Welcome to the South Caucasus, a fascinating and historical region at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. In our journey through Azerbaijan, we’ll discover a country that has been touched and impacted by some of the world’s greatest empires on the rocky road to independence.
Want to learn more about Azerbaijan?
- Azerbaijani Capital: Baku
- Largest City in Azerbaijan: Baku
- Population of Azerbaijan (2016): 9,755,500 (92nd)
- Total Area of Azerbaijan: 86,600 km2 (114th)
- Official Language of Azerbaijan: Azerbaijani
- Azerbaijani Currency: Azerbaijani manat (₼) (AZN)
History of Azerbaijan
Human habitation in Azerbaijan goes back thousands and thousands of years, though it wasn’t until the 9th century BCE when proper settlement began to flourish. Over the course of antiquity some of the rulers of Azerbaijan included Alexander the Great, the Kingdom of Greater Armenia, Albania, and the Sassanids (a pre-Islamic Iranian empire).
Medieval and Early Modern Azerbaijan
As a part of Caucasian Albania, Azerbaijan (and ‘Albania’ as a whole) was subject to the control of the Sassanids for much of the early Middle Ages. This lasted until the vast Umayyad Caliphate (and the new Islamic faith) seized the land. As the power of the Caliphate eventually waned, many different Turkic groups moved into and settled in the region. This was a time of shifting allegiances and numerous power struggles. To add to the uncertainty, foreign powers including the Ottoman Empire and Russia both controlled large swathes of land at various points throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. In the midst of this, the Safavids (from Iran) laid the groundwork for Shia Islam in Azerbaijan – something that has lasted to this day.
19th and Early 20th Century Azerbaijan
Moving into the 19th century, Azerbaijan was caught between self-ruling khanates and foreign rulers (namely Imperial Russia). Until the end of World War I, Russia was the dominant force in the land after seizing much of the Caucasus from Iran. After an attempt at a regional union, the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was declared in 1918 – with the basis of a parliamentary system.
The people of Azerbaijan did not have long to celebrate unfortunately, as less than two years later the Soviet Union set its sights on the country (and its vast oil reserves). After a bloody resistance, Azerbaijan (as well as Georgia and Armenia) became Soviet republics. During WWII, many Azerbaijani’s fought against the Germans while Baku supplied about 80% of all oil to the Soviet Eastern Front.
As the Soviet Union began to collapse, Azerbaijan formally became independent once more in 1991. The early years of independence were greeted with the Nagorno-Karabakh war against Armenia – which the latter won and claimed a large amount of Azerbaijani territory. At the same time, there was a military coup as well as widespread corruption and bureaucracy to deal with. Things have since settled down, however the ruling government is still criticized for corruption, an authoritarian style, and other abuses. Despite this, Azerbaijan ranks high in categories such as human development, employment, and quality of life.
In part thanks to its central location in Eurasia, Azerbaijani culture is a mix of many different traditions and backgrounds. This includes local folklore and history, the Islamic faith, and newer, Western influences as well. Music and folk art are among the most enduring images of Azerbaijan’s culture today.
Flag of Azerbaijan
The flag of Azerbaijan includes a tricolour of blue, red, and green as well as the star and crescent that is well known throughout the region. The blue denotes the variety of Turkic peoples in the country, the red represents democracy and the modern state, while the green is meant to symbolize the wider connection to the Muslim world.
Vegetables are the staple of any Azerbaijani diet, with fresh produce making up many of the meals. Beyond this, the dishes use ‘homegrown’ ingredients from various regions around the country – with fish popular around the Caspian Sea while local meat is found elsewhere. Plov (a rice dish) is the most well known food while black tea is the national beverage.
Sports in Azerbaijan
Sports are popular in Azerbaijan with freestyle wrestling widely considered the national sport. The country usually puts on strong showings at the Olympics in this event (the country recently won seven freestyle wrestling medals at Rio 2016). Chess is also popular in the country, with many of the world’s greatest players hailing from Azerbaijan. Along with soccer (as per usual), chess is one of the most followed sports in the country.
Geography of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is located in the South Caucasus, right on the border of Asia and Europe. The Caspian Sea in the east, the Greater Caucasus mountain range in the north, and the flatlands in the central part of the country are the dominating features of Azerbaijan. In addition, the country is well known for unique mud volcanoes throughout the land.
Cities in Azerbaijan
The largest city in Azerbaijan (by far) is the capital, Baku, which is home to more than 2 million people. Recently, Baku has increased its profile on the world stage by hosting international events including a Grand Prix, Eurovision, and some matches in the upcoming Euro 2020 soccer tourney.
Facts about Azerbaijan
- Baku is known as the ‘City of Winds’ thanks to high winds (makes sense)
- Azerbaijan was the shirt sponsor of Spanish soccer club Atlético de Madrid recently
- There is a town on stilts in the Caspian Sea
- It is one of the world’s leading caviar producers
- Alfred Nobel (think prizes) got most of his wealth from Azerbaijani oil
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