Demolition of "Sovetskaya" neighborhood


The time gap between years of 2014 and 2016 will stay in minds of Baku's inhabitants with various important memories. Devaluation of the local currency, changes to constitution, four day warfare in Karabakh and etc. But for some people it will always be connected to demolition of the Sovetskaya neighbourhood which was an inseparable part of old Baku. The Sovetskaya neighbourhood, or as once referred the "outer city" (as opposed to the "inner city" (city within the walls - Icheri Sheher)) took its borders from almost the outskirts of the city walls and laid uphill bordering with Chemberekend village from one side and empty lands from the other.

This neighbourhood was basically a very old maze with dozens of narrow streets and confusing turns. It was home for more than 200 historical monuments (dwelling houses, bath houses, mosques, churches, schools and water pumping towers). The demolition process turned into a mass process in early 2014 and a lot of people were paid compensations to leave their houses and move wherever they wanted to. Now in 2016, a huge part of it is already demolished and the place looks like shelled city. 

There are a lot of discussions and whole lot of different opinions about Sovetskaya demolition. Of course as some stated, its old houses and neighbourhoods were indeed a shelter for thousands of rats and roaches. Of course in some houses there were problems such a shared bathrooms. Of course in many houses there were electricity and piping problems and as usual everybody took care of his own problems and whatever was on the other side of the door could be left in a complete mess. Thus, the whole community looked .... how to say .... not clean enough (which is still a compliment). And even if people like me, i.e people who love the historical mood of Baku, think that Baku will never have the same charm again without Sovetskaya, we do understand that sooner or later it will be the time to move on because history never camps in one sight and one thing replaces another. We forget that most of the 19th century oil barons and other famous people who built their houses in Sovetskaya, demolished much older dwelling houses and other historical monuments. Simply, because they had money and they could afford it. Now, almost 150 years later, the fate comes back to them and pieces of art they once showed off with, became razed to a new layer of asphalt, still fresh and warm.

Nevertheless, the demolition of Sovetskaya left a lot of questions in our mind which history might never answer, and some of them are:

1. What was the real reason of demolishing Sovetskaya?
- The official answer by government is so confusing that we up to date still don't understand what will be in this huge empty spot. Some say new roads, some say new houses and some even say that it was sold to unknown billionaires. The main issue forming this question is that demolition went on through the period of crisis in the country. I.e with oil prices dropping and local currency losing its value and even many big businesses closing, government still went on demolishing the place despite the "holes" in the budget, as if it was a sacred mission.

2. Why historical buildings? 
- As I mentioned above, the place was a home for more than 200 historical buildings. 118 of these buildings were protected by the Ministry of Culture before the demolition process began. But for some unknown reason, later on this list was magically shortened more than by half and a lot important buildings were destroyed. So what was the reason? Greed? Or maybe something else?

3. Why inhabitants' moving process was not well organized? 
- During the first stage, people united and refused to leave their houses. For some people the reason was that they didn't want to leave the house built by their grand grandfathers. A place that was a home for many generations. Although most people were unhappy with the compensation. The problem was that the official compensation equalled 1500 manats for a square meter. Which at the time was approximately between 1400 - 2000 USD (the spread is due to the devaluation so, it is "before" and "after" price). The sum itself was not so bad, but the problem was that 90 percent of dwelling houses in Sovetskaya were too small. For example a three bedroom house would be about 40-50 square meters. Another problem was that while calculating compensation, parts of a house like bathroom, back yard and kitchen would not be counted in some cases because they were outside or separate from the main part of the house. This fact led to a big dissatisfaction of owners of such houses. The main problem was that the compensation would not be enough to buy an apartment of the same size anywhere in downtown or even close to the downtown. It was enough to move only to the outskirts of Baku and nowhere else. And comments by some state officials were quite unreasonable, like:

- Why do you think that you should buy an apartment in downtown? You think you are better than those who live in the outskirts?!

Comments like the one above were funny and stupid at the same time because Sovetskaya was in 5 minute walk from downtown. These people were used to putting their flip flops on and walking to Fountain Square or the Old City. Government must have thought of a better strategy but it failed. To my mind, satisfying your citizens comes first. It is the citizen who elects you after all...

Here are some photos of demolished Sovetskaya that I took: