On Tuesday, the Azerbaijan Ambassador to the United States recognized Brigham Young University as the first university in the United States to offer an Azerbaijani 101 course.
“There could be no better place than BYU to have the first Azerbaijani class,” said ambassador Khazar Ibrahim. “BYU’s programs are at the top of the list because of their depth––BYU teaches not only about the language, but about the culture too. The cultural nuance of a people is integral in understanding their language.”
During his visit, Ibrahim announced that Azerbaijan will provide a couple of scholarships as a gift of appreciation to the university. The scholarships will be specifically set aside for students looking to enhance their BYU study by traveling to Azerbaijan.
Additionally, Ibrahim cited many similarities that he had observed between Utah and Azerbaijan: a welcoming community that supports families, a focus on creating hubs for technology and transportation, and a desire to be a “crossroad.”
“Utah is known as ‘the crossroads of the West.’ Azerbaijan is the crossroads of the world,” Ibrahim said.
Azerbaijan is a predominantly Muslim country that serves as the connecting point between Europe and Central Asia via the Caspian Sea. Because of its geographical location, the country has experienced the back-and-forth of some of the world’s largest and strongest historical empires, making Azerbaijan a unique melting pot of world culture.
The current Azerbaijani 101 class of 11 students is taught by fellow BYU senior Andrew Bonney, who served his mission in Azerbaijan's neighboring country Armenia. Bonney learned Azerbaijani himself by combining his understanding of Turkish combined with an online intensive course on Azerbaijani, completed during a remote period of study due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to English, Azerbaijani and Turkish, the 23-year-old Maryland native also speaks Arabic and Armenian.
Currently, BYU offers courses in 73 languages, with Azerbaijani and S’gaw Karen added as new options for the 2023 winter semester. The new Azerbaijani 101 course is just one of nearly 20 less commonly taught languages offered for only one class at BYU. Several of the courses are offered for returned missionaries who can take a challenge exam with the class to receive language credit.
As a history major with a Middle Eastern studies minor, student Maryn Church enrolled in the new course to learn more about the country and its people.
“This part of the world is very special,” Church said. “There’s lots of history and political tension there, but if you understand language, you can better understand people and why they act the way they do. If we can do that, that’s when progress is made.”