It wouldn’t be overstating the country’s historical importance to call Azerbaijan one of the very few cradles of human civilization in the world, and yet it remains a relatively unknown corner of Central Asia on the world stage.
The history of the nation is punctuated by ancient civilisations and a progressive nature that has seen Azerbaijan embrace and foster culture, the arts and democracy often more readily than many other states in the Muslim world. As the country re-establishes its prominence as a leading global oil and gas producer, so it has also seen a re-emergence and re-discovery of its rich cultural and artistic heritage. Azerbaijan’s hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is a showcase event of just how far the country has developed in recent years.
Rich in more than just culture and history, Azerbaijan’s significant oil and gas reserves, as well as promising potential in the alternative energy sector such as wind, hydro and solar generated power are creating exciting investment opportunities to invest in Azerbaijan. The frontier investor unfamiliar with the country may do well to note that foreign investors are already thriving in what continues to be a hotbed for natural resource companies and supporting sectors, but also for technology, transport and infrastructure.
At the centre of all of this vibrant development is the country’s capital and business hub, Baku. Often dubbed “the next Dubai”, Baku is a thriving city, a poignant juxtaposition between the very old and the very new. The UNESCO world heritage site of the Old City sits against a backdrop of new glass and steel skyscrapers that are beginning to see Baku resemble the skylines of New York, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Foster + Partners, the critically-acclaimed and award-winning architectural firm of Sir Norman Foster, is busy at work with master plans and building designs that will rejuvenate some of the more run-down areas of the Soviet-era city developments.
Since becoming an independent state in the early 90s and beginning work on what was dubbed “The Contract of the Century” with the international consortium of oil and gas companies led by the UK’s BP, the growth of the Azerbaijani economy has been nothing short of phenomenal. Since declaring independence, the economy has grown over 500 per cent and the country survived the recent global financial crisis and subsequent recession relatively unscathed compared to some of its Central Asian neighbours. The greatest attraction for investors however is that Azerbaijan remains a relatively undiscovered market, leaving sectors outside oil and gas still open to significant growth and development.