In Splendid Azerbaijan Glen Alberto writes that, “it is a land born from the bittersweet affair between Turan, the mythical homeland of the Turkic peoples, and Aryana, the mythical homeland of the Aryan peoples.” Most sources report that the name Azerbaijan is derived from the Persian word “azar,” meaning fire. Arab historian Al Hemedani gave a different etymology, claiming that it is derived from one of the children of Noah whose name was Azerbaz. During ancient times, the famous Greek geographer Strabo wrote that there were twenty six languages in what is today Azerbaijan. Later, the Arabs claimed that there were was almost three hundred languages spoken in the entire Caucasus and so called the region the mountain of languages. Alberto writes that, “the ethnogenesis of the Azerbaijani nation dates back to the Seljuk Empire… there was a synthesis of peoples, cultures and languages that gave birth to the Turko-Persian tradition. Medieval Persians, Arabs and Turkic peoples notes that Azerbaijani oil was traded along the Silk Road for burning and healing purposes. The modern industrial age began was oil was discovered in Baku. The worlds first oil well drilling took place in Azerbaijan in 1846. Within two generations, Azerbaijan went from a land of medieval khanates with shepherds who tended their flock and lived a nomadic lifestyle to a rapidly industrializing borderland of the Russian Empire.” My last trip while living in Kuwait, here are some of the historical sites I got to see in Azerbaijan:

The Bibi-Heybat Mosque, originally constructed in the 1200s, the current structure is a modern reconstruction of the medieval one. The space contains the tomb of the daughter of the seventh imam, Musa al-Kazim.

Gobustan, known for its wonderful petroglyphs (derived from the Greek words petros rock and glyphe carving), some dating back to 20,000 years ago.

Ateshgah of Baku, a Zoroastrian temple, which was the primary religion in the region during ancient times

The Walled City of Baku, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Carpet Museum

About five hours from Baku is Sheki, the historic center of “Caucasia Albania.” In “A Concise History,” Jahangir Zeybaloglu wrote that during ancient times, “both of the province Sheki and its center were called Nukha… meaning the land of women. Amazon women were believed to have ruled this city.” Alberto write that Caucasian Albanians “are believed to be the first to inhabit the land that would become Azerbaijan. Chief among their tribes were the Caspi, after whom the Caspian Sea is named.” Nearby to Sheki is the Church of Kish, a medieval church built atop an ancient pagan center. The Norwegian archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl spent a lot of time in Azerbaijan, both in Gobustan and Kish, including during the renovation of the church in the early 2000s (although he did not live to see the project completed in 2003).

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