Oil City in Black and White: oil and memory in the urban regeneration of Baku

Speaker: Dr Leyla Sayfutdinova (Marie Curie Fellow, Centre for Energy Ethics, University of St Andrews)

Convenor: Dr Darya Tsymbalyuk (St Antony's)


Baku’s spectacular urban transformations attracted considerable scholarly attention in the last two decades. Discussed in terms of petro-urbanism, these debates often neglect Baku’s long industrial history and the memory of the industrial past that lives on in the city. In this paper, I analyze the formal and informal place naming in and around the Baku White City – an upscale redevelopment project located in the heart of an old industrial district, known as the Black City. Drawing on the critical toponymy approach, I argue that the formal and informal place naming of the Black and White Cities in Baku perpetuate the spatial divisions which originated in the course of 19th-century industrialization. The paper contributes to the understanding of place names as sites of memory for the industrial past, particularly in the context of resource-based re-industrialization. The paper is based on the analysis of official discourse on the ‘Baku White City’ project presented on websites and in publications by state media, participant observation in the area, ethnographic interviews, as well as online ethnography conducted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.