Azerbaijan straddles Eastern Europe and Western Asia in the Caucasus Mountains. It is the largest and most populous country in the region, and despite facing many of the problems common to the former Soviet republics, has bright prospects for future wealth, owing to its fossil fuel and mineral reserves.
Azerbaijan was originally inhabited by a people known as the Caucasian Albanians (unrelated to the Balkan Albanians of modern Albania). The country takes its name from their leader, Atropates, who ruled it first as a vassal of Persia, and later of Alexander the Great, before proclaiming it an independent kingdom. This kingdom eventually fell to the Seleucid Greeks, and then to Sassanid Persia. Like many countries in the region, it was a prize fought over by numerous conquerors, who contributed distinct cultural influences to the Azerbaijani national character. The most significant of these were the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, from whom are descended the predominant Azeri ethnic group of modern Azerbaijan. The country was absorbed by Russia in the 19th century; following the Bolshevik Revolution, it was a member of the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic before declaring its independence as an equally short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic–the precursor of the modern state, and the first unified Azerbaijani polity in centuries. This ended when the country was again annexed by Russia, and became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan seceded from the USSR in 1990, amid popular frustration over the lack of a Russian response to the spreading social unrest in the country. The new democratic administration was overthrown by a military coup in 1993, which resulted in the rod of government being taken up by the Aliyev family.
Azerbaijan continues to confront numerous issues, including uncertain progress toward democracy, pollution and environmental degradation, and a smoldering dispute with Armenia over the fate of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Nevertheless, it’s beautiful scenery and diverse cultural mix make it a fantastic place to visit. Although primarily mountainous, it hosts a wide variety of climate zones, from subtropical and desert to tundra, and is home to many endemic species. Azerbaijan is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries in Europe, although a number of other religions are present, including a small, but growing and historically significant, community of Zoroastrians.
Despite being a net emigrant country, Azerbaijan has many job prospects. Opportunities abound in the as-yet untapped, but economically critical, mining and oil industries. Other types of employment to be found range from NGO and volunteer work to travel and tourism. Linguistic and anthropological work are highly viable options as well, as there is a dearth of academic research on many of Azerbaijan’s isolated minority communities.
Azerbaijani is the country’s sole official language; it is closely related to, and highly intelligible with, Turkish. Russian was once the most common second language, although it is largely being replaced by English in the cities. Among the country’s many minority languages are numbered Lezgian, Talysh, Avar, Georgian, and Kurdish.