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20.2.13

Could the Kardashians Enter Baku Even If They Really Wanted to?

Peter Savodnik
 

Last weekend [February 10], the [New York Times] magazine published my article with the print headline, “If They Build It, Will the Kardashians Come?” The story, about Baku’s ambition to become a new hub for the global 1 percent, focuses on Khazar Islands, a $100 billion megadevelopment being built on the Caspian, and the headline flicks at the development’s target audience — celebrities and, mainly, people who want to be celebrities — while touching on the unavoidable globalizing and liberalizing effect this sort of project will have.
Some readers, however, took issue with the headline. After all, Kim Kardashian claims Armenian heritage, and the Azeris and Armenians have a particularly complicated relationship. (It has been barely 20 years since they were killing each other over Nagorno-Karabakh.) The question was raised, quite literally: even if she wanted to, could Kim Kardashian actually come to Baku?
One one level, if Baku has any shot at becoming the city it wants to be, there are going to be Armenians there. Anyway, Armenians are scheduled to compete in the 2015 European Games, which Baku is hosting. If Baku’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games prevails, there will probably be Armenians there, too. There will be Armenian race-car drivers who compete at the Formula One race track planned for Khazar Islands, and there will be Armenian musicians who play at its symphony hall, and there will probably be Armenian investors who see the value in building a big, flashy development on the Caspian. Kim Kardashian may even swing through to promote her new line of pumps or clutches or skin scents or whatever. This is on top of the 30,000 Armenians, according to Kenan Guluzade, the former head of marketing for Khazar Islands, who live in Baku.
But these assumptions shouldn’t belittle the tensions that still exist between Azeris and Amernians. The first time I asked Ibrahimov about the Armenian question, we were in the back of his Rolls, and he said: “Armenian people cannot buy here. I will never sell to Armenian people. My generation will never forget.” That’s what he’s supposed to say — it’s what the state wants him to say, because it distracts Azeris from the problems facing Azerbaijan like poverty and a lack of potable drinking water by focusing on the shared enemy that is Armenia. But as he spoke, it was unclear if Ibrahimov really cared.
On Saturday, two days after the story was posted online, I circled back to the question of Armenia. I asked Ibrahimov whether he would ever welcome the Kardashians or any other wealthy Armenians who wanted to visit his megadevelopment. This time, I had to communicate with him through his assistant, Nigar Huseynli, who’s 23 and always nervous. Huseynli told me that this would require some discussion and that her boss would reply as soon as possible. She also asked if I wanted a photo. Twenty-four hours later, Ibrahimov had still not gotten back to me, and I e-mailed and then called Nigar in Baku, and she said he would reply very soon. She seemed put off by the question, and I asked her what she thought. “Azerbaijani nation has always been peace loving and has been in peaceful relations with its neighbors,” she said. “I hope that in the near future our lands” — Nagorno-Karabakh, now controlled by Armenia — “will be returned by peace negotiations.” Perfect Soviet-propaganda-speak — a sign that Azerbaijan may not look like it used to but, underneath all the glass and steel and neon lights, it is still an authoritarian state. But one that’s now open for big business.
Kim Kardashian’s spokesmen, in New York and Los Angeles, did not respond to requests for comment.
 
"The New York Times," February 14, 2013

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