Once the center of some of the oldest civilizations in existence, Azerbaijan is still one of the youngest nations in the world. Many historic, cultural, and natural attractions await visitors in this former Soviet nation. Located in the Caucasus-Caspian region, its strategic location gives it a unique mixture of sights and sounds influenced by neighboring Iran, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey. Azerbaijan’s name is actually derived from an ancient Turkish tribe that once resided in the country and means “brave man” or “the fire keeper.”
The capital, Baku, is a bustling cultural, economic and political hub. It lies on the coast of the Caspian Sea and is home to some of Azerbaijan’s cultural icons, such as Giz Qalasi (Maiden’s Tower) and the Palace of the Shirvan Shahs, both of which are within a walled fortress and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Icheri Sheher (Old Town). Visitors will also be drawn to a number of galleries and museums around the city, particularly the Taghiyev History Museum and the Doll Museum. There are many modern wonders in Azerbaijan, too, such as the AF Mall, which is known for its tropical garden and interesting selection of shops. Boat tours and visits to local amusement parks, spas, and beaches can all be arranged. You can find the usual Western comforts almost everywhere.
The best time to visit Azerbaijan is April to June and September to October, which will let you avoid the 40°C summers and sub zero winters - particularly in the mountains. You can also participate in the Novruz Bayrami celebrations each March, which mark the Persian New Year.
Currency: Azerbaijani manat
Official language: Azerbaijani
There is proof that civilization in Azerbaijan started as early as the late Stone Age from evidence found in the Azykh Cave that proves the existence of Guruchay culture. The caves of Zar, Damcili, and Tagilar have also yielded evidence of settlements from the late Bronze Age and Paleolithic age. The Scythians were supposedly the earliest people to have lived in Azerbaijan in the 9th century BC, but afterward, Iranian Medes dominated the territory and established an empire sometime between 900 to 700 BC. Eventually they merged with the Achaemenids in 550 BC, spreading Zoroastrianism. A few years later, the territory was claimed by Alexander the Great and became part of his empire. The area’s original citizens were Caucasian Albanians, who formed their own independent kingdom sometime in the 4th century BC.
The feudal era began when the Caucasian Albania kingdom was transformed into a vassal state by the Sassanids in 252 AD. By the 4th century, King Urnayr declared Christianity the state’s official religion. Although the Byzantines and Sassanids launched several conquests, Albania remained distinctive until the 9th century. By then, the Umayyad Caliphate, an Islamic group, had driven the Byzantines and Sassanids from the region, turning the kingdom into a subordinate following Prince Javanshir’s Christian resistance, which was stopped in 667. Several local dynasties were formed when the Abbasid Caliphate declined, including the Sajids, Sallarids, Buyids, Rawadids, and Shaddadids. The territory was gradually taken over by Central Asia’s Turkic Oghuz tribes at the start of the 11th century. The Ghaznavids were the first of the dynasties to be established when they arrived in 1030, on the land now known as Azerbaijan. Before the Turkic Azerbaijani era, the natives spoke Old Azari language, which is derived from Iranian. When the Turkic Oghuz tribes came, there was a shift to Turkic language, but this became extinct by the 16th century.
Atabegs ruled the Seljuq Empire’s possessions, serving as the Seljuq sultans’ vassals, and considered de facto rulers. Persian literature was dominant during this period because of poets like Khagani Shirvani and Nizami Ganjavi. Later, Timur won the Jalayirids state, while the local Shirvanshahs became the vassal for his empire. After his death, two rival but independent states were formed: Ak Koyunlu and Kara Koyunlu. Eventually, the Shirvanshahs came back and became autonomous, electing local rulers from 861 to 1539. When they were persecuted by the Safavids, the final dynasty forced Shia Islam to the Sunni population where they fought against the Ottoman Empire. The Iranians of Zand and Afhsar ruled the territory after the Safavids, while the Qajars took brief control over Azerbaijan. When the Zand dynasty collapsed, de facto khanates started arriving in the area and became more evident.
The treaty of Gulistan ended the Khanates’ dominion, but they maintained control over affairs involving international trade routes to West and Central Asia. Eventually in 1813, the khanates became part of the Russian Empire. Russia occupied the territory, particularly the area to the north of the River Aras. Persia recognized the sovereignty of Russia over the Nakhchivan, Lankaran, and Erivan Khanates through the Treaty of Turkmenchay. The Russian Empire collapsed in World War I, and Azerbaijan was transferred to part of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, which ended in May 1918, leading them to finally become the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
The Azerbaijan’s parliament was the first to acknowledge women’s suffrage. They also established Baku State University, the first modern Muslim college. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan became a republic and again waved the flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Despite the wars that overshadowed the first years of independence, Azerbaijan continued to improve in terms of economy. Today, they are one of the most progressive governments with a foreign policy based on mutual interest and equality.
Azerbaijan’s culture is heavily influenced by Europe and Islam with Russian, Turkish and Iranian heritage. The Azerbaijanis of today inherited the customs and practices of different ancient civilizations such as the Iranian Scythian tribe, the indigenous Caucasian Albanians, the Oghuz Turks, and the Alans, while western influence continues to seep in.
Azerbaijan is home to many ethnicities, most of them belonging to the Azeris group. Azerbaijanis are well-mannered and reserved people who treat their elders and women with utmost respect. It is impolite to blow your nose or pick your teeth during meals, touch someone without their permission, chew gum in public, or prop up your feet up while seated. It is also rude to slap someone on the back, give a bear hug, swear in public or shout in a public place so remember to be respectful and act proper.
Summers are cool and winter is mild. A cold climate with cool, dry summers covers the middle and high mountains of Nakhchivan AR between 1,000 and 3,000 meters (3,300 and 9,800 ft.). Annual precipitation accounts for 50 to 100 percent of possible evaporation. Summers are cool, and winter is cold enough for snow.
An e-visa to the Republic of Azerbaijan is valid for the period of 90 days with 30 days permission to stay in the country. The electronic visa becomes invalid if it is not used within the period of its validity. An e-visa has a single entry status.
Car & Motorcycle. Many of Azerbaijan's smaller villages remain accessible only by tough cars or 4WD jeep, but road building is rapidly expanding the number of options for exploration by standard car, and new highways to Astara (complete) and Quba (under reconstruction) make travel north and south of Baku much faster.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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