The flag of Azerbaijan is a tri-color banner of blue, red and green with the white crescent and star emblem at the center. The blue represents the Turkish heritage of the people; the red represents progress and social democracy while the green represents the Islamic civilization. The crescent of course you would think represents Islam however the Azerbaijanis and Turks will tell you that the symbol originated from the Turkish people and not the Arabs so the symbol could also refer to Turkish heritage. The eight-pointed star represents the eight tribes but it actually represents the eight letters of the word Azerbaijan written in Arabic even though Azerbaijan has adopted a Latin based alphabet.
If you look at Azerbaijan’s borders, it kind of looks like a crazy bird flying while it’s losing one big feather. Located in the central Caucasus region of Eurasia, Azerbaijan is bordered by five other countries even though you would think its four. The mighty Caspian Sea is located to the east. The capital of Azerbaijan is Baku situated right along the coast of the Caspian and the country is divided into nine regions and one autonomous Republic. As we mentioned in the Armenia post, we did talk about the Nagorno-Karabakh region and how there’s a lot of tension and conflict, as a matter of fact do not call it a republic to an Azerbaijani or they will get mad at you. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is not recognized as a sovereign state by any other country in the world and today it’s kind of considered as a Dejure region of Azerbaijan even though Azerbaijanis avoid going there.
The Azerbaijanis will mention the Khojaly massacre in which hundreds of Azerbaijanis were attacked by Armenian troops. It is estimated that around 300 to 600 people were killed during the massacre and both sides have attacked each other in the conflict. Azerbaijan has this strange but quirky separated exclave known as the Nakhchivan autonomous republic in the West boarded by Armenia and Turkey. The Nakhchivan autonomous republic is not a separate country but part of Azerbaijan as they don’t want it to be separated. It is generally considered that the Mount Ararat in was the area where Noah’s Ark landed however, Nakhchivan autonomous republic is today considered as the area where Noah’s family live. This area is the only part of Azerbaijan that has access to Turkey for a very narrow eight or so kilometer border along the Araz River. The only problem is because of the whole border blockade if someone from Nakhchivan wants to go to the rest of Azerbaijan by road, they would have to literally cross over into Iran and drive along the 12 highway paralleling the Araz River all the way to the nearest main crossing at the Mil Mugan Dam nearly 50 miles from the technical border of Armenia.
The Nakhchivan region is another area of controversy between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Although Armenia isn’t fighting for ownership of Nakhchivan there isn’t yet the clear owner of the region. Baku the capital of Azerbaijan is located on the Absheron Peninsula or the bird’s beak of Azerbaijan that juts out into the Caspian, the capital Baku is not only the largest city and the best harbor in the Caspian Sea but is a breathtaking beautiful architectural wonder with its world-famous flame towers completed in 2012. If you may want to know, Baku has the world’s largest KFC. Interestingly, Azerbaijan was actually the first Muslim majority democratic secular country in the world and they were also the first Muslim majority country in the world to have theatres, operas and modern-day universities.
Nonetheless, Azerbaijan still holds on to its ancient artifacts and historical sites such as the famous Maiden’s tower and the even more captivating underwater Sabayil Castle known as the Atlantis of the Caspian. The landscape of Azerbaijan have some pretty cool tricks of its sleeve. For one the land is about half mountainous with the Caucasus mountain ranges dominating the north and west parts of the country and the talysh mountain range in the South Lankaran with Nordic wind patterns streaming down the Caucasus yet the mild Caspian Sea affect, the climate can be quite drastically opposing depending on where you are. Azerbaijan has this kind of strange terrain phenomenon in which it has the cold Alpine mountains right next to these dry subtropical zones right next to the coast in which we can find fruits like orange and lemon groves and tea plantations which kind of need a warmer climate to grow in.
Azerbaijanis love tea, they are kind of obsess over it and they even made multiple monuments to tea. However, the place where things get really interesting though would have to be in the Gobustan region south of Baku. One of the world renowned landforms that Azerbaijan would have to be known for would have to be its famous mud volcanoes. About half of all the world’s mud volcanoes are found right here in Gobustan region. Another cool thing is that Azerbaijan is rich in natural gas and petroleum deposits which make about 80 percent of the economy and because of this over time Azerbaijan has built a mind-bogglingly complex and elaborate yet strikingly mesmerizing system of trestles pipelines and crossways that connect the oil reservoirs offshore in the middle of the Caspian.
In 1949 Azerbaijan actually built the world’s first offshore oil platform in Neft Daşları. Azerbaijan has roughly nine and a half million people or roughly the same size as Sweden and ethnically it’s quite homogeneous with 91% of the people identifying as ethnically Azerbaijani and the remainder of the nine percent minority coming from a slew of other nationalities and people groups with the largest populations coming from Russians, Lezgins, Talysh and believe it or not the Armenians. Here we make reference to the Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as it’s pretty much impossible or incredibly rare to find any Armenian living anywhere else in Azerbaijan.
Some people will tell you that Azerbaijanis are descended from the Persians however; the general consensus is that the Azerbaijani people today are Turks or Turkish people not to be confused with Turkish people from Turkey although they are very close cousins. This means that the Azerbaijani language is very close to the Turkish language and people can travel interchangeably between both countries and relatively understand each other. What’s really interesting is that Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslims Shia majority countries in the world. They also have a very interesting culture dynamic in which the majority of people identify as culturally Muslim rather than consistently devout an observant Muslim. This type of social coherence really permeates throughout the population of the country as it’s very noticeably secular in the way how it operates.
Women are allowed to wear whatever they want and are not required to wear hijab or burkas and religious freedom is allowed. Azerbaijan has a long history of friends but also some surprising new people that they just started to kind of click with. Today Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with over a hundred and sixty countries mostly centralized in Europe and Asia. Azerbaijan’s immediate neighbors to the north and south, Georgia and Iran have always had cordial relations with Azerbaijan and have open borders and trade agreements. When it comes to Russia though things are a little hit or miss, as a former Soviet state Azerbaijan does have ties to Russia and they have been working on their diplomacy and partnerships however most Azerbaijanis disapprove of the relations with Russia mostly because they are more supportive of Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and even took part in fights like the Khojaly massacre. Pakistan is kind of like the fan girl of Azerbaijan, Pakistan cheers for Azerbaijan and recognizes their side of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and has even gone so far as to even unrecognized Armenia as a state, Strangely enough, though Azerbaijan is actually one of the few Muslim majority countries that actually gets along pretty well with Israel. They provide Israel with fuel and Israel provides them with agricultural and technological assistance.
The Jewish community has lived peacefully within Azerbaijan for over 1,500 years. Persecution was virtually unknown to the Jewish community in Azerbaijan which also served as a safe haven for Jews fleeing from the Holocaust. Turkey as you can probably guess is without a doubt Azerbaijan’s best friend. Despite the Sunni-Shia difference they have the closest ties culturally, linguistic and diplomatically. Turkey also supports Azerbaijan and nearly all of their disputes and conflicts like a proud older brother. There is saying between them that the two of them are one nation two countries.
In conclusion, I can guarantee you there’s pretty much no place like Azerbaijan, I mean it’s a Shia Muslim majority yet a secular country that drinks wine and gets along with Israel and has mud volcanoes.