‘Azerbaijan is a nation in Western Asia, bordering Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Russia and the Caspian Sea. These are a few things to know before travelling to Azerbaijan…
Religion, Population & Language
Azerbaijan’s population is majority Shia Muslim. The nation is made up of ethnic Azeris, with a small percentage of Russian, Armenian, and Turkish citizens. The official language is Azerbaijani, but the majority of locals also speak Russian. Younger Azeris tend to speak English and we had no trouble being understood during our time in Baku.
Azerbaijan is involved in political conflict with Armenia and has been for decades. The countries border each other and an area of Azerbaijan has been unofficially annexed by the majority Armenian population that lives there. This move was backed by the Armenian authorities. However, it’s clearly an issue for the Azerbaijani government, as the area forms part of their country.
Given the situation and bad feeling, it’s not recommended you ask Azeris about the matter. In fact, it’s not a good idea to even met their neighbours in public spaces where you can be overheard. Also, don’t bring Armenian goods with you to the country as these will not be looked upon kindly.
Border control can appear strict and intimidating, but it’s protocol and security has a job to do. You will be asked to complete a declaration about the goods you’re bringing to the country. We were also asked if we’d ever visited Armenia and has our passports checked for Armenian stamps. We haven’t visited Armenia, so there were no issues. I imagine questioning would be a whole lot more intense otherwise.
Women play an important in Azeri life. They are greatly respected and visitors are expected to be polite to them at all times. On the street, whe you’re female and look like you’re lost or in need of help, both men and other women will come to your aid. When you’re male and on the metro or bus, it’s expected that you give up your seat for any female who isn’t already sitting.
Les and I were blown away by the friendly nature of Azerbaijani citizens. Without ever asking, we were approached on the metro and on the streets of Baku and offered assistance. On two occasions, when our helper realised we spoke English, they popped off to find us someone who could converse with us. It really was above and beyond and it was a wonderful way to be welcomed. Visitors are highly valued in Azeri culture, so expect to be treated with the utmost respect.
Tea is BIG news in Azerbaijan. It’s pretty much served everywhere and comes in traditional pear-shaped glasses called armudu. Azerbaijani tea is typically bright in colour and served with a lump of sugar. Tea culture is almost sacred in the nation and, when you’re a guest, expect to be served it continuously. Traditional tea tends to be bright in colour, and is served with fruit jams, lemon, rose water and or mint. As the Azeri saying goes: ‘Cay nedir, say nedir…’, which roughly means ‘the cup count doesn’t matter when you’re drinking tea’. Agreed.
Do you have any other suggestions for things to know before travelling to Azerbaijan?