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Azerbaijan beckons tourists
Maneesh Bakshi

Azerbaijan can be an exotic destination for anybody planning a vacation this summer.

The country has a history of 40,000 years behind it and is situated on the ancient Silk Route.

A road show was organised recently in Qatar by the department of tourism of Azerbaijan to showcase what this fascinating country has to offer to people here. In the road-show, officials from the ministry of tourism made presentations on the various places of tourist attraction in Azerbaijan, and a cultural show highlighted the dances and costumes of the country.

Azerbaijan’s Minister of Culture and Tourism HE Abulfas Garayev, who was present during the road-show, spoke about the range of possibilities that a tourist can explore while vacationing in Azerbaijan. Excerpts: What was the purpose of this road-show? Azerbaijan is not a new destination on the tourism map of the world but still as the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan, I feel it is about time to enlarge the volume of people visiting our country from this part of the world.

In this respect, my government is thankful to the Qatari leadership for the support given to our ministry and providing us a chance to showcase the tourism potential to the people of Qatar. This road-show has been organised especially to honour the very successful visit of HH the Emir to Azerbaijan recently.

How important a partner is Qatar in the development of cooperation between Qatar and Azerbaijan? Qatar is a very important partner for Azerbaijan since we see there are many cultural similarities between the people of the two countries. We share common beliefs and see the friendly people of Qatar as an important market for the promotion of tourism as well as for the exchange of arts, gastronomy, music and cultural heritage between the two nations.

I have received a very positive feedback from everyone I have met during my visit and hope that those geographical distances will be shortened in the future.

What are the key attractions of Azerbaijan that can be of interest to people in this part of the world? Azerbaijan has many tourist attractions to offer, such as hunting and fishing, which are very popular with visitors from this part of the world. Our country is like a history book, open for visitors to see the wide variety of archaic architecture with unique designs. Be it the Maiden Tower in Old Baku city or the Mausoleum of Momine Khatun, they turn back the pages of splendid Azeri history.

But Azerbaijan is not all about history. It has cautiously fashioned its modernity in a sublime way to blend it perfectly with its traditions and values. The Heydar Aliyev Centre, which was designed by the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who passed away recently, is now considered as the new logo of the modern Azeri architecture.

In terms of music, Azerbaijan has a lot to offer to the world.

At least seven music festivals of international standard are held every year, starting with traditional music like Makam music, linking us to Arabic culture on one end to the range of international genre such as popular jazz festival, on the other end.

Azerbaijan also boasts of the skills of its craftsmen, especially when it comes to displaying the variety of techniques used in the art of weaving carpets and rugs. Azerbaijani carpets were proclaimed as a ‘masterpiece of intangible heritage’ by Unesco.

The State Museum of Azerbaijan Carpet and Applied Art is a must-watch heritage site among many for any tourist.

Azerbaijan is also the home of traditional game called Chovgan that later evolved into the modern game of Polo played on horseback. Chovgan is traditionally played with players astride Karabakh horses and is also inscribed in the list of intangible heritage sites by Unesco.

Coming to the modern sports, this year’s season sees Azerbaijan become the latest addition to the Formula One calendar, with capital Baku playing host to the Formula One Grand Prix of Europe.

Starting from June 17 to 19, we invite people of Qatar to take an opportunity to visit Azerbaijan, to explore the beautiful blend of old and new, and the richness of our culture.

Azerbaijan is a country which gained independence 25 years ago, and in this short time, we have managed to achieve many important goals in the field of economic advances as well as social and cultural development.

The vision of the country changed dramatically since independence and it has given a new understanding to the people of Azerbaijan to present our culture, traditions and our goodwill to the entire world.

Azerbaijan, like Qatar, is a country where old traditions are respected to this day. It is a custodian of a very big historical heritage, which includes around 7,000 heritage sites of importance recognised by our country.

Our history is as old as the Gobustan Caves that date back 40,000 years.

The Gobustan Caves are situated near the Azeri capital of Baku and are inscribed in the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites. Tourists and social scientists visit the caves from all over the world to see the inscriptions of the cave men etched on the rocks by the ancient inhabitants of the caves. Besides, it is also the birthplace of the ancient Zoroastrian religion.

By virtue of its location on the crossroads of an ancient route – the Silk Route – that ran from the South-eastern Europe to the Southwest of Asia, the Azeri culture has been subjected to various influences throughout its history. Azerbaijan was the first country in the Caucasian region to accept Christianity in the first century. And by the time around 7th Century and 8th Century accepted Islam and since that time, we are following all Islamic traditions.

However, the people of Azerbaijan are very tolerant to the traditions and customs of every nation. That is considered to be an attribute of our people and must be shared with the entire world. It is a very hospitable country and we have nine climate zones in our country out of 11 existing in the world. This only suggests that one can easily reach from the mountain resort of Shahdag in 45 minutes to the seashore to enjoy the hot waters of the Caspian Sea.

How good is the connectivity between Azerbaijan and Qatar? Qatar Airways has a direct flight between Doha and Baku.

The airline has assured increasing the number of flights between Doha and Baku, which will give us additional possibilities to increase the flow of passengers between the two countries. Already Qatar Airways has 11 flights in a week and maybe in short time there will be a double daily flight between the two countries, which are merely two-and-halfhour flight time away.

What are the visa conditions for Qatari nationals who wish to visit Azerbaijan? I am very happy to say that GCC nationals, including Qatari nationals, can get a visa on arrival.


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