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The attendant beckons. Mr Shabunin strips and enters a ceramic-tiled room. He
grabs hold of the ornate bath handle and lowers his physique into 35 gallons of
black gold ? as much as a barrel. Orangey filaments swirl about on the
floor, sticking to the enamel and to the hair on his skin. The smell from
the 40°C bath makes our heads spin.

methanol canShould you strain your eyes, you’ll be able to just about make out the tankers plying the
Caspian Sea, transporting the light crude that Azerbaijan exports to the
world. However the oil used right here gushes out of the Earth at Naftalan, a small
city 160 miles north-west of the capital.

“Naftalan is just too heavy for the industry,Dr Alif Zulfugar, the
supervisor of this unlikely spa, explains. “It is used only for healing
functions. It doesn’t get treated in any way. It passes immediately from the
supply to our tankers and then into our basins.Shoppers flock to the
clinic from all over the previous Soviet states, and more and more from the
Emirates and even Europe.

Marco Polo talked about the virtues of Azeri oil within the 13th century. In the
Travels, he wrote of a “fountain from which oil springs in nice
abundance not edible but good for burning and to treat males and animals
with mange, and camels with hives and ulcers

In the pale blue corridors of the clinic, the yellow skin and gradual gait of a
woman point out that she has simply emerged from a bath. Tatiana Shabunin is a
dermatologist and she is preserving her husband company during his remedy.

She discovered Naftalan oil in her textbooks whereas at medical faculty in Moscow
and has come out of skilled curiosity and “for sheer pleasure

Others come for medicinal reasons. The crude is claimed to heal the pores and skin,
treating circumstances like eczema and psoriasis; the joints, easing rheumatism
and arthritis; and the nerves. “Over one hundred issues in all,Dr
Zulfugar says.

Nonetheless, the oil is almost 50 per cent naphthalene, a hydrocarbon generally
used as a moth repellent. This poses an issue because EU regulations deem
it a doubtlessly carcinogenic substance.

The physician shrugs off these concerns, saying the restricted publicity of eight to
12 minutes in the bath, and not a couple of bath a day during a 10-day
remedy, means his patients are usually not in danger. Tens of millions of patients have
used the Naftalan baths, he says.

Of their 1980s heyday, 75,000 individuals visited the crude spas each year. That
torrent turned a trickle in 1988 when warfare broke out between Azerbaijan and
ethnic Armenians in close by Nagorno-Karabakh. Five of the six Soviet-period
resorts became refugee shelters.

Azerbaijan has since experienced a brand new petroleum increase, rising as a key
transit route for oil from Central Asia to Europe. Gross home product
grew more than 20 per cent a yr on common between 2003 and 2007, making
the financial system one of the world’s quickest growing. The nation is so awash in
oil that people are literally swimming in it ? and Baku is cashing in.

“Look at this hill,says Hikmat Ibrahimov, the founding father of the
clinic. “When we began, there was nothing here.In the present day it boasts
a power station, eating places and cranes, many cranes.

In 2002, Mr Ibrahimov pulled off a coup by obtaining the appropriate to transport
the crude from the remote plains of the hinterlands to the very rich Azeri
capital. “With President Aliev’s assist,he dutifully provides.
Construction began on a second clinic this winter.

In the VIP bathroom, the 18-year-old bathboy, Ismael, helps the Russian rafter
to the shower for his 30-minute scrubdown. It should take Ismael three months
to earn the £300 pounds it costs for a ten-day therapy. He jokes that his
consumer can be taking a couple of drops of black gold back to Siberia as a
souvenir: Mr Shabunin’s saturated pores and skin will ooze crude oil for two or three
days to come back.

Azerbaijan: Land of black gold

*A former Soviet Republic, Azerbaijan lies at a strategic crossroads
between the East and the West, sandwiched between Iran and Russia and
straddling a area emerging as a key transit route for oil and gas from
Central Asia to Europe.

*Its 8.7 million persons are mostly Shia Muslims. They communicate Azeri, which is
closely related to Turkish, although Russian dominates the capital, Baku.

*Gross domestic product grew by more than 20 per cent a year on common
between 2003 and 2007, making the economy one of the world’s quickest rising.

*Ethnic Armenian separatists, backed by Armenia, fought a battle within the nineties
to throw off Azerbaijan’s management over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh
region. An estimated 30,000 people had been killed. The presidents of Armenia
and Azerbaijan are anticipated to fulfill in Russia next week for talks to end the

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