Locals tend to be warm and helpful towards tourists. Ask someone for help, and they’re likely to be approachable and happy to give you advice. Nothing is ever too much for the typical Azeri, especially with the younger generations.
The vast majority of Azerbaijanis identify as Shia Muslims. But, the country holds the title as the most secular country in the Islamic world. Not only that, Azerbaijan considers Turkey to be their brothers. But, the Turks are Sunni. And to top it off, the largest all-Jewish settlement outside Israel sits in Quba. Azerbaijan has good relations with Israel, too.
Hospitality in the Caucasus is second to none. Hosts welcome guests into their homes and offer endless cups of Azerbaijani tea while serving jam and other condiments. The roots of the hospitality date back centuries. Former rulers were renowned for providing the very best for visiting dignitaries. Nothing sums up Azerbaijani generosity more than the ancient saying which translates to something like this: ‘Let the houses which do not welcome guests collapse’.
Despite the modern appearance of Baku, the locals remain deeply attached to their traditions. Throughout the centuries different groups and cultures influenced Azerbaijan. Some remain deeply engrained today. Various folk beliefs, Azeri hospitality and national festivals still play an essential role in society. Families tend to be close and the younger generations take care of the elderly.
The Azerbaijan people have always been cultured. Endless medieval poets and writers including the great Nizami Ganjavi hail from Azerbaijan. Head to Baku’s Nizami Museum and see six life-size statues of historical, literary geniuses proudly standing outside. The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union placed a lot of emphasis on high culture too.
In 1918, Azerbaijan became the first Islamic country to give women the vote. In perspective, the United States granted suffrage in 1920 and the United Kingdom in 1928. Today, women hold high positions in government and while they do follow traditional gender roles they have a high level of respect. Men often hold doors open, give up their seats and insist on paying. Women dress in fashionable clothes and few wear a traditional headscarf.
Fans of the Eurovision might be aware of Azerbaijan’s music scene. The catchy numbers often rate high in the competition and make the charts around Europe. The music styles combine elements of folk and modern pop with the traditional. Meykhana, a type of folk-rap, and Mugham, a form with Persian roots, are genres to check out. Rather than blasting contemporary music, many Azerbaijanis prefer to listen to traditional music.
In local traditions, it’s more important to enjoy time with friends than to meet deadlines. If someone has a meeting at noon but finds themselves still chatting and sipping coffee, they arrive 30 minutes late. The Azerbaijan people are close to each other and making friends is easy. Sit in a restaurant and see groups laughing and talking for hours. Head along Baku Boulevard or Nizami Street when the sun goes down and see families walking and enjoying time together.
Walk around the streets of Azerbaijan at any time of the day or night, and it feels safe. Crime rates and the perceived level of crime are much lower than in the West. While pickpockets and scammers do exist, locals and tourists feel safe throughout the country. Families with young children play along Baku Boulevard until late at night, and vendors in the markets typically won’t try to scam tourists. Visitors feel both welcome and safe at all times of the day and night.
Expect long and warm greetings, good manners and endless pleasantries. When an Azeri asks how you and your family are, they often genuinely want to know. Visit someone’s home and have tea and food offered immediately. Despite the apparent public aloofness, the Azerbaijan people are polite.
Historically and culturally, Azerbaijan has strong influences from Persia and Russia. Secularism means all religions from Shia Islamic to Orthodox Christianity and Judaism are welcome. Different regions boast different traditions and micro-cultures. And modern-day Azerbaijanis look towards to the West. The ancient and traditional juxtapose with the contemporary. Persian, Russian and European influences combine.
Novrus is a traditional celebration of dance and music cultures in Azerbaijan