts. The last visitor from New-York, I am told, passed this way more than a year ago, while--as a friend informed me last night in somewhat Irish phrase--"the only Englishman in Baku is a Scotchman, and he's never here."

    But if the "Western heretics" knew what a hospitable reception awaits them here they would certainly come more frequently. From our genial Mayor himself, M. Despote Xenovitch, to the overseers of the most distant factories on the surrounding hills, every one has been as eager to oblige us, to tell us whatever we want to know, as if the competition between Russian and American petroleum were nothing more than a dream.
    But it is not easy to fancy it a dream in a spot like this, where the all-pervading petroleum asserts its presence at every turn. The fresh breeze which steals through your open window at daybreak bears with it the fragrant breath of the countless factory chimneys, whose smoke hangs in one eternal cloud over our entire suburb of Baku. From Cape Bailoff, on the other side of the town, to our location on these ridgy uplands, nine miles beyond it, the hillsides are furrowed not with "purling streams," but with seemingly endless lengths of iron tubing, through which flow unseen rivers of petroleum.

    Lakes of the precious liquid reflect the sun from every hollow, and the mighty resevoir, which towers above the "Black Town" like a modernized Coliseum, containing, as the residents proudly tell me, 10,000,000 gallons, is filled to the brim, not with water, but with petroleum, suggesting unpleasant thoughts of a possible deluge that would combine all the terrors of the flood with those of the destruction of Sodom.
    Whether the exquisites of the town have their boots "shined" with lubricating oil, and scent their handkerchiefs with naphtha instead of "Jockey Club" or "Mille Fleurs," I have not yet inquired. But after being offered clarified oil to taste as a great treat at one of the factories yesterday I should scarcely be surprised to see petroleum selling in the grocers' stores in place of molasses, and to find my opposite neighbor at dinner pledging me in a brimming glass of kerosene or seasoning his fish with "residue fat" instead of melted butter.

    I wonder what the ancient fire worshipers of Baku would say if they could come to life again once more upon their own sacred hill and see how modern civilization has transformed it. One can fancy how amazedly the poor Zoroastrians would stare at smoke-breathing chimneys, monster boilers, clanking engines, reservoirs as big as a barrack yard, distilling machines, and steam-worked pumps, lines of rail running down to the sea from the principal factories. And great would be their dismay to see the "eternal fires" of their ancient worship going out one by one from the draining of the naphtha springs that feed them.

    "Foreigners keep on saying," remarked a local expert to me the other day, "that so long as we have to import our tubing and our machinery and all that, the high rates charged for freight transport by the Black Sea and Caspian Railway must eat up a good deal of our profits. But they forget that this is not the only line of transportation open to us. When we get anything from England, or Belgium, or America we can have it sent up the Baltic to Riga, carry it southeastward across Russia via Smolensk and Orel to Tsaritzin or the Lower Volga, and then run it down here by steamer."
    Among the recent imports iron tubing from America holds a prominent place, great quantities of it having been required for the construction of the pipes which bring down the petroleum from the hills to the seashore.

    As regards exports, the following list, which I have just copied from the official report for August, will give some idea of the progress of the local chief industry: "Exported by sea during the month of August--Kerosene, 2,579,923 poods, the pood being 36 pounds English; residues, 4,072,900 poods; raw naphtha, 187,160; lubricating oil, 136,305; benzine, 15,376; other distillations, 1,040; total, 6,992,364 poods."

    Baku, being proverbially short of freah water, that which is required for the working of the machinery is obtained from the sea, and distilled in the factories themselves, which are consequently placed as close to the shore as possible, this congress of chimneys forming the "Black Town" of which I have spoken, lying about half an hour's drive from Baku itself. But the actual petroleum wells lie several miles further to the northeast, on the hill of Balakhani, (a name signifying "Home of Summer," though it might more justly be called "Home of Petroleum,") which is connected with the Black Town by the pipes above mentioned.
    This grimy suburb fully deserves its ill-omened name when we enter it from the Baku side, for here several small factories owned by Tartars come close together, filling the air with a mass of foul black smoke sufficient to stifle an analytical chemist. But further on the "smoke consumers" are already in action, and our lungs are as much relieved as if they were now only filled with cotton instead of mud.

    Our first visit is to the Shibaieff factory, which, although small compared to the giants beyond it, is in very good order, and evidently managed by men who know what they are about. It is chiefly devoted to the manufacture of various forms of machine oil, which has been until very lately one of the chief local industries, but is now, as the residents tell me, coming to a standstill, the supply having already far exceeded the demand.
    "We could easily make five times as much lubricating oil as we do," says one of our party, "but if we did we could never find a market for it just now. Germany is our chief foreign customer at present, and she's fully supplied for the time being. In fact, we've made enough oil within the last year to grease the whole world."
    "The polar axis included, I presume? You might make a good thing of it by getting an order for that."
    "Well, I don't know about the polar axis," answers the Russian, laughing, "but at all events we've made more than we can sell just at present. That factory which you see yonder has left off making it altogether for the time, and that other has 1,250,000 gallons in stock which it can't get rid of. But here's breakfast ready--shall we go in?"

    The table talk is quite a Babel, being carried on simultaneously in Russian, French, German, and English, with a dash of Persian here and there. But the meal itself is a genuinely Russian one. On a side table stand the little glasses of liqueur and corn whiskey, the slices of white and brown bread, the plates of caviar, (sturgeon roe,) cheese, and sardines which, under the various names of "schnapps" and "zakusa," are the preliminary articles of food at every well-ordered breakfast or dinner in Russia. The talk, as might be expected, turns chiefly upon petroleum, and I am soon furnished with statistics faster than I can write them down.

    "In some points the Americans have the advantage on us," says a keen-looking man on my right, and in other points we have the advantage on them. For example, the American raw material yields, if I recollect right, 75 per cent. of pure petroleum and 25 per cent. of residues, whereas ours gives 72 per cent. of residues and only 28 per cent. of pure petroleum. But then, on the other hand, the Russian petroleum is much the heavier of the two, and consequently the less dangerous in the way of explosions.
    "Then, to counterbalance our great difficulty in boring, labor is far cheaper here than in America, and our workmen--who are mostly Persians or Tartars, although the foremen are generally Russians--can live very well upon one-twelfth of their day's wages, small though they are.
    "The actual getting out of the raw naphtha costs us far more than theirs costs the Americans, but I think we make it good in other ways."

    "When you go back to America, Mr. Ker," chimes in another, "you must tell them not to laugh at what we're doing here, for this is only the beginning. If we see you here again in a year or two, as I hope we shall, you'll see a wonderful advance. We're good customers to your side of the water, too. One of our firms alone has 300,000 rubles' worth ($225,000) of American tubing laid down between this and Balakhai to carry the petroleum, and nearly all of our machinery is either American or English."
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    The Republic of Azerbaijan occupies the southern part of the isthmus between the Black and Caspian seas, bordered on the north by Russia, on the east by the Caspian Sea, on the south by Iran, on the west by Armenia, and on the northwest by Georgia. The Azerbaijani exclave of Naxç[van (Nakhichevan) is separated from Azerbaijan proper by Armenia, and is also bounded by Iran and Turkey. The capital of Azerbaijan is Baku. The area of Azerbaijan is 33,400 square miles (86,600 square km). The estimated population of Azerbaijan for July, 2008 is 8,177,717. The official language is Azeri.

    Azerbaijan - a nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-Shia Muslim population - was briefly independent (from 1918 to 1920) following the collapse of the Russian Empire; it was subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union for seven decades.

    Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily ethnic Armenian-populated region that Moscow recognized in 1923 as an autonomous republic within Soviet Azerbaijan after Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed the territory's status. Armenia and Azerbaijan reignited their dispute over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated militarily after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also seven surrounding provinces in the territory of Azerbaijan. The OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by the US, France, and Russia, is the framework established to mediate a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

    In the 25 years following its independence, Azerbaijan succeeded in significantly reducing the poverty rate and has directed revenues from its oil and gas production to significant development of the country’s infrastructure.

    However, corruption in the country is widespread, and the government has been accused of authoritarianism. The country’s leadership has remained in the Aliyev family since Heydar ALIYEV became president in 1993 and was succeeded by his son, President Ilham ALIYEV in 2003. Following two national referendums in the past several years that eliminated presidential term limits and extended presidential terms from 5 to 7 years, President ALIYEV secured a fourth term as president in April 2018 in an election that international observers noted had serious shortcomings.

    Reforms to diversify the country’s non-oil economy remain dependent on subsidies from oil and gas revenues, while other reforms have not adequately addressed weaknesses in most government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, as well as the court system.
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    After breakfast we complete our inspection of the factory under the able guidance of the director--who, lame though he is, displays an untiring energy that might shame many a stronger man--and the pleasant and well-informed analyst, Dr. Schmidt. After mastering as thorougly as our unscientific minds can do it the process by which the mineral oil is separated from the water, and the various consistencies of oil from each other, we depart well satisfied, in order to pursue our researches elsewhere. But these need not be described at length.

    I must not, however, leave unnoticed the factory of "Mirzoeff's Sons" in the town itself, which deserves mention if only for the sake of its well-kept laboratory, which might satisfy a Cambridge Professor of Chemistry. The director of the works is an inventor likewise, and he showed me an excellent temperature gauge of his own devising, as well as a glass tube containing alternate layers of clay and sand, as a kind of chart of the soil through which the borings are being carried.
    One of the guests at dinner was an inventor of another kind, viz., M. Dmitrieff, the self-taught author of The Calendar of Illumination. While we were at table a friend of our host entered with the news that a compact had just been concluded with Austria by which the Baku petroleum might be sent through to Vienna without hindrance or delay--a piece of news eagerly seized by my obliging introducer, Dr. Panchenko, who is a leading contributor to one of the two daily papers which Baku possesses.

    On the fourth day after our arrival we drive out to Balakhani to see the petroleum wells themselves. Of these no fewer than 58 belong to the firm of Nobel Brothers, the Rothschilds of Baku, who, if the Custom House register can be depended upon, must be exporting as much as all the other firms put together.

    Despite the glorious sunshine above and the bright blue sea below, the whole landscape is desolate in the extreme, for king petroleum, like most other monarchs, announces his presence by desolation.
    Along a "road," which is nothing more than a dusty, uneven ditch, we bump and jolt up and down in succession of bare parched ridges, freckled with tufts of that prickly tamrisk which met me at every turn three years ago in Afghanistan.

    Yonder to the left lies a deep hollow, white with the leprous whiteness of a half-dried salt lake, such as one sees so often in the great deserts of Central Asia. Indeed, the whole scene is thoroughly Asiatic, and effect heightened by the wild figures in loose frocks snd high caps of black or brown sheepskin that come past every now and then, some striding barefoot through the dust, others perched on donkeys between two water jars or baskets of grapes, and others still in big cage-like native carts, while far in the distance half a dozen slowly moving camels add the finishing touch to the picture.

    "Before we had our pipes laid down," says our chaperon, M. Pöhl, whose fluent English might well make any one doubt that he had really been born in Russia, "we used to send down our naphtha in casks, slung by those chains you see under the carts.
    "Now, if you look out to the left you'll see our works at Balakhani, just like a row of sentry boxes." The comparison is a very apt one for the tall, windmill-shaped flankings which cover the various "fountains." We are soon in among them, winding between the box-like stone hovels of the Asiatic workmen, which, with their thick walls pierced by a narrow window-hole here and there, look like fortresses built by an army of dwarfs.
    But the house of the Swedish manager himself is even more startling to Western eyes. All along the spacious veranda, which is almost as big as the platform of a railway station, the wall is painted with brightly colored frescoes in the most approved style of Persian art. On one side the Shah is seen enthroned in full Court dress, while three or four queerly dressed men are timidly offering him presents of fruit. In another place Rustam, the Persian Hercules, is slicing like a cucumber the poor Ak Deev (White Demon.) Further on, two men are wrestling with iron spikes attached to their knees, while the corners are filled up with dark-eyed Persian beauties in gay robes and saucer-shaped caps.

    Mr. Sangren, the manager, is not at home when we arrive, but he is ably replaced by his colleague, who is also from "old Sweden," although he has not seen it for more than 20 years. With a briskness which many a younger man might envy, he marches us through the great jungle of hissing pipes, steaming caldrons, and clanking machines, halting at length before a row of objects very much like monstrous iron helmets hacked and split in some desperate battle.
    "Those are just the caps through which the petroleum jets pass as they spurt up from the fountain," he explains, in fluent Russian, "and these that you have see have been broken by the friction of the sand which the jet has forced into them with a pressure of 100 pounds to the square inch.
    "You'd hardly believe what power these jets have. You saw that big stone on Mr. Sangren's veranda, which you could hardly lift with both hands? Well, that was chucked up like a pebble by one of our fountains, which kept spouting for days and days in spite of all we could do to stop it. We heaped stones upon it and sacks full of sand, but it scattered them all over the place like a mitrailleuse and shook the very earth all round.
    "Another time a fountain belonging to one of our neighbors caught fire and blazed away for eight days, so that you could read a letter here at midnight quite easily."

    "What system of boring have you adopted here," ask I, as we turn away from our inspection of the thick, yellow streams which are rushing like gigantic beer taps from the gaping iron mouths.
    "We have two--the Galitzin system, with iron rods, and the American system, with chains. The American is the quickest, but not quite so sure, because the chains are apt to get twisted. As to our tubes, we run down a 12½-inch first, then a 10-inch, and then an 8, which is our smallest bore.
    "The petroleum lies very variably, for of two borers as close together as those two yonder the one may find plenty and the other none at all, but for the most part it lies nearest the surface up here on the hilltop, and the further you go toward the plain the deeper you have to bore.
    "We have struck oil at 37 fathoms, but the general average is from 50 to 80, and once or twice of late we have had to go as deep as 100 or 103."

    This last statement suddenly recalls to my mind the verdict just given by a noted Russian scientist, who, having made a personal inspection of the Baku wells, has declared against the exportation of the petroleum to foreign countries on the ground that the supply is by no means so inexhaustible as it is generally supposed to be. Can he be right, after all?
    But our stouthearted conductor seems little troubled by any apprehensions of the sort. "It's only the higher deposits that we have touched as yet," says he, "there's plenty more down below. More than once, when one of our fountains seemed to be completely exhausted, we have only had to bore through the layer of sand immediately below it, and out sprang a second jet, finer than the first.
    "No, I don't think we shall run dry just yet."

    "Do you think it would pay an American capitalist to settle here and establish a factory of his own?" inquire I, as we turn back toward the manager's house.
    "Well, it's rather hard to say positively; it might, or it might not. But I'll tell you what would pay to a certainty, and that would be for some American manufacturer who was skilled in making iron tubings and things of that sort just to settle here in Baku, and do that and nothing else.
    "You see, the duties upon all imported articles of that kind are so crushingly heavy that if we could have our things manufactured on the spot by an experienced hand there would be a run upon them directly, and as for the iron and the fuel they're both ready to hand. That's what I should do if I were an American and wanted to make my fortune.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1884 was equivalent to $23.90 in 2008.

The New York Times, February 18, 1902:


Details of the Great Earthquake Slowly Reaching Baku.

4,000 Houses Destroyed--Surrounding Villages Also Suffered--A Volcano in Active Eruption.

    BAKU, Feb. 17--Details which are slowly reaching Baku from Shemakha, which is about seventy miles from here, show that 2,000 persons, mostly women and children, perished as a result of the earthquake last week, and that 4,000 houses were destroyed.
    Thirty-four villages in the country surrounding Shemakha also suffered.

    A volcano near the village of Marasy, eastward of Shemakha, has broken out into active eruption, and has added to the terrors of the neighborhood. A great crevasse has appeared, whence immense flames and streams of lava are being thrown out. The course of the River Geonchaika has been altered in consequence of its bed being dammed with earth dislodged by the earthquake.
    Battalions of guards and detachments of sappers, with tents, have been dispatched to Shemakha to aid in the work of rescue...

    Shemakha is a formerly important but latterly comparatively insignificant town in Transcaucasia, on the Zaglolavai, an affluent of the Peersagat, which falls into the Caspian Sea. On the high road to India, it is situated in a mountainous, picturesque country, covered with luxuriant vegetation, 2,230 feet above the level of the Black Sea, and has numerous ruins of large caravansaries, churches, and public buildings. Shemakha is the capital of the Khanate of Shirvan, and was known to Ptolemy as Kamachia. It was conquered by the Persians in 1501 under Shah Ismail I.
    About the middle of the sixteenth century an English commercial factory was maintained at Shemakha by the traveler Jenkinson, who become Envoy Extraordinary of the Khan of Shirvan to Ivan the Terrible. In 1712 the town was sacked by the Lesghians, and eight years later by a certain Daghestan, Ala-ud-Daula, who was recognized later as the Khan of Shirvan. In 1724 the Khanate was taken by Turkey, and in 1742 Shemakha was taken and destroyed by Nadir Shah of Persia, who, to punish the inhabitants for their Sunnite creed, built a new town under the same name about sixteen miles to the west, at the foot of the main chain of the Caucasus. The new town was at times a residence of the Khan, but was finally abandoned. The old town was rebuilt under the rule of Mahmud Seyyid.

    In 1795 Shemakha was captured by the Russians, who had been there once before, in 1723, but was shortly afterward abandoned, and Shirvan was not finally annexed to Russia until November 1805, after the voluntary submission of its last Khan, Mustapha.
    In recent times Shemakha has suffered severely from earthquake. In 1859 the Governor's seat was moved to Baku because of a shock, and in 1872 a still more terrible shock occurred, from which the town never recovered. Before that year, there were 130 Armenian silk-winding industries there. In addition to the rearing of silkworms, Shemakha produced cotton, wheat, and rice, and maintained several tanneries and dyeing works.
    The population of Shemakha is said to be about 22,000.

    Some great earthquakes in the past were:
    At Catania, Sicily, which in 1114 A.D. was overturned, and 15,000 persons were buried.
    At Cilicia, Asia Minor, in September 1268, when 60,000 persons perished.
    At Lisbon, in 1531, when 1,500 houses were overturned and 30,000 persons buried.
    At Naples and the vicinity in 1626, when thirty villages were destroyed and 70,000 lives were lost.
    At Lisbon in 1755, when an earthquake in eight minutes destroyed the greater part of the city, and 50,000 inhabitants lost their lives. Several neighboring towns suffered severely, and half of Fez, Morocco, was destroyed, with more than 12,000 Arabs.
    In Charleston, S.C., 1886, when forty-one lives were lost and $5,000,000 worth of property was destroyed.
    In Japan in 1981, when an earthquake killed 4,000 persons, injured 5,000 others, and destroyed 50,000 houses.

Modern Shemakha, now known as Samaxi, has a population of about 25,300 (1991 estimate). It is a center of food industries, particulary known for wines. Carpets (brocaded, flat-stitch with mosaic-tile patterns) are also produced in the surrounding area.