Land of Fire and Tradition

With beauty and diversity as its hallmarks, Azerbaijan is a land of tradition and modernity.

By Senator (r) Javed Jabbar | August 2022

A group of 19 volunteer development activists from across Pakistan including 3 full-time professionals, and 5 accompanying persons, associated with the public service organization named Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO, visited Azerbaijan on a study tour 2nd - 6th July 2022. This writer was fortunately one of the volunteer-participants and like most of the rest, visited this distinctive country for the first time.

In spite of – or perhaps because of ! – the diversity of persons, professions, provinces, perceptions, our group became a single family, full of good cheer and shared enjoyment – of the 3-star, reasonably comfortable hotel we stayed in, of the journeys, the long walks, the cuisine, the whole, hectic, packed experience. 4 British Pakistanis , 2 parents, 2 children , earlier scheduled to join the group from the start , were able to join just after midway because their flight plan from London stranded them in Warsaw due to cancelled flights. Nevertheless , they too added to the merry crowd .

Located on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, about 2250 kms from Pakistan, a three and a half hour PIA flight from Lahore brought us to Baku, the windy, breezy capital. Originally said to derive its name’s association with fire through the area having hosted the ancient faith of Zoroastrianism centuries before Christ, a more modern link of Azerbaijan with the flame is when oil was virtually first discovered near Baku and harnessed for use in 1901.This old city is visibly contemporary while new structures retain a fine, time-tested limestone look. Streams of cars, with rarely a sight of a motorbike ply smooth, well-constructed roads. Hotels, restaurants, bars are aplenty – with not a single sight of alcoholic excess ! Yet there is excess of another kind, one of the best: The utter cleanliness of streets, free of litter and garbage, a strictly observed code of collectively practiced public hygiene.

Love for Pakistan:

At certain points, three flags are displayed in a row: Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan. This Eurasian nation with an intrinsic affinity with Turkey, also acknowledges with sincere warmth the fact that Pakistan has always given unstinted, robust diplomatic support at the United Nations and elsewhere to Azerbaijan’s rightful stand on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue with Armenia. Specially in the 2020 Second Karabakh War. Pakistan has given vital expert military support for de-mining operations to make liberated areas of Karabakh secure and safe.

So friendly and welcoming are the people that the generally limited comprehension and use of the English language --- despite many shop signs being in English ---

is the only awkward obstacle to fluent verbal communication with Pakistani visitors . Specialists and those with higher education are English-proficient.

A secular Muslim country:

Perhaps the most striking feature of Azerbaijan, with a population of 10 million which is 97 per cent Muslim – and about 80 per cent Shia – is that the religious faith of an individual and the nation is given the optimal respect: of privacy and dignity. No ostentatious sights or sounds of faith or sect intrude on the eye and the ear. The azaan’s solemnity is heard but gently so, and not repetitively. Mosques are visible but not unduly numerous. There is a Constitutional commitment to secularism, the creed in which every faith deserves equal respect and by which the beliefs and practices of one faith cannot be imposed as being superior to another. Here is a truly Muslim society – pluralist, respectful, inclusive – without making a hue and cry about being of one particular faith. This becomes all the more notable because a southern neighbour is predominantly Shia Iran which is a theocratic republic shaped by sect and religion.

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