Azerbaijan Country Report
Political power is concentrated under President Ilham Aliyev. The recent oil price stabilisation improved the government's financial position. In addition, the foreign currency and gold reserves kept in the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) safeguard against external shocks. The re-escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016 increased the likelihood of war with Armenia as the Russian-brokered ceasefire remains fragile. It also resulted in limited Azerbaijani territorial gains in Nagorno-Karabakh, strengthening Aliyev's position domestically. Aliyev's landslide victory in the early presidential election in April 2018 extends his rule until 2025 in accordance with the results of the constitutional referendum in 2016, which increased the presidential term from five to seven years. Theopposition has been weakened by the government's systematic crackdown, which makes it unlikely to challenge Aliyev's rule.
Azerbaijan made some progress in developing infrastructure as part of a push to reduce the economy's hydrocarbon dependence. The recent stabilisation of the oil price has improved the government's financial position, as reflected in investments in upgrades of road network and electricity grid. In the past five years the ICT sector has expanded considerably, absorbing USD2 billion in investments and resulting in Internet penetration of almost 80%. Anti-corruption initiatives, including opening of ASAN service centres, reduced such practices at lower levels but bribe-taking at high level of state institutions remains very problematic.
Sunni Islamic radicalism has been increasing, both in the traditionally Shi'a Azeri population, and Sunni ethnic minorities. The government's harsh measures to combat it, including criminalisation of non-state-sanctioned religious activities, contributes to radicalisation. Local militant groups generally lack capabilities to target state institutions, Western diplomatic assets or critical energy infrastructure. The outflow of volunteers to Syria mitigates terrorism risks in Azerbaijan but their possible return is likely to reverse this trend. Security co-operation with Israel poses risk of Iran activating its proxies in Azerbaijan, but given the ongoing Azeri-Iranian rapprochement, that is unlikely at present.
The large-scale escalation of the conflict over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh on 2–5 April 2016, demonstrated Azerbaijan's willingness to change the status quo by force. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the two-decades-long peace talks, the Azeri government has been increasingly calling for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan. Although Russia's defence commitment to Armenia and Armenia's limited ballistic missile capability are still likely to serve as deterrents, Azerbaijan's insignificant territorial gains from April 2016 escalation increase the chances of further Azeri military brinksmanship, which make the interstate war moderately likely.
The authorities use the carrot-and-stick approach to mitigate civil unrest by increasing the punishment for unauthorised protests while maintaining social spending commitments and investing in regional development. The atomised opposition cannot mobilise public support on a scale that will threaten President Ilham Aliyev's rule. The riot police use harsh crowd control measures, which increase the likelihood of accidental injuries to bystanders and property damage to nearby businesses. The government has cracked down on opposition activities by arresting prominent dissident activists and harassing civil society. Repeated Western protests have had no deterrent impact.
Vaccines Required to Enter the Country
No vaccinations are required to enter the country.
Vaccines Recommended for All Travelers
Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).
Vaccines Recommended for Most Travelers
Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.
Vaccines Recommended for Some Travelers
Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.
Malaria: There is a low risk of contracting malaria. As such, doctors usually advise travelers to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites rather than prescribing antimalarial medications.
Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).
Azerbaijan is located in an active seismic zone and the country is regularly hit by earthquakes. In the first half of 2017, the Republican Seismic Survey Center of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science, the country's main research center on earthquakes, reported some 800 quakes, although all were relatively minor. The last major earthquake occurred in 2012 in the northwest of the country, leaving 15 people injured and causing major damage to infrastructure and buildings.
Extreme weather patterns are common in Azerbaijan. Floods and rain-induced landslides are frequent, particularly in the Great and Little Caucasus mountain ranges, which cover half of country. In June 2016, severe flooding in the Goychay, Shamakhi, and Ismayili districts caused a major landslide which seriously damaged infrastructure (e.g. bridges) and agriculture as well as cut off access to affected villages.
Azerbaijan is also prone to droughts.
The reliability and safety of public transportation is not guaranteed and tourist infrastructure is not well developed outside the following areas: Baku, Quba, and Lankaran, and along the coast of the Absheron Peninsula, which extends into the Caspian Sea.
Highways and major city roads are in good condition, however outside of Baku there is generally insufficient street lighting and signage. Rural roads are largely unpaved. Driving can be dangerous due to reckless drivers and poorly maintained cars. Extreme care on roads is advised, particularly during the winter as roads are inconsistently cleared of snow or ice.
Although travelers are advised to avoid the public bus network in Baku due to safety concerns, the capital's metro system offers an inexpensive and safe public option for transportation. Police patrol each metro station regularly, carrying out bag checks, and security cameras operate on a regular basis.
If using a taxi, use established companies and/or professional private drivers to avoid the risk of being overcharged. It is better to negotiate the fare before beginning a trip in a taxi. Use of purple, London-style taxi cabs, which use meters, is also advised (although passengers should ensure the meter is activated). Uber has recently been launched in the country.
Azerbaijan's climate is tempered by the Caspian Sea and the country's reliefs protect it from Siberian winds. Winters are cold (0°C in January) and summers mild (25°C to 30°C). The country receives its heaviest levels of rain in mountainous regions as well as the Lankaran region (which has a humid subtropical climate); conditions in the rest of the country are relatively dry.
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