• Population: 8.5 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Baku
  • Area: 86,600 sq km (33,400 sq miles)
  • Major language: Azeri, Russian
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 63 years (men), 70 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 manat = 100 qapik

    The Republic of Azerbaijan is a country of mysteries and histories with evidence of civilizations dating as far back as the late Stone Age which I bet not so many outsiders know. Anciently the great Albania, the original Caucasian descendants of the modern Azerbaijan created settlements as early as 4th Century B.C. But a lot about Azerbaijan is unheard of. So let this be the beginner’s guide to Azerbaijan. Do we know any famous Azeris? Of course we all do. For the most part, we just don’t know they are Azeris. There’s Gary Kasparov, the legendary former world chess master who, before making chess world-worthy learned to pull off his tricks as he was growing up in Azerbaijan, and Freddie Mercury who was born Faroukh Bulsara. The world has more to be thankful to Azerbaijan as it has at one point in history supplied 50% of the world’s demand for oil. What even makes this nation an even great place of interest is that contradictions and diversity are never more harmonious and respected in one place than here. One wonderful example is regardless of the nation being a nominally Muslim country, Irish pubs have sprawled and no prohibitions on drinking are implemented that, if more than anything, do not make this country any less fun, unlike Libya and Brunei.


    Europe or Asia…this is the immortal question. Snuggled in between the two massive continents of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan’s location (40 30 N, 47 30 E) is at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. But it’s no feat too hard to speculate where Azerbaijan is setting their eyes on. With the map of Europe on their banknotes that includes the stretch of the Caspian Sea, the first republic in the Caucasus region are obviously gearing up to join the EU. As part of the Caucasus region, the highest point, north of this landlocked mountainous landmass remains the Bazarduzu Dagi at an altitude of 4,485 metres and the lowest, hence, the Caspian Sea that is -28 metres below sea level. Large flatlands, Kur-Araks lowlands, roll in to the centre.


    Azerbaijan has a total area of 86,600 km2, and its size, location, and landscape affects how the airmasses enter the country, creating its unique climate. There are 9 out of 11 climate zones present in Azerbaijan and has both the absolute minimum and maximum temperatures, -33°C and 46°C, in Julfa and Ordubad respectively.


    It is also the rare Azerbaijan landscape and location that credits its energy riches that will earn it up to $100 billion in less than five years from its oil production. Despite its energy riches, the greater population of the 9.022 million Azerbaijanis (the recent population count for April 2010) continue to live in poverty in the midst of Baku’s overdevelopment. Azeris (90.6%) are, to a large extent, a homogenous ethnic group, united with the minorities of Dagestanis, Russians, Armenians, and others (Talysh, Avars, Turks, Ukranian, Tsakhur, Georgians, Kurds, Tats, Jews, and Udins).


    AZERBAIJANI, a Turkic language, is the official language used by the larger 90.3% Azeri demographic while RUSSIAN is also widely spoken by most people, slowly declining in number of speakers with ENGLISH as a language on the rise. English speakers can mostly be found in places frequented by foreigner, especially in the capital city of Baku, and fewer outside it. And that’s only one of the thrilling parts.


    They are a dominantly Islamic (95%) population. Multi-cultural, as well as multi-religious, Russian, Georgian and Armenian Orthodox are religions practised freely, but the Azeris show less devotion to religious affiliation in contrast to Armenians, which is why it is proposed that Islam be part of the secondary education curriculum. By practice, Azerbaijanis are agnostic and very much non-religious. Other Christian denominations include Roman Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, and Molokans.


    Three hours away from the capital, the traveller morphs into an entirely different world away from the colossal constructions and 21st century structures of Baku. Old generation villages, nature’s skyscraper the Caucasus Mountains, and quaint seaside towns are just a few of a traveller’s would-be favourite things. And as already aforementioned, the country offers the best of worlds with different climate zones which can thus only mean a world party! Beach fun in Khachmaz., the largest tourist getaway in Azerbaijan, Sheki for a trek on the famed and celebrated Caucasus Mountains, and Lankaran, the southern city famed for its floral landscape are among the best times anyone can ever have.

    But the best time the traveller will ever have is right at the dinner table where drinks, food, and jokes are passed around. By outsider standards, nothing is typical in Azerbaijani cuisines for there are simply so many variations and traditions to eating and cooking. For the lactose intolerant, Azerbaijani food may be troublesome involving several trips to the bathroom with the universal and unlimited yoghurt that is ubiquitous from appetizers, soups, main dishes, and desserts. Plov is the national dish, but quintessentially Azerbaijani, this is made with a saffron-twist and served with herbs and greens versus the Central Asian version of vegetables and meat infused plov. On the other hand, Piti is the national soup. There are over 40 recipes for plov and 30 for soups.


    Azerbaijani food is exceptionally fresh, aromatic, and green with the imperious presence of a multiplicity of herbs such as mint, cilantro/coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, chives, leeks, thyme, marjoram, and watercress. The princes of the Caspian Sea are the salmon, sturgeon, sardines, trout, etc. and are among the freshest, most succulent, and most sought-after delicacies in the world. The shashlik and kebab, which are grilled, are the general preparations for most meat dishes served with sauce of yoghurt or fruit such as pomegranate sauce, served with chorek (bread).

    Desserts are enough reason to just be here in Azerbaijan. If you’ve had too much cinnamon rolls or croissant in your life, you are in for a syrupy and sticky treat because the desserts are nothing you’ve ever tasted before. But there’s always that familiar friendly feature that makes all desserts desirable anyway- simple sugars.

    Nuts and preserves are celebrated elements of Azerbaijani desserts. Just to be reminded, desserts, like in most parts of East and Southeast Asia, are not eaten in the western after-meal sense, but as more of a snack, like a sandwich is to the rest. Given the option, however, would you go for a sandwich versus the syrupy, nutty, and flaky goodness of pakhlava and halva? Here, desserts, if to classify as a sweet wash-down of lingering food flavours, are a no-fuss fresh fruit platter        of whatever is in season: cherries, grapes, plums, apricots…

    While drinking is allowed, there are countless donts: cursing, picking the nose or teeth between meals, touching or hugging someone without permission, chewing gum during a convo, and many other fairly sensible prohibitions. Nonetheless, the most important travel tip is to observe and do what Azeris do. It is also fair to remember that absolutely no physical contact is okay between you and your new Azeri friend. And before all is forgotten, reservation is practised when addressing or talking about the president or anything that is Armenian, for indiscretion will cost you serious trouble, and worse, cost you time, jail time.

    Josh Boorman


    Backpacking Addictz



    Twitter: @backpackaddictz

    Backpacking Addictz is a website set up by backpackers for the use of backpackers. On this site you will find a lot of very valuable backpacking information surrounding different destinations and countries from around the world. Also very helpful backpacking tips and travel advice on planning a budget travel and backpacking adventure. You will also find an enthusiastic and insightful backpacking blog which is regularly updated with new posts and article.

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    Joshua Boorman

    Joshua Boorman

    Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
    Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
    Joshua Boorman

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