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IT’S NOT BAKU, BUT IT’S NO WORSE? IS THE NEW VILLAGE OF BALAKHANI AS GOOD AS THEY SAY?

Balakhani is a village 15 minutes by car from the center of Baku. It is one of the oldest villages, famous for its oil wells.

Balakhani had been going through some tough times, so the news that a restoration project was underway caused quite a stir. The first photographs looked so appealing that Balakhani began to be called “local Greece”.

Does the reality live up to the hype?

Locals say that the village has become neater and cleaner.

Previously, children were less likely to go outside to play, but now they are seen constantly running around in the streets.

True, local housewives joke that the paving stones make it difficult to find lost clothespins.

The stones also pose problems for cyclists, of which there are many.

"If you go slowly, nothing bad will happen, but at high speed the bike starts to break down”, said one of them.

Gul Aliyeva lives in the part of Balakhani that remained untouched.

Her house was built in 1914 and she is worried about the restoration.

"It's been so many years since this house was built and the paint looks like new. In those days, they used special techniques. Will it be the same now? Will the new paint last that long?”

The reconstruction is being carried out by three organizations simultaneously: the Agency for the Development of Small and Medium Business (KOBİA), the National Tourism Agency and the Baku City Improvement Service.

Architect and designer Sabina Abbasova:

"What is happening now in Balakhani is the first clumsy attempts at making something attractive in the eyes of foreigners. But in the end, we must remember that we are dealing with the local community, their life, traditions and habits..."

If you make an attraction for tourists, then only travel companies will come, delivering buses full of people to the next photo opportunity.

And those who find their own path here, who are interested in local culture - they will not want to simply see the next new attraction. They will travel to the old and unrefurbished Absheron villages in search of the local identity there. Because people come here to get to know Azerbaijan, and not to eat Balakhani qutab [Azerbaijani crepes] in the outskirts of Alachati, Sabina says.

Of course, there is a merchant for every good. But if you think about tomorrow, about the preservation of the culture, if you are reconstructing it to last a long time and to serve the people, you need to rethink your approach. And the next villages should be renovated with different priorities in mind.

Absheron is an austere place. And we see how locals have added their aesthetic touches. Here, the paving stones, although not entirely convenient, are the same that existed in Absheron. And the facades of the Absheron stone, entwined with ivy as well.

But framed flower pots, Italian shutters, tiles are more and more typical for such regions of Azerbaijan as Sheki or Zagatala. Here, it is an inappropriate use of technology.

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JAMnews, Баку
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