Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Azeri Basics

Well, I've still got more than a week before I leave - but it's never too early to learn a little bit about where I'll be going, and to share what I'm learning with all of you.

So, here are some Azeri (aka "Azerbaijani") basics:

Where is it?
It’s in one of those funny parts of the world that most people can’t find on a map because it’s neither “this” nor “that.”

In this case, it’s partially in Eastern Europe and partially in Western Asia, in the mountainous area called the South Caucasus (not to be confused with the Iowa Caucuses or any other electoral contest).

Where is it (this time in English, please)?
Find Iran on a map (the place John McCain wants to “bomb, bomb, bomb…”)
On top of Iran is a body of water called the Caspian Sea.
Azerbaijan is to the left of that, surrounded by Iran to the south, Armenia to the west, Georgia to the northwest, Russia to the north, and the Caspian Sea to the east.

What’s it like there?
Azerbaijan is roughly the same size as the state of Maine, and is ringed by mountains except for its eastern Caspian shoreline and some areas bordering Georgia and Iran.

There are three major mountain ranges in the country with peaks above 12,000 feet. About 25% of Azerbaijan is pastureland, 20% is farmland, and 11% forest and woodland.

The climate varies from subtropical and dry in central and eastern Azerbaijan to subtropical and humid in the southeast, temperate along the shores of the Caspian Sea, and cold at the higher mountain elevations.

Who are they?
They are about 87% ethnic Azeris, with a mixed cultural heritage of Turkic, Iranian, and Caucasian elements. About 90% of Azeris are Shi'a Muslims.

What do they speak?
They speak Azerbaijani, which is generally known as Azeri. It’s a Turkic language that is mutually intelligible with Turkish despite minor variations in accent, vocabulary and grammar.

What do they do?
They have lots of oil and natural gas – in fact, in the late 1800s they were the first of only two countries to ever single-handedly produce most of the world’s oil (the other was the U.S. in the early 20th Century).

Azeri Trivia:
Azerbaijan has its own special breed of horse

More Azeri Trivia:
The shoreline of Azerbaijan is below “sea level” because the Caspian Sea isn’t really a sea, it’s a lake…

More to come!


Steve S said...

As a former Azerbaijan Peace Corps volunteer, I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say about the election. Will you be in Baku, or out in the sticks? Good luck with it -- I don't think there'll be much violence at all, but we'll see how the counting of the ballots goes, I suppose.

Steve Breaux said...

Thanks, Steve S.

Generally, OSCE observers don't know where they'll be deployed in-country until our briefing day. Very last minute - but I'll put up a post as soon as I know (assuming I have time and internet access)