Land acquisition in remote areas: the case of Baku

This recent article written by The Guardian's critic of architecture Oliver Wainwright about Zaha Hadid's Baku Prize winner for the Heydar Aliyev Center raises a range of questions and concerns from land acquisition by dispossession for extractive operations, pipeline corridors, urban development, to the ethical stance of architecture. The aim of this text does not concern the Heydar Aliyev Center itself which, in my view, is a beautiful building, very Zaha-Hadid signature. I, however, will retain one but very essential question: land acquisition by dispossession. This issue of land acquisition by dispossession along with displacement and proletarianization of the very population that live in peripheral, remote locations is at core of the formation of frontier zones. Below is some hints, or short reflections on this practice.
Land acquisition by dispossession poses the question of the place and status of the body, those who live in these areas and are, consequently, affected by oil activities. Along with affected local residents is the question of land at issue illustrated by dispute, protests, sabotage or compromises as well as deterritorialization, reterritorialization in these exclusive territories. What I propose below is some glances from my ongoing research on urbanism, infrastructural design related to resource extraction — part of Contingency, the first volume of Uncertain Territories —, more precisely on operationalized landscapes with this question in mind: what design opportunities for such peripheral regions? What can architecture do to tackle these complexities?
Re-Rigging. 2010 | © Lateral Office/Infranet Lab
Image originally appeared on Fei-Ling Tseng's website

"The government has pursued a programme of illegal expropriation and forced eviction across the city, without proper compensation of its residents," Oliver Wainwright writes. On May 10, 2013, it has been reported that more than 3.641 apartments and private properties have been demolished in the center of Baku, a zone named as 'zone of illegal demolition.'
Shocking though this can be, land acquisition by dispossession, along with displacement and proletarianization of local populations, is a common practice in extractive regions. Extractive activities demand huge amounts of land for extraction, production and distribution of oil via the pipelines and other transportation networks.

Allow me for engaging in a more technical analysis of land acquisition before going any further. In her recent book SubtractionKeller Easterling has proposed this term 'subtraction' to explain the act of building removal. Land acquisition by dispossession can be associated with 'subtraction' as shown in regions affected by conflicts as well as in frontier zones. To limit the discussion to the frontier zones of resource extraction, this practice of subtraction consists in scraping buildings in order to acquire lands for, mostly, operationalization and reorganization of landscapes for corporate profits. In our case, this practice of land acquisition by dispossession provides a large amount of lands available for oil activities in which local residents are disallowed to live or cultivate. To facilitate such practice, the 'Resettlement Action Plan' has been implemented in order to compensate to the affected local landowners for the construction of pipeline corridors. If many landowners have received compensation, some complained to have lost their land by force or live near the pipelines. James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello have met many residents who have lost their lands accusing local authorities and multinational operators for having illegally purchased or forced people to sell their lands with no compensation despite the 'Resettlement Action Plan'. In some cases, corruption and lack of transparency can be a deep problem in frontier zones. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is an example among many others. Its function is to link three countries Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey to allow for the circulation and distribution of oil to terminals. A report notes that the construction of the BTC pipeline has affected about 4,100 households in Azerbaijan, about 1,800 in Georgia. In Turkey, approximately 296 villages and 13,000 parcels have been affected by the pipeline corridor (Starr and Cornell, 2005).

The 'Resettlement Action Plan' has been developed to cope with the population of these three countries affected by the construction of the BTC pipeline. The principle is to purchase or lease parcels of land for the project. In many cases, as have been said, tenants and land users have received a three-year compensation for the loss of their land. Yet, in some cases, local inhabitants living in Baku, Tbilisi, Ceyhan and along the pipeline share with the authors of The Oil Road the same statement of having been evicted from their land.
Another but significant factor is these enclaves are marked by poverty and unemployment. In the case of Azerbaijan, 42% of the population is below the poverty line. Moreover, labor protests increased with workers employed at the construction of the BTC pipeline, to continue with this example (but examples of poor labor conditions in oil regions are numerous), who have complained of being mistreated in terms of working conditions, inadequate housing and medical treatment (Mitchell, 2013).

As Marriott and Minio-Paluello show, the BTC pipeline is a fascinating example in terms of transparency and corporate social responsibility (CRS) (Barry, 2013, Marriott and Minio-Paluello, 2014). Allow me for a short moment to define this corporate social responsibility so that we will more easily attest its importance in frontier zones. A corporate social responsibility is an interesting tool for oil governance actors and institutions insofar as it allows to compensate and pacify affected communities and to scale up any concerns — environmental, countries, financial — related to oil production (Bridge and Le Billon, 2013). It is broadly employed everywhere a zone is constituted for exclusive operations.
Re-Rigging. 2010 | © Lateral Office/InfraNet Lab
"Project for a multifunctional offshore oil platform in the Caspian Sea. Can we learn from the Caspian Sea's non-human occupants to extend the momentum of oil operations into the post-oil future?"-  Maya Przybylski
Image originally appeared on e-flux

The construction of pipeline corridors should be considered in terms of their environmental and social impacts, more specifically, how these pipeline corridors affect local populations and environment. The small village of Qarabork, 187 kilometers along the pipeline from Sangachal Terminal is an example. Marriott and Minio-Paluello state "along the pipeline's route through Azerbaijan and Georgia, there were only two places where its construction would involve destroying houses; Qarabork was one of them." A solution for the oil multinational BP, one of the oil firms very active in this region, consists in running pipelines underneath the homes of local populations, in order, on the one hand, that the pipeline be 'safe, secure and unseen' (Barry, 2013), on the other hand, that they avoid eviction and resettlement (or simply compensation). In this context, it is important to deal with such critical issues, namely affected communities, in such exclusive territories of operation. Indeed, Pipeline affected communities are defined by their distance from the pipeline route and workers' settlements, namely: "within a 2 km corridor either side of the route or are within 5 km of a potential worker camp or pipeline yard" (BTC/ESIA 2002a, Barry, 2013). The book The Oil Road provides material and spatial evidence in relation to oil operations, including the construction of road, railways, of course, pipeline corridors, oil rigs, and so forth, their impact on local communities with the transformation of daily lives, changing patterns of settlements and landscapes marked by a unclear urbanization.

Above is presented a series of hints and ideas not exclusively on petropolis, but more largely, on operational landscapes and their material and spatial consequences. I received many books related to oil that I think can be very informative for architects, landscape architects, and planners to tackle this problematics. As I wrote earlier, this is an ongoing, long research part of another but large-scale research for the first volume of Uncertain Territories. I'm working on two more short papers, this time, on 'technological zone' that I find very significant and fascinating in relation to oil, and the interdependence of corporation and urbanism for oil activities.

(*) About 'affected communities' see Andrew Barry, Material Politics: Dispute along the Pipeline (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Some suggestions:

Barry Andrew, Material Politics: Dispute Along the Pipeline, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)
Barry Andrew, 'Technological Zones', European Journal of Social Theory, May 2006, 239-253
Barry Andrew, Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society, (Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2001)
Bhatia Neeraj, Casper Mary (eds), The Petropolis of Tomorrow, (Actar Publishers, 2013)
Bridge Gavin, Le Billon Philippe, Oil, (Polity, 2013)
Brenner Neil, 'Urban theory without an outside', Harvard Design Magazine (37), 2014, 42-47
Brenner Neil, Schmid Christian, Implosions/Explosions. Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, (Jovis, 2013)
Elden Stuart, The Birth of Territory, (University of Chicago Press, 2013)
Easterling Keller, Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades, (The MIT Press, 2008)
Easterling Keller, Subtraction, (Sternberg Press, 2014)
Ghosn Rania (ed.), New Geographies, 2: Landscapes of Energy, February 2010
Labban Mazen, Space, Oil and Capital, (Routledge, 2008)
Lefebvre Henri, The Right to the City, Writings on Cities, eds. and trans. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas, (Blackwell, 1996 [1968])
Lefebvre Henri, Le Droit à la ville (suivi de) Espace et Politique, (Seuil, 1974)
Marriott James, Minio-Paluello Mika, The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, (Verso Books, 2014)
Milligan Brett/Free Association Design, A Corporate landscape urbanism, July 2010
Mitchell Timothy, Carbon Democracy, (Verso Books, 2013)
Przybylski Maya, "Re-Rigging Transborder Logics Across The Bounded Site", in Bhatia Neeraj, Casper Mary (eds.), The Petropolis of Tomorrow, (Actar Publishers, 2013)
Reed Chris, Lister Nina-Marie, Projective Ecologies, (Actar Publishers, 2014)
Rees Judith, Natural Resources. Allocation, Economics and Policy, (Routledge, 1990 [1985])
Starr S. Frederick, Cornell Svante E., The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline: Oil Window to the West, (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, 2005)
Watts Michael, 'Crude politics: Life and death on the Nigerian oil fields', 2009, (pdf)
White Mason, Sheppard Lola, Coupling: Strategies for infrastructural Opportunism, (PAP, 2011)

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