Azerbaijan, also known as the Land of Fire, is a country with a fascinating history and unique cultural heritage. Historically, the country has been both a Soviet Republic and a part of Persia. The country regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and modern Azerbaijan has emerged as a Western-looking, independent, secular state with a vibrant and diverse culture.
Azerbaijan has a total land area of 86,600km2 – roughly the same size as Austria. The climate, geography and topography of Azerbaijan are as diverse as its cultural heritage, with the country experiencing nine of the 13 world climate zones. The country has snowy mountainous regions (the Greater Caucasus mountain range runs through the north of Azerbaijan), flat wetlands, desert-like plains, mud volcanoes (the largest number of mud volcanoes in the world), woods and forests, nature reserves (2.5 per cent of the landmass of
Azerbaijan is preserved across 11 state reserves and eight national parks) and beaches
Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia), and is bordered by Russia to the north, Georgia to the north-west, Armenia to the west, Turkey to the south-west, Iran to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the east.
The country is the gateway between East and West, sitting on the edge of Europe and Western Asia. Azerbaijan played an important role as part of the Silk Road (the great 4,000 mile trade route that linked the East and the West, taking its name from the Chinese silk that was exchanged between merchants along the route), and is now equally important as part of the Transport Corridor Europe–Caucasus–Asia (TRACECA) Project.
Azerbaijani (or Azeri) is the official language of the country. Russian is also spoken widely throughout Azerbaijan. In the capital, Baku, young people speak good English and other European languages, such as French and German.
The Azerbaijani New Manat is the official currency of Azerbaijan. There are 100 Qepik in one Manat.
Coins: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 (Qepik)
Banknotes: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 (Manat)
Currency code: AZN
Modern Azerbaijan developed during the period 1993–2003, following civil unrest arising from the dangerous volatility of the post-Soviet period. This was swiftly resolved, and political stability was established.
A new Constitution was adopted in 1995; free market relations were initiated; and advantageous conditions were created to attract foreign capital investment. A broad oil exploitation strategy, including the Contract of the Century (1994), was prepared and implemented. The revenues which this created enabled the government to invest in new educational, scientific and cultural projects.
Azerbaijan is undergoing a period of national resurgence. In 2006, the country’s GDP increased by a staggering 34.5 per cent. This has resulted in a building boom across the country, particularly in Baku, the capital.
Present-day Azerbaijan is a key country in the East–West energy corridor. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline deliver Azerbaijani hydrocarbon resources to Europe. They connect the rich resources of the Caspian basin with the world energy markets.
Azerbaijan is also poised to be a major contributor to the network of pipelines comprising the proposed Southern Corridor, which will ensure secure energy transit from Central Asia to Europe for many decades to come. The planned projects include the Nabucco Pipeline; the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline; and Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI).
Against the background of this economic prosperity lies a deeply traditional ethos with a strong sense of the family. The unique culture and history of Azerbaijan has resulted in an intriguing national character – moderate Muslim and essentially Turkic, yet Eurocentric. A tradition of hospitality prevails at every strata of society, and all visitors are guaranteed a warm welcome.