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Azerbaijan of Ibrahim Ibrahimov

Ibrahim Ibrahimov, who plans to live in the penthouse of Azerbaijan Tower, had his epiphany on a flight from Dubai. The vision behind Khazar Islands, after all, is not a vision so much as a simulacrum of a vision. The fake islands, the thousands of palm trees and the glass and steel towers -- many of which resemble Dubai's sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel -- are all emblems of the modern Persian Gulf petro-dictatorship. And two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- its final custodian during 23 centuries of near-constant occupation -- Azerbaijan could be accused of having similar ambitions. The country, which is about the size of South Carolina, has 9.2 million people and is cut off from any oceans. It builds nothing that the rest of the world wants and has no internationally recognized universities.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the energy sector became a source of enormous wealth. Now Azerbaijan is trying to take advantage of that wealth. As such, Avesta's sales and marketing team recently produced a gleaming 101-page coffee-table book in a gilded box promoting Khazar Islands. It features photographs of men in Italian suits and women with pouty faces; everyone drinks wine and is on a cigarette boat or in a Mercedes convertible. There's also a video that shows computer renderings of Khazar Islands in the not-too-distant future. The video lasts 5 minutes 6 seconds and includes an image of a make-believe skyline at night and another of Ibrahimov on a cellphone in front of a private jet, even though, he conceded, he doesn't own one.

On some level, there is an economic logic behind building the tallest, biggest, brashest building anywhere. The rise of superdevelopments in cities like Doha, Riyadh, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai -- and, of course, Abu Dhabi and Dubai -- sent signals to investors that the state supported growth. Usually, these sorts of developments attract the attention, first, of regional investors who know the local topography, which Khazar Islands has already done. "They're coming from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, the Arabic countries and especially from Israel," Guluzade told me. Next are the more skeptical international investors that Ibrahimov is hoping to impress. Hence the Azerbaijan Tower. "The investor is faced with this battery of choices," explained Brian Connelly, a strategic-management professor at Auburn University's College of Business. "But there are things they can't see, so they're looking for a signal that tells them this is good for them. If I can see that there's the tallest building in the world, I know the host-country institutions are behind them."


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