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Region of Eternal Fire

Sarah Searight finds that, in the past as in the present, Caspian oil has produced political conflict as well as economic development.

Caspian oil is much in the news these days, with some thirty international oil companies, led by BP and Amoco, vying for concessions. In the area Baku, on the sandy south-west shore of the Caspian Sea, has been renowned for its oil for some 3,000 years. Its atmosphere may not be quite as frenetic as it was in the 1890s when visitors compared it to an American frontier town in the days of the gold rush; but both the 1890s and 1990s brought an influx of prosperity and eager foreigners, to the sad accompaniment of racial and political upheaval.

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