Azerbaijan: what to know?

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Azerbaijan is a small country in Eastern Europe with a diverse history, including influences from Iranian, Turkish, and Caucasian Albanian settlers. It has been conquered by various empires and gained independence in 1917, only to be invaded by the Soviets in 1918. Since gaining independence again in 1991, Azerbaijan has focused on improving infrastructure and developing its oil industry. Tourists can visit historical sites such as petroglyphs, castles, and religious sites. The country can be accessed by flights or land, but the border with Armenia is closed.

Azerbaijan is a medium-sized country in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. It covers 33,400 square miles (86,600 square km), making it somewhat smaller than the state of Maine. It borders Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey and has a coastline along the Caspian Sea. It also has a small exclave section, separated from its main body by Armenia.

The Azerbaijani people are generally believed to be an amalgam of several people who settled in the region, especially the Iranians, Turkish tribesmen, and Caucasian Albanians.

Caucasian Albanians are thought to have first settled the area in the 9th century BC Persia conquered all of the region in the 6th century BC and Alexander the Great conquered the region in the 4th century BC, while Armenia began to exert control over some parts of the territory in the 2nd century BC The first kingdom was formed in this period by the Caucasian Albanians, around the 1st century BC, remaining independent until the 3rd century.

During the Age of Caliphs, Azerbaijan was conquered by Arabs in the 7th century. In the following centuries most of the people living in the country converted from Christianity to Islam. Beginning in the 11th century, Turkic tribes occupied large portions of the area, forming an empire that also spanned large parts of Iran and Iraq. The area was hotly contested for the next few centuries, going from Mongol to Turkish to Jalayrid rule.

The Ottomans began pushing into Azerbaijan in the 16th century, conquering portions of the country. Local Shia resistance was fierce, however, and the Ottomans were repeatedly pushed back. By the 18th century, however, the Ottomans controlled most of Azerbaijan, while the Russian Empire controlled the rest. Russia eventually expanded its territories and controlled most of the country by the 16th century.

The Russians used a fairly selfless approach to Azerbaijan, giving great local autonomy to the rulers and keeping the importation of Russian Christians to a minimum. Oil was discovered in the late 19th century and became an important strategic territory for Russia. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, it gained independence in 1917 and reformed as a democratic republic, the first Democratic Republic of the Islamic world. This new state was short-lived however, and in 1918 the Soviets invaded and conquered the country.

It remained a Soviet Socialist Republic until 1991, when it declared independence and joined the Commonwealth of Independent States. The following year, all-out war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, eventually leading to a great loss of territory for Azerbaijan and the loss of many lives.
Since independence, Azerbaijan’s infrastructure has steadily improved and it has built up its oil-exploitation industry drastically. Gas exports make up a large part of its GDP, and the discovery of new oil fields continues to grow the sector. The Nagorno-Karabakh region has declared its independence, currently not recognized, and is highly unstable.

The sense of history is one of the most impressive things about visiting Azerbaijan and most tourists find the symbols of that past as the biggest attraction. Bronze Age petroglyphs, such as those found in the open-air Gobustan Museum, are an example of this story. Another example are the castles dating back to medieval times, which dot the Apsheron Peninsula. And the country’s remarkable religious history is perhaps the best example. Mosques and minarets abound, but perhaps the most inspiring site is the Atesgah Fire Temple, a place that has been a place of worship for thousands of years. It sits atop natural gas vents and is thought to have been revered by Zoroastrians for more than 1500 years.

Flights arrive regularly into Baku from major airports across Europe and Asia, and smaller airlines operate from other former Soviet republics. It is possible to enter the country by land, but the border with Armenia is absolutely closed and attempting to cross can get you in serious trouble.

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