If you ask him, Ibrahim Ibrahimov will probably tell you that his plan to build an archipelago of artificial islands, scores of apartment buildings, bridges and the world’s newest tallest tower will be good for Azerbaijan, but really the billionaire is on a path that may destroy everything that makes the capital, Baku, so special.
The New York Times recently profiled the billionaire, who is one of the country’s most powerful men. With close ties to president Ilham Aliyev, he is uniquely positioned to realize a sudden mad idea he had while flying from Dubai to Baku to build the artificial Khazar Islands on the Caspian Sea. And though he claims this is not the case, the plan sounds eerily like Dubai. Except worse.
While Dubai has damaged both the desert and the Arabian/Persian Gulf with its rapid coastline development, Ibrahimov also plans to take down part of the country’s cultural heritage with thousands of shiny new apartments, 55 artificial islands, eight hotels, an airport, a snazzy yacht club and a Formula One racetrack.
Some of these mosques, mansions and palaces date back to the 7th Century, according to NYT. But Ibrahimov’s 24 year old assistant gushes that all of it – including the street vendors – will be gone by the time the so-called vision is realized by 2022.
The plan’s biggest selling point, according to Ibrahimov, the building that is supposed to draw scores of wealthy investors to a country bordered by Armenia and Iran, is a 3,445 foot skyscraper called, rather unimaginatively, Azerbaijan Tower.
He will live in a penthouse at the top, he has said, a goal that instantly reminded me of my 14 year old cousin’s naive declaration that he wants to be so rich one day that he will have his own skyscraper in Manhattan.
Ibrahimov is 40 years older, but he is no better able to keep his ambitions in healthy check than my young cousin.
When he got off the plane on which he hatched his USD 100 billion McCity idea, he didn’t head down to the local planning office. Nor did he contact his nearest environmental protection agency. Instead, he went straight to his developers and had blueprints drawn up.
We would be willing to eat our words if this is not the case, but the haste with which the “vision” was put into place suggests that environmental due process was perhaps overlooked.
Which is interesting since Ibrahimov admitted that The Palm smells bad as a result of poor environmental management when that artificial island was built in Dubai. Artificial islands disrupt the natural ecosystem in which they are built, not to mention the mountain that is being destroyed to provide the necessary “foundation” of rock and soil.
Like Abu Dhabi, Azerbaijan got rich with oil. But so far, the country’s leadership appears to possess none of the humility regarding environmental pressures that the Gulf country has demonstrated.
And this is dangerous. An inland lake, the Caspian Sea is home to a dazzling variety of species, but already it is beset with pollution problems – largely thanks to Azerbaijan’s outdated oil refineries.
Then there is the not-so-slight issue of rising water levels. The Caspian Sea has risen about 2.25 meters since 1978, according to UNESCO:
In addition to the danger posed to oil fields (e.g.in Kazakstan and Azerbaijan), the sea-level rise results in changes in: water regime, hydrochemical regime of river mouths, dynamics and chemical composition of groundwater, structure and productivity of biological communities in the littoral and in river mouths, sediment deposition patterns, pollution by heavy metals, petroleum products, synthetic organic substances, radioactive isotopes and other substances.
This doesn’t bode well for artificial islands.
Image of Maiden Castle in Baku, Azerbaijan, Shutterstock