A day in the 1990s, somewhere along the Caspian Sea. To the visitor, the

city’s outskirts look like the end of the world. Ruined oil derricks sprawl

over miles of flat terrain, some dating back to the Soviet era, others even

older, abandoned amidst black lakes of industrial waste. The newest der-

ricks pump lethargically. No vegetation. A persistent, nauseating smell of

gas and oil. It is like a lunar landscape or the aftermath of an explosion.