Matthew Bryza: “There is no city like Baku, Baku is a unique being – almost like a person” (PHOTO)

While elements of the area around Fountain Square remind me of Paris, there is no other city I have ever visited that reminds me of Baku…

Ex- U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan makes confession on why Baku can never be forgotten. Matthew Bryza talks about Azerbaijani - “Fisinjan” plov, advantages and disadvantages of tourism industry on Baku’s rapid development & historical neighborhoods in and around Icheri Seher

— Mr. Bryza, you have a large experience of work in Azerbaijan, first as an OSCE co - chair and then as an Ambassador of U.S. to Baku, how would you describe time you spent in here and what do you miss the most?

I have been visiting Baku since 1998, and remained constantly connected thereafter while working at the State Department, in the White House, and now in private business. I spent much of this time helping the Governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, along with oil companies led by SOCAR and BP, to develop the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and South Caucasus natural gas pipelines. I also oversaw overall relations between the U.S., Azerbaijan, and the countries stretching from Greece through the South Caucasus and Central Asia, in addition to serving at he U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE’s Minsk Group.

Throughout all this time, Baku has always been one of my favourite cities. I have consistently able to relax and feel totally comfortable in Baku. While the city’s architecture is beautiful and the food is amazingly delicious, I most miss the people, whether my close friends or the countless strangers who have always been incredibly kind to me and my entire family.

— What is your most favorite place in Baku, where you usually spent your weekends, and why?

It is difficult to choose one favourite place in Baku. Icheri Seher is magical, while Fountain Square and the surrounding neighbourhood are filled with historical grandeur. I also visited the Taghiyev House and Azerbaijan National Museum many times. But, my favourite place of all is probably the Bulvar. My family and I visited it almost every weekend when we lived in Baku. In no other city have I seen such a beautifully landscaped, clean, safe, and fun park, and it’s right along the sea! I wish we could build and maintain such a lovely space somewhere in the United States….

— You traveled many countries, is there any other city that reminds Baku?

While elements of the area around Fountain Square remind me of Paris, there is no other city I have ever visited that reminds me of Baku. Baku is a unique being – almost like a person. That said, I do recall how, when I was once visiting Baku from Washington with our Deputy Secretary of State, he remarked that the Bulvar reminded him of the promenade in Nice, France. And, I suppose he was right!

— How would you describe people living in Baku, what was the most surprising for you, can you remember any story?

In general, the people of Baku are working to get things done every day, as in any large city. At the same time, Baku’s natives do not seem to be in a rush, and find a way to reflect a sense of calm, despite whatever stress they may actually feel. And, they are never too busy to show warm hospitality to a visitor.

One of the most surprising stories I remember about Baku’s residents was told to me by the chief rabbi of one of Baku’s Jewish communities. When I asked him how his community was doing in general, he said, “Quite well; the people of Baku are extremely friendly to our community members.” He noted how he was constantly greeted with warm calls of “shalom shabat” as he walked home from his synagogue every Friday. Then he laughed and said, “But, we do have a problem here: there is too little anti-Semitism in Baku. In so many other places, we come together to protect ourselves against the hostility we face, But in Baku, we feel so safe that the bonds holding our community together are not as strong as I would like.” That is a wonderful problem for the leader of a Jewish community to face, all thanks to the tolerance and diversity that is a hallmark of the people of Baku!

— Do you remember the very first impression, when you visited Baku for the first time?

I first visited Baku in the summer of 1998. I landed at night. Apparently to save fuel, electricity use had been curtailed throughout much of the city and the two-lane road (not yet today’s highway and Heydar Aliyev Prospekt) from the airport was completely dark. The only light along the way was the flame of natural gas being flared at the SOCAR refinery.

This struck me as a sign of how poorly Azerbaijan’s economic development had been during the Soviet Union: Azerbaijan possessed huge reserves of natural gas, but none was being used to generate electricity. At the same time, this was also an exciting moment: I realized Azerbaijan was about to secure its independence and economic growth by exporting its oil and natural gas through the pipelines we were about to help it develop.

— Mr. Bryza you must tried, Azerbaijani cuisine for many times, what is your favorite dish?

I am of course in love with Azerbaijani cuisine. I have three favorite dishes.

Dushbara is my favorite soup. When the salty and herbed broth mixes with vinegar, my head seems to lift toward the sky…and the tiny delicious dumplings provide a sense of solidness that is delicate rather than heavy.

Fisinjan is one of my two favorite main courses. It tastes like the Silk Road itself, with its blend of basmati rice, saffron and pomegranate syrup, all reminders of how Azerbaijan’s culture is infused with ideas and flavors shared by Persian, Turkic, and even Indian cultures.

Shah plov is my other favorite main course. The taste of chestnuts and apricots mixed in with the amazing rice (especially the golden brown crunch part) reminds me of the orchards of northern Azerbaijan, especially Sheki, Gabala, and Ismayilli. I can picture the forests and waterfalls as I enjoy the delicious flavors.

— What is missing in Baku for a foreigner when he travels to Baku, your advice?

Baku’s hospitality economy has developed dramatically during the past 10 to 15 years. It now enjoys hotels, restaurants, and fitness centers that meet the highest international standards. What is still lacking, however, is high-quality WiFi. In many hotels, WiFi connections are slow, and in sharp contrast to most European and U.S. hotels, are often not offered free of charge in Baku. In my travels around the world, I find myself feeling that a city has fully entered the 21st century if free WiFi is easily accessible. Baku’s magnificent new airport terminal sets a strong example for the rest of the city.

— What three words the best to describe Baku?

Baku is optimistic, bursting with energy and a sense of opportunity that is reflected in its dazzling modern architecture and the beautiful bulvar that can be enjoyed by everyone.

At the same time, the city is charming, filled with tranquil bits of beauty like its countless green parks and historical neighborhoods in and around Icheri Seher.

Finally, Baku is cosmopolitan, with a broad range of foreign residents and tourists. As a result, Baku’s restaurant scene has become like mugham jazz, a blend of the best local and international traditions. This new influx of ideas and tastes has helped Baku rejuvenate itself as a great cosmopolitan city.



Я люблю Баку за... ?

За то, что он есть.
За доброту и гостеприимство бакинцев.
За воспоминания, которые с ним связаны.
За море, солнце и кябаб
За то, что я бакин-ец (ка)

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