Culture Café: Azerbaijan, 25.01.2023

Welcome to the 1st ISN Culture Café of 2023 which was devoted to beautiful Azerbaijan! Whether you were at our meeting on January 25 or not, now you have the opportunity to review and learn some interesting facts about this splendid land. We would also like to thank the Azerbaijani students who shared with us fascinating information about their country.

Culture Café: Azerbaijan, 25.01.2023


As usual, we begin our meeting with history. Did you ever know that Azerbaijan is one of the oldest cultural centers? It is! In 1968, archaeologists discovered a jaw of an ancient Azykh man (Azykhanthrop) who lived here 300-400 thousand years ago! Since then Azerbaijan has undergone through many historical changes: from establishment of Atropatena (1st millenium BC) to unification of all Azerbaijani lands under the authority of Shah Ismail Khatai, the emergence of a single centralized Azerbaijani state — the State of Safavids (1502—1736), incorporation into the Soviet Union (1922 — 1991), and restoration of independence in 1991. The official language here is Azerbaijani. Back in Soviet times, people used the Cyrillic alphabet, but now it has been replaced by the Latin one.

Today Azerbaijan is famous for its nature and local attractions. There are many national parks with a total area of about 500,000 hectares. The most visited places are the capital Baku, Icheri Seher, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and national parks such as Gobustan National Park or Absheron National Park. But, of course, the list is not limited to these and certainly can be expanded!


Now let’s move to the next part — holidays in Azerbaijan and how they are celebrated. The most significant holiday in Azerbaijan is Novruz, the celebration of the Persian New Year and the arrival of Spring. Traditionally on this day it is customary to light fires (Tongal), dance and jump over them to ward off evil spirits. In addition, the indispensable attribute of the holiday is Honcha - a tray with treats filled with nuts and hazelnuts, which symbolize strength, and an egg, which means "the origin of life", with sprouted grass on a plate. Also, if you visit Azerbaijan during this time, your attention may be drawn to Kechal and Kosa, symbolic characters of Azerbaijani folklore who wear funny outfits in the streets.

The next holidays we want to introduce are Ramazan, or the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, and Qurban, which is known as Feast of Sacrifice and is declared one of the state holidays. During Ramazan, people abstain from food and liquids from dawn to dusk, while during Gurban, it is traditional for people to divide the sacrificial meat and share it with poor neighbors.


Speaking of the culture of this country, it would be insufficient not to mention how wedding ceremonies are conducted there. In fact, wedding traditions in Azerbaijan are one of the most significant parts of its culture and consist of several stages: matchmaking, engagement, and wedding ceremony. On matchmaking day, the parents are introduced to each other, and at the engagement ceremony, the groom and his family usually give presents, such as sweets, to the bride. To prepare for the couple's new phase in life, the groom's family usually purchases a new house, while the bride’s family buys household appliances. Finally, the wedding ceremony usually takes place in a restaurant and is filled with live music and traditional food. The Shah Plov (or Crown Pilaf) is considered the most important dish, even more so than the wedding cake! On this day, the bride appears with a red sash around her waist and mehendi on her arms, while guests enjoy the food, dance and give the newlyweds gifts.


Finally, we move on to the last part, dedicated to Azerbaijani cuisine (we know that for most of our readers this is their favorite part)! As we already mentioned, Shah Plov plays an important role in wedding ceremonies, but it is also present on Azerbaijani tables on other special occasions. Here people also have Qutab, a thin crescent-shaped pie filled with meat, greens, cheese, and onions. Khash, a stew of cow/veal parts seasoned with onions and garlic, is one of the most popular Azerbaijani dishes eaten in the early morning and is also well known as a hangover cure. If you like sweets, try the Shekerbura, which has a cute moon shape that we're sure is impossible to take your eyes off of.

Azerbaijan was our first stop in 2023 and it was an amazing adventure. A huge thanks to our presenters, listeners and readers! We hope that Azerbaijan is already on your bucket list :) Follow us to explore other cultures as well, and we look forward to seeing you on our next Culture Café!