also spelled Azerbaidzhan, officially Azerbaijani Republic, Azerbaijani
Country, Transcaucasia, western Asia.
Area: 33,400 sq mi (86,600 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 8,381,000.
Capital: Baku. Most residents are of Turkic origin, dating from the 11th
century ad. Later migrations during the Seljūq period brought further
groups, including some speaking Persian; Russians are a decreasing
minority. Languages: Azerbaijanian (official), Russian. Religion: Islam
(mostly Shīʿite).Currency: manat. Azerbaijan is characterized by a
variety of landscapes. More than two-fifths of its territory is
lowlands, while areas above 5,000 ft (1,500 m) occupy some one-tenth of
the total area. The central part of the country is a plain through which
flows the Kura River and its tributaries, including the Aras, whose
upper course forms part of the boundary with Iran. The Caspian Sea
serves Baku as a trade outlet. Agriculture, petroleum refining, and
light manufacturing are economically important. Azerbaijan is a republic
with one legislative body; its head of state and government is the
president, assisted by the prime minister. Azerbaijan adjoins the
Iranian region of the same name, and the origin of their respective
inhabitants is the same. By the 9th century ad it had come under Turkish
influence, and in ensuing centuries it was fought over by Arabs,
Mongols, Turks, and Iranians. Russia acquired what is now independent
Azerbaijan in the early 19th century. After the Russian Revolution of
1917, Azerbaijan declared its independence; it was subdued by the Red
Army in 1920 and was incorporated into the Soviet Union. It declared
independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan has
two geographic peculiarities. The exclave Naxçivan (Nakhichevan) is
separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan and is administered by
it, has a Christian Armenian majority. Azerbaijan and Armenia went to
war over both territories in the 1990s, causing many deaths and great
economic disruption. Though attempts at mediation were made, the
political situation remained unresolved.
Official name Azərbaycan Respublikası (Republic of Azerbaijan)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with a single legislative
body (National Assembly )
Head of state and government President assisted by Prime Minister
Capital Baku (Bakı)
Official language Azerbaijanian
Official religion none
Monetary unit (new) manat (AZN)2
Population estimate (2008) 8,178,000
Total area (sq mi) 33,409
Total area (sq km) 86,530
2The (new) manat was introduced on Jan. 1, 2006, at a rate of 4,500
(old) manats (AZM) to 1 (new) manat (AZN).
also spelled Azerbaidzhan, officially Azerbaijani Republic, Azerbaijani
country of eastern Transcaucasia. Occupying an area that fringes the
southern flanks of the Caucasus Mountains, it is bounded on the north by
Russia, on the east by the Caspian Sea, on the south by Iran, on the
west by Armenia, and on the northwest by Georgia. The exclave of
Naxçıvan (Nakhichevan) is located southwest of Azerbaijan proper,
bounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. Azerbaijan includes within its
borders the predominantly Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which
from 1988 was the focus of intense conflict between Azerbaijan and
Armenia. Its capital is the ancient city of Baku (Bakı), whose harbour
is the best on the Caspian Sea.
In addition to its variegated and often strikingly beautiful terrain,
Azerbaijan offers a blend of traditions and modern development. The
proud and ancient people of its remoter areas retain many distinctive
folk traditions, but the lives of its inhabitants have been much
influenced by accelerating modernization characterized by
industrialization, the development of power resources, and the growth of
the cities, in which more than half the people now live. Industry
dominates the economy, and more diversified pursuits have supplemented
the exploitation of oil, of which Azerbaijan was the world’s leading
producer at the beginning of the 20th century. Fine horses and caviar
continue as some of the more distinctive traditional exports of the
Azerbaijan was an independent nation from 1918 to 1920 but was then
incorporated into the Soviet Union. It became a constituent (union)
republic in 1936. Azerbaijan declared sovereignty on Sept. 23, 1989, and
independence Aug. 30, 1991.
Relief, drainage, and soils
As a result of its broken relief, drainage patterns, climatic
differences, and sharply defined altitudinal zoning of vegetation,
Azerbaijan is characterized by a wide variety of landscapes. More than
two-fifths of its territory is taken up by lowlands, about half lies at
1,300 to 4,900 feet (400 to 1,500 metres), and areas above 4,900 feet
occupy a little more than one-tenth of the total area.
The highest peaks are Bazardyuzyu (Bazardüzü; 14,652 feet [4,466
metres]), Shakhdag, and Tufan, all part of the Greater Caucasus range,
the crest of which forms part of Azerbaijan’s northern boundary.
Magnificent spurs and ridges, cut into by the deep gorges of mountain
streams, make this part of Azerbaijan a region of great natural beauty.
At the same time, it lies within a region characterized by a high degree
of seismic activity.
The spurs of the Lesser Caucasus, in southwestern Azerbaijan, form
the second important mountain system, which includes the Shakhdag,
Murovdag, and Zangezur ranges, their summits rising to nearly 13,000
feet, and also the Karabakh Upland. The large and scenic Lake Geygyol
lies at an altitude of 5,138 feet.
The southeastern part of Azerbaijan is bordered by the Talish
(Talysh) Mountains, consisting of three longitudinal ranges, with Mount
Kyumyurkyoy as the highest peak (8,176 feet), and the Länkäran Lowland,
along the Caspian coast. This lowland, an extension of the Kura-Aras
Lowland, reaches the Iranian border near Astara.
The Kura-Aras Lowland is named for the main river, the Kura (Kür),
and its tributary the Aras (Araz). The Shirvan, Milskaya, and Mugan
plains are part of this lowland and have similar soils and climate. Gray
soils and saline solonchaks (aridisols) and, in higher regions, gray
alkaline solonetz and chestnut soils (mollisols) prevail.
A well-developed network of canals between the Kura and Aras rivers
makes it possible to irrigate a major part of the lowland. The Upper
Karabakh Canal, 107 miles (172 kilometres) long, provides a vital link
between the Aras River and the Mingäçevir Reservoir on the Kura River.
The reservoir has a surface area of 234 square miles and a maximum depth
of 246 feet. The Upper Karabakh Canal alone irrigates more than 250,000
acres (100,000 hectares) of fertile land and in addition supplies the
Aras River with water during dry summer periods. The Upper Shirvan
Canal, the second most important canal, is 76 miles in length and also
irrigates about 250,000 acres.
The dry subtropical climate of central and eastern Azerbaijan is
characterized by a mild winter and a long (four to five months) and very
hot summer, with temperatures averaging about 81° F (27° C) and maximum
temperatures reaching 109° F (43° C).
Southeastern Azerbaijan is characterized by a humid subtropical
climate with the highest precipitation in the country, some 47 to 55
inches (1,200 to 1,400 millimetres) a year, most of it falling in the
A dry continental climate, with a cold winter and a dry, hot summer,
prevails in Naxçıvan at altitudes of 2,300 to 3,300 feet. Moderately
warm, dry, or humid types of climate are to be found in other parts of
Azerbaijan. The mountain forest zone has a moderately cold climate,
while an upland tundra climate characterizes elevations of 10,000 feet
and above. Frosts and heavy snowfalls make the passes at such altitudes
inaccessible for three or four months of the year.
Plant and animal life
Natural vegetation zones vary according to altitude. Steppe and
semidesert conditions prevail in the lowlands and the foothills of the
mountain regions. The slopes of the mountains are covered with beech,
oak, and pine forests. Higher up there is a zone of alpine meadows. The
Länkäran region of southern Azerbaijan has evergreen vegetation and
thick beech and oak forests.
In the lowlands the animal life includes gazelles, jackals, and
hyenas as well as reptile and rodent species. The mountain regions are
inhabited by Caucasian deer, roe deer, wild boar, brown bear, lynx,
European bison (wisent), chamois, and leopard, though the latter is
rare. Mild winters draw many birds to the Caspian coast, and nature
reserves provide a resting home for flamingos, swans, pelicans, herons,
egrets, sandpipers, and partridges.
More than half of the country’s population lives in urban areas. The
most densely populated region is the Abşeron Peninsula, on the western
coast of the Caspian Sea. Baku, Azerbaijan’s largest city and the most
important industrial city in Transcaucasia, is located on this
peninsula, as are other industrial towns, including Sumqayıt.
Baku is a large and attractive city situated on natural terraces
running down to a gulf of the Caspian Sea. The city has a 2-mile-
(3.2-kilometre-) long picturesque boulevard and many historic sites.
Other areas of dense population occur in certain lowland and foothill
regions. Gäncä is the second largest town and the main urban centre of
The highest density of rural population is found in Länkäran and
Masallı in the southeast. The Talysh, or Talishi—Iranian people who form
the bulk of the local population—have preserved many of their old
customs and traditions.
Azerbaijan has a growing and youthful population. Turkic-speaking
Azerbaijanis (Azeris) make up some four-fifths of the country’s
population; the remaining population comprises only small concentrations
of minorities—among them, Lezgians (who speak a Caucasian language),
Russians, and Armenians. Ethnic Azerbaijanis combine in themselves the
dominant Turkic strain, which arrived in Azerbaijan especially during
the Oghuz Seljuq migrations of the 11th century, with mixtures of older
inhabitants—Iranians and others—who had lived in Transcaucasia since
ancient times. At the end of the 20th century, about 13 million
Azerbaijanis lived abroad, most of them in Iran.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the population of the
Azerbaijani exclave of Naxçıvan (lying wholly within Armenia) was almost
entirely ethnic Azerbaijani, whereas the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh
(lying wholly within Azerbaijan) was predominantly ethnic Armenian. In
the Soviet era there were several disagreements regarding the status of
the two territories’ placement. After a number of reversals, the Soviet
government provided that Naxçıvan was to be recognized as an Autonomous
Soviet Socialist Republic (A.S.S.R.) with close ties to Azerbaijan,
while Karabakh was to remain within the Azerbaijan S.S.R. but with
significant autonomy. In the early 1920s the region, including its
mountainous zone, was confirmed as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous
In the late 1980s, sizable Azerbaijani and Armenian populations were
driven from each other’s countries as a result of ethnic conflict and
disputes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In addition, full-scale
combat in the early 1990s, as well as territorial expansion by the
ethnic Armenians within Azerbaijan, resulted in the displacement of a
significant number of Azerbaijanis. Conflict between Armenians and
Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh, which persisted into the 21st
century, was complicated by an official declaration of independence by
the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992 (a claim that failed to gain
recognition from the international community).
The Azerbaijani language is a member of the West Oghuz group of the
southwestern (Oghuz) branch of the Turkic languages. The literary
tradition dates to the 14th century. The Arabic script was used until
the 20th century; the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in 1939. In 1992
the Azerbaijani government switched from the Cyrillic to the Roman
alphabet as its official orthography.
Azerbaijan is predominantly a Muslim country; about three-fifths of
the population are Shīʿite, and about one-fourth are Sunni. A very small
percentage of the population are members of Russian or Armenian Orthodox
Azerbaijan is a developed industrial and agrarian country. The emphasis
on heavy industry has considerably expanded two traditional
industries—petroleum and natural gas—but engineering, light industry,
and food production are also of growing importance.
In the early 1990s Azerbaijan began a transition to a market economy.
Prices of most goods were liberalized, and some state-owned enterprises
were privatized. Land privatization, however, proceeded slowly.
At the beginning of the 20th century Azerbaijan was the world’s leading
petroleum producer, and it was also the birthplace of the oil-refining
industry. In 1901, for example, Azerbaijan produced 11.4 million tons of
oil, more than the United States; it accounted for more than half of
world production. As the 20th century progressed, however, Azerbaijan’s
role in oil production decreased as the industry developed in other
regions of the U.S.S.R. and elsewhere in the world.
During the 1990s exploitation of the vast oil fields under the
Caspian Sea was complicated by political instability in Azerbaijan,
ethnic conflict throughout the region, Russian claims on the Caspian
fields, and disputes over the location of new pipelines.
Azerbaijan has other natural resources, including natural gas,
iodobromide waters, lead, zinc, iron, and copper ores, nepheline
syenites utilized in the production of aluminum, common salt, and a
great variety of building materials, including marl, limestone, and
Azerbaijan’s agriculture developed considerably in the latter part of
the 20th century. Almost half of the country’s total area is suitable
for agriculture, and some two-fifths of this is under cultivation.
Grain is the leading agricultural product, with raw cotton the second
most valuable crop. Favourable conditions for grapes have contributed to
the development of viticulture. Most of the grape varieties grown in
Azerbaijan are used for making wine, almost all of which is exported.
Other crops include vegetables (particularly early varieties), fruits,
walnuts, and hazelnuts. Some districts, particularly those around the
cities of Şäki, Zaqatala, and Göyçay, are—as they have been
traditionally—engaged in silkworm breeding.
High commodity output is not characteristic of Azerbaijan’s animal
Azerbaijani fisheries are of particular importance because of the
sturgeon of the Caspian Sea; sturgeon roe is made into internationally
renowned caviar. Sturgeon stocks are being depleted, however, as a
result of pollution of Caspian waters.
Azerbaijan has a diversified industrial base, with the leading branches
of heavy industry—power, manufacturing, and chemical
production—predominating. Branches of the processing industry, producing
mineral fertilizers, gasoline, kerosene, herbicides, industrial oils,
synthetic rubber, and plastics, have developed, and Sumqayıt has emerged
as the major centre of this industry, as well as of ferrous metallurgy.
The country’s manufacturing industries have grown considerably in the
late 20th century. Azerbaijan manufactures equipment for the oil and gas
industry, electrical equipment of all kinds, and many appliances and
instruments. This type of industry is located mostly in Baku, Gäncä, and
Light industrial manufactures include cotton and woolen textiles,
knitwear, traditional household items and souvenirs, footwear, and other
consumer goods. Şäki, Xankändi, Gäncä, Mingäçevir, and Baku are the main
centres of this industry. Food-processing plants are distributed fairly
evenly throughout the republic.
The development of Azerbaijan’s industry created a demand for fuel
and power supplies. All electricity is produced at thermoelectric power
stations burning fossil fuels, which have been built throughout the
Azerbaijan exports chemicals, machinery, food (particularly grapes and
other fruits and vegetables), beverages, petroleum and natural gas, iron
and steel, nonferrous metals, and other products; its imports include
iron and steel, machinery, and food and beverages, particularly meat and
milk. Azerbaijan’s primary trading partners are Russia, Turkey, Iran,
and Ukraine; the country also has trade links with Georgia, Belarus,
Britain, and the Central Asian republics. Azerbaijan has no trade with
Armenia because of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Few of the rivers of Azerbaijan are navigable, and most
freight—including that transported out of the country—is carried by rail
and truck. Considerable portions of the rail network are electrified.
The principal goods carried are oil products, building materials,
timber, and grain. A major railway line traverses the Kura valley and
connects Baku with Tʿbilisi and Batʿumi in Georgia. Another parallels
the Caspian Sea north of Baku.
Motor transport is used extensively for both freight and passengers.
Roads connect various parts of the country and are often the only means
of land communication between remote mountain districts and the
administrative centres and large cities.
Baku, on the Caspian, is a busy seaport, handling such goods as oil,
timber, grain, and cotton. The ferry link between Baku and Türkmenbashy
(also on the Caspian, in Turkmenistan) augments considerably the amount
of cargo passing through Azerbaijan. Air routes connect Baku with many
European and Asian cities.
The Abşeron region includes the Abşeron Peninsula and several other
areas of eastern Azerbaijan. As a result of its advantageous geographic
position, it is crossed by freight routes connecting Azerbaijan and the
whole of Transcaucasia with the North Caucasus and Central Asia.
Highways run from the peninsula to every corner of the republic.
Although it is on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Abşeron region
nevertheless remains one of the most arid parts of Azerbaijan. Its main
natural wealth is mineral, including oil, natural gas, iodobromide
waters, and limestone used in building and cement production. Baku owes
its modern growth to the development of the oil industry; oil derricks
encircle the city, and the oil refineries and processing plants attract
workers from many areas. Modern Sumqayıt, 22 miles (35 kilometres)
northwest of Baku, is currently a centre of the iron and steel,
nonferrous metallurgical, and chemical industries, although the
development of light engineering is envisaged.
The Länkäran region of southern Azerbaijan is well endowed by nature;
warm-climate crops, such as tea, feijoa (a fruit-bearing shrub), rice,
grapes, tobacco, and citrus trees, flourish there. The region also
produces spring and winter vegetables. The towns of Länkäran, Astara,
and Masallı are small, and local industry is mostly concerned with the
processing of agricultural goods, while in the mountains the Talysh
people make colourful rugs and carpets.
The Quba-Xaçmaz region lies to the north of Abşeron. Its coastal
lowlands specialize in grain and vegetable production, while vast
orchards surround the towns of Quba and Qusar. The mountain slopes are
used for grazing. Special breeds of sheep are raised; their skins are
used in the local fur industry.
The Shirvan region, an industrially and agriculturally developed part
of Azerbaijan, is centred on the Shirvan Plain. The Mingäçevir
hydroelectric station is located there. The area also has a
well-developed network of roads. Industry is generally engaged in the
processing of such agricultural products as cotton, grapes, and fruit.
The most important vineyards lie in the vicinity of Şamaxı, a town famed
for its wines, notably Matrasa and Shemakha, which are, respectively,
dry red and sweet. In Kürdämir a fragrant dessert wine is produced. The
best varieties of pomegranates are grown near Göyçay.
The Mugano-Salyan region, lying south of the Kura River and within
the boundaries of the Mili and Mugan plains, specializes in cotton
growing (under irrigation), producing about seven-tenths of the gross
cotton output of Azerbaijan. Cotton-ginning plants are located in Bärdä,
Salyan, and Äli-Bayramlı, all of which, in addition to being on the Kura
River, have the advantage of being located on railways and motor roads.
A thermal power station stands near Äli-Bayramlı.
The southwestern region includes Nagorno-Karabakh and the Laçin,
Füzuli, and Qubadlı administrative districts. Because the average
altitude is 4,900 feet, it is one of the areas in the country where
broken relief impedes the development of transport, industry, and
agriculture. Agricultural production is concentrated in the mountain
valleys. Animal husbandry constitutes a large percentage of the gross
agricultural output, the leading branches being sheep and pig raising.
Grapes, tobacco, and grain are the main crops; wine-making, silk-making,
and electrical engineering are the main industries.
The Gäncä-Qazax region is situated in the centre of Transcaucasia
near the junction of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. The region has
conditions favourable both for human life and for intensive agriculture.
Trade routes have crossed this part of Azerbaijan from time immemorial,
and the ancient town of Ganja (Gäncä) was founded here. It is an
industrial centre, with food, engineering, chemical, and nonferrous
metallurgical industries. Naftalan is a health resort.
The Şäki-Zaqatala region includes the towns of Şäki, Zaqatala, and
Balakän. Its territory borders the Greater Caucasus range, which
shelters it from cold northern winds. The numerous mountain rivers
provide ample supplies of water, and the region is densely populated.
Agricultural products include tobacco, aromatic plants (mint, basil, and
roses), rice, corn (maize), and various fruits. The area is also a major
producer of hazelnuts and walnuts.
The Naxçıvan region is a typical semidesert, although irrigation has
made it possible to cultivate grapes, cotton, and grain. There are
several sources of mineral water in the foothill areas.
Administration and social conditions
Azerbaijan’s 1978 Soviet-era constitution was subsequently revised or
superseded by the 1991 Act of Independence and by presidential and
parliamentary decree. In 1995 a new constitution was overwhelmingly
approved by referendum. The constitution provides for a unicameral
legislature, whose members are directly elected to five-year terms. The
head of state is the president, who is also elected by direct universal
suffrage to a term of five years. A constitutional amendment that was
passed in 2009 removed the presidency’s two-term limit.
Political parties include the New Azerbaijan Party (founded by former
president Heydar Aliyev), the pro-Turkish, nationalist Azerbaijan
Popular Front, the New Equality Party (Musavat), the Azerbaijan Social
Democratic Party, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, and the
Azerbaijan United Communist Party, which was founded after its
predecessor was banned in 1991.
In 1992 Azerbaijan joined the United Nations, and in 1993 it formally
became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Armed forces and security
Azerbaijan formed a national military in 1991, including an army
(consisting partly of personnel and matériel from the Soviet 4th Army),
navy, and air force. Russian forces completed their withdrawal from
Azerbaijan in 1993. Azerbaijan’s navy serves under the command of the
CIS. Military service is voluntary; individuals are eligible to serve in
the armed forces at 18 years of age, and service obligations last for 18
months (12 months for university graduates). The conflict with Armenia
over Nagorno-Karabakh dominated Azerbaijani military planning during the
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for internal
security and general police work, was reorganized in 1993. Crime rates
in Azerbaijan rose during the 1990s, exacerbated by the social
dislocation that accompanied the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Education in Azerbaijan is compulsory between ages 6 and 17. Primary
education begins at age 6; secondary education, which begins at age 10,
consists of two cycles of five and two years, respectively. Azerbaijani
is the primary language of instruction, although in higher education,
some technical fields continue to favour Russian. In the Soviet period
illiteracy was virtually eradicated, and a network of institutes of
higher education, research centres, and similar bodies was established.
A number of universities and institutes of learning are located in
Baku. Among these are the Azerbaijan State Economic University (founded
in 1929), which includes faculties of commerce, finance, and management;
the Azerbaijan State University of Languages (founded 1937; current name
and status, 2000), which includes faculties of Russian, English, and
French; the Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Fine Arts
(founded 1945); the Azerbaijan Medical University (founded 1930), which
includes faculties of dentistry, pediatrics, general medicine, and
pharmacy; and the Azerbaijan Technical University (founded 1950), which
offers study in areas that include machine sciences, metallurgy, radio
engineering and communications, and transportation. The Azerbaijan
National Academy of Sciences (founded 1945), also located in Baku,
coordinates the activities of research centres, including institutes of
cybernetics, physics, theoretical problems of chemical technology,
petrochemical processes, and genetics.
Health and welfare
Azerbaijan has a well-established health service with some specialized
clinics and medical research institutes. Medical services, provided free
to patients, are supported by general taxation on individual workers and
by taxes on income of factories and other firms.
In the course of its long history, Azerbaijan has given the world a
number of outstanding thinkers, poets, and scientists. Among the
medieval scientists and philosophers, Abul Hasan Bakhmanyar (11th
century), the author of numerous works on mathematics and philosophy,
and Abul Hasan Shirvani (11th–12th centuries), the author of Astronomy,
may be noted. The poet and philosopher Nẹzāmī, called Ganjavī after his
place of birth, Ganja, was the author of Khamseh (“The Quintuplet”),
composed of five romantic poems, including “The Treasure of Mysteries,”
“Khosrow and Shīrīn,” and “Leyli and Mejnūn.”
The people of Azerbaijan have retained their ancient musical
tradition. For example, the art of ashugs, who improvise songs to their
own accompaniment on a stringed instrument called a kobuz, remains
extremely popular. Mugams, vocal and instrumental compositions, are also
widely known, the town of Shusha being particularly renowned for this
Azerbaijan’s cultural institutions, including museums, theatres, and
public libraries, are located in Baku. Many of them were established
after World War II. The city has museums devoted to the art, history,
and literature of Azerbaijan. In Nagorno-Karabakh there is a museum with
material on the history and archaeology of the Armenian people of the
The opera and ballet are widely attended. Some of Azerbaijan’s
composers, notably Uzeir Hajjibekov (the operas Ker-Ogly and Leyli and
Mejnūn and the operetta Arshin Mal ʾAlan) and Kara Karayev (the ballets
Seven Beauties and The Path of Thunder), have international reputations.
The latter’s symphonic music is also well known abroad.
Throughout the Soviet period Azerbaijani literature was controlled by
a system that saw mortal danger in even a modicum of creative freedom.
Azerbaijani writers and other intellectuals were closely supervised and
subjected to varying degrees of persecution.
Azerbaijan has no private publishing; several government firms
publish scientific books and magazines as well as books and magazines
about art and literature in Azerbaijani, Russian, and other languages.
In 1992 the Azerbaijani government switched from the Cyrillic to the
The magazines Literaturny Azerbaydzhan (in Russian), Azerbaijan
Gadïnï (“Azerbaijan Woman,” in Azerbaijani), and Azerbaydzhanskoye
neftyanoye khozyaystvo (“Azerbaijan Petroleum Economy,” in Russian) have
the highest circulation.
Baku has several radio stations, a television studio, and a film
Evgeny Dmitrievich Silaev
G. Melvyn Howe
In ancient and early medieval times, eastern Transcaucasia was populated
by Iranian speakers, nomadic Turkic tribes, Kurds, and the Caucasian
Albanians, who converted to Christianity in the 4th century and came
under the cultural influence of the Armenians. After Arab incursions in
the 7th century, Islamic polities were established under local rulers
called shāhanshāhs. The Seljuq invasions in the 11th century changed the
composition of the local population and resulted in the linguistic
dominance of Oghuz Turkic languages. But, unlike the Ottoman Turks who
came to dominate Anatolia, the Caucasian Muslims of Azerbaijan in the
early 16th century became Shīʿite, rather than Sunni, Muslims, and they
continued to develop under Persian social and cultural influence.
Persian-ruled khanates in Shirvan (Şamaxı), Baku, Ganja (Gäncä),
Karabakh, and Yerevan dominated this frontier of Ṣafavid Iran.
After a series of wars between the Russian Empire and Iran, the treaties
of Golestān (Gulistan; 1813) and Turkmenchay (Torkmānchāy; 1828)
established a new border between the empires. Russia acquired Baku,
Shirvan, Ganja, Nakhichevan (Naxçıvan), and Yerevan. Henceforth the
Azerbaijani Turks of Caucasia were separated from the majority of their
linguistic and religious compatriots, who remained in Iran. Azerbaijanis
on both sides of the border remained largely rural, though a small
merchant class and working class appeared in the second half of the 19th
century. As Baku became the major source of oil for Russia, tens of
thousands of Iranian, Armenian, and Russian workers streamed to the
Abşeron Peninsula in search of employment, and Russian economic and
political influence could be felt in both parts of Azerbaijan. As the
source of employment and the home of the nascent Azerbaijani
intelligentsia and revolutionary movement, Baku radiated its influence
in Iranian Azerbaijan as well as north of the Aras (Araz) River. No
specifically Azerbaijani state existed before 1918, and, rather than
seeing themselves as part of a continuous national tradition, like the
Georgians and Armenians, the Muslims of Transcaucasia saw themselves as
part of the larger Muslim world, the ummah. They were referred to as
“Tatars” by the Russians; the ethnonym Azerbaijani (azarbayjanli) came
into use in the prerevolutionary decades at first among urban
nationalist intellectuals. Only in the Soviet period did it become the
official and widely accepted name for this people.
Incorporation into the Russian Empire provided a new outlet for
educated Azerbaijanis, some of whom turned from their religious
upbringing to a more secular outlook. Prominent among the early scholars
and publicists who began the study of the Azerbaijani language were
ʿAbbās Qolī Āghā Bāqıkhānlı (Bakikhanov), who wrote poetry as well as
histories of the region, and Mīrzā Fatḥ ʿAlī Ākhūndzādeh (Akhundov),
author of the first Azerbaijani plays. Though eventually these figures
would be incorporated into a national narrative as predecessors of the
Turkic revival, a variety of conflicting impulses stimulated early
Azerbaijani intellectuals—loyalty to the tsarist empire, the continuing
influence of Persian culture, and a longing for Western learning.
Although no single coherent ideology or movement characterized the
Azerbaijani intelligentsia, by 1905 a growing number of writers and
journalists adopted the program of the nationalist intellectual ʿAlī Bay
Huseynzadeh: “Turkify, Islamicize, Europeanize” (“Turklashtirmak,
The town of Baku, which by 1901 produced more than half of the
world’s output of petroleum, was complexly segregated, with Russians and
Armenians in the central part of the town and Muslims clustered in
distinct districts. As social resentments festered, particularly in
times of political uncertainty, ethnic and religious differences defined
the battle lines; bloody clashes between Azerbaijanis and local
Armenians took place in 1905 and 1918. A hierarchy of skills, education,
and wages placed Muslims on the bottom and Christians at the top. By
virtue of a quota on non-Christian representation and a system of
suffrage based on property holdings, the Baku city duma (legislative
council) remained in the hands of wealthy Armenians and Russians.
Azerbaijanis remained on the fringe of the labour movement and were
indifferent to or ignorant of the aspirations of both their socialist
and nationalist intellectuals. None of the small parties and political
groups that arose after 1905 commanded much of a following beyond the
intelligentsia, though Musavat (“Equality”), founded in 1911 and led by
Mehmed Emin Rasulzadeh, proved most enduring. Anxiety about the Armenian
“threat,” a perception of their own distance from and hostility to this
privileged element within their midst, and a feeling that Azerbaijanis
were connected in important ways to other Muslims, particularly Turks,
became part of an Azerbaijani sense of self.
With the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the
withdrawal of Russian troops from the Caucasian front during World War I
(1914–18), Azerbaijani leaders joined Armenians and Georgians in a brief
experiment in Transcaucasian autonomy (February to April 1918). An even
briefer attempt at unity in an independent federative republic of
Transcaucasia (April to May) fell apart, and finally three separate
independent republics were established. Azerbaijan was declared an
independent state on May 28, 1918, but Baku remained in the hands of a
communist government, assisted by local Armenian soldiers, who had put
down a Muslim revolt in March. Allied with the advancing Turkish army,
in September 1918 the Azerbaijani nationalists secured their capital,
Baku, and engaged in a massacre of the Armenians.
However, even as they secured control of Baku, the Azerbaijani
nationalists were faced with a mixed population of Russian, Armenian,
and Muslim workers who had undergone a long socialist and trade-unionist
education. Among the peasantry on whom they depended, national
consciousness was still largely absent, and the nationalists were never
fully secure in Baku, where Bolshevism had deep roots. With the end of
World War I, the Turks withdrew; they were replaced by the British, who
remained until August 1919. The fragile republic received de facto
recognition from the Allies on January 15, 1920, but when the Red Army
marched into Baku in April 1920 there was little resistance.
The Soviet and post-Soviet periods
The Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic lasted 71 years. It was part
of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic from 1922
until 1936 and, like Georgia and Armenia, it experienced considerable
economic development, urbanization, and industrialization. Although
education in Azerbaijan was promoted and Azerbaijanis were placed in
positions of power, the republic was tightly controlled by Moscow,
especially during the years of Joseph Stalin’s rule (1928–53) when M.A.
Bagirov headed the Azerbaijani Communist Party. Becoming a more urban,
educated, and socially mobile society, Azerbaijan was divided between
more traditional, underdeveloped rural areas and the cosmopolitan city
of Baku. After the death of Stalin, the republic enjoyed somewhat
greater autonomy, and the national political and intellectual elites
When conflict with the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous
Region within Azerbaijan broke out in February 1988, these elites
provided the leaders both for the oppositional Azerbaijan Popular Front
and for their communist opponents. Violent protests and interethnic
clashes targeting both Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the late 1980s,
anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait in 1988 and in Baku in 1990, as well as
continual warfare between the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians of
Nagorno-Karabakh, led to military action by Moscow against the republic
in January 1990. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union late the
following year, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh was declared; following
a referendum indicating popular support for independence, as well as an
election in December, the republic’s independence was officially
proclaimed in the first days of 1992, a move unrecognized by the
international community. The full-scale conflict that exploded between
the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijanis shortly
thereafter was finally halted by a 1994 cease-fire, which, though
periodically violated, largely managed to hold.
The Communist Party of Azerbaijan retained its power until 1992.
After the abortive coup against the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in
Moscow in August 1991, Azerbaijan declared itself independent, and the
head of the party, Ayaz Mutalibov, was elected its first president. In
May 1992 the Azerbaijan Popular Front overthrew Mutalibov and forced new
elections, in which its candidate, Abulfez Elchibey, emerged victorious
on a platform of separating from the Commonwealth of Independent States
and maintaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh. Elchibey was himself
overthrown in June 1993 by Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB official and
leader of the Azerbaijani Communist Party who had adopted the rhetoric
of Azerbaijani nationalism.
Ronald Grigor Suny
Over the next decade, the Aliyev government maintained
control—reportedly through intimidation of the press and opposition
groups and through manipulation of elections—but was unable to resolve
the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, despite numerous summit meetings
between Aliyev and Armenian leaders. Complicating the discussions was
the 1992 declaration of independence that had been issued by the
self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave held periodic
elections thereafter, the results of which were soundly rejected by
Azerbaijan as illegal under international law. In addition, the fighting
in Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in the displacement of substantial
populations of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, and, by the time of the
1994 cease-fire, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians had expanded their hold
over Azerbaijani territory.
At the beginning of the 21st century, roughly one-seventh of
Azerbaijan’s territory remained outside its control, and significant
populations remained displaced, particularly in the case of the
Azerbaijanis, many of whom also remained displaced internally. Tensions
were further inflamed in the late 1990s by the appointment of a former
president of Nagorno-Karabakh to the post of prime minister in Armenia;
in Azerbaijan the move was largely viewed as a deliberate provocation,
and talks were hampered further. Relations were also strained with
Russia, which felt that the government in Azerbaijan was doing little to
stop Chechen rebels from operating out of Azerbaijani territory.
In the meantime, oil revenues in Azerbaijan began to soar, as new
fields were discovered and new contracts were signed with Western
companies for their exploitation. In 2003 the elderly Aliyev died and
was succeeded by his son, Ilham, whom Aliyev had been grooming for
succession. Scandalized by the apparent accession to power of a
hereditary line, opposition political groups staged a series of violent
protests that failed to keep the younger Aliyev from the presidency.
During the course of his term, Aliyev directed income from the boom in
Caspian oil in part toward developing Azerbaijani military capacity,
which in 2006 was described as nearing the capability needed to
challenge the forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. That same year,
Nagorno-Karabakh passed a referendum approving a new constitution, and,
in the year that followed, it held its fourth round of elections. Though
leadership in the disputed region had hoped that such shows of
democratic rule would support the territory’s claim to sovereignty,
neither Azerbaijan nor the remainder of the international community
recognized the region’s claims to independence. Efforts to resolve the
conflict continued, and in November 2008 Aliyev signed an agreement with
Armenian Pres. Serzh Sarkisyan that pledged to intensify the countries’
efforts to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Aliyev secured election to a second term in the presidential vote of
October 2008 amid an opposition boycott against the election’s
restrictive measures. International observers indicated concerns that
the proceedings were not sufficiently free and fair, partly because of
media restrictions and a lack of robust competition. In early 2009 a
series of constitutional amendments meant to consolidate Aliyev’s
position were passed by referendum. Among their provisions were the
removal of the two-term limit on the presidency, which would allow
Aliyev to run for a third term in the coming years, as well as new
restrictions on the media.