About Azerbaijan

Characterised by breathtaking landscapes and cosmopolitan cities, Azerbaijan is a country of contrasts. The Unesco-listed ancient heart of the capital of Baku beats at the base of sparkling skyscrapers, and it may be a surprise to learn that this thriving city on the Caspian Sea is surrounded by semi-desert and mud volcanoes. And if you drive barely three hours' away, you will find yourself in rural villages and lush orchards backed by the Great Caucasus Mountains.

The 'Land of Fire' links historical empires with a modern nation undergoing rapid transformation. After drilling the world's first oil well in 1849, almost 150 years later Azerbaijan signed what it called the "contract of the century" with a consortium of international oil companies, which gave exploration and exploitation rights for three offshore oil fields.

The oil-rich nation has since redefined itself as a major regional energy player, which has created some notable opportunities for expatriates in this sector in recent times. In 2002, construction work began on a multi-billion-dollar pipeline that would carry Caspian oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey, which was formally opened just four years later.

Revenue that has come from making deals with international energy producers has allowed the country to create a government-run fund involved in international projects. However, in spite of its increased influence and wealth, corruption and poverty continue to overshadow Azerbaijan's accomplishments, and its impressive economic performance has sadly not been matched by the development of free media.

Azerbaijan is one of the most secular Muslim nations that constitutionally allows freedom of religion to its citizens. It is also one of only a few Shia-majority countries in the world. It is, however, still struggling to deal with territorial issues over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. After ethnic strife between Armenia and Azerbaijan turned into a full-blown war in 1992, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh signed a ceasefire accord in 1994. Ethnic Armenians remained in control of Karabakh and surrounding Azerbaijani territory, and despite Armenia and Azerbaijan both signing an agreement in 2008 to intensify efforts to resolve their dispute, talks ended a year later with a little breakthrough.

The official language is Azerbaijani, which is the mother tongue of the majority of its circa 10-million citizens, but several minority languages, such as Georgian and Armenian, are also spoken. In most places, foreigners remain quite a rarity, and many Azerbaijanis don't speak much English. However, if you are willing to exercise some linguistic dexterity, you'll find you are greeted with remarkable hospitality, and a few rural outposts now have English speakers who can assist expats and travellers. At the start of the 21st century, Azerbaijan also officially shifted to the Latin alphabet, which has made it slightly easier for many foreign professionals to read signs and even learn a few words.

As opportunities abound and the climate is relatively pleasant all year-round, with relatively mild winters and hot summers, Azerbaijan is strengthening its reputation as a rapidly developing and comfortable place for expatriates to work. Offering a wonderful combination of state-of-the-art amenities and outdoor opportunities, those who need to escape the bright lights of the big city can enjoy nature while trekking in the higher mountains in summer or even skiing in winter.