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    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

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    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

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AzerbaijanThe name Azerbaijan comes from the Persian word azar, which means "fire" and the word payegan, which means "guardian" or "protector." This name is likely due to the region of Zoroastrianism, which prominent in the area; in this religion fire is considered pure and sacred.

Azərbaycan

Introduction:

Azerbaijan is a country that share many cultural similarities with neighboring countries, but in more ways this small country is entirely different from the other countries in the region. The lands of Azerbaijan are fairly barren, making the lands less than ideal, however they are also very accessible, which has led to various people crossing the area, regularly influencing and changing the people over time.

In early history changes were regular and few of these historic elements are obvious in today's culture. The people changed regularly as did religion, moving from Zoroastrianism to Christianity with the arrival of Alexander the Great, and finally to Islam with the arrival of the Arabs. The conversion to Islam is one of the earliest changes that remains an important part of the culture and lives of the people today.

Although the Arabs introduced Islam, the Arab people left few other lasting imprints on the people as today the people are most similar ethnically to the Turks and Persians. However, Islam did change the culture and lifestyle of the people to a great degree. Even today most of Azerbaijan's population is Muslim and many people continue to live by the dietary and dress restrictions of that faith. Islam also united the people to the Turkic and Persian people and today these people are related to the Azeris both ethnically as well as culturally.

Persian influence was quite strong in the country until the Russians, and later the Soviets, took power over the Azeris. The Soviets in particular changed the culture dramatically as religion was outlawed and the people were forced into a new society that was based on industrialization and urbanization. The Russian language was also forced on the people, but more importantly today, ethnic Russians and others moved into the region. This Soviet influence destroyed much of the historic culture, but it also divided the people with the immigration of foreigners.

Since independence from the Soviet Union, the cultural changes have been mixed. There has been a return to Islam (although many people now drink alcohol) and other historic cultural aspects, but most people continue to work in industry or in the field of natural resources as nearly everyone is urbanized. The diversity has also led to tensions among the people, particularly between the Azeris and the Armenians and between the Azeris and the Russians. These divisions have magnified historical aspects of Azeri culture as many people have found a renewed pride in Azeri culture and today this culture is becoming more and more clearly defined.

Information for Azerbaijan was last updated: March, 2014 ● View our: Sources & Special Thanks