When we clean up old buildings, do we erase history? [Part Two]

Yes, of course we erase something of history when we wash and sand blast buildings, but that I think is the point. The most visible part of history is the built environment and when we alter that, we change the past. The Azeri people have been going through a process of de-Sovietisation for nearly two decades and an obvious part of that is modification of the built environment. It is not the first time Baku has been through this process.

When the Russians of pre Soviet era controlled Azerbaijan, they decided to put their stamp on the city which from the 1870’s onwards went through a process of “Russification”. Up to that time, Baku was a town that existed only within the precincts of the old city walls.

Baku, about 1870

 Then as money from the first oil-boom started to flow, the city began to change. A new city of sandstone towers and finials grew. In the 1890’s there were so many Russians living in Baku that with substantial contributions forced from the Islamic and Jewish communities an Orthodox cathedral was built.

The Nevski Cathedral, Baku 1893

Come 1920, the Bolsheviks entered Baku and for the next sixteen years, the Communists watched with increasing annoyance as the community continued to attend services there. Eventually in 1936, Stalin had it demolished…

Demolition in progress

… and replaced it with the Bulbul Music School.

The Bulbul Music School, Baku

On the headland overlooking the city, the new Bolshevik government built a fun fair on top of a Muslim cemetery and erected a monument to Soviet hero Kirov next to it.

Kirov, looking out across the Caspian

 After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, Kirov’s statue was torn down and a monument to the martyrs of the independence erected. The fun fair was removed and the cemetery reinstated.

Kirov is no more

Many of Baku’s new buildings are designed in the same style as those built immediately prior to the Russian revolution…

The new Four Seasons Hotel, Baku

Image of the Four Seasons hotel

… in an attempt to rewrite the past in stone, steel and glass

The process will continue.

With thanks to Azerbaijan International http://azer.com/aiweb/categories/aboutai/aboutai.html

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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3 Responses to When we clean up old buildings, do we erase history? [Part Two]

  1. Brumelda English says:

    Wow a very interesting read indeed.

  2. charlespaxton says:

    Very interesting. Stalin destroyed so much heritage, it’s great to see people clearing away the dull utilitarian communist crap and returning to things of quality!

  3. Pingback: New Reads « Aaron in Azerbaijan

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