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Azerbaijan at a glance

The Azerbaijani general theme of petroleum is linked to a much older history than is commonly assumed, because its deposits and uses were already known in antiquity, be it as preservatives and fuel or as food for the flames in the Zoroastrian fire temples, where Zarathustra is -Cult paid homage to the purifying effect of fire.

Apsheron, the peninsula off Baku, was the bubbling place of discovery and it remained so until the 20th century, when one of the world's first oil pipelines was built there in 1907, when the Rockefellers and Rothschilds worked together with local magnates like Hadji Musa Taghiyev and Seid Mirbabayev in hand, the faceless Baku was transformed into a cosmopolitan, glittering metropolis, in which one could live if one only looked beyond the miserable dark sides.

Baku Old Town © TravelPhotography - Fotolia.com

What happened back then under the aegis of the oil barons seems downright harmless in view of the anonymous gigantism that rules today, as no fewer than twenty international consortia vie for the (suspected) oil and gas fields in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. It is unlikely that they will at least leave behind stylish palaces, concert halls and magnificent villas like the oil magnates once did. It is already becoming apparent that in the new era, just as it was then, the population has little to expect from the oil boom. Only the environmental disaster will increase. Every visitor to is speechless when he becomes aware of the devastation on the on-shore fields in front of the city. But the city leaders would rather see the strangers wandering through the finely decorated old town quarter "Icheri Sheher".

Gate to the old city of Baku

And indeed, behind the double walls of the medieval city fortifications, visitors encounter a completely different world. Oriental flair lies above the alleys and squares of this quarter, where the Mohammed Ibn Abubekir mosque and the almost 1,000-year-old Synyk Kala minaret characterize the picture, the huge palace complex of the Shirvan Shah wants to be wandered through and the fortress-like Virgin Tower is still there kept his secret. Two carefully restored caravanserais from the 14th century invite you to their specialty restaurants, carpet shops await fans of oriental knotting art and then there are the Turkish baths such as the Mashdie Hamam, where you can sweat for hours with mostly local bathers for just half a euro can relax. A city tour should include a visit to the lavishly furnished carpet museum, a longer nostalgic look at the magnificent city palaces of the oil barons and, at the end of the day, shops, restaurants and cafés entice you to stroll down Neftciler Boulevard.

In the hinterland of Baku, on the Apsheron peninsula, the castles of Mardakan and the temple of the fire worshipers of the Zarathustra cult are worth a visit, but above all the peculiar volcanic landscape of Gobustan on the Caspian bank, where almost 4,000 rock engravings from the Neolithic period tell of ancient settlement history . One of the most interesting areas of Azerbaijan stretches further down the coast: the Lenkoran region, known for its humid subtropical climate. Oranges and lemons flourish here, even tea and rice and the diversity of fauna and flora created great national parks such as the “Gizilagach”, which alone houses over 220 species of birds, or the “Gircan” with its rare tree species and those who strive for immortality should visit nearby Lerik ask the many hundred, even hundred and twenty year olds about the secrets of their way of life.

Rock engravings in Gobustan Photo: © catcha - Fotolia.com

At the foot of the Lesser Caucasus, in the north-west of the country, Gandsha, the second largest city after Baku, ponders its great past as a Transcaucasian trade center on the old Tbilisi - Baku trade route. Very close is Khanlar, newly founded by refugees from Württemberg in 1816 as "Helenendorf", as well as Shamkir, the former "Annenfeld" with the ruins of medieval Old Shamkir.

more about: World (cultural) heritage sites in Azerbaijan

Cities with a great past are also lined up on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus, starting with the 800 m high Shamakhi, a once important trading post on the Silk Road with a mosque from the 10th century, the Gulistan fortress (11th / 12th century .) and the mausoleum (early 15th century), followed by Oghuz with an impressive city gate and Sheki behind thick forests. The former center of sericulture not long ago employed 8,000 workers in the silk industry, today it is perhaps 300. Its medieval caravanserai has been lovingly restored and now serves as an atmospheric hotel. The palace of the khans (princes) of Sheki and other buildings of the ruling house are well worth seeing. Even further to the northwest, Zagatala is 540 m high, embedded in a pristine landscape. The city and the charming surroundings, a few hotels and the high mountain tours that begin here, as well as hunting and fishing trips, give rise to tender tourist hopes in Zagatala.

There are also hopes for a future in the tourism business in the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhichevan between Armenia and Iran. The domestic flight from Baku to "Noah's Land", where the Ararat greets you from Turkish soil, will be an exciting journey to a region that has shaped the art and culture of the Seljuk Turks, where magnificent natural beauties can be discovered. Winter tourism would be possible here, they say. In view of the many mineral water springs (there are said to be over 200!), One also toying with the establishment of spas and an unbelievable variety of herbs (there are a thousand species that thrive here) suggests herbal cures.

From the extreme west to the east to the Caspian Sea. This largest inland water reservoir in the world covers about 370,000 km² (slightly larger than the Federal Republic of Germany). The Volga, Kura, Gorgan and Atrek are the most important tributaries. The sea does not have a drain. Vigorous evaporation and excessive water abstraction for irrigation of fields caused the water surface to shrink, but recently a turnaround seems to have been initiated. Apart from oil and natural gas deposits, which are among the largest in the world, it is the rich sturgeon stocks that provide the coveted caviar that are among the other treasures of the Caspian Sea (80% of the world's sturgeon occurrence). Bathing enthusiasts are recommended to visit the Caspian waters far away from the oil production zones, e.g. 180 km north of Baku near the town of Khudat, the Nabran beaches with forests in the back and snow-capped mountain peaks in the distant background, crossed by rivers and equipped with waterfalls, thermal and mineral springs.

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General travel information and current Entry requirements as well as notes on security and medical care can be found on the following pages of the Foreign Office (Berlin): Foreign Office

Lufthansa connects Frankfurt / Main in 4.45 hours with Heydar Aliyew International Airport in the Azerbaijani capital Baku. Azerbaijan Airlines flies non-stop from Berlin-Tegel to Baku in 3.30 hours.

Around 29,000 km of the approximately 59,000 km road network are paved. But many streets, especially side streets, are unmarked, unlit and in need of repair. The Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) initiated by the EU aims to significantly improve the transport routes between Europe and Asia “in the spirit of the old Silk Road”. It includes road, rail and sea routes in 13 countries, including Azerbaijan. The country's railways have a rail network of over 2,000 km, of which more than 1,200 km are electrified. Important connections lead to Tbilisi in Georgia, to Makhachkala in the Russian Caucasus republic of Dagestan and to Astara in northern Iran. In more peaceful times, Armenian Yerevan (Yerevan) could also be reached by rail. The national airline Azerbaijan Airlines operates from Baku to Gabala (Qäbälä) in the north of the country, to the second largest city of Gandja in the northwest, to Lankaran on the Caspian Sea in southern Azerbaijan and to the Azerbaijani enclave Nakhichevan (Naxçıvan) between Armenia and Iran.

Azerbaijan is in the time zone Samara - Time (SAMT), which is three hours ahead of CET and CEST by two hours.

The national currency has been called the manat since 1992 (1 manat = 100 qäpik). It may neither be imported nor exported. Euros or US dollars can be exchanged for manats in banks or exchange offices. In the larger cities there are numerous ATMs where you can withdraw money with an EC card or a common credit card. Cash is usually preferred in the country, but in Baku you can also pay cashless by credit card.

220 V, 50 Hz. You can do without an adapter.

Over half of the Azerbaijani national territory is covered by mountainous landscapes. This includes the Greater Caucasus in the north with the highest elevation in the country (Bazarduzu, 4,485 m). The Lesser Caucasus, which rises to 3,724 m, runs through the southern and western parts of the country. Between the two mighty mountain ranges, the Transcaucasian Depression extends as far as Georgia and is called the Kura-Arax Depression in Azerbaijan. The level drops hardly noticeably to the east, towards the Caspian Sea, the water level of which is about 28 m below sea level. 800 km of the coastline of the largest inland body of water in the world belong to the Azerbaijani national territory. It is a poorly indented coastline, the only exception being the Apsheron peninsula east of Baku. The fertile valley of the Kura and its right tributary Arax is bordered in the southeast by the Talysh Mountains (up to 2,492 m) reaching into Iran.

Due to its subtropical location, the enormous differences in relief and the proximity to the Caspian Sea, the country has no fewer than eight climatic zones. In the mountainous and high mountain regions, precipitation increases with altitude, and temperatures decrease accordingly. Dry forest and mixed forest at higher altitudes are predominant here. The Kura Plain, on the other hand, is characterized by a semi-arid steppe climate with mild winters and hot summers, low rainfall of 200-350 mm, but fertile soils that mostly have to be irrigated artificially. The warm and humid climate, caused by the influence of the Caspian Sea, gives the Lenkoran lowlands (i.e. the southern tip of Azerbaijan) high rainfall (up to 1,800 mm) and diverse vegetation.

Those who like it warm and sunny will find pleasant weather conditions in the months of April to June and September / October.

Azerbaijan occupies the southeastern part of Transcaucasia on the land bridge between the Black and Caspian Seas. Its neighbors are Georgia and Russia (here: Autonomous Republic of Dagestan) in the northwest and north, Iran in the south and southwest and Turkey on a section of just 9 km. To the east, the Caspian Sea forms a natural border. Area: 86,600 km² (slightly larger than Austria)

Tsarist Russia appropriated large parts of what is now Azerbaijan in the early 19th century. When the tsarist empire came to an end and the attempt to unite Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan into a Transcaucasian Democratic-Federal Republic failed, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918/20) in the north of the country emerged for a short time. In April 1920, the Red Army put an end to the re-establishment and proclaimed a Soviet republic, which in 1922 was united with Armenia and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Federal Soviet Republic. The Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan emerged from it in 1936. Azerbaijan has been independent since August 1991. Two years later, with President Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB employee and member of the Politburo of the CPSU, the Aliyev dynasty established itself in the political life of the republic. Heydar A. was followed in 2003 by his son Ilham Aliyev, who will presumably determine the fate of the country for the distant future, as the constitutional amendment of March 2009 allows a lifelong term of office. The autocratic regime in Baku is outwardly open-minded and generous, but is characterized internally by its “repressive action against its own civil society”, according to the Federal Government’s human rights commissioner, who pursues a “totalitarian suppression of freedom of the press and freedom of expression”, as Reporters Without Borders ”lamented and placed Azerbaijan in 2018 in 163rd place out of 180 countries assessed. As an “authoritarian regime”, A. is ranked 149th out of 167 countries considered in the “Democracy Index 2017” of the British Economist Group between Bahrain and Yemen. Disputes between Azeris and Armenians over the predominantly Armenian-populated area of ​​Nagorny Karabach (Nagorno-Karabakh) resulted in a war in 1992/94. The 4,400 km² territory was annexed to Azerbaijan in 1921. After the occupation of the enclave by the Armenian military and the establishment of a land corridor to Armenia (1994), 16.4% of Azerbaijani territory is controlled by Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh, which is now purely Armenian, is striving for independence. A ceasefire brokered by Russia in 1994 was followed by negotiations that brought no solution. The situation is unstable and incidents are the order of the day. The 5,500 km² Nakhichevan exclave between the territories of Armenia and Iran has the status of an Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. In 2018, their population was given as 453,000. After the Armenians moved out, it was predominantly Shiite Azeris who lived here.

Baku with (2017) 2.3 million inhabitants

The Statistical Office of the Republic determined a population of 9.9 million in 2018. According to publications from 2009 (there is no more recent official information), 91.6% belong to the Azeris, a Muslim Turkic people, 2% are Sunni Lesgians, 1.3% Christian Armenians (sharply declining number), 1.3% Iranian-speaking Talyschen, 1.3% Russians, 0.6% Mongolian Avars, 0.4% Turks, 0.3% Turkic Tatars, 0.1% each Sunni Zachurs, Christian Georgians, Kurds and Jews as well as other small ethnic groups. In a 1992 statement by the President of the Republic, 85% of the population were Shiite believers and 15% Sunni. According to research by the American ARDA (Association of Religion Data Archives) from 2015, 65.8% of the country's population were Shiite Muslims, 29.8% Sunni Muslims, and 3.1% mostly Orthodox Christians.

The official language (since 1992) is Azerbaijani, which belongs to the south-western group of Turkic languages. In the same year, the Latin alphabet, which was in use until 1939, replaced the then mandatory Cyrillic spelling. In terms of grammar, the language is very similar to Turkish, with differences in vocabulary. Knowledge of Russian, now known as the “inter-ethnic” language, is useful for visitors. Russian will probably remain an important lingua franca for the time being. In contrast, English is not widely spoken in the country, with the exception of the capital and its surroundings.

The transition to the post-Soviet era was less dramatic in Azerbaijan than in other countries of the former Soviet bloc. The reason for this is the rich oil and gas reserves that Azerbaijan has and which made the country attractive for considerable foreign direct investment. In addition to the Azerbaijani State Oil Company SOCAR, a number of international consortia are involved in planning, mining and transport in the raw materials sector. A. plays an important role as a link in the "east-west energy corridor". Two pipelines that are important for supplying Europe were built with the Baku-Tbilisi (Georgia) -eyhan (Turkish Mediterranean port) connection for crude oil (2006) and the South Caucasus pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (Turkey) for natural gas, which will soon also supply natural gas Turkmenistan will transport. In March 2015, the construction of the Trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline TANAP began, which is to transport Azerbaijani natural gas across Anatolia and via the subsequent Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP / laying of the foundation stone in 2016) through northern Greece and Albania to Brindisi (southern Italy). However, it is expected that the economically recoverable Azerbaijani oil reserves will be exhausted by the end of the 2030s (2018 = 7.0 billion barrels of reserves, that is 0.4% of world reserves; Venezuela is in the lead with 303.2 billion barrels , followed by Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Russia).In contrast, Azerbaijan's natural gas reserves will only run out at the turn of the next century (2018 = 1.3 trillion m³ reserves = 0.7% of world reserves, with Russia at the top ahead of Iran, Qatar and Turkmenistan). The extraction and transport of mineral raw materials characterize the Azerbaijani economy. Crude oil, oil products and natural gas accounted for 86% of exports in 2015. The country is feeling the ups and downs in energy commodity prices accordingly. The urgent need to diversify the economic sector has been debated for years. Infrastructure reforms are overdue, as are progress in reforms of the market economy as well as in regional development, in the fight against corruption, nepotism, etc. A lot is invested in the construction sector. It now accounts for more than 12% of GDP. The agricultural sector ties up over a third of the working population, but only accounts for 6.2% of GDP. Structural reforms are urgently needed here, also in order to reduce the proportion of food in imported goods. The tourist infrastructure also shows considerable deficits. Mass tourism like in neighboring Turkey is not aimed for. Instead, city and cultural trips, congress events and wellness trips are favored. In 2015, 2.0 million travelers came to Azerbaijan, including around 1.4 million "real" tourists who visited the country for private reasons, in 2016 there were 2.2 million (1.6 million) and in 2017 2 .7 million (1.9 million). The vast majority of foreign visitors come from countries in the region such as Russia, Georgia, Iran and Turkey.

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A piece of Asia on course for Europe

Most of them know little about Azerbaijan. The name of the capital Baku is familiar to many. It is also known that the Eurovision Song Contest was held in 2012 in the city of two million on the Caspian Sea. But that was it. Okay, that ex-national coach Berti Vogts has been trying to wake Azerbaijan from the deep sleep of the football dwarfs with moderate success since 2008, is at least familiar to the friends of the round, which has to be square. More...