National Geographic : 2010 Aug
Washington, the EU, and the World Bank stayed away. When the oil spigot turned on in 2005, briefly making Azerbaijan the world's fastest growing economy, the hesitance of interna- tional nanciers no longer mattered. Azerbaijan can now a ord its own portion of the railroad, upgrading 313 miles of outdated lines to the Georgian border. It is also loaning Georgia a few hundred million dollars for its section on neigh- borly terms---25 years at one percent annually. Magnanimity is a pleasure of abundance. No train passed through Musa Panahov's hometown in the Azerbaijani west, so he went out looking for one. He graduated from the Moscow Transportation Institute during the time of Leonid Brezhnev, then joined the Soviet railroad fraternity. e Soviet Union adminis- tered the world's largest, by volume, rail system; all strategic goods were transported by train. is centrally commanded network was a key part of the national security infrastructure, pro- tected and privileged. Train employees had their own separate hospitals, their own schools, even their own militia. "We had everything except a foreign ministry," says Panahov, now Azerbai- jan's deputy minister of transport. Railroads are less important in Azerbaijan today. Oil and gas predominate, according to the plan of the late Heydar Aliyev, the coun- try's third president and primary citizen, who by force of will forged Azerbaijan into what it is today: the relatively secure, relatively inde- pendent economic dictator of the region. Aliyev possessed the foresight to invite foreign rms to cooperate in Caspian development, and he understood the importance of the Iron Silk Road. Panahov is the man laying another plank in Aliyev's plan for Azerbaijanis' continued independence. Panahov, 51, unrolls a map of the southern Caucasus across a table in his o ce and slowly runs his ngers from east to west, from sea to sea. At this table he negotiated with transport ministers from Georgia and Turkey in discus- sions that lasted until early in the morning. Che- rubic but with graying hair, he speaks in a so AZERBAIJAN In the capital of Baku modern construction dwarfs a gure from the past---the father of Azerbaijani communism, Nariman Narimanov. Rusting oil pumps (le ) from the Soviet era ll the horizon outside the city, where obsolete equipment and poor extraction techniques pollute the landscape.