Merci Bakou #3 – 7 interesting facts about Azerbaijan

Hello dear readers!

I know, I know, I haven’t been writing a lot here lately and, believe me, I feel really sad about it! Don’t think that I am out of ideas or anything. Oh, dear, no! I have in my mind a million (okay, maybe not a million, more like, I don’t know, like ten or something) ideas for new articles about Azerbaijan, about Baku, about food and books and movies, but I just am reaaaaally bad at time management lately 🙂 How do people manage to have a real job, hobbies, and handle all daily boring house tasks with only 24 hours per day? Without even mentioning sport and social life? Please, if you know the secret, share in the comment section!

Anyway, I have some news: my time in Baku is almost over! In 21 days I will be going back to France, back to oysters and independent cinema (yep, that’s all France is about to me) – and in this short time left here I feel the mission to share with you all the knowledge I could gain from this beautiful country that not so many people have the chance to visit. Now, before I get silly and try to make you laugh (or, let’s say, smile a bit), let me first introduce you to 7 interesting serious facts about Azerbaijan, country of…

1. …FIRE!

First and most interesting fact that you probably already know is that Azerbaijan is also known as the land of FIRE! It’s even in its name as « Azerbaijan » would actually mean exactly « The Land of (Holy) Fire ». Cool, right? But why fire, you wonder? Due to its location on top of oil and gas reservoirs, especially around Absheron peninsula where Baku, its capital city is located, Azerbaijan is home of somewhat surprising natural phenomenon. One of them is the eternal fire on its land – a fire that never stops! You can discover this wonder in Yanardag, the « fire mountain », and I think that’s pretty much it as the other « eternal fire » got extinguished after people found out you can actually make a lot of money out of this and accidentally deviated the natural gas stream that came out in the Ateshgah, « fire temple », which now has an artificial eternal fire. Fun fact that takes me to my second interesting fact about Azerbaijan (good transition heh)…

The Fire Mountain! It’s more impressive to visit it at dusk.

2. Azerbaijan’s development is related to oil and gas exploitation

Since Azerbaijan subsoil is full of oil and gas that put its land on fire every now and then (and is also responsible for the cute mud volcanoes we can see around – and, interesting fact in the interesting fact (factception, am I right), did you know that you can find 50% of the world’s mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan?), it is only very natural that people decided to exploit this resource since a very long time. You can trace back oil extraction in Baku back to the 7th century. Techniques were then very « crafty » though. The real industrial boom that put Azerbaijan into crazy high speed development actually happened at the end of the 19th century. Indeed, the first industrial oil pit was constructed in Bibi Heybat settlement in1846. Not long later, many Russian and European industrials came to Baku and invested in this rich land. For example, the Nobel family came to Baku in 1873 and established there a very profitable oil business through their company « Branobel ». You can still visit their house in Baku by the way. Soon enough, the oil pits and derricks came out of the ground like « little breads » (French expression, nevermind). But foreigners were not the only ones to get rich: some local Azerbaijanis also had the good idea to take their chance and bought some lands with the hope to find oil under it. This is the story of some famous figures which are still very well remembered in Baku nowadays: Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, Musa Nagiyev… But let’s save their stories for another article 🙂

In every corner of the region, you will find those derricks pumping oil!

3. The main religion in Azerbaijan is not islam, it’s tea (could we say they are tea-ist?)

I know, I know, you think that tea couldn’t possibly be considered a religion, but that’s probably because you never came to Azerbaijan. If you did, you would realize that’s something you do at least 5 times a day (as often as namaz, coincidence? I think not), that gives so much meaning to life of locals and is the most important ritual before any kind of encounter (work meeting, friends meeting, family meeting, and so on) must be some kind of a cult or something. And Azerbaijanis drink tea all the time and everywhere. The tea house is central to many social relations for men, whereas house tea is central to many social relations for women (why those two worlds don’t often interact is indeed another question). Even in the middle of the forest you will find a place for tea. Actually that’s even sometimes the only thing you can find. Don’t believe the « coffee » signs on the road: nope, it’s only tea again. Tea. Tea. And more tea. Be ready.

Time for a tea break with my favorite tool: Samovar!

4. Azerbaijan is actually a very secular state

As previously stated, 100% Azerbaijanis are tea-ist, and among them there is a majority of Shia muslims, followed by Sunnis, Christians and even Jews… But what is mostly interesting in this is that Azerbaijan is really a secular country. Religion and state are separated since 1918, even before Turkey the largest muslim secular country. It means that you can dress the way you want in public space, most shops sell alcohol, and, more importantly, your rights are not related to your beliefs.

Luckily you can wear dresses as much as you want in the summer…

5. Capital city Baku is half European and half Asian

We kind of joke about it as it is something a bit cliché we hear a lot, as well as « between traditions and modernity », but, honestly, it is true and really obvious when you visit Baku for the first time: there are two cities in one. The inner-city « Isherisheher » also known as « old town » has small stone buildings, very narrow roads and is the only breathable place in the summer without air conditioning. It is where Baku settlement was first located and where you can visit the oldest monuments as Shirvanshah Palace or the Maiden Tower for example. After the oil boom, the city started to expand outside of its walls in the form of a more European style, then Soviet style, then sky-crappers style.

The history of Baku is written in its walls)

6. Fact: You can find all weather climates in Azerbaijan!

This is the kind of information that makes you look smart at parties – random, unexpected fact, but yes, Azerbaijan is not only an oily desert lost in the middle of the Caucasus. It’s also forests, mountains, flat empty lands. Due to this very specific location, the country counts 9 out of 11 types of climate: it is desertic or arid in the Absheron peninsula, oceanic by the shore of the Caspian, mountainous on the high Caucasian peaks, tropical down the Talysh forests, continental in the middle of the country, etc. The only two climates that are missing are equatorial and polar. Therefore the landscapes are really diverse. A good reason to visit Azerbaijan, right?

7. Last but not least: people speak many languages here!

The official language of Azerbaijan is, obviously, Azerbaijani. But actually a lot of people also speak another language. For example, it is not rare in Baku to hear people speak in Russian, as it was widely common during Russian Empire and later under the Soviet Union rule. Nowadays, still, two school system coexists in Baku: the Azerbaijani one and the Russian one. But besides Russian, people also speaks their local languages depending on the region or ethnic group they come from. In the North, people speaks Lezgi, and sometimes each village can speak a different dialect. In the south, people usually speak Talysh, which, as I understood, is closer to Persian. In the center, in Nic for example, people speak Udi (and they even are Christians!). In the region of Zagatala, next to Georgia, people are and speak the Avar language.

It’s difficult to illustrate this point so please meet little Kavun that I bought during Animafilm Festival 🙏

As you can see, there is a lot to discover in Azerbaijan! Do you know other interesting facts to share to our readers that I may have forgotten (or don’t know about yet!)? Please share your impressions in the comments! See you soon for more contents about the land of 🔥

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