Business & Industry
Dec 18, 2018
The ancient, the new and the future
"Azerbaijan is a country that impresses in many ways and is relatively unknown in Western countries. Starting from the fact that – contrary to what many think – it is not close to Afghanistan and is a very safe country (a bit because of some laws that restrict heavily a few liberties in the name of that)."
The earliest records of human settlement in the region that today is Azerbaijan, date back to the end of the stone age (between 6000 and 2500 years BC). Between the 9th century BC and the 5th century AD, the region was inhabited by the Scythians, followed by Medes (who built a vast Empire between 900 and 700 BC) and, later, the region became part of the Empire of Alexander the Great.
The story teaches us that the region was still ruled by inhabitants of the present Albania, Armenians, Byzantines, and Turks, who established a delimited region known today as Azerbaijan in 1030.
The Azerbaijani language is the natural result of this melting pot of cultures.
After declaring its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the territory was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1920. However, even before the dissolution of the USSR, it declared independence in 1991, with the final designation of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan.
The country is bounded on the East by the Caspian Sea, Russia to the North, Georgia to the Northwest, Armenia to the West, and Iran to the South. Through the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (an enclave that is part of the Constitution of Azerbaijan geopolitics) also has a small border with Turkey to the Northwest.
The population of around 9.5 million inhabitants, is mostly Muslim, although the country does not officially declare a dominant religion. After Egypt, Azerbaijan was the first Muslim-majority nation to rely on operas, theaters and universities.
Contrary to what one might imagine, the small country in the Caucasus has a high Human development index and of literacy.
Result of its geographical location, Azerbaijan presents high levels of economic development, being the 78th largest export economy in the world, in 2016. In this respect, it is absolutely mandatory that only during the last decade, the GDP of Azerbaijan "only" grew by 182%, values that clearly indicate an annual average growth of two digits and that few countries in the world can boast of get.
Most of this growth comes from the export of oil and natural gas. This is due to the fact that more than two thirds of the whole territory count with immense deposits of these two fossil fuels which are also the main source of energy consumed by the country. In the case of oil, it is impossible to ignore the vast fields of prospecting towers by the Caspian Sea, and there are areas where oil springs from the ground and it is hardly necessary to collect it.
Thanks to this abundance, an average of 1.4-million oil barrels is produced daily which led the Government to firm (in 1994) 30-year contracts with companies such as BP (British Petroleum), ExxonMobil, LUKoil and Statoil.
However, the country's natural wealth is not only about oil and natural gas. The smaller Caucasus region (southwest) is also very rich in ores such as gold, silver, iron, copper, titanium, chromium, magnesium, cobalt, molybdenum and antimony.
Although an important part of oil extraction is made in the deep waters of the Caspian Sea, it retains an equally important richness: Beluga caviar. The caviar is made from Sturgeon Roe, which is one of the most important "tenants" of the Caspian Sea.
Although it is produced by other countries bordering the Caspian, the beluga variety produced in Azerbaijan is one of the most appreciated in the world and also of the most expensive (the price per kg can easily reach the 25,000 US dollars).
As is natural, the culture in Azerbaijan reflects the various influences that the country has absorbed over thousands of years, from the Turkish, Persian, Islamic and Central Asia roots, to the recent influence of the Soviet era. However, currently, thanks to a great openness to the globalization era, this Caucasian republic has known to incorporate quite fluently, several Western influences.
One of the most peculiar aspects of this nation is its climate, heavily influenced by the cold air masses from the Arctic that are dragged by the Scandinavian, Siberian and Central Asian anticyclones. This could indict a cold climate all year round, but that's not what happens.
The Great Caucasus Mountains protect the country's varied landscape from the direct influence of these cold-air masses and give rise to a subtropical climate in much of the country's surface. These areas are characterized by having high levels of solar radiation. Thanks to the geographical diversity in Azerbaijan, nine of the eleven climates in the Köppen-Geiger scale can be found.
Despite these peculiar climatic conditions, the dominant in the majority of the territory is hot summers and seasoned winters, and the most extreme temperatures already verified range from -33ºC to +46ºC. The snowfall is restricted to the highest and mountainous areas in the north.
One of Azerbaijan's greatest natural curiosities are mud volcanoes. Yes, mud, you read well. Imagine a miniature volcano with a maximum height of one or two meters, bubbling with mud. If you visit Azerbaijan and you are curious, be careful because they explode frequently and the least warned are likely to be hit by the mud. This mud, another curiosity, can either be hot or cold.
Officially the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, has just over 2 million inhabitants, but in the city's old center, meticulously cleansed and preserved, there are several links to several Soviet-style suburbs where most of the population lives. Unofficial estimates say that the urban population will go near the 5 million inhabitants – it is the largest city in the Caucasus.
In Baku, the signs of wealth from oil exports are everywhere. It is by far the most opulent city in this region of the world. The great avenues in the Art Nouveau style resemble the Parisian boulevards; flowered parks, sculptures and fountains decorate every street or small wide; the Caspian border is accompanied by the great mansions of oil entrepreneurs; the best brands of fashion and luxury worldwide mark their presence.
The architecture in Baku also impresses for its contrasts. In addition to the medieval city – we'll soon see – the buildings of the nineteenth century and the functional architecture of the Soviet era, on the side build new and gigantic buildings in the best 'Dubai' style. Among these are clearly the flame towers in the southeast of the city. It's three huge glass structures that resemble a bonfire or an orchid that opens.
In the center of the city, a wall of dark stones, marks the area of the medieval city, classified by UNESCO as World Heritage of humanity. This area is lovely and charming, with a unique atmosphere and houses two places whose visit is mandatory: the Palace of the Shirvanshahs (headquarters of the reigning dynasty during the Middle Ages) and the Tower of the Maiden.
In the palace, it is possible to visit the Royal apartments, the private Mosque of the court, the Palace baths and the fabulous Sufi cemetery.
The Maiden's tower remains a mystery even today, even for archaeologists and historians. It is a gigantic stone structure, without adornments or decorations and apparently for which one cannot find specific purpose or use. At the base, the walls are five feet thick and visitors can climb the tower to get a magnificent view of the city and the Caspian.
Add to all this that the Olympic Stadium of Baku, will host, in 2020, three matches from the group phase and one quarter final of the UEFA European Championship.