Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Republic of Azerbaijan.
What is the recent history of Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan - a nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-Shia Muslim population - was briefly independent (from 1918 to 1920) following the collapse of the Russian Empire; it was subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union for seven decades. Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily ethnic Armenian-populated region that Moscow recognized in 1923 as an autonomous republic within Soviet Azerbaijan after Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed the territory's status. Armenia and Azerbaijan reignited their dispute over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated militarily after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also seven surrounding provinces in the territory of Azerbaijan. The OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by the US, France, and Russia, is the framework established to mediate a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
In the 25 years following its independence, Azerbaijan succeeded in significantly reducing the poverty rate and has directed revenues from its oil and gas production to significant development of the country’s infrastructure. However, corruption in the country is widespread, and the government has been accused of authoritarianism. The country’s leadership has remained in the Aliyev family since Heydar Aliyev became president in 1993 and was succeeded by his son, President Ilham Aliyevin 2003. Following two national referendums in the past several years that eliminated presidential term limits and extended presidential terms from 5 to 7 years, President Aliyevsecured a fourth term as president in April 2018 in elections that international observers noted had serious shortcomings. Reforms to diversify the country’s non-oil economy remain dependent on subsidies from oil and gas revenues, while other reforms have not adequately addressed weaknesses in most government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, as well as the court system.
Where is Azerbaijan located? What does the geography consist of?
Where can I learn about traveling to and in Azerbaijan, including visas, safety and medical care?
To get a visa to visit Azerbaijan, please contact the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC or the Azerbaijani Consulate in Los Angeles, CA. For information on traveling in Azerbaijan, please go to http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html and choose Azerbaijan from the drop-down menu. Also, don’t forget to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important messages for American citizens in Azerbaijan! Follow this link to enroll in STEP: https://step.state.gov/step/
Is Azerbaijan a safe country?
Credible information indicates terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Europe. European governments are taking action to guard against terrorist attacks; however, all European countries remain potentially vulnerable to attacks from transnational terrorist organizations.
Avoid demonstrations and riots, which police have previously suppressed with force.
- The U.S. Government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh.
- Casualties continue to occur in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Avoid traveling near the line of contact between the conflicting parties. Despite the declaration of a cessation in hostilities, intermittent gunfire and use of heavy weapons and land mines continues. Land mines seriously injure several people each year.
- U.S. citizens of Armenian descent may encounter anti-Armenian sentiments in Azerbaijan.
- Exercise caution in the region of Nardaran, located 45 km from Baku on the Absheron Peninsula. Nardaran is culturally conservative and has been the site of several anti-United States and anti-Israel protests. It has also been the subject of government raids, which have sometimes resulted in violence.
Crime: Crime is relatively low. The majority of reported crimes involve burglary, assault, or petty crime such as pickpocketing.
- Be careful in areas that attract large crowds or are very isolated. Criminals have targeted foreigners walking alone, late at night, or under the influence of alcohol.
- Some women have reported incidents of unwanted male attention while walking alone and taking taxis. Sexual assault may be underreported due to cultural stigma.
- Financial scams are increasingly common. While the majority involves internet dating, there are reports of scams related to fraudulent real estate deals, licensing requirements, and travel advertisements.
- There are reports of increased credit and bank card fraud, such as credit card skimming.
Victims of Crime: Report crimes to the local police by dialing 102and contact the U.S. Embassy at (+994 12) 488 3300. Local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes.
See our webpage on help for U.S. victims of crime overseas.
- Help you find appropriate medical care
- Assist you in reporting a crime to the police
- Contact relatives or friends with your written consent
- Explain the local criminal justice process in general terms
- Provide a list of local attorneys
- Provide our information on victim’s compensation programs in the United States
- Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution
- Help you find accommodation and arrange flights home
- Replace a stolen or lost passport
Domestic Violence: U.S. citizen victims of domestic violence may contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance. Local resources for victims of domestic violence include shelters, medical assistance, and legal aid. Victims may contact the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs by telephone at +994 12 498 00 92 or firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
For further information:
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Call us in Washington at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
- State Department's travel website for Worldwide Caution, Travel Advisories.
- Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
- See traveling safely abroad for useful travel tips.
What is the current state of U.S.-Azerbaijan Relations?
The United States established diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan in 1992, following its independence from the Soviet Union. Together, the two countries work to promote European energy security, expand trade and investment, and combat terrorism and transnational threats. The United States is committed to strengthening democracy and promoting economic diversification in Azerbaijan. The United States supports efforts to peacefully resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reopen the closed border with Armenia, and promote regional stability, peace, and prosperity.
U.S. Assistance to Azerbaijan
U.S. Government assistance to Azerbaijan aims to encourage reforms that promote the development of democratic institutions and processes, sustainable economic growth, as well as promote regional stability, peace, and prosperity. A fact sheet on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan can be found here.
Bilateral Economic Relations
The United States and Azerbaijan have a Trade Relations Agreement and a Bilateral Investment Treaty. The governments periodically convene the U.S.-Azerbaijan Economic Partnership Commission to discuss bilateral cooperation to promote trade and investment. The United States has long supported Azerbaijan’s efforts to develop and export its energy resources to Western markets, and crude oil is its single largest import from Azerbaijan. U.S. companies are involved in offshore oil development projects in Azerbaijan, export aircraft and heavy machinery to Azerbaijan, and have been exploring emerging investment opportunities in telecommunications and other fields. The Law on Protection of Foreign Investments permits foreign direct investment in any activity in which a national investor may also invest, unless otherwise prohibited by law, which include those relating to national security and defense. Azerbaijan has been designated as a beneficiary country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, under which a range of products that Azerbaijan might seek to export are eligible for duty-free entry to the United States. The GSP program provides an incentive for investors to produce in Azerbaijan and export selected products duty-free to the U.S. market.
Azerbaijan’s Membership in International Organizations
Azerbaijan and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. Azerbaijan also is an observer to the Organization of American States and the World Trade Organization and a participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Partnership for Peace program.
What language is spoken in Azerbaijan?
The official language is Azerbaijani or "Azeri", a Turkic language. In 1994 it was estimated that some 82% of Azerbaijan's citizens speak Azerbaijani as their first language. In addition, 38% of Azerbaijanis speak Russian fluently to accommodate Russian domination of the economy and politics.
The Azerbaijani language is part of the 'Oghuz', or 'Western Turkic', group of Turkic languages, together with Anatolian Turkish (spoken in Turkey) and Turkmen (spoken in Turkmenistan). Dialectical differences between Azerbaijani and Anatolian Turkish have been attributed to Mongolian and Turkic influences. Despite these differences, Anatolian Turkish speakers and Azerbaijanis can often understand one another if they speak carefully. Spoken Azerbaijani includes several dialects. Since the nineteenth century, Russian loanwords (particularly technical terms) and grammatical and lexical structures have entered the Azerbaijani language in Russian-controlled Azerbaijan, as have Persian words in Iranian Azerbaijan. The resulting variants remain mutually intelligible, however.
What are some Azeri customs and etiquette?
Meeting and Greeting
- Like most cultures in the area, Azeris like warm and friendly greetings.
- Men greet each other with a handshake, a kiss on the cheek and "salaam" (literally 'peace' but meaning 'hello').
- Women hug and kiss each other once on the left cheek. Azeri women do not generally shake hands among themselves, although many will shake hands with a foreigner.
- Males should wait and see if a woman extends her hand (although most will the more religious may not) - if they do shake it lightly.
- Always take a moment to ask about family, health and business.
- First names are generally used in social situations if the speakers are of similar ages.
- If you do not know the person well, use their first name followed by an appropriate title. For women, use "hanum" ("woman"). For men, use "bey" ("Mr").
- Younger people always initiate greetings with older people.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- Azeris mainly exchange gifts for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.
- In Azeri culture it is the thought behind the gift, rather than the price, that matters.
- It is customary to refuse a gift at least twice before reluctantly accepting it. Always insist it is too much and the giver should not have gone to any trouble.
- If you are invited to an Azeri's home for dinner, bring flowers or pastries to the hostess. Ask the shop where you buy them to wrap them for you. It is considered polite to reciprocate hospitality with a small gift.
- Always give an odd number of flowers. Even numbers are reserved for funerals.
- Avoid giving alcohol unless you are certain your host partakes.
- Gifts are generally not opened when received.
If you are invited to a Azeri home for food:
- Remove your shoes before entering the house. You may be offered slippers to wear.
- Punctuality is not paramount. Arriving within 30 minutes of the stipulated time is socially acceptable,
- Dress casually but smartly. Never wear tight or revealing clothing.
- If there are many people present shake hands with everyone.
- Table manners are fairly formal. If in doubt watch what others do.
- Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.
- Keep your elbows off the table and your hands above the table when eating.
- The hostess generally serves the food. The elderly are served first, then the guests, and finally the children.
- Use your right hand only to eat and to pass things.
Business Etiquette, Customs and Protocol
- Although direct communication is seen as a postive in Azerbaijan, one also has to be careful to employ such directness.
- Information should always be presented in a way that is diplomatic and sensitive so as not to cause loss of face.
- The level of directness you can use is dictated by who you are speaking with.
- If it is a new, formal or important relationship diplomacy s critical. If the relationship is well developed and a level of openness has been established a little more honesty is fine.
- There is no formal ritual surrounding exchange of cards.
- It is a good idea to take plenty with you as it still forms the basic means of keeping contact details as opposed to electronic means.
- Give and receive cards with your right hand.
- To arrange a meeting in Azerbaijan an introductory letter is needed outlining your company, history and the purpose of your visit. It is always a good idea to have such correspondence translated in Azeri to ensure they understand and it also makes you stand out.
- There is a certain amount of protocol one has to follow in meetings as Azeris are quite sensitive to status, title, who sits down first, enters the room first, etc. It is best to follow the lead.
- Politeness is important and is all part of the relationship building process.
- Discussions will often start slowly over tea and the topics of discussion may be completely irrelevant. However, this is the make or break part of your relationship - if you can not strike up a rapport the chances of doing business together are slim.
- Always maintain eye contact while speaking since Azeris take this as a sign of sincerity. If someone does not look them in the eye while speaking, they think the person has something to hide.
- Decisions are reached slowly.
- Never appear impatient or attempt to rush an Azeri to make a decision.
- Expect a great deal of bargaining and haggling. - Azeris are are tough negotiators.