There are many countries on our planet, which are quite unknown to most of us, especially in the western world. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting one of them: Azerbaijan. Locat- ed between Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran, this oil rich nation sits on the shores of the beautiful Caspian Sea. This country, comprised of a 99% Muslim population has been in the news, as its capital city of Baku, hosted the Formula One motor race, the Grand Prix. The only other time I had ever heard of it was in the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough. Ninety percent of the people are known as Azeris and are very similar in culture to those of Turkey. Although most people are Shia Muslim, they tend to be westernized in their customs. If you see ladies wearing burkas, they are tourists, as the local dress is very west- ern. The Azeris are also a very friendly people, to most everyone except the Armenians (largely due to an age old conflict over territory). Proof of the approachability is seen in the Red City, a totally Jewish commu- nity that survives harmoniously along- side the Muslim population. A large Hebrew education centre flourishes in this, the world’s only all-Jewish town outside of Israel. The capital and largest city (one fifth of the country’s nine million people) is Baku. Nestled on the shores of the pic- turesque Caspian Sea, it is a very mod- ern city, and quite a contrast to what I was expecting. From my hotel located downtown, I had a fantastic view of many new, tall skyscrapers, made mostly of glass and steel. At night a variety of neon and digital lighting systems illuminate almost every building, making this city resemble a mini Dubai. A town square, accessible only on foot, is home to many restaurants, upscale international shops and tour- ists. The wide streets along the water have pedestrian undergrounds or over- passes to allow individuals to access the boardwalk, which is one of Baku’s greatest highlights. Spanning four kilometres, this peo- ple friendly promenade was established in 1909 and has been a favourite visit BY JONATHAN VAN BILSEN The countryside of Azerbaijan is quite rural. WHO WOULD HAVE BELIEVED IT? ...................... Please turn to page 40 FOCUS MARCH 2018 39