Sunday, July 1, 2012


I think the country of Azerbaijan rounds out my Top 5 Countries That Are Fun To Pronounce (also includes Djibouti, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines).  But the sad thing is that when I was telling people that I was doing Azerbaijan this week, people looked at me, and asked, “Uh, Azer, uh, what?” So, I suppose this’ll be an introductory course in the culture and food of Azerbaijan for many.

Azerbaijan is located in the northern part of the Middle East and was part of the former Soviet Union for much of the 20th century, along with neighboring Armenia that we did about a month or so ago.  The name itself roughly means “Guardians of Fire,” which is stemmed from Zoroastrianism (which was based in and around Iran, and given Azerbaijan’s proximity to Iran, it makes sense). It’s bordered by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, and the Caspian Sea.  It lies in the heart of the Caucuses Mountains area.

Like Angola that we did earlier, Azerbaijan also has exclaves, an area that is separated from the main part of a country by another country entirely. In this case, the Naxcivan Autonomous Region and the Nagorno-Karabakh regions belong to Azerbaijan but are separated from them by Armenia.

The language spoken in Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani, closely related to Turkish.  It’s also spoken in areas of northern Iran as well. Through the years, it first used an Arabic script, then Latin, then Cyrillic, but finally they decided to go with Latin script for their language (similar to how Turkish does). 

About a quarter of the population live in the capital, Baku. According to Lonely Planet, Baku makes the Top 10 for urban nightlife. One of the most popular and famous parts of the city is called Fountains Square, which immediately caught my attention because I live near the neighborhood of Fountain Square in Indianapolis. It’s like we’re connected or something. And it was also host to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest too. It’s located on the Absheron Peninsuala that juts out into the Caspian sea and has been considered by scientists and environmentalists to be an ecological disaster area because of the amounts of air, soil, and water pollution.

The vast majority of Azerbaijanis identify themselves as Muslims, but the country itself does not officially have a national religion. It is considered the most secular of all the Muslim countries.

Azerbaijan actually touts – and I was quite surprised in a good way – that it has a 1% unemployment rate, making it 6th in the world! A lot of their economic growth is attributed to oil exports, but they are also making strides in construction, banking, and real estate.

Azerbaijan is a fascinating country with an intricate history. I’m so excited to go through its culture this week and especially its cuisine. They use a lot of fruits and vegetables with fresh herbs and spices. And hopefully others will finally know where Azerbaijan is and realize just what it has to offer. 

Up next: Holidays and Celebrations

Wikipedia: "Azerbaijan" "Baku" "Azerbaijani language"
CIA World Factbook: Azerbaijan

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