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 Kiva.org and find an Azerbaijani’s loan request that represents your particular interest in lending funds to those who will truly benefit from Kiva.org.


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


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