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November 18, 2002

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Baku surprised us by being modern and bustling. It's a Turkish Europe; the old town is cobblestone and clean; the ethnicity looks like Istanbul and the language sounds like Turkish too. Same as their Turkish brothers, the Azeri's use Latin script so we can read signs, especially the one that says MacDonald's; the first golden arches we've seen in months. Baku stands as the largest and richest city in the region and Azerbaijan enjoys the best economy amongst the Caucasus due to oil reserves in the Caspian. These Caspian fields have caused territorial disputes and strained relations with Turkmenistan; there's no embassy in Ashgabat. The Azeris don't get along with Armenia either due to an ages old conflict over land. Azerbaijan's shape looks like an ink blot, haphazard and missing a few pieces. A park-sized section of Azerbaijan called the Naxchivan Autonomous Republic lies to west, separated from the main part of the country by a 50km strip of Armenia. Another section, Nagorno-Karabakh, lies in the south-western corner and has caused a war with Armenia. In 1991 after Azerbaijan received independence from the Soviet Union, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed autonomy from Azerbaijani rule. Armenians attacked Azeri citizens in the region which prompted retaliatory attacks from Azerbaijani forces. Armenia kept its grip on Karabakh region. By 1993, the war had killed thousands and refugees poured across both borders. A cease-fire in 1994 stopped open warfare, but the conflict isn't resolved. Today, Armenia occupies Nagorno-Karabakh and will not relinquish any territory. In Azerbaijan don't mention the word "Armenia," it's like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.
In a country without many historical sights, a tower can become the symbol of a country. This is the "Maiden Tower," an key shaped building. No one knows why it was built.
Walls of Ichari Shahar (the Inner City, or Old Town), the oldest continuously inhabited spots in Azerbaijan. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers. When ancient Greeks or Romans wrote about Baku, they refered to the Inner City.
Palace of the Shirvan Shahs, dating from the 15th century, who controlled Baku until the Persians, Turks, and Russians threw around control of the country like a rugby ball - the Russians ended up with it.