What is the terrain and geography like in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan can be thought of as a dry trough between wetter mountain ranges. The Greater Caucasus Mountains, running south eastward along the northern border, rise in places to over 14,000 feet. The Lesser Caucasus and Talysh Mountains, somewhat lower in elevation, parallel them along the southern border. Deep and abrupt river valleys carve the rugged mountain terrain. Forests cover much of the middle elevations. The semiarid Kura Depression between these ranges occupies about half of the country. Toward the Caspian Sea coast, this mostly flat depression dips below the world sea level. The landscapes around Baku and to the south are dry and brown. As one travels northwest toward the Greater Caucasus, however, eroded hills give way to green hills and finally, in most seasons, to snow-capped mountains.
The country’s rivers flow from Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan’s mountains. Most join to form the Kura‑Aras river system, which empties into the Caspian Sea about 80 miles south of Baku. The Caspian is salty and subject to substantial changes in water level. Coastal flooding in the mid‑1990s subsided several years later. Sandy beaches border much of the coastline. Some 250 lakes and several large reservoirs dot parts of Azerbaijan. Many ephemeral lakes and ponds form during rainy periods.
The country’s vegetation is similarly varied, with sparse, low‑growing plants in the semi-arid lowlands; forests (mostly deciduous and covering about 11% of the land areas) in the mountains along the upper Kura River and northernmost coast; and meadows and alpine tundra on the highest mountains. Marshlands have formed where water collects in the lowlands.
Fourteen nature reserves were established to protect samples of the country’s flora and fauna. The Kizil-Agach Reserve, the largest at 217,000 acres, includes extensive wetlands on the southern coast. Half a million water birds, among them several thousand flamingos, winter here. Persian gazelles roam the Sirvan Reserve, farther north. Other reserves, such as Ismailly, in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, protect dense, diverse forests and rare trees, as well as other wildlife. Permission is required to enter the nature reserves.
Parts of Azerbaijan are subject to earthquakes, particularly the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus in the Sheki‑Shemakha Region and the southern part of the Lesser Caucasus adjoining the Aras River.