Eastern cuisine in Baku, Azerbaijan
Eastern cuisine in Baku, AzerbaijaniStock

As Israelis plan their summer vacations, they should consider booking tickets to Azerbaijan. I recently returned to Israel from a 10-day trip to Azerbaijan. Today, if one visits Azerbaijan, one will discover a thriving country, with a capital city Baku which is often referred to as Dubai on the Caspian Sea. It is full of beautiful historic monuments such as the Palace and Tomb of Shervinshah, and grand museums such as the Baku Carpet Museum.

Outside of Baku, one can discover amazing world heritage sites like magnificent Zoroastrian fire temples, orchestra houses and theaters that rivel what one would find in France and Italy, great museums documenting Azerbaijan’s rich history such as the Museum of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and Heydar Aliyev Museum in Ganja, and lush beautiful gardens, such as the Heydar Aliyev Park in Ganja.

Rabbi Shmuel Simantov, who attended a special event promoting Azerbaijan’s tourism potential at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv, stated: “The country has what to see. Azerbaijan is an interesting place. Every time people want to go and visit.” He claimed that the event at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv “gives more power to people to visit the place.” Saadat Sukurova Israelov, who is the chairwoman of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and Vice President of Aziz, proclaimed:

“The event held for the development of tourism cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan is an important step for both sides. It was proposed to invite a delegation of Israeli companies to Azerbaijan for a familiarization tour in order to attract investments from the tourism sector. They also discussed student exchange programs with Israeli universities, the formalization of joint tourism projects, and visits of Israeli media representatives to Baku. It is clear that this will lead to a further strengthening of relations.”

At the event, Azerbaijani Ambassador Mukhtar Mammadov highly encouraged Israelis to visit his country: “We came here to a strong, solid foundation of the good relations between Israel and Azerbaijan, which has a long and very positive history. It has a good foundation to build up on it. Although we did not have an embassy here for 31 years, we still managed to develop a close, friendly strategic partnership with Israel in various fields and tourism is one of the key elements of our relationship because it brings people together. The more the people from each side visit, the better they can know the history, the culture, the cuisine of our country and better communicate. Each tourist can serve as an ambassador of the other country for positive feelings and positive feedback.”

“For those who have been to Azerbaijan, you can have a lot of stories to share,” he added. “Over the past three months, I traveled twice to Baku, first to accompany Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and then President Herzog on his visit to Azerbaijan. I was happy to see that there were many people from Israel traveling to Azerbaijan, from different age groups, different interest groups touring around the country and coming back. It was very positive and during both of those visits that we mentioned tourism was one of the key elements discussed between the Azerbaijani and Israeli delegations.”

According to him, “President Herzog was also keen on pushing that forward that more people from Israel come to visit Azerbaijan and learn about Azerbaijan. He enjoyed the visit. The visit was short, but we were able to present as much as possible about the culture, about the country and its history. We believe that more and more people will go. Azerbaijan has something to offer 12 months per year. You can travel for any time and any purpose, and you will find something interesting. I think that this is one field where we can add good positive results to bring our two nations together.”

The chairman of the State Tourism Agency of Azerbaijan Fuad Nagiyev then spoke and stressed: “Israel is a country that we collaborate with in many areas including tourism, culture, science, education and others. We are keen to contribute to this cooperation. The establishment of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Tel Aviv is another important step in our relationship. The Republic of Azerbaijan has a strategic goal to be one of the most visited nations. Israel is a very important market for us. We believe that our meeting with Mr. Katz will lead to a rise in the number of flights between our two countries and the opening of new opportunities for cooperation in the field of tourism.”

Deputy Director of Azerbaijan Tourism Board, Mr. Bahruz Asgarov, stressed: “Azerbaijan hosts a rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and rich array of attractions, which can attract any tourist. Azerbaijan offers a rich tapestry of natural wonders, whether you are food and wine enthusiast, a skier, or seeking a family break, Azerbaijan has so much to offer to make your trip an enjoyable one. We should seize the opportunities that lie before us because through this, we will strengthen the bonds between our two nations.”

Regional Manager for Israel of Azerbaijan Tourism Board Fidan Akhundzade noted that it is very simple to get a visa to go to Azerbaijan if you are Israeli, as it is a simple online procedure that can be completed in three business days. She added that there are presently five direct flights per week currently between Baku and Tel Aviv run by Azerbaijan Airlines: “Starting from the 28th of June, the number of flights is increasing to seven times per week. Since the beginning of the year, more than 8,000 Israelis visited Azerbaijan. It is a 69% increase if you compare it to the same period last year.”

According to her, “Every tour of Azerbaijan starts with Baku. Baku is the city of contrasts, where you can see the Western culture, the modernity but also the Orientalist period. The Old City of Baku is a UNESCO heritage site, which has several monuments starting from mosques, palaces and the main one is the Maiden Tower. There are ideas that it comes from Zoroastrianism. Others say it is about the love between two people. But following the oil boom, Baku changed its appearance to a modern European city. You see the Flame Towers. It is the symbol of modern Baku. Another monument is the Heydar Aliyev Center. You see the wonderful architecture. It is a cultural center with several types of museums.”

Akhundzade proclaimed, “Baku and Azerbaijan has an ancient Zoroastrian tradition. We are called the land of fire.” She added that one can visit in Azerbaijan today ancient Zoroastrian temples, mud volcanoes, and Gobustan, an ancient UNESCO open air museum that has prehistoric drawings on ancient rocks. She also noted that one can visit landmarks in Azerbaijan that are located along what used to be the ancient Silk Road: “There are many historical places. One can also see silk factories. There are also many springs and wellness hotels.” Indeed, Azerbaijan has something to offer everyone.

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."