Capital | Baku
Population | 8,303,512 (July 2010 est.)
Area | 86,600 SQ KM
Official Language | Azerbaijani (Azeri), Russian, Armenian
Holidays | Spring – (date varies year to year and is based on the Islamic lunar calendar), Noruz Bayrami (Persian New Year); Day of Independence, 18 October
Currency | Azerbaijani Manats (AZN)
Time Zone | UTC+4
Best Time to Visit | May to June and September to October, to avoid the extremes of summer and winter
Connecting with the Culture | Visiting Xinaliq, a remote village high in the Caucasus Mountains with a unique language and culture that has changed little since the Middle Ages; Exploring Baku, packed full of crumbling oil-boom mansions and Soviet and Islamic architecture, and with an impressive walled city; Hiking near the ancient Persian mountain hamlet of Lahic and exploring it’s pretty village; Strolling around the hunter-gatherers’ caves of Qobustan, home to a unique reserve of Stone- and Bronze-age petroglyphs.
Read | Mehmed bin Suleyman Fuzuli’s sensitive rendition of the classic Leyli and Majnun, which influenced many Azeri writers right up to the 19th century.
Listen | to mugam-jazz pianist and composer Aziza Mustafazade
Watch | The Bat, directed by Ayaz Salayev, and Samil Aliyev’s The Accidental Meeting
Eat | shashlyk (lamb kebab) or dograma (a cold soup made with sour milk, potato, onion and cucumber.
Drink | a traditional restorative tea at a cayxana (tea house)
In a Word | Salam (hello)
Characteristics | Oil; carpets; wine; Zoroastrianism; tea plantations; saffron; caviar; kebabs
Surprises | Noruz Bayrami (New Year Festival) marks the return of spring and the start of the New Year, according to the Persian solar calendar; traditions associated with Noruz Bayrami include spring-cleaning the house, preparing special rice dishes and jumping over bonfires to cleanse the spirit.
NEWS ABOUT AZERBAIJAN:
Azerbaijan Harasses Journalists as Eurovision Song Contest Draws Near
(HN, 3/14/12) - The Eurovision Song Contest is 1 of the longest running television shows in the world, started May 24, 1956. While not technically an EU member nation, this year Azerbaijan will host the 56th edition of Europe's favorite song show. Why? Ell & Nikki, only the 4th entry ever from Azerbaijan received the highest number of points from voters & juries from 43 European countries, meaning that Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan will host this year's final contest to be held May 22-26 in the “Crystal Hall” on the shore of the Caspian Sea. More than 30,000 people are expected to fly in to watch the show in person with almost 125 million worldwide TV viewers. But authorities are concerned that the generally `subpar at best' human rights situation in Azerbaijan will overshadow the `spirit of song'.
(Video: Ell & Nikki will represent Azerbaijan with the song "Running Scared" at the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest)
Already journalists in the country are reportedly being intimidated & harassed. Khadijah Ismailova for example, realized her apartment was bugged with cameras & microphones after pictures of her having sex with her boyfriend surfaced in a letter she received, calling her a `slut'. She filed a complaint over the intrusion into her private life & the investigation is ongoing; she says she plans to follow the appeals process as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Although the government professes secularism, forbids the wearing of head scarves in schools & openly opposes the construction of mosques, religious morality remains influential among the largely Shiite populace.
Despite the democratic shortcomings in Azerbaijan, human rights advocates agree that the press should nonetheless travel to Baku to cover the Eurovision Song Contest in order to get a 1st-hand view of the situation. But Ismailova warns that foreign journalists will most likely be spied upon. "Everyone should worry," she says. "Big Brother is everywhere." Currently, at least 11 journalists, bloggers & media professionals are in jail in Azerbaijan. (Read more at Spiegel Online)
NOWRUZ in Azerbaijan
(AsiaTimes, 3/22/12) - The Politics of Nowruz - In what has become a Nowruz (Persian New Year) tradition, Azerbaijan's president participated in an egg-breaking competition with 2 popular characters associated with the spring holiday. This year, as in previous years, Ilham Aliyev got the best of Kosa (Beardless) & Kechal (Bald-Headed). Azerbaijan is a former part of the Persian Empire where Nowruz has deep roots, the president has for years used the Persian New Year to highlight his public image by visiting Baku's old town and lighting a traditional Nowruz fire. It could be written off as fun and games, but in many areas of the world where Nowruz is celebrated, the politics of the holiday can be serious business. By Eugen Tomiuc