BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Fire in the Land of Oil: Symbolism of Fire, Oil, and Nation in Baku Urbanscape

Fri8  Apr04:40pm(20 mins)
CWB Syndicate Room 1


Leyla Sayfutdinova


Although Azerbaijan has been known as “The Land of Fire” for a long time, in recent years this phrase and the imagery of fire became actively used in country- and nation- branding. The best known example of this practice is the Flame Towers – a high-rise complex in the shape of fire flames which has become the new iconic landmark of post-independence Baku. In both official and popular discourses, the urban symbolism of fire is usually linked to Zoroastrianism, which was practiced in this part of Azerbaijan before the arrival of Islam, and to the oil and gas reserves, which fed the self-burning fires worshipped by Zoroastrians. In this paper, I explore the use and the abuse of the fire symbolism in the architecture and representations of Baku, in pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet periods. Based on the analysis of fire symbolism in the coats of arms, various urban emblems and the built environment, I argue that despite the frequent references to ancient history, fire symbolism in Baku is a decisively modern phenomenon. Originating in the oil boom period in the 19th century and drawing on Soviet collective memory tradition, fire in Baku has come to symbolize Azerbaijani nation.