Business demanded that I travel to Azerbaijan, a country which I had never visited before. Despite my many travels to the Middle East, this trip was special in the sense it was the farthest east I had ever been, given that Baku, the capital, rests on the Caspian Sea. It was also the first former-Soviet nation that I had ever visited. Because my spouse is Persian, I naturally thought the first time I would lay eyes on the Caspian Sea would be from the shores of Iran. Fate, however, had other plans.
Azerbaijan is without a doubt a unique gem unto itself. Many empires, cultures, and languages have made their mark, from the Shirvanshahs to the Soviet Russians.
Azerbaijani is a Turkic language, the closest to Turkish on the Turkic language spectrum, but culturally I found the country to be quite Persian, which makes sense since Azerbaijan was a part of Persia before the tsarist Russians came around in the 18th century.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I could understand the people in Baku. I wasn’t anticipating that the language would be that close to Turkish, but it is, especially among the younger population. Sometimes I would have to correct them to speak Turkish/Azerbaijani to me, though. As a white person in a former-Soviet country, the first language many of them would try would be Russian.