National Geographic : 1999 May
BY ROBERT CULLEN PHOTOGRAPHS BY REZA S"A CLEAR, warm Sunday last autumn Jamshid Khalilov, a 22-year-old student at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, rose early to study. Jamshid lives on the third floor of a dormitory a mile from the Caspian Sea in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. In Baku Bay oil derricks spike the horizon like dead trees, and the water seems to carry a gray, viscous film. Jamshid is a pleasant, earnest young man, slightly built, with a blunt, square face and the dark eyes characteristic of most Azerbaijanis. He wore a thin sport shirt, Reebok warm-up pants, and shower clogs when I visited him, unannounced. He insisted that I take the lone chair in the room while I asked my questions. Jamshid said he had been studying English for five years, but his fluency was limited, so we conversed in Russian, his second language. "As a boy I wanted to be a doctor," he said. "But then I decided there were better opportuni ties in oil." In 1994 he enrolled in the oil acad emy, a state school housed in an aging building near the Baku railway station. The student The view from the beach may be bad, but the water is worse: The sea around Azerbaijan's cap ital, Baku, is notoriously polluted after decades of careless oil extraction. Long an industrial dump ing ground, the Caspian has become cleaner in recent years as scores of factories have closed. The present oil boom could reverse that trend.