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We thought there could be no better country than Azerbaijan to start exploring the Caucasus. A magical place which, more than any of its neighbors, has been able to absorb the cultures and traditions of those around it.
Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire
The name derives from Oder-bey-can, a composition of Turkish words that literally means “the soul of the noble (sacred) fire warriors”, which already provides a lot of information about this place. Since ancient times, in fact, these territories were deeply connected with the cults dedicated to fire because of its particularly abundant soil of oil and natural gas. When Zoroastrianism was the state religion in Persia, in fact, Azerbaijan was considered an absolutely sacred land and many went here on pilgrimage from India.
Be careful though, the country was not only a place of worship but, thanks also to its strategic position on the Caspian Sea, it was always disputed among the local powers, leading to the mingling of rare cultures to be found in the world.
Persians, Turks, Mongols and Russians
The first indigenous inhabitants were the Caucasian Albanians who managed to form an autonomous kingdom in the first century BC. after being conquered by Medes, Greeks and having long undergone Roman influences. Precisely by virtue of the latter, the kingdom became Christian in the fourth century, remaining so until the eighth century. After several Persian and Arab dominations, Azerbaijan passed under the Shirvanshah dynasty who dominated the region until the 16th century, transforming it into one of the flowers of the Persian world.
This family was in fact of Arab origin but over time it had adopted customs more and more similar to Persian ones including, for example, Shiite Islam. In fact, the conversion of the area dates back to them, which, with the arrival of the Arabs and the growing presence of the Turks, was mostly Sunni. During this dynasty the country will touch some of its highest cultural peaks, giving the world incredibly talented poets such as Nezami or Khaqani. The former, in particular, is still known today as one of the most refined and talented poets the whole history has ever known, the author of Majnun and Layla, the “Persian Romeo and Juliet”. However, the contribution given by the Turkish tribes established there will also be fundamental, cementing their proximity to the rest of the Turkish world and Central Asia. It is no coincidence that Dede Korkut’s novels are set precisely in these places. Once this family fell, the government passed to the Persian empire, first under the Zand and then under the Qajar, who however had to finally give it to the Russian Empire with the treaties of Golestan.
During the USSR, the country was united with Armenia and Georgia under the name of the “Transcaucasian Republic”, which created many problems after its fall. In fact, territories such as Nagorno Karabakh are still disputed between Azerbaijan and its neighbors, which makes the spirits particularly hot and heated in the region. That area in particular was assigned by Stalin to the Azeris but there was immediate strong opposition from the Armenians, who consider it to be the core of “historic Armenia”. This meant that the area was occupied by them, also counting on the support of Yerevan; this has naturally provoked a very strong crisis between the two countries which does not seem to want to end.
On this topic, just look at the problems that involved the Arsenal Mkhitaryan footballer. The English team had in fact reached the Europa League final, held in Baku, and the player, as an Armenian, was strongly advised against his presence. Particularly the fact that the Qarabag, the best known team in the region, is precisely from Nagorno Kabakh. However, the intense exploitation of oil and gas has clearly made it the richest state in the region, transforming it also into one of the most developed centers in the whole Caspian Sea.
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