Azerbaijan Country Report
The nation of Azerbaijan (population 9.9 million) became independent in 1991, after seven decades under Soviet rule. Located in the south of the restive Caucasus region, it borders the Caspian Sea as well as Dagestan (Russia) to the north, Iran to the south, and Georgia to the northeast.
Individuals are advised against traveling to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, claimed by both Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia. The landlocked region is the location of one of post-Soviet Europe's "frozen conflicts," which dates back to the Soviet Union's decision to establish the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, inhabited by an ethnic Armenian majority, within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in the early 1920s. Tension between the Armenian and Azeri ethnic groups came to a head as Soviet power began to erode in the late 1980s, and ensuing clashes resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 people. Approximately 25 percent of the Azeri population were forced to flee.
The territory continues to be disputed since its self-proclaimed independence in 1991. Despite a ceasefire signed by the two nations in 1994, violations are common and the area remains highly volatile. It is only possible to access Nagorno-Karabakh through Armenia and all foreigners entering the province without the Azerbaijani government's authorization will be denied entry into Azerbaijan. The border area along Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia is also heavily mined. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, it is highly advised that travelers exercise restraint when discussing the conflict or the country's relationship with Armenia.
It is also recommended that travelers avoid all other border areas with Armenia as well as Dagestan (Russia) due to widespread instability and high security risk. Travelers should also be wary when crossing the Iranian border due to the absence of adequate transportation infrastructure.
Moreover, Islamic radicalization is emerging as a serious risk in the country. Over 1500 Azerbaijanis have reportedly left to fight alongside the Islamic State (IS) abroad. However, there have not been any major terrorist incidents in the country in recent years.
On a similar note, although religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, the government holds the power to limit the exercise of free religion to groups it deems "non-traditional." The Sunni minority has been specifically targeted, a factor that may be contributing to the rise of radical Islamist ideology in the country.
Although petty crime targeting foreigners is uncommon, including in the capital Baku, some travelers have reported being victims of various scams. Incidences of credit card scams and fraudulent transactions have been reported. Victims often submit to extortion to avoid physical harassment or abuse.
Foreign travelers can reach a police hotline, with an English operator available upon request, by dialing 102.
The current Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, has been in power since taking over from his father, Heydar, in 2003. Aliyev secured his second term in office in 2008 after an election which largely fell short of international standards according to Western election observers. Meanwhile, Aliyev's political party, the New Azerbaijan Party, secured its control of parliament with the main opposition party boycotting the legislative elections altogether in 2015. In September 2016, a constitutional referendum allowed Aliyev to further extend his power.
Corruption remains pervasive throughout the country, significantly contributing to wealth disparity. The economy of Azerbaijan, which largely runs on vast amounts of oil reserves, has suffered from low global oil prices since 2014.
The political situation in the country is relatively calm but demonstrations do occasionally occur. Anti-government tensions have risen in recent years.
The risk of social unrest increases during electoral periods. In 2016, anti-government protests took place ahead of the September constitutional referendum. Heavy clashes between security forces and protesters in Baku broke out after a rally on September 17. The incident is representative of a larger effort by the Azerbaijani government to silence dissenting voices and political opposition. The next presidential election is due to take place in October 2018, followed by legislative elections in 2020.
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.
Healthcare facilities are generally considered below European standards with the exception of a few private medical clinics in Baku. Medical facilities are very limited outside of the capital. Notably, emergency evacuation is hazardous and long response times for ambulances, even in the capital, are to be expected.
There is a very low risk of contracting malaria between May and October.
Rabies is present and as such travelers are strongly advised to avoid all contact with stray animals. Seek medical attention as soon as possible if bitten or scratched by an unfamiliar animal.
Tuberculosis is also prevalent 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.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +994 Police: 102 Fire Dept.: 101 Ambulance: 103
Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz
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