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