Friday, April 5, 2013

Republic of Azerbaijan

The Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia.  It sits on the Caspian Sea and borders Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran.  There is an Azeri exclave, Nakhchivan, that is between Armenia and Iran.  Azərbaycan is a little smaller than Maine and is home to almost 9.4 million people.  The capital is Baku.

Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas.  It is known as "The Land of Fire."  It was pretty progressive in the past.  It was the first Muslim-majority country to have operas, plays and theater.  It was also the first Muslim country to grant women equal rights with men.  And it did so before women in the USA had the right to vote.

In 1920, it was invaded by the Soviet Union and became the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.  In 1991, it gained independence when the USSR broke up.

Occupied territory in Azerbaijan
Not long after gaining independence, the country went to war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karbakh, a mostly Armenian section of Azerbaijan.  A cease-fire was brokered in 1994 but Armenia still controls 16% of Azeri territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh.  Around 30,000 people died in the war and about 1 million people have been displaced.  The borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia remain closed.  Anyone with a passport stamp from Nagorno-Karabakh is refused entry in to Azerbaijan.  Regardless of citizenship, having an Armenian surname will prevent one from even obtaining a visa.

Azeri is the official language.  It is very similar to Turkish.  It is also spoken widely in northwest Iran.  Azeri used to be written with an Arabic/Farsi script but the Soviets replaced it with the Cyrillic script.  When the country became independent, the language took on a modified Latin script.

About 95% of the country is Muslim with the vast majority being Shiite.  However, the country is a secular state and overall the country is not very religious. 

1 Manat = $1.28 or €0.99
Today the country is a constitutional republic.  In 2012, it began its two-year term on the UN Security Council.  But more importantly, last year it was host to the 2012 Eurovision competition.

The country appears to be run by a single family.  Heydər Əliyev, a former KGB colonel, was in charge of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982.  He served as the 3rd president of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003.  His son, İlham Əliyev is the current president and his regime is known for being corrupt and censoring the press.  The first lady is a member of parliament and their children are major shareholders in some of the biggest companies.  Here's a YouTube video I found that gives a little more detail on the Əliyev family.



I hope to spend about a week in Azerbaijan.  That is if I can sort out a visa.  Almost everyone needs a visa in order to visit and the requirements are a pain in the arse.  Plus, for Americans to apply, a single-entry visa runs $160.  We'll see if I'm able to get in or not.

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