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Destination Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan

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© Lonely Planet Publications
16

Destination Georgia,
Armenia & Azerbaijan

‘These are
three of the
most welcoming and
hospitable
peoples in
the world’

Sitting at one of the earth’s great crossroads, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
occupy a mountainous zone on the southern flank of the mighty Caucasus
mountains. Here two continents meet between two seas and many worlds
commingle at a frontier between Islam and Christendom – all under the
watchful gaze of three bigger, much more powerful neighbours: Russia,
Turkey and Iran.
Such has been the to and fro of empires and conquerors across these
lands – from Roman legions to Mongol hordes, the Red Army to the Ottoman
Turks – that it’s a wonder they exist as independent nations. Indeed, for much
of their past they didn’t, and when they did, they often had very different
borders from the ones they have now. But through all their tribulations their
peoples have forged very different, and proud, identities. All three countries
share a recent past as republics of the Soviet Union. Today, while their fates
remain as intermingled as ever, post-post-Soviet Georgia, Armenia and
Azerbaijan present three distinct faces to the world.
Islamic Azerbaijan, now ruled by Ilham Әliyev (son of its long-time
president Heydar Әliyev), is riding the crest of an oil boom. But while
skyscrapers sprout in its Caspian-side capital, Baku, life goes on much as
before in the timeless villages of the Caucasus mountains. Armenia and
Georgia are the two oldest Christian nations on earth. Today Armenia is
dubbed the Caucasian Tiger for its economic growth rates, and manages
to remain friendly with Russia, the USA and Iran all at the same time. It
is however at loggerheads with neighbouring Turkey over the almostintractable WWI genocide issue. This has some farcical results, such as
when trucks carrying goods between the two countries have to travel a very
long way round through Georgia because the Armenia–Turkey border is
closed. Georgia got a later start in the economic recovery business but is
now making strides; its problem is its fraught relations with giant northern
neighbour Russia. And while Georgia rubs along fine with Armenia and
Azerbaijan, the latter pair are tensely stalemated over Nagorno-Karabakh,
a now de facto–independent area of Azerbaijan for which they fought a
very bitter war in the 1990s.
For travellers a profound joy of the region is the sheer beauty of its gorgeous, untrammelled scenery, decorated with fascinating castle...
lonelyplanet.com DESTINATION GEORGIA, ARMENIA & AZERBAIJAN
Sitting at one of the earth’s great crossroads, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
occupy a mountainous zone on the southern flank of the mighty Caucasus
mountains. Here two continents meet between two seas and many worlds
commingle at a frontier between Islam and Christendom – all under the
watchful gaze of three bigger, much more powerful neighbours: Russia,
Turkey and Iran.
Such has been the to and fro of empires and conquerors across these
lands – from Roman legions to Mongol hordes, the Red Army to the Ottoman
Turks – that it’s a wonder they exist as independent nations. Indeed, for much
of their past they didn’t, and when they did, they often had very different
borders from the ones they have now. But through all their tribulations their
peoples have forged very different, and proud, identities. All three countries
share a recent past as republics of the Soviet Union. Today, while their fates
remain as intermingled as ever, post-post-Soviet Georgia, Armenia and
Azerbaijan present three distinct faces to the world.
Islamic Azerbaijan, now ruled by Ilham Әliyev (son of its long-time
president Heydar Әliyev), is riding the crest of an oil boom. But while
skyscrapers sprout in its Caspian-side capital, Baku, life goes on much as
before in the timeless villages of the Caucasus mountains. Armenia and
Georgia are the two oldest Christian nations on earth. Today Armenia is
dubbed the Caucasian Tiger for its economic growth rates, and manages
to remain friendly with Russia, the USA and Iran all at the same time. It
is however at loggerheads with neighbouring Turkey over the almost-
intractable WWI genocide issue. This has some farcical results, such as
when trucks carrying goods between the two countries have to travel a very
long way round through Georgia because the Armenia–Turkey border is
closed. Georgia got a later start in the economic recovery business but is
now making strides; its problem is its fraught relations with giant northern
neighbour Russia. And while Georgia rubs along fine with Armenia and
Azerbaijan, the latter pair are tensely stalemated over Nagorno-Karabakh,
a now de facto–independent area of Azerbaijan for which they fought a
very bitter war in the 1990s.
For travellers a profound joy of the region is the sheer beauty of its gor-
geous, untrammelled scenery, decorated with fascinating castles, palaces,
churches and mosques from an extraordinarily rich history. In the three
capital cities – Tbilisi, Yerevan and Baku – the contradictions of economic
rebirth are plain: vast wealth for some coexists with poverty for others. All
three cities are very old, but leafy, balconied, church-strewn Tbilisi is the one
that most retains the atmosphere of an ancient Eurasian crossroads. Yerevan
is the most relaxed and arguably the most sophisticated, and competes with
Baku for the title of most expensive. All three abound in good accommo-
dation, food, shops, cafés and entertainment, and they are the places that
will feel most familiar to Western visitors – yet they all retain their strange,
part-Eastern, part-Soviet atmosphere.
Away from the big cities, life moves to the different rhythm of rural
life, the perfect complement for varied travels. All three countries afford
unlimited opportunities for travellers to get out amid spectacular nature,
Destination Georgia,
Armenia & Azerbaijan
from the snowy Caucasus to the verdant valleys of Armenia or semi-
tropical southern Azerbaijan. Modern tourism is still in its infancy in all
three countries, but is more developed in Armenia and Georgia. Travel in
Azerbaijan is definitely more challenging (though no less rewarding). But
you don’t have to scratch far beneath the skin of any of the three countries
to find one thing they all have in common. These are three of the most
welcoming and hospitable peoples in the world – something you’ll prob-
ably remember longer than anything else from your travels here.
© Lonely Planet Publications © Lonely Planet Publications
16 17
‘These are
three of the
most wel-
coming and
hospitable
peoples in
the world’
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