National Geographic : 2010 Aug
voice as he delineates the numbers. Total length of the Iron Silk Road: 500 miles. Total annual cargo capacity: 25 million tons. He speaks of the Azerbaijanis who ed to Turkey to escape communism. "It gives me a sense of happiness to connect brothers again," he says. Azerbaijan became a Muslim parliamentary re- public in 1918 and enjoyed that status for a couple of years. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, however, little about Azerbaijan is visibly Muslim or parliamentarian. It is di cult to locate a mina- ret or an honest vote in Baku, less so a Bentley. Prosperity and social equality need not be strang- ers, but when a country has oil, it is tempting to focus on the former at the expense of the latter. More tempting still when the world needs what it has to give. e BTC is the only pipeline that de- livers non-Russian, non-OPEC, non-Arabic oil to Mediterranean tankers. With the global oil supply diminishing, Azerbaijani in uence has only risen. Social justice is not a topic of public debate in Azerbaijan. More important to those in power is the fact that this small nation has managed to survive---and now thrive---in a di cult neigh- borhood. As one o cial said, " e optimists live in Georgia, the people who are complaining all the time live in Armenia, but the realists live in Azerbaijan." Or rather in Baku. A short ride on the existing rail leading northwest from the capital reveals not political realists but reality itself, the hovels that house those who have not felt the bene ts of Baku's oil boom. A quarter of Azerbaijanis live below the poverty line. ese train cars retain the cracked gloss of Soviet adornment, frills and curtains that are rough to the touch, landscape paintings that hang in the spaces between the windows. A sorority of railway workers in starched uniforms tends to the train as it rolls through a world cleanly sepa- rated from Bakuvian luxury. One woman shovels coal into a furnace that heats the car's interior. Musa Panahov knows these trains, knows they do not rival their German, Japanese, or Ameri- can counterparts. He is a railway man in an oil country. "But oil and gas will end someday," he says, smiling. " e railroad will live always." j at the opening of the 20th century. But it feels like it does.