Azerbaijan: Definitely going Bak(u)
Next and one of the best stops: Baku, Azerbaijan. I was sooo impressed by this city. Coming in, I did not have high hopes or expectations for Azerbaijan or the city of Baku, but, boy was I pleasantly surprised! It was a little Paris to me. Baku is a perfect example of what having natural resources like oil can do for a country. Housing huge beautiful old French style buildings with Middle Eastern touches, well kept museums, and an adorable old town, Baku definitely gave off a civilized, modern city vibe.
Stabilization Due to Oil
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Azerbaijan had its first oil boom. Throughout the years, not only the government, but also citizens, companies, and visitors have enjoyed the fruits of this vital discovery. Even though the country has one of the most corrupt royal families and governments, the society and economy seem to still function without civil discontent. Unlike a lot of other countries in the Middle East who have oil, Azerbaijan retains stability due to financial institutions and economic reforms that help them keep the country rich. For example, they created the State Oil Fund in which they deposit money when the economy is doing well and take out money when the economy is not doing so well. This allows them to save up enough money and not fail during international economic crises like in 2008.
From Art to Architecture to Agriculture
50% of Azerbaijan is actually comprised of agricultural lands. The nation’s capital, Baku, however, is home to some of the most beautiful architecture, both old and new. Just from the balcony of our hotel, we were able to see the world renown Flame Towers along with an array of French style buildings with a Middle Eastern twist.
In addition, we also visited the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center which was designed by Zaha Hadid, a world famous contemporary architect who creates works of art all over the globe. Inside the Cultural Center were numerous exhibitions housing the best of the best of Azerbaijani culture, history and art.
We also visited many beautiful modern art galleries in the city. I feel like they portray a civilian point of view of the state of the nation that you can’t get from anywhere else.
Bordered by Russia in the north, Iran in the south on the other side of the Caspian sea, and Armenia in the west, Azerbaijan has experienced a long history of border and colonial conflicts. Nowadays, most conflicts are stable and the country is generally at peace with most neighbors, with the exception of Armenia.
The Azerbaijan- Armenia conflict dates back to pre-Soviet times. The two countries last had relations for a period of three years between 1918 and 1921 during which both nations had brief independence from Russia as the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. After this, both nations were taken over again by the Soviet Union and relations were destroyed. Since then, the two nations have gone through two wars and have had no relations since 1921. Recently, the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has increase tensions and there are often clashes at the border.
Overall, I love love loved my time in Baku. I would most definitely come back someday! While I fell in love with the city streets, the highlight of my stay has to be the bread that we found in a little household-run resturant in the Old Town. There is honestly nothing better than warm, homemade bread, honey, butter, tea and family all crowded into a tiny little booth on a hot summer day. (Well actually, if there was air conditioning, the experience would be 10x better…)These are the memories that will last forever.