Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan
April 27, 2019 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan: From the point of view of a traveller, how do these three countries differ?
posted by iamsuper to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've been involved with Armenia and Azerbaijan for over 20 years and visit Georgia frequently.

Georgia is flush with tourists and there is a ton of infrastructure for adventure travel. It isn't so comfortable yet that the average traveler that wants the Hilton will be comfortable but for young people, it is great. English is widely spoken in the touristy areas. There is a huge industry of clubs and bars for those interested. Public transit is fairly easy to use (not by European standards, but for a "developing" country it is very good.). The FOOD IS INCREDIBLE. Everything is pretty cheap. Small lgbtq scene.
Georgia is an old Christian nation, so there are a ton of cool old churches to visit. Tons of mountains to hike. Big win. Go!

Armenia is also an old Christian nation but the tourism is very focused on diasporan Armenians. There is less English spoken (although for sure at big hotels). There are tons of neat food places but they are not as obvious as in Tbilisi. You'll need to yelp/trip advisor/etc. to find the exact location. Public transit, IMHO, is hard for tourists to use outside of the metro and even the metro is a little tough.
There isn't really a club or bar scene oriented towards tourists in Yerevan.
Yerevan is much cheaper than Tbilisi tho and offers a lot of fun experiences for the adventurous.
Armenia had a democratic revolution a year ago and this is a fun time to go, with a lot of happy people.

Azerbaijan is a little different. Until recently it was a little tough to get a tourist visa and even now, don't go to Armenia first (the 2 countries are in a frozen conflict). In fact, don't even say the word Armenia while you're there.
Azerbaijan is a dictatorship. There is no freedom of speech or assembly. There are tons of political prisoners. Moreover, I would absolutely not recommend that someone lgbtq go there openly. In fact I have never wanted my butch sister to visit me there for fear for her safety.
Azerbaijan has oil money. Things are expensive.... Like 10-15 euro for a cappuccino (which would be 3 euro in AM or GE). There are tons of Versace type stores with no one in them. There is fine dining... Or at least fine dining prices for meh imported food. There is very little cheap tourist food.
Azerbaijan is culturally Muslim. Although I speak the language at a high proficiency, I do not go out alone as a woman at night out of safety concerns. There is not much of a club or bar scene. Alcohol is highly taxed, so a night out is expensive. The bars that do exist are British and Scottish expat dominated, for better or worse. But in terms of dress, not many Azerbaijani women cover their heads and tourists aren't expected to.
Another recent factor (also a bit at play in GE) is that Baku has become a tourist destination for many Arab countries. Now there are huge blocks of the former center of the city that are hookah bars and kebab places - these didn't exist a few years ago. The locals don't love the Arab tourists.
But Azerbaijan is middle eastern in a way that doesn't exist in AM or GE. There are cool old buildings and mosques. For those that are intrigued by authoritarianism, I can see why it might be fun to visit.

I'm happy to answer more specific questions.
posted by k8t at 3:03 PM on April 27, 2019 [49 favorites]

Oh, and in AZ, English proficiency in touristy places is about the same as in Armenia, maybe a little better because of BP's presence. Most cafes and restaurants have English on the menu, so you can point. This is unlike Tbilisi where English is everywhere. Young people are especially English-oriented, as Russian as a second language was promptly removed in the mid 90s, whereby it remains the most common second language in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Also you can totally enter Armenia with Azerbaijani visas, but not the reverse.
posted by k8t at 3:37 PM on April 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fifteen years ago I had the Armenian section of my Lonely Planet guide razor bladed out at the Azeri/Georgian Border. More comical than scary tho.
posted by JPD at 4:21 PM on April 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Read up on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before you go - the whole conflict basically dominates cultural discourse in Azerbaijan (and evidence of it is visible EVERYWHERE) and to a lesser extent Armenia. The conflict is extremely sensitive (again, particularly in Azerbaijan) and it is important to understand at least the basics of it.

You can actually enter Azerbaijan after having been to Armenia, despite what is said above (it is only illegal to have been to Nagorno-Karabakh according to Azerbaijan - and as such is officially banned), but you could be questioned. I know people that have been to Azerbaijan after having been to Armenia and had no issues though. Having said that, if it doesn't matter to you, visit Azerbaijan first to avoid any issues.

English isn't widely spoken in all three - personally I noticed that Georgia was particularly difficult in this regard and Armenia the easiest, with Azerbaijan somewhere in between. I suspect other people's experiences may differ though. People are generally fairly friendly, but much like other CIS countries, can be initially a little standoffish.

Further to k8t comments on tourism in Armenia - there is a big market for Iranians as well, who visit the city for debauchery they aren't allowed at home.
posted by ryanbryan at 7:46 PM on April 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just further to the point about Nagorno-Karabakh - reiterating k8t's point that you would be best to not even mention Armenia while in Azerbaijan, but if you get talking to any Azeris, don't be surprised if you get quizzed on your thoughts on Armenia or the conflict. I say it's important to read up on the conflict, because your answer in that situation matters a lot, and can even be a matter of safety. The reasons for their sensitivity will be obvious when you read about it.

In the same vein, the Armenian Genocide and Armenia's relationship with Turkey are pretty sensitive issues there in addition to the NKR conflict, and in Georgia - their relationship with Russia (although this rates pretty far down the scale in terms of sensitive issues unless you're in areas heavily affected by that conflict, which isn't likely).
posted by ryanbryan at 8:00 PM on April 27, 2019

I have no direct experience to offer, but if you're interested in the recent political history of Azerbaijan, my colleague Audrey Altstadt has written a book on Frustrated Democracy in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan (Columbia University Press, 2017). She was part of a team that briefed the new US ambassador to Azerbaijan before he left for Baku.

Probably best not to mention her to any Azerbaijani officials, though.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:34 AM on April 28, 2019

For what it's worth this was my experience of trying to get in to Azerbaijan.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 6:27 PM on April 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

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