The last time I travelled to Azerbaijan, I said I wanted to see so much more. The Spring celebrations were in full swing and the capital, Baku, was about to host the Eurovision Song Contest. I had explored Baku and its vicinity, so rich in culture and history. The friendliness of the place was quite staggering to be honest.
As you wander you can feel that Azerbaijan is growing into a major attraction. There are huge plans coming to fruition around every corner. While I was in the country, the President was opening a vast ski resort in the Shahdagh region complete with five star facilities. This sort of news is fairly common.
Baku is, after all, preparing to host the very first European Games in 2015.
I was here to see that "more" I'd wanted so I headed north to the mountains. Before heading up there I was lucky enough to get some direct interviews with Government officials to gain their thoughts on the future of Azerbaijan, the great events it has hosted and the future with more events and tourism.
I asked the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Mr. Abulfaz Qarayev what he thought of recent publicity and what plans there are ahead:
2012 was marked with some very significant developments for travel and tourism in Azerbaijan. As you all know, Azerbaijan hosted two major international events past year - Eurovision 2012 and U-17 FIFA Women's Football World Cup. According to feedback we have from the organizers both events were organized and implemented successfully. Members of teams, coaches, performers, journalists from all over the Europe and world were quite impressed by the capital Baku and the country. It helped to maintain the positive trend of tourist arrivals, as there were some worries on our side that tourist flows might decline in 2012 from Europe and some other parts of the world due to economic and financial crisis. At this time, Azerbaijan is still on its path to become one of the primary tourist destinations in Europe, and these major events and many other important events helped a lot to show
travel opportunities for international travelers. We want to open up more to international tourists. Eurovision 2012 showed that Azerbaijan is very hospitable and tourist friendly country. We want travelers to explore not only the capital Baku, but also many beautiful regions of Azerbaijan. Regions of Azerbaijan have a lot to see and explore. Azerbaijan is a nice place to visit not only in summer or spring, but also in autumn and winter. For this we are developing the Shah-Dag skiing resort to cover the winter tourism side, with opening of first two hotels planned in the nearest future.
I have seen for myself some amazing history and stories in Azerbaijan. Religious tolerance is a striking thing to see as you travel; religions lost in time in other parts of the world still live together here.
Mr. Ali Hasanov, Head of Public Affairs Department of Presidential Administration
Azerbaijan although a small country with population of 9 million, and the size of Austria, yet has a lot of unique cultural and historical features. Azerbaijan has always been the meeting point civilizations -- it is the country where East meets West, Christianity meets Islam, it is a middle of historical Silk Way, and still part of Europe. Azerbaijan is one of few countries in the world where Christianity, Islam and Judaism live in peace, we are proud for being tolerant
and hospitable people. Until recently, the world didn't know where Azerbaijan was. But now everybody knows Azerbaijan and its capital Baku. This became obvious after Eurovision 2012 - Europe's major song contest. People in the West are now thinking if Azerbaijan is Europe or East. We welcome all those who have an interest in Azerbaijan to visit our country and to experience the country where ancient history coexists with modernity. We are proud for being the first country in the East to grant election rights to women, in 1918, established schools for women, opened opera theatres and we are the first democracy in entire East.
Azerbaijan's rich history and culture, nature and cuisine, love for arts and music are unique touristic features that many don't know yet.
It was time to head to the mountains. I had a lot to see and enjoy with plenty to learn. In my next post I will be highlighting a beautiful mountain region along with the vast culture and history of the area.