Baku: Unfolding History Old and New

Azerbaijan, a country that only became an independent state a little over 20 years ago, is changing and modernizing incredibly fast. Now that the country has gained its political independence, it is striving for a cultural independence. The capital, Baku, is moving forward and changing itself and its architecture in ways to shed its Soviet past.

When I visited Baku about five years ago, it was pretty similar to the way it had been ten years ago when I lived there, aside from all the construction everywhere. When I visited last year, in 2012, the changes were astonishing. There were several new buildings, new parks, new attractions. It was all so incredible and modern, yet there was still a taste of the old and traditional Azerbaijan.

As mentioned, within the course of a few years, Azerbaijan has rapidly modernized itself. Take the housing, for example. I visited several new apartments when I visited the last time, and they were certainly nothing like the old apartments from the Soviet era. They were large and spacious, with high ceilings and big rooms. The people living in them added brand-new furniture, more contemporary than traditional. It was nothing like the house I’d lived in when living in Baku many years ago.

Another big alteration in Baku that I noticed was the parks, especially the Bulvar (Boulevard) and Targova (Fountain Square). The Bulvar still had a number of its old restaurants but also featured several new ones. Foreign trees and shrubs and flowers were planted everywhere. Small statues were also placed throughout the park, and there were lots of new carousels and rides in the small amusement park.

Fountain Square, Baku

Fountain Square, Baku

Fountain Square had new, modern fountains built in the place of many of the old fountains. The very long, old fountain that had been in the middle of the square was replaced with a walkway, and around it were a couple of fountains, such as one consisting of large metal balls and a pyramid fountain. The biggest fountain was renovated and surrounded by arches and columns and long white stairs.

I also saw in Baku incredible new buildings such as the Flame Towers, the Park Bulvar mall, and the Heydar Aliyev cultural center. I had noticed the construction of the Flame

Flame Towers, Baku

Flame Towers, Baku

Towers a few years ago, but I never could’ve imagined that the product would be as beautiful as it is today. The Flame Towers are three towers in the shape of flames, representing the naturally occurring fires of Azerbaijan. The Towers are a housing residence and are the highest buildings in the city. At night, the Flame Towers light up in beautiful colors. Sometimes, they’ll light up with moving pictures of fire, and sometimes with the colors of the flag—blue, red, and green.

Another new structure in Baku, the Park Bulvar mall, is a large shopping mall that includes a movie theater, very nice restaurants, and a bowling alley. The front of the building is shaped like a large egg, made out of glass. The rest of it is a contemporary structure with a curvy top.

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku

Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku

A third building that is amazingly built is the Heydar Aliyev cultural center. It is a single building containing a library, a museum, and a performance hall. The large building is extraordinarily shaped, having several slopes and curves along the surface. It is enormous, and I can only imagine how difficult it was to build such a place. It truly is a unique building in a unique city.

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan, especially Baku, is modernizing faster than the blink of an eye, it still has several spots and monuments that represent its history and past. Even though there are many new housing residences that are different and new, many people still live in their old apartments that contain their family’s past, history, and memories. And although the parks such as the Bulvar and Fountain Square have changed, the Bulvar is still a place where you can go out for a walk, to enjoy yourself, to stare out into the sea, just as you could more than 100 years ago. And the Fountain Square is still the same square, with the same shops and cafes, just different fountains.



Though there may be several new buildings, there are many historical places in Baku to visit as well. Old City Baku, Gobustan, Maiden’s Tower, and Ateshgah are just a few of the many symbolic and historical sites in and around Baku.

So, as Baku does plan to add 30 new buildings a year for 15 years and is rapidly modernizing and becoming independent with its culture, its new character is perfectly balanced with its sense of a historic past.

The Maiden Tower

The Maiden Tower



Post written by Nazrin Garibova. Nazrin is an upcoming 10th grader at Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia, in the United States. She and her family lived in Azerbaijan until she was four-and-a-half years old.

Want to Directly Contribute to an Azerbaijani’s Goal?

Years ago, a professor introduced me to an organization that allows people from all over the world to loan money to someone seeking to better their lives and their community. It was called Kiva. Kiva, a non-profit organization, has a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

When my professor told me that we could lend money to someone and research their country, I decided to loan $25 to a man in Togo who wanted to buy a corn mill and take on his youngest son as an apprentice to create more local sales of agriculture in his community. I think the best part about Kiva is that you get to read the individual profiles of all of the people seeking loans (which are paid back and can be used to fund another person’s wish!). Sometimes charities can seem so large that your impact can feel very small-you don’t know who got your money, how it is being used, etc. With Kiva, I understood that my money was going to a man named Komi for the purposes of buying a corn mill.

Now, to relate this to Azerbaijan: I went searching on Kiva the other week and saw that quite a few people from Azerbaijan were requesting loans for anything from purchasing sheep to expand a local farm to buying their children a plot of land for their marriages. How do you know you can help someone in Azerbaijan achieve their goal? You can see directly on the page how much of a loan the person requests, how much of the loan has been filled to date, and how many people are loaning to the recipient.

Right now, a man named Tavakkul, a farmer whose only income comes from the sale of dairy products and greens, is requesting a loan of 1,200 AZN (Azerbaijani new manat), or $1,550 USD, for the purchase of quality medicines for his animals. This loan request is new as of today and currently has 0% raised. So if you were to donate just $25 to Tavakkul, for example, you would know that you are contributing 1.62% toward achieving his goal.

There are many other Azerbaijani women and men requesting loans for various medicines, animals, agricultural products, and even college funds. Currently, there are 49 loan requests from the Azerbaijani population. I highly recommend that everyone should check out and find an Azerbaijani’s loan request that represents your particular interest in lending funds to those who will truly benefit from


Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart

For Food Lovers: Azerbaijani Cuisine

Food plays an important role in Azerbaijan’s culture.  Throughout the centuries, Azerbaijani cuisine has been influenced by the foods of different cultures, though at the same time, it remained distinctive and unique. Many foods that are indigenous to the country can now be seen in the cuisines of other cultures. For the Azerbaijanis, food is an important part of the country’s culture and is deeply rooted in the history, traditions and values of the nation.

Out of 11 climate zones known in the world, nine zones lie within Azerbaijan.  This contributes to the fertility of the land, which in its turn results in the richness of the country’s cuisine. It is famous for an abundance of vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes.  Fresh herbs, including mint, coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chive, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress are very popular and often accompany main dishes.

In Azerbaijan, people can eat well without spending a fortune on dining out.  Azeri culture displays an intriguing blend of influences from Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, and India.  Most towns in Azerbaijan have at least a handful of inexpensive yəmakxanəs, or food houses, as well as slightly more expensive restaurants catered to tourists-foreign or local.

Lamb, the staple ingredient in most Azerbaijani meals, is usually seasoned with saffron, cinnamon, and fresh coriander.  Dolma, badimcan dolmasi, dushbara (pictured, above), qutab, tika kabab, and qovurma are just a few traditional meals found in Azerbaijan that all typically include lamb.  Several soups, such as sulu khingal (lamb soup with noodles), also boast lamb as their main ingredient.

To accompany Azerbaijani entrées, numerous side dishes are often ordered or cooked at home for a meal.  Sometimes, these dishes will be chosen arbitrarily by the restaurant staff.  If someone does not want to eat one of the dishes, it must be sent back to avoid being charged on the final check.  To the right, you can see a number of Azerbaijani side dishes that typically would be served for lunch or dinner.

Outside of Baku, one will not likely find food houses that serve non-Azeri cuisine.  To find Chinese, Italian, or other cuisines from around the world, one must dine only in the capital.  Staying in Baku will also allow someone to experience the fast food experience of the West.  However, the “fast food” culture outside of Baku is not a burger-and-fries type of meal; Azerbaijani “fast food” cafes and kəbabxanəs (kebab houses) typically serve inexpensive sandwiches made with dönər or tikə kebab or qutab (meat and herb turnovers).

For sheer ambiance, seek out one of Azerbaijan’s caravanserai restaurants, where full cultural shows accompany your banquet.  To find one of these caravanserai restaurants, go to Baku’s Old City.  Mugham Club, in particular, would be a great caravanserai restaurant to visit because of its fame for local music performances and dances.

Azerbaijan also places high importance on fruits found from their region.  Every year a cultural festival is held in Goychay, Azerbaijan known as Pomegranate Festival.  The festival features Azerbaijani fruit-cuisine mainly the pomegranates from Goychay.  At the festival, a parade is held with traditional Azerbaijani dances and Azerbaijani music.  The Pomegranate Festival usually takes place in October.

All in all, Azerbaijan cuisine is not only is tasty but also good for your health – the evidence to this is a lot of long-livers and centenarians in the Republic.


Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart


June in Azerbaijan: Cultural Events

Especially during the summer, people from all around the world attend festivals centered on music, art, dance, and other cultural subjects.  If you happen to be in East Asia in June, consider going to celebrations in Azerbaijan that commemorate its National Salvation Day.

June 15, a national holiday, marks Azerbaijan’s National Salvation Day and is celebrated as the coming back of the former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev (pictured, left) from the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to Baku in 1993.

Azerbaijani veterans and the members of the defense wing of the military take part in the ceremonial parade each year on June 15.  Azerbaijan’s president presides over this parade, accepting the salute from the various wings or parts of his defense force.

The president also addresses the nation on this day emphasizing the need for national unity and security. These celebrations are also extended to the television, which broadcasts live the speech of the president to the civilians. There are also celebrations in the form of a fireworks display at night.

Also in June, you can attend an art festival in Azerbaijan.  At the Baku Creative Center, performance art, drawings, graphic works, and sculptures will be showcased during the three day Azerbaijan Art Festival.

The opening of the art festival and a press conference for the event will take place on June 4 at the Baku Business Center and then the exhibits will be put on display at the Baku Creative Center.  Beginning on June 7, three-day exhibitions and master classes will be held in Salyan, Saatli, Shirvan, Kurdamir, Mingachevir, Sheki, Gakh, Ismayilli, Khachmaz, and Sumgayit.

The main purpose of the Baku Creative Center is to promote Azerbaijani culture beyond the country, to formulate PR strategy for the implementation of advanced ideas and to help people materialize their creative ideas. So for the month of June, be thinking about the wonderful efforts of the people of Azerbaijan to recognize and honor their heritage and culture.


Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart



Women in Azerbaijan: Clothing, Careers, and Customs

In Soviet times, both women and men in Azerbaijan achieved high levels of education and could hold jobs at many levels of their country’s economy and government.  Since the independence of Azerbaijan, however, a number of patriarchal traditions and cultural assumptions about gender roles have re-emerged. What does this mean for the women of Azerbaijan in the 21st century?

Typically, when someone mentions gender roles in the non-Western world, one might immediately picture women who are confined to the home to carry out domestic duties.  Women in Azerbaijan certainly make a habit out of intensively cleaning their houses or having inexpensive help in doing so.  Many also stay home to care for their children and hardly leave home.  Although this might be the case for many Azeri women, many enjoy the process of applying make-up and styling their hair before leaving home.

Throughout the past few decades, women of Azerbaijan have mostly discarded the head-to-toe covering of their bodies and have transitioned to a time where women can wear shorter shirts.  Some see this as a liberating experience for Azeri women, while others see it as a cause for unwanted attention and objectification of women.  Essentially, the option to wear clothing that completely covers the body or to opt for less clothing gives Azeri women a choice to make about themselves.

Customs and law no longer decide what the women of Azerbaijan will wear.  However, after the collapse of Soviet communism within Azerbaijan, the reentry of religious values into the country has made its way into the decision-making process of younger women’s attire.  Nonetheless, women are mostly free to wear a hijab (head scarf) or look to the monument in Baku of a woman discarding her veil and do the same.

Although women’s clothing in Azerbaijan is not a contested issue, the subject of women in the workforce remains a hot discussion topic.  In 2006, Azerbaijan passed a law on gender equality, defining gender-based discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction, exercised on the basis of gender, including sexual harassment.”  However, Azerbaijani officials rarely enforce these laws or inform women of such decrees-especially in a post-Soviet Azerbaijan.

If an Azerbaijani woman decides that homemaking is not a suitable career, her acceptable alternatives are typically teaching and nursing.  Even if a woman does enter the workforce, the household and family remain her number one priority.  Azeri women typically marry early, leaving them a small time frame to enter into a career and ensuring that they will likely experience the double day.  Female teachers in Azeri schools often skip class to look after guests or leave school early for a trip to the bazaar (market).

Before becoming a married woman, an Azeri woman must have a family accept the potential groom.  Americans often refer to the act of a man asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage as “old fashioned” or “traditional,” whether they like or dislike the custom.  The Azeri culture has created a way to make this process less painless for the groom and his family; they will serve unsweetened tea to spare the male’s family humiliating rejection if they deny his marriage proposal. If the tea is sweet, the couple may marry.  If the ultimate decision to allow my significant other to marry me rested in the hands of my father, I am sure I would prefer to have the meeting with this Azeri custom.

Statistical findings from the Caucasus Research Resource Center show that the Azeri population’s attitudes towards gender equality seem a bit ambiguous.  Many people express traditional attitudes about gender roles, division of labor and participation of men and women in domestic and public life.  Yet, much of the population also thinks gender equality has already been mostly achieved.  This indicates that the perception of gender equality differs from the actual distribution of gender roles.  Gender equality and gender roles are a popular topic among anthropologists, social scientists, and many non-academics.  Sometimes, what we think is oppressive or too liberating might be thought of as the opposite in another culture.  Azerbaijan’s gender roles may seem quite divided to many people and to some of the Azerbaijani population; however, laws and cultural groups exist today that share the common goal of pursuing gender equality, in its cultural context, within Azerbaijan.

Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart

If Everyone in the World…

If I had the attention of every citizen of the world for just a moment, I would cry “STOP WAR!” as loudly as I could. Wars devastate lives and make wild animals out of humans. However, they also bring out our strength, perseverance, and heroism among common men.

I knew an old Azerbaijani woman who lived very close to the contact line between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Although I could see the tragedy of the conflict in her eyes and on the wrinkles of her face, her words did not let on. Instead of grieving her involvement as part of this tragic history or slipping into a state of anger or despair, she expressed patriotism, hope, and resilience.

I first met this woman while staying with a host family in the region. The old woman was in poor health and visited my host mother, a registered nurse, every day in order to receive an injection necessary for her condition. Although she was not very talkative, during her visits she shared her story with me.

Her son was killed in front of her eyes in 1993. Although her daughter in law escaped with her granddaughter, she never heard from them again. It is thought that they were either killed or lost to cold and hunger. War is cold.

Half of her front yard is occupied by Armenian forces and she hasn’t used the second floor of her new house since July, 1993 in fear of being shot. Light must not escape through the windows so they are covered with large dark curtains, similar to those used during World War II. She lives in darkness.

Although she once shared the house with her grandson, he has since move to Baku to study. She remains in her house alone. Many of her neighbors have lost their lives, her own life is accidental. It is a lonely village.

I was deeply saddened by her story but also struck with admiration. She truly was fighting to live her life on her terms as best she could, despite her tragedy and loneliness. She was living face to face with death, but was positive about the future.

Post written by Sevda Salayeva

An Azerbaijani American in Baku

Every morning I pass by an impressive statue on my walk to campus. The protagonist is a commanding figure, riding his horse through the clouds, pointing his scimitar toward the sky. It stands on a tall stone base that pushes the total height to about 23 meters (25 yards).  It commands attention.

The first time I walked past it, I immediately knew what it was. I looked at the base to confirm and read KOROGLU in big metal letters. I should probably have expected to see a giant statue of possibly the Turkic world’s most famous hero in Baku, but I honestly was struck. I’m sure every visiting ethnic Azerbaijani from Iran like myself had the same reaction at some point.

Koroglu literally translates to “son of a blind man.” He’s the main character of a series of folk tales that my father would tell me as a child as I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. By now, I have forgotten much of Koroglu’s adventures, but some of the tales still resonate.

I remember that when my father spoke of the Epic of Koroglu, at times he would get excited and use emphatic gestures. But as he told the stories, he would snicker intermittently like it was something of the past that had been replaced by more civilized Persian stories. As if it were an oral tradition only known to villagers, while the more educated and elite were teaching their kids stories from the Shahnameh. It was the expression of a man who knew that his culture, identity, and national heroes were withering away and had come to terms with it. Koroglu was something of the past.

This nostalgia in some way was passed on down to me. I guess that was the reason that I became so emotional upon first glance at the statue honoring this tale.

I came to Baku for several reasons: to become educated on the region, to perfect my Azerbaijani language skills for which I never in my life had received formal education, and to scout possible opportunities. But I think subconsciously I’m here to learn more about the intricacies of my own culture that I was never exposed to, partially because of the fact that I hail from the ethnic Azerbaijani minority in Iran who are denied cultural expression, and partly because growing up in the States made it difficult to learn about and experience these things. It is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is anything else.

Before I arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. On one end, working at the Karabakh Foundation and within the Azerbaijani community in D.C. gave me a grandiose impression of what Azerbaijan would be like. I had seen photos of the beautiful Azerbaijani countryside and the amazing construction projects, witnessed beautiful Azerbaijani dances and musical performances, and had been a frequent consumer of Azerbaijani cuisine. I had kept up with Azerbaijan’s economic, political, and social development. Despite this, I was still quite naïve about the country. We all know that nothing compares with firsthand experience.

I have to admit that after five months living here, I’m still as confused about this city as I was when I came. Baku is a city of contradictions. It’s a city of both excess and insufficiency, of progress and conservatism, passion and stoicism, color and blandness. It’s both European and Asian, simultaneously post-Soviet and modern.

And as such, my feelings about Baku are torn. If I were to say my stay here has been perfect, I’d be lying. I grew in the D.C. area, where I took for granted simple conveniences. And while my living conditions are by no means bad—for many things I was actually quite impressed) as my hosts have done their best to ensure that I have everything I need—there are still bureaucratic messes that one has  to overcome.

But after some reflection, I don’t think that I would want it any other way. I would be bored otherwise. I came here to open a new chapter in my life, start an adventure, and now I realize that this is exactly what I wanted. There is an interesting charm about the dichotomous nature of this city.

I think the only thing about Azerbaijan that doesn’t seem to have an opposing side is the amazing sense of hospitality that is embedded into the people here.

While Baku is a little more Western in orientation and has a colder “big city” feel than some other parts of Azerbaijan, one can still regularly experience the generosity of strangers who are willing to almost give you everything to make sure your experience is nothing short of perfect. I consistently struggle to pay for my own meals and coffee when I’m out with friends. This is, of course, much more pronounced when one visits the regions outside of Baku, where people live simpler lives.

Throughout my time in Baku, I got a chance to see a number of amazing sites. My favorite thing to do by far is to take a night stroll through the city’s gorgeous Caspian-side promenade from the Old City toward the Flame Towers, which dominate the night skyline. On occasion, I’ll take the funicular up to Martyrs’ Alley, which has one of the best views of the Baku. It’s a wonderful blend of old and new.

A quick trip to Gobustan will afford a glimpse into the lives of the regions earliest inhabitants. Other great sites within the Baku city limits are the Maiden’s Tower in the Old City and the Carpet Museum.  Complete the day with a trip to one of Baku’s Turkish-style hamams (bath house) and you’re guaranteed to sleep like a rock.

The restaurants in Azerbaijan are amazing, especially those serving local fare. Anyone who enjoys Middle Eastern cuisine will definitely appreciate Azerbaijani cooking. I especially find it quite nostalgic because it is quite close to some of the foods that my mother and grandmother made at home, but with interesting twists. It seems to be a perfect blend of different tastes for the region, and it is never boring.

I still reminisce about the quantity and quality of the food that I had during the fall apple festival in Quba and the pomegranate festival in Qoychay. Both seemed like giant outdoor all-you-can-eat buffets where you could be indulging on numerous foods made with the particular fruit of choice in one minute and then watching a breathtaking Azerbaijani dance performance the next.

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to an Azerbaijani wedding, which is quite easy actually, you’ll even get to learn some of these dances yourself. The fruit festivals usually end with performances by Azerbaijan’s most renowned musicians.


Azerbaijan is a country that is trying to revive its rich culture yet modernize at the speed of light. The country is simultaneously exploring its past and stepping into the future. While reviving and preserving its age-old music and dance, it’s also aspiring to build the tallest and most innovative buildings on Earth.

For me, Azerbaijan is seeing the statue of Koroglu every morning before attending class at my new state-of-the-art campus.

Post written by Farzin Farzad. Mr. Farzad is a former program officer for the Karabakh Foundation and currently a student at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy and International Affairs. 

A Story of Loss in Karabakh

Although I am an Azerbaijani, I do not know Karabakh as well as my countrymen who were once at home in the region, when Azerbaijani people could safely live in the area before the battle for Karabakh. Although we can study the Karabakh region and conflict, only those who have lived and lost in Karabakh can truly make us understand. For my third blog post I will share the story of one courageous woman who lived in Karabakh and lost her husband in the battle for Karabakh. Through her story, one can begin to understand the depth of human and cultural loss in Karabakh.

I have known this woman for a few years, but never dared to speak to her about Karabakh. I dialed her number with hesitation. Much to my astonishment, she accepted the offer with great pleasure and invited me to dinner. She greeted me with a warm smile and shared her stories openly.

“I left the village later than everybody” she told me. She paused as if struck by the memories of dark days and continues, “I was breeding moths and I couldn’t leave them behind. But, I woke up one day and all of them were dead. They were probably poisoned by dangerous gases in the air caused by the extra use of guns in the zone those times.”

When she finally left it was the summer of 1992. “We were terrified so we left the village,” she shares. “We went to the bank of river Gargar and made a tent there.  We spent the whole night there with villagers. When we woke in the morning, we drank water and ate the food we had. My son Parviz began to cry, missing the tea with sugar we customarily drank in the morning. All of our hearts were broken. In an attempt to assuage his tears and preserve some semblance of cultural normalcy, I returned to the village to fetch him a thermos of tea and sugar. “

“Six of our male relatives were killed and we went to cry for them in the graveyard. We cried for a while and then we just realized we were crying for someone else, not for our relatives.  We found their actual graves and started to cry again.”

Post written by Sevda Salayeva

The Azerbaijani Turks

Azerbaijani_TurksIn her comprehensive account of Azerbaijan’s rich and diverse history, Dr. Audrey Altstadt frames Azerbaijani national identity as a story of empires and the political nature of culture. From the early state of Caucasian Albania to the Soviet Empire, Azerbaijan has been subject to a diverse array of cultures, languages, and political systems. Tracing the evolution of the Azerbaijani Turkic cultural identity to a national consciousness, Dr. Altstadt documents the emergence of modern Azerbaijani national cultural awaking in the early 20th century under Russian, and later Soviet, rule. She demonstrates how the development of a modern, secular Azerbaijani Turkic identity led to the emergence of a united religious and cultural front. Politicized to form Azerbaijani identity in contrast to the russification and colonialism of the Russian and Soviet Empires, this identity was designed to form a cultural bulwark in a country increasingly independent of outside influences. Please listen to the interviews with Dr. Altstadt on the Azerbaijani Radio Hour as she elaborates on her research and future projects on November_6November_13, and November_20.

An excellent account of Azerbaijan under Soviet rule, Dr. Altstadt meticulously compiles names, dates, and locations in her seminal work on Azerbaijan. The revival of Turkic culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played a vital role in establishing a legitimate Azerbaijani national identity to contend with colonial Russian/Soviet influences. Control over Azerbaijani culture and language further highlight the powerful nature of culture, as it posed a threat to the legitimacy of the Soviet Union and its communist doctrine. Language, ever a political topic, was subject to russification with the imposition of the Cyrillic alphabet on the formerly Arabic and Latin script language. However, after independence, Azerbaijani reverted back to a Latin-based script, which it had adopted briefly from 1929-1938. The imposition of communist-style collective farms and governing councils as well as the deportation, repression, and even execution of Azerbaijani intelligentsia further undermined traditional Azerbaijani culture.

Using both original research and official histories, Dr. Altstadt leads readers through the complex history that formed today’s Azerbaijan. One interesting note is Dr. Altstadt’s research regarding Azerbaijan’s national cultural revival in the 1980s. In contrast to other authors’ claims that the Soviet policy of glasnost (openness) re-opened and ignited long-repressed national identities, Altstadt points to former President Heydar Aliyev as the force behind Azerbaijan’s national revival. Whether or not this directly led to the downfall of the Soviet Union remains a source of contention; however, the celebration of Azerbaijani culture provided a much-needed infusion of national pride into the national political consciousness, vital for the formation of an independent Azerbaijan.

Despite a rich collection of literature and cultural information, Dr. Altstadt glosses over the development and importance of the khanates that made up the territory of Azerbaijan before the Russian Empire. While this simplifies the story, the omission fails to highlight the political structure of the Azerbaijani Turks before the Russian Empire. Moreover, Dr. Altstadt’s book would benefit from an update to her authoritative compilation Azerbaijani history. Written immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, her story conveniently ends in 1990 and omits key challenges in Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet history.

For readers unfamiliar with Azerbaijani history, this book can be overwhelmingly detailed, and difficult to read. Readers must keep in mind that different accounts and opinions of events in the book exist. Much of the existing literature on the subject does not represent Azerbaijani points of view. Dr. Altstadt presents her book using extensive research of historical archives to substantiate her point and understanding of Azerbaijani history. Despite these challenges, Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity under Russian Rule remains a must-read for anyone interested in the region.

Post written by Devin Conley, Karabakh Foundation Analytical and Editorial Intern

Culture Smart: Azerbaijan

culture_smart_azerbaijanOften described as the crossroads of East and West, Azerbaijan is in a unique cultural position that shifts between traditional and modern. Despite a booming economy and winning the Eurovision last year, traditional culture is alive and well in Azerbaijan. However, with this increased global visibility, many visitors and businesses are bumping up against cultural barriers and confusion. While seemingly minor, cultural idiosyncrasies and misunderstandings can determine the outcome of a business deal or affect neighborly relations. In her book Azerbaijan – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture, author Nikki Kazimova walks readers through the intricacies of history and decodes social norms that provide insight into Azerbaijani culture and people.

A veteran of cross cultural communications and cultural diplomacy, Ms. Kazimova integrates her business and communication background with a discussion of history and society to provide a broader interpretation of Azerbaijani culture. Raised in Baku and educated as an Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellow in the United States, she is uniquely qualified to examine her own culture through a foreign lens. She has worked in both the U.S. and Azerbaijan for major companies such as CNN and Exxon-Mobil and has extensive media and journalism experience. Please listen to Ms. Kazimova on the April 8 2012 Azerbaijani Radio Hour interview for an in-depth discussion on her most recent publication, professional career, and future projects.

Written in a simple yet direct manner, the book is designed for those conducting business in Azerbaijan or for serious tourists interested in more than a cursory cultural experience. The book provides a cheat sheet of customs, social norms, and values to integrate the reader into Azerbaijani society. For example, gender roles and relations are explained in the context of dating, family relations, and values. Tips like how to get around like a local and where to shop for groceries provide invaluable insights to a successful cultural experience.

Hospitality is also a cornerstone of Azerbaijani society, expressing the belief that generosity is one of life’s core values. Ms. Kazimova gives tips on how to successfully benefit from invitations and social interactions that form the basis of Azerbaijani relationships. Another insight she gives is the importance of relationships over deadlines and timeliness, another sticking point that often provides a stark contrast and frustration between Azerbaijanis and Westerners, particularly in business matters.

On a higher level, this is a simple expression of cultural diplomacy at its best. The book does not excuse or dismiss cultural issues, but merely seeks to promote mutual understanding. It portrays a cultural richly grounded in history, yet quickly adapting to the demands of modernity and foreign investment. In the years to come, Azerbaijan will become more of a global player in an increasingly interdependent world: without a doubt, this book is a valuable resource and a must-read for those who travel and do business in Azerbaijan.

Post written by Devin Conley, Karabakh Foundation Analytical and Editorial Intern