The Land of Fire: Where Europe and Asia Meet
July 1, 2021
Since flames would often burst from the ground, Azerbaijan was a spiritually significant place for many ancient people who worshipped natural elements like earth, fire, air, and water. Located in the South Caucasus region at the boundary of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of six independent Turkic states. Originally settled by Aryan tribes and the indigenous population of eastern Transcaucasia, this area of mixed cultures later became part of the Persian Empire's Silk Road. Today, Azerbaijan is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Georgia and Russia to the north, Iran to the south, and Armenia to the south-west. High pressure under the earth’s surface and an endless supply of hydrocarbon gases allows a continuous flow of fuel to seep through sandstone fissures and ignite. Ancient Greeks believed these endless flames were caused by Zeus chaining Prometheus, who was being punished for having stolen fire from the gods, to the area's Caucasus Mountains. Natural gas fires are never extinguished and blaze continuously on the Absheron Peninsula near the capital city of Baku. Only a handful of natural fire mountains exist today in the world; most are located in Azerbaijan.
Gobustan Rock Art and the Walled City of Baku
Located southwest of Baku, the Gobustan Rock Art cultural landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is rich in archeological monuments. The national historic landmark is home to more than 6,000 rock engravings (mostly petroglyphs) dating back 40,000 years or more. These prehistoric carvings depict natural life experiences, animals, ritual dances, warriors, oarsmen, camel caravans, and astrological symbols. Another World Heritage site is the Walled City of Baku, which was built on land that had been inhabited since the early Paleolithic period. The Maiden Tower (7th century castle walls) and Shirvanshah’s Palace (15th century palace) are believed to have been built over much earlier structures. The Walled City of Baku is but one of several medieval towns found in Azerbaijan. Baku is also the world’s largest city located below sea level (-92 feet) and operates the largest harbor on the Caspian Sea. Downtown Baku is well known for its striking accumulation of architecture including the Flame Towers, a trio of modern flame-shaped glass skyscrapers with neon lighting that stand as symbolic reminders of Azerbaijan's role as the "Land of Fire".
Azerbaijani Language, Culture, and Independence
A democratic, unitary semi-presidential republic of just over 10 million people, Azerbaijan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Both the head of state (the President) and head of government (the Prime Minister) have executive power. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament and the Judiciary is largely independent of the other two branches. Early years of independence were overshadowed by the Nagorno-Karabakh war with the ethnic Armenian majority of Nagorno-Karabakh territory. In 2020, a ceasefire agreement was signed that allows the warring sides to keep control of their currently held areas. Over two thousand Russian soldiers were deployed by President Putin to serve as peacekeeping forces along the corridor between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Twenty years ago, Azerbaijan was regarded as the world’s fastest growing economy. Although much of the modern day economy was built on exploiting its ample hydrocarbon resources, the government has actively pursued expanding its business infrastructure through diversification in agrobusiness, science and technology, defense manufacturing, small entrepreneurships, and tourism. The official language is Azerbaijani, which is spoken by 92% of the population as a mother tongue. Russian and Armenian are minority languages spoken natively. Although more than 97% of Azeris are Muslim, Azerbaijan is considered to be the most secular Muslim-majority country in the world. Despite the Western influences related to the nation’s oil and natural gas industry, most of the country’s euroasian traditions have been preserved.
U.S. goods and services typically enjoy a price premium in Azerbaijan. However, Azeri consumers are price sensitive and brand conscious. With a relatively high percentage of Azerbaijanis having obtained some form of higher education, doing business with Azeris requires professional interpretations and translations for optimal results. Contact ProLingo at 800-287-9755 to discuss your specific needs.
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