Use and Values of Biodiversity in Azerbaijan

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Use and Values of Biodiversity in Azerbaijan

1. Introduction

Azerbaijan reported1 that biodiversity has significance to mankind in a range of ways, which may be economic or intrinsic. Biodiversity in Azerbaijan is used directly in a large number of ways, and in addition a range of cultural and aesthetic values are placed on species and ecosystems in the country.

2. Agrobiodiversity

In general, the Caucasus region is recognized as an important centre of origin for agrobiodiversity. Within this context Azerbaijan supports a number of wild relatives and varieties important for agriculture. The cereals and livestock varieties are particularly significant.

Crops under cultivation


Of 454 species of gramineous plants (Poaceae) in Azerbaijan, 25 are cultivated. Azerbaijan is one of the centres of origin for cereal crops, and shows particular variety in the forms of wheat described. Some species of wheat are particularly important for agriculture, including so-called ‘tough wheat’ (Triticum durum) of which 43 varieties are described from Azerbaijan, and ‘soft wheat’ (T. aestivum), which is represented by at least 87 varieties, including a range of hybrid types. Although a range of native varieties of wheat have been developed over time, more recently a number of forms have been introduced associated with more intensive agricultural systems.

Other forms of cereals found in Azerbaijan include barley (Hordeum spp.), rye (Secale spp.), triticale (Triticale spp.), maize (Zea spp.) and rice (Oruza spp.). Ten species of barley have been recorded from Azerbaijan, of which two are cultivated (of which 500 genetic varieties, including a number of native forms, have been described) while five species of rye occur, although only one of these (Secale cereale) is cultivated. Only one species of maize is widely grown in Azerbaijan (Zea mays), and 90 distinct genetic varieties are registered. Similarly although only one species of rice is grown in Azerbaijan (Oryza sativa), over 80 local varieties have been registered, including a number of traditional cultivars. In the case of triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) 326 varieties have been described.

A wide range of other crops are grown in Azerbaijan, including vegetables, potatoes, vines, fruit, tobacco, tea and cotton.


A range of wild plants are widely cultivated in gardens, with domesticated varieties of fruits and berries having been developed from wild relatives, including apples, pears, walnuts, hazelnuts, blackberries, medlar and others. Over 6000 fruit and berry samples of 150 species are cultivated, many in a range of local forms including notably apricots (Armeniaca vulgaris), cherries (Serasus spp.), pomegranates (Punica granatum) and grapes (Vitis vinifera).

Wheat, barley and sweetcorn are currently the main crops grown in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, with wheat being the most extensive crop (both ‘tough’ (durum wheat) and ‘soft’ forms are grown). Although millet and rye were once important crops, they are no longer commercially grown. The extent of land planted with grain increases each year, and ongoing efforts are made to increase productivity. In 2009, 103625 tonnes of grain was produced in the territory, representing over 12 varieties of wheat and three types of barley.
A range of plants have been grown in gardens in Nakhichevan since ancient times, and fruit from the area (particularly from the Ordubad region) is considered to be of high quality. Currently, nearly 2270 ha of land in Nakhichevan is cultivated in gardens, to grow grapes, a wide range of apricot varieties, peaches, plums, apples, mirabelle, cherries, quince, pear, almond, mulberry, lemon, walnuts, pomegranates, blackberries, strawberries, and dates. In 2009, around 37782 tonnes of fruit were produced. It is suggested that the Ordubad region may be suitable for increased productivity of certain fruits (particularly lemons) for export to world markets. Natural orchards of wild pomegranates grow around Kilit village in Ordubad.

Wild ancestors of crops


Azerbaijan is significant for being a centre of origin for a number of crops, particularly cereals. Wild relatives of wheat, including single-grain wild wheat (Triticum boeoticum) and Ararat wheat (T. araraticum), are found in the lowlands and foothills, and to some extent in more mountainous areas. In addition, six wild barley species are common in Azerbaijan and rye is represented in four wild forms

Other crops

Unfortunately, although Azerbaijan originally possessed a diversity of wild relatives of corn, beans, vegetables, fruits, berries and grapes, along with a range of traditional local varieties, most of these have since been lost due to poor protection and discontinued selection of these forms. Currently, a number of scientific research institutes within the Ministry of Agriculture, along with the Genetic Resources Institute of National Academy of Sciences, are undertaking collection, study and maintenance of examples of agricultural crops and their wild ancestors, to provide the basis for future selective breeding. Research is being carried out on arable crops (cereals, corn, beans and tobacco), vegetables, berries, grapes, fodder species and cotton. Since 1996 significant efforts have been made to increase the collection of genetic material relating to important crops, under the Republican Crop Genetic Resources Program.

Some wild ancestors of wheat (Triticum monococcum, T. araratum, and T. urartu occur in Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, mainly in the area of Garagush Mountain (2600 m).

Table 1 Number of species/forms and number of samples of different crop types collected to date under the Republican Crop Genetic Resources Program


Number of species/forms

Number of samples



















Fruit, berry and grape



Livestock diversity


Three species of long-horned cattle are found in Azerbaijan - neat, buffalo and zebu. A range of long-horned cow breeds are found in the country, including brown Caucasus (a local breed), black-light, Simmental, Kostroma, Svis, brown Lithuania, Lebedin, red desert, red Eston, Holstin Friz, Aberdeen Angus, Limousine and Hallovey. Buffalo numbers in Azerbaijan are significant (over 300,000) with most being privately owned, and these are an important source of milk and meat.


Sheep-breeding has been widely developed in Azerbaijan, with a range of breeds specialised for fine fleeces, rough fleeces and meat/milk. Traditional forms include Azerbaijan mountain merinos, Bozakh, “Shirvan”, “Garabakh”, Mazex, Balbas, Jaro, and Herik, while a number of other breeds (Sovet merinos, Askaniya, Prekos) have been introduced into the country.


Goats have been selectively bred in Azerbaijan since ancient times. Since 1936 these native breeds have been supplemented by Angora goats from Turkey (concentrated in the Ganja-Gazakh and Upper Karabakh regions).


Four breeds of pigs are regularly kept in private farms in Azerbaijan - big white pig, Ukrainian white desert pig, white Lithuanian pig and big black pig.


Azerbaijan is one of the countries where the horse was first domesticated and bred in ancient times. A number of famous horse breeds originated in Azerbaijan – including the “Karabakh” and “Dilbaz” breeds, and the less well-known “Guba” and “Shirvan” forms. Three key genetic forms of horse are recognised in the country: (i) Lower Caucasus type which originated in the foothills region of little Caucasus; (ii) Large Caucasus type, which are smaller forms originating from the higher mountain areas; and (iii) plain type – a larger workhorse from the Kura-Araz plateau. In addition a range of foreign horse breeds have been imported over the last 50 years (including English, Arab, Terek, Turkman, Budyonni, and Traken races).


A number of common domesticated chickens (white rus, Leggorn Red Aylend Nyu-hempshir and Broyler-6) are bred for meat and eggs, alongside more traditional local hen breeds. Local Indian hen breeds are found in Guba-Khachmaz, Upper Karabakh, Shirvan, Ganja-Gazakh regions. Domesticated ducks (Pekin) were introduced in 1956, while a range of different local goose breeds have been developed in the Republic. These forms are adapted to local climatic conditions and do not require supplementary feeding as long as pasture is available.

Wild relatives of domesticated livestock


Two species of wild goat are found in Azerbaijan. Notably, the bezoar or cliff goat (Capra aegagrus) is a species dating from prehistoric times, and is smaller than other wild goats, with a body length of 140-160 cm and height of less than 85 cm. The species is also distinguished from other goat species by the shape of its horns and its colouration (reddish-brown). Bezoar goats are distributed in the Lesser Caucasus (including the mountain chains of Shahdag and Murovdag), in the Upper Garabag, in Lachin and Kalbajar rayons, and in Nakhichevan are common in the mountain chains of Zangezur and Nasirvaz.


The Asian mouflon (Ovis orientalis) occurs in Azerbaijan. It is a small species (standing up to 83 cm high, with a body length of less than 115 cm), with a short tail and curved horns. The species is found in the southern Caucasus (Alinja, Ilandag, Nasirvaz, Gapijig, Nehramdag and surrounding chains).


Wild boar (Sus scrofa) is common throughout the Caucasus where a sub-species has been described. Wild boar are found in all forests and reed thickets in Azerbaijan and are the most common wild hoofed mammals in the Republic, and are a focus for hunting.

A range of local domesticated breeds of buffalo, goat, and sheep are found in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan, along with wild ancestors of livestock such as mouflon and bezoar goat and wild boar live in the territory.

3. Wild species of economic importance

Use of wild plants

Food plants

A wide range of Azerbaijan’s flora is used as a source of food. Key food species and their uses are listed in Table 2 below.

In addition, a number of other wild plants produce fruits and vegetables used in Azerbaijan, including cherries, plums, cornel tree, hawthorn, forest strawberry (Fagaria vesca), Russian cherry-plum (Grossularia reclinata), sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), apple, medlar, cherry-plum, blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), raspberry (Rubus caesius), dog-rose (Rosa spp.), blackberry (different varieties of Rubus), garlic (Allium sativum), onion (Allium cepa), and leeks (A. porrum).

Table 2 Key food species and their uses

Common name

Botanical name



Castanea sativa

The nut is eaten roasted or raw; chestnut flour is made from the nut, and is combined with wheat flour to bake bread


Corylus avellana

Hazel nuts are eaten roasted or raw, and are widely used in bakery and confectionery products


Fagus orientalis

Fruits are eaten instead of sunflower seeds, and valuable oil is also acquired from its fruit


Tilia caucasica

Flowers and leaves are used for teas and tisanes, and linden flowers are a source of nectar for honey production

Shepherd's purse

Capsella bursa pastoris

Young leaves are used in making soup and borsch


Echinochloa oryzoides

Thick roots are pickled and eaten fresh


Prongos ferulaceae

Cooked or pickled


Heracleum trachyloma

Leaves and stem are eaten.


Rumex spp.

Leaves and stem are used


Capparis herlacea

Buds are pickled

Sugar cane

Sorghum saccharatum

Used to produce syrup and doshab (boiled down fruit juice)


Echinochloa crusgalli

Nutritional uses (America)

American Millet

Milium effusum

Seeds are used in baking bread


Chaerophyllum aureum

Seeds are used as fodder for domestic animals and poultry


Around 400 species of trees and bushes are recorded in Azerbaijan (representing nearly 10% of the country’s flora) and approximately 11% of the land area is forested. Timber provides a source of materials for construction and furniture making. Key timber species include hornbeam (Caprinus spp.), Georgian oak (Quercus iberica) and beech (Fagus spp.). Since 2005 it was prohibited by the MENR to use forest materials as a firewood.

Medicinal plants

Around 800 plant species of medicinal value have been recorded in Azerbaijan, including 150 species used in pharmacology. Key medicinal plants include elecampagne (Inula helenium), origanum (Origanum vulgare), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), and Helychrisum arenarium, with 33 dried products obtained from these plants, which are mainly traded by “Azerfarm Ltd”. In addition a range of oil-based products are developed through cold pressing of various plants (including various nuts and fruits), and a traditional medicine called doshab (a concentrated syrup, usually of mulberry) is produced from a range of wild plants, including mulberries, medlar and rosehips. Currently there is a growing recognition of the importance of extending the cultivation of medicinal plants, and moves towards certification is necessary to broaden the access to European markets.

Plants in foreign trade

A number of plants from Azerbaijan have attracted foreign businessmen, and some valuable plants are exported abroad, including cultivated liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), linden (Tilia cordata), cane (Phragmites australis), reed (Arundo donax) and nettle (Urtica dioica).

Export of plants to foreign countries is regulated under relevant permits (licences) issued by proper authorities.
The population of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic use wild plants for medicinal, food, wood, dyes and other purposes. Many of the species collected are rare, endemic or endangered. A great number of plants (up to 750 species) are used in traditional remedies and medicines, and resources of Nakhichevan can be seen as a ‘natural pharmacy’. The level of collection of some natural products is relatively extensive. A few of these are currently commercially cultivated (by the “Scientific-Production Co-operative for Medical Plants”, and further expansion of cultivation may be an option in future.
Some plants are recognized as important sources of pollen and nectar for honey, and others provide flavourings for natural beverages and teas. A number of plants are used as food, either raw, cooked or preserved. A wide range of plants are recognized as important sources for aromatic and essential oils, camphor and other extracts, and Carpodium platycarpum is recognized as a plant of potential medical and economic importance, restricted to Nakhichevan. Commercial production of essential oils from these plants may be possible in Nakhichevan. Other species of note include liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and decorative plants such as tulips and Caucasian oak.

Use of wild animals


Species of some mammals (hare, fox, jackal, yenot, raccoon, Dagestan urus/aurochs, wild boar) and birds (ducks, geese, coot, pigeons, quail, pheasant and etc.) are traditionally used in hunting activity. There raised a keen interest of foreign tourists/hunters towards hunting of some species (Dagestan urus/aurochs, wild boar) of Azerbaijan fauna in the last years. Proper permits (licences) are issued by local authorities of Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources for hunting activity in order to regulate such hunting. A ban has been imposed upon baiting of brown bear since 2004, upon bird hunting since 2005 concerning avian flu.


Fishing occurs in freshwater internal water systems (Mingachevir reservoir, the Kura and Araz rivers), as well as in the Caspian Sea, utilising the many valuable kinds of fish found in Azerbaijan. Most economically valuable are the sturgeon (Acipenseridae), which is a high fat-content fish and is the source of caviar. Four species of the genus Acipenser are considered to have a particularly fine taste: ship sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), sterlet (A. ruthenus), Russian sturgeon (A. guldenstadti), and Kura sturgeon (Acipencer stellatus cyrensis). There are several hatchery programmes that release juvenile fish to support the existing populiatons. Spawn and caviar of species of this family are sold in domestic and foreign market on expensive price.

In addition, other species that are fished commercially include a number of Clupeiformes (herring). Sprats (Clupeonella spp.) are a source of bone meal for use in agriculture (for both poultry and livestock). The local population also uses a number of other species of the family Cypriniformes (carp) which are considered to be good to eat, including: Asp (Aspius a. taeniatus), Balic vimba (Vimba v. persa), Black Sea roach (Rutilus frisii kutum), common carp (Cyprinus c. carpio), North Caspian roach (Rutilus rutilus), Caspian bream (Abramis brama orientalis), Kura bleak (Chalcalburnus chalcoides guldenstadt) and Danubian bleak (Ch. chalcoides longissimus).

Medical use

Leeches (Hirudinea medicinalis) are used by the general public for the treatment of different diseases and hirudin2 from leeches is considered to be a precious medical remedy. In addition, until the mid 1990’s a special institution existed to collect venom from the Levetine viper (Macrovipera lebetine) populations.

There is a long history of the use of wild animals in Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, including hunting of birds (such geese, ducks, bustards, quail, and partridge). Among the birds hunted in Nakhichevan are a number of locally endemic sub-species of non-migratory birds, which may be at particular risk from over-exploitation combined with loss of habitats and fires3. In addition, other species caught by the general population include mountain goats, mouflon, fox, wolf, jackal, and vipers (including Radde’s viper).
A wide range of fish is caught within Nakhichevan’s rivers and lakes, particularly from the Araz River and reservoir. There is also fishing on the Iranian bank of the Araz. Fish populations have declined as a result of unsustainable offtake (particularly during the sensitive spawning period), use of illegal fishing devices, and overfishing from the Iranian side of the Araz reservoir) and as a result of pollution, changes in water composition and reduced invertebrate populations in the Araz River.

Evaluation of sustainability of use of wild species

The fauna and flora of different areas of Azerbaijan face different anthropogenic threats, resulting in inconsistent patterns of distribution of key biological resources. For example, the biological resources of the Caspian Sea are threatened as a result of its isolation from other oceans, and the intensity of pressure on its resources. In addition, the steppe and semi-deserts of the Kura-Araz and Absheron plains are threatened, as are the forest resources of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The regions with greater resilience to use of resources include the wetter areas in the subtropical regions (such as Astara and Lankaran), where the dry subtropical forests recover well and can be sustainably managed.

At the same time, expansion of protected areas network enables rapid and effective rehabilitation of fauna resources of areas covered their scope (10.1% part of the country is comprised by protected areas).

4. Use of biodiversity for biotechnology and genetic collections

Biodiversity is used for scientific and industrial purposes through biotechnology. Genetic material is sourced from wild and cultivated plant species and is maintained in vitro for both conservation and scientific goals. Forms of tomato, tobacco, wheat and roses have been developed under laboratory conditions. In industry, genetic material from wild and cultivated plants is used to develop hybrids with specific characteristics.

Indirect uses of biodiversity

Azerbaijan provides suitable conditions for the development of ecotourism, particularly for holidays based on bird-watching. Interesting bird populations can be observed at all times of year (for wintering, migration and breeding), and large colonies of herons, cormorants, gulls and tern can be seen in reed beds and islands. In winter extensive flocks of little bustards, eagles, and griffon vultures are seen in the lowlands, and large populations of water birds gather are concentrated along the Caspian coast and in inland water systems.

Creation of initial National Parks in the country since 2003 has played a legal framework role for development and rational organization of in-place ecotourism and aesthetic pleasure of tourists in its boons without damage to the environment and allowed to growth of ecotourism activity.

5. Cultural or traditional values of biodiversity

Wildlife and national cuisine

In Azerbaijan, the national cuisine reflects the traditional methods of food preparation, but incorporates the availability of foods and requirements of a modern diet. A range of agrobiodiversity and wild species are traditionally used within the national diet. Most dishes are prepared from veal, mutton and poultry. The region is also rich in fish - the main species consumed are sturgeon caught in the lake, rivers, and the sea. Meals are often prepared with a variety of ingredients to add taste. Ingredients include lemon, olives, vinegar, pomegranate syrup, plums, grapes, cherries, apricots, fruit paste, and sumakh spice.

Meals are accompanied by rice, bread, and a variety of vegetables, predominantly aubergine, tomato, sweet peppers, cabbage, spinach, sorrel, beetroot, turnip, and onion. Herbs such as saffron, caraway, anise, laurel leaf, coriander, mint, dill, parsley, celery, tarragon, basil and thyme are also commonly served with, and accompany meals. These ingredients are also combined into salads. Other popular foods include caviar, omelette with vegetables or walnuts, fried beans and walnut, and other snacks. Mixes of garlic, aubergine, and hot pepper, are preserved with salt or vinegar and are served with meat courses.

Meals usually start with strong black tea, to aid digestion, and for social reasons. Tea is often served with fruit preserves made from quince, watermelon, cherry, peach, plum, walnut and mulberry. The tea is sometimes flavoured with herbs and spices, such as thyme, cloves and cardamom to add flavour. In addition, the natural waters of Azerbaijan are rich in minerals and are believed to promote good health.

Arts, folklore, and music

Located between the Middle East, Europe and Asia, on the ancient ‘Silk Route’, Azerbaijan has historically played an important part in the world economy and exchange of culture. This history is reflected in the creative culture existing today through highly skilled musicians, astrologists, sculptures and craftsmen. Azerbaijan has a great artistic history, with craft methods passed down through families. Many types of folklore are depicted through art, music, dance, and in the history of architecture, and much of this folklore is related to the natural resources of the region and reflect the close relationship between culture and natural history.

The culture is globally renowned for its cultural and spiritual achievements. Ancient customs and traditions remain significant in the spiritual lives of modern Azeris. Families have played a central role in maintaining these traditions through the generations. Religious events are celebrated as national holidays, such as ‘Gurban Bayrami’ (the day of the sacrificial slaughter of an animal). The 21st of March (the equinox) is ‘Novruz Bayramy’, a celebration of the coming spring. Rural communities also celebrate the harvest on ‘Harvest holiday’. For all these celebrations Azeris prepare food as gifts for friends and relatives.

National crafts reflect the rich biological resources of the country. The main crafts are carpets, silks, jewellery, and wood, stone and metal carvings. The internationally renowned carpet makers are found in Guba, Shamakhi, Ganja, Gazakh, Garabach, and the villages around Baku. Carpets traditionally are made using plant dyes and wool.

Azeri literature depicts the many ancient traditions of the country, and many great authors (such as Khagani, Nizami, Fizuli, Nazimi, Vagif, Sabir, Jalil Mammadguluzadeh, and Husseyn Javid) reveal the close relationship between the culture of the region and its biodiversity.

Spiritual values of biodiversity

One of the unique aspects of Azeri culture is the variety of religions that are currently and historically practiced (see Chapter 2). Many religions teach the importance of biodiversity. In particular, islamic religion worhipped by Azerbaijan nation emphasizes advocating of nature care and affection in sacred and holy Koran (even some of suras are titled with names of animals - bee, cow and etc.).

6. Recreation and biodiversity

Due to the need to house more than one million refugees in Azerbaijan, there is great pressure on recreation sites. The areas traditionally used for recreation and spas are now used for sheltering these people. Of the 12,000 tourist sites, 10,000 are occupied by refugees - despite the fact that these sites are unsuitable as permanent settlements.

The main areas used for tourism and spa use are within the Absheron, Nabran, Kura, and Lenkoran coastal resorts, and tourists visit such resorts over five months of the year. Changes in the level of the Caspian Sea have caused a great number of recreational centres on the coast to be flooded. Other areas in the forested mountain regions of Guba, Shemakha-Ismailli, Belokan-Gabala, Kelbajar, Karabakj, Kedabek, Nakhichevan and Ganja-Naftalan are visited because of the presence of thermal springs and medicinal mud volcanoes. Over 300 recreational sites have been identified in these regions, within a total area of 35,000 ha (much of which is forested).

Establishment of initial National Parks in Azerbaijan in 2003 - i.e. Ordubad National Parks named after H.Aliyev, Shirvan and Aghgol National Parks, then organization of Hirkan and Altiaghaj National Parks in 2004, Absheron National Park in 2005, Shahdagh National Park in 2006, Goygol National Park in 2008 as continuance of regular actions carried out on this purpose, created a favorable condition for arrangement of ecotourism activity in natural areas where rich historical monuments, unique landscape, geological and climate features and various biodiversity exist.

1 Azerbaijan (2010). Country Study on Biodiversity of Azerbaijan Republic: Fourth National Report to Convention of Biological Diversity, Baku, 2010, 167 pp.

2 From the saliva glands of the leech

3 Quail (Coturnix coturnix coturnix), rock partridge (Alectoris graeca jaujisijus), grey partridge (Perdix perdix janesjens), Caspian snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus taurijus).

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