Azerbaijan

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The official name is the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

It is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. The exclave of Nakhchivan is bounded by Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, and has an 11 km long border with Turkey in the northwest.

The capital of Azerbaijan is Baku.

Official languages: Azerbaijani, but still many speak Russian
National currency is called manat: 1 AZM = 100 qəpik = 0,59 USD (2021).
Time zone in Azerbaijan: GMT+4

Azerbaijan is a unitary semi-presidential republic. It is one of six independent Turkic states and an active member of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community.

Geography & Administrative division

Geographically, Azerbaijan is located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, straddling Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

The total length of Azerbaijan’s land borders is 2,648 km, of which 1,007 kilometers are with Armenia, 756 kilometers with Iran, 480 kilometers with Georgia, 390 kilometers with Russia, and 15 kilometers with Turkey.

The coastline stretches for 800 km, and the length of the widest area of the Azerbaijani section of the Caspian Sea is 456 km.

The territory of Azerbaijan extends 400 km from north to south and 500 km from west to east.

Three physical features dominate Azerbaijan: the Caspian Sea, whose shoreline forms a natural boundary to the east; the Greater Caucasus mountain range to the north; and the extensive flatlands at the country’s center.

There are also three mountain ranges, the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, and the Talysh Mountains, together covering approximately 40% of the country.

The highest peak of Azerbaijan is Mount Bazardüzü (4,466 m), while the lowest point lies in the Caspian Sea (−28 m).

Nearly half of all the mud volcanoes on Earth are concentrated in Azerbaijan, these volcanoes were also among nominees for the New7Wonders of Nature.

The main water sources are surface waters. However, only 24 of the 8,350 rivers are greater than 100 km in length. All the rivers drain into the Caspian Sea in the east of the country.

The largest lake is Sarysu (67 km²), and the longest river is Kur (1,515 km), which is transboundary with Armenia. Azerbaijan’s four main islands in the Caspian Sea have a combined area of over thirty square kilometers.

Since the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, the Azerbaijani government has taken measures to preserve the environment of Azerbaijan. National protection of the environment accelerated after 2001 when the state budget increased due to new revenues provided by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

Within four years protected areas doubled and now makeup eight percent of the country’s territory. Since 2001 the government has set up seven large reserves and almost doubled the sector of the budget earmarked for environmental protection.

Administrative divisions

Azerbaijan is divided into 10 economic regions, 66 rayons and 77 cities of which 12 are under the direct authority of the republic.
Moreover, Azerbaijan includes the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan.

The President of Azerbaijan appoints the governors of these units, while the government of Nakhchivan is elected and approved by the parliament of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.

Demographics & Languages

While more than 89% of the population is Shia Muslim, the Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion and all major political forces in the country are secularist.

Azerbaijan has a high level of human development according to the Human Development Index. It has a high rate of economic development and literacy, as well as a low rate of unemployment.

Azerbaijani is the only official language in Azerbaijan and is spoken by the majority of its population, however, Russian is also spoken.

Armenian is also spoken but only in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian was the majority language in Nagorno-Karabakh with around 76% in 1989. After the first Nagorno-Karabakh war, the population is almost exclusively Armenian at around 95%.

Origin of the name & Local symbols

According to a modern etymology, the term Azerbaijan derives from that of Atropates, a Persian satrap under the Achaemenid Empire, who was later reinstated as the satrap of Media under Alexander the Great.

The original etymology of this name is thought to have its roots in the once-dominant Zoroastrianism. In the Avesta’s Frawardin Yasht (“Hymn to the Guardian Angels”), there is a mention of âterepâtahe ashaonô fravashîm ýazamaide, which literally translates from Avestan as “we worship the fravashi of the holy Atropatene.”

The name “Atropates” itself is the Greek transliteration of an Old Iranian, probably Median, compounded name with the meaning “Protected by the (Holy) Fire” or “The Land of the (Holy) Fire”.

The Greek name was mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Over the span of millennia, the name evolved to Āturpātākān (Middle Persian), then to Ādharbādhagān, Ādharbāyagān, Āzarbāydjān (New Persian) and present-day Azerbaijan.

The name Azerbaijan was first adopted for the area of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan by the government of Musavat in 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire, when the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was established.

Until then, the designation had been used exclusively to identify the adjacent region of contemporary northwestern Iran, while the area of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was formerly referred to as Arran and Shirvan. On that basis, Iran protested the newly adopted country name.

During the Soviet rule, the country was also spelled in Latin from the Russian transliteration as Azerbaydzhan (Russian: Азербайджа́н). The country’s name was also spelled in Cyrillic script from 1940 to 1991 as “Азәрбајҹан”.

History & Timeline

The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic proclaimed its independence in 1918 and became the first secular democratic Muslim-majority state.

In 1920 the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence on 30 August 1991, shortly before the dissolution of the USSR in the same year.

In September 1991, the Armenian majority of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region seceded to form the Republic of Artsakh. The region and seven adjacent districts outside it became de facto independent with the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994.

These regions are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan pending a solution to the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh through negotiations facilitated by the OSCE.

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The earliest evidence of human settlement in the territory of Azerbaijan dates back to the late Stone Age and is related to the Guruchay culture of Azokh Cave. The Upper Paleolithic and late Bronze Age cultures are attested in the caves of Tağılar, Damcılı, Zar, Yataq-yeri and in the necropolises of Leylatepe and Saraytepe.

Early settlements included the Scythians in the 9th century BC. Following the Scythians, Iranian Medes came to dominate the area to the south of the Aras. The Medes forged a vast empire between 900–700 BC, which was integrated into the Achaemenid Empire around 550 BC. The area was conquered by the Achaemenids leading to the spread of Zoroastrianism.

Later it became part of Alexander the Great’s Empire and its successor, the Seleucid Empire. During this period, Zoroastrianism spread in the Caucasus and Atropatene. Caucasian Albanians, the original inhabitants of northeastern Azerbaijan, ruled that area from around the 4th century BC, and established an independent kingdom.

The Sasanian Empire turned Caucasian Albania into a vassal state in 252, while King Urnayr officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. Despite Sassanid rule, Albania remained an entity in the region until the 9th century, while fully subordinate to Sassanid Iran, and retained its monarchy. Despite being one of the chief vassals of the Sasanian emperor, the Albanian king had only a semblance of authority, and the Sasanian marzban (military governor) held most civil, religious, and military authority.

In the first half of the 7th century, Caucasian Albania, as a vassal of the Sasanians, came under nominal Muslim rule due to the Muslim conquest of Persia. The Umayyad Caliphate repulsed both the Sasanians and Byzantines from Transcaucasia and turned Caucasian Albania into a vassal state after Christian resistance led by King Javanshir, was suppressed in 667.

The power vacuum left by the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate was filled by numerous local dynasties such as the Sallarids, Sajids, and Shaddadids. At the beginning of the 11th century, the territory was gradually seized by waves of Oghuz Turks from Central Asia. The first of these Turkic dynasties established was the Seljuk Empire, which entered the area now known as Azerbaijan by 1067.

The pre-Turkic population that lived on the territory of modern Azerbaijan spoke several Indo-European and Caucasian languages, among them Armenian and an Iranian language, Old Azeri, which was gradually replaced by a Turkic language, the early precursor of the Azerbaijani language of today. Some linguists have also stated that the Tati dialects of Iranian Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan, like those spoken by the Tats, are descended from Old Azeri.

Locally, the possessions of the subsequent Seljuk Empire were ruled by Eldiguzids, technically vassals of the Seljuk sultans, but sometimes de facto rulers themselves. Under the Seljuks, local poets such as Nizami Ganjavi and Khaqani gave rise to a blossoming of Persian literature on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan.

The local dynasty of the Shirvanshahs became a vassal state of Timur’s Empire and assisted him in his war with the ruler of the Golden Horde Tokhtamysh. Following Timur’s death, two independent and rival states emerged: Kara Koyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu. The Shirvanshahs returned, maintaining a high degree of autonomy as local rulers and vassals from 861, for numerous centuries to come.

In 1501, the Safavid dynasty of Iran subdued the Shirvanshahs and gained its possessions. In the course of the next century, the Safavids converted the formerly Sunni population to Shia Islam, as they did with the population in what is modern-day Iran. The Safavids allowed the Shirvanshahs to remain in power, under Safavid suzerainty, until 1538, when Safavid king Tahmasp I (r. 1524–1576) completely deposed them, and made the area into the Safavid province of Shirvan.

The Sunni Ottomans briefly managed to occupy parts of present-day Azerbaijan as a result of the Ottoman-Safavid War of 1578–1590; by the early 17th century, they were ousted by Safavid Iranian ruler Abbas I (r. 1588–1629). In the wake of the demise of the Safavid Empire, Baku and its environs were briefly occupied by the Russians as a consequence of the Russo-Persian War of 1722–1723.

Despite brief intermissions such as these by Safavid Iran’s neighboring rivals, the land of what is today Azerbaijan remained under Iranian rule from the earliest advent of the Safavids up to the course of the 19th century.

After the Safavids, the area was ruled by the Iranian Afsharid dynasty. After the death of Nader Shah (r. 1736–1747), many of his former subjects capitalized on the eruption of instability. Numerous self-ruling khanates with various forms of autonomy emerged in the area. The rulers of these khanates were directly related to the ruling dynasties of Iran and were vassals and subjects of the Iranian shah. The khanates exercised control over their affairs via international trade routes between Central Asia and the West.

Thereafter, the area was under the successive rule of the Iranian Zands and Qajars. From the late 18th century, Imperial Russia switched to a more aggressive geo-political stance towards its two neighbors and rivals to the south, namely Iran and the Ottoman Empire.

Russia now actively tried to gain possession of the Caucasus region which was, for the most part, in the hands of Iran. In 1804, the Russians invaded and sacked the Iranian town of Ganja, sparking the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813. The militarily superior Russians ended the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813 with a victory.

Following Qajar Iran’s loss in the 1804–1813 war, it was forced to concede suzerainty over most of the khanates, along with Georgia and Dagestan to the Russian Empire, per the Treaty of Gulistan.

The area to the north of the river Aras, amongst which territory lies the contemporary Republic of Azerbaijan, was Iranian territory until it was occupied by Russia in the 19th century. About a decade later, in violation of the Gulistan treaty, the Russians invaded Iran’s Erivan Khanate.

This sparked the final bout of hostilities between the two, the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828. The resulting Treaty of Turkmenchay forced Qajar Iran to cede sovereignty over the Erivan Khanate, the Nakhchivan Khanate and the remainder of the Lankaran Khanate, comprising the last parts of the soil of the contemporary Azerbaijani Republic that were still in Iranian hands.

After the incorporation of all Caucasian territories from Iran into Russia, the new border between the two was set at the Aras River, which, upon the Soviet Union’s disintegration, subsequently became part of the border between Iran and the Azerbaijan Republic.

Qajar Iran was forced to cede its Caucasian territories to Russia in the 19th century, which thus included the territory of the modern-day Azerbaijan Republic, while as a result of that cession, the Azerbaijani ethnic group is nowadays parted between two nations: Iran and Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the number of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran far outnumber those in neighboring Azerbaijan.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic was declared, constituting the present-day republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. It was followed by the March Days massacres that took place between 30 March and 2 April 1918 in the city of Baku and adjacent areas of the Baku Governorate of the Russian Empire.

When the republic dissolved in May 1918, the leading Musavat party declared independence as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), adopting the name of “Azerbaijan” for the new republic; a name that prior to the proclamation of the ADR was solely used to refer to the adjacent northwestern region of contemporary Iran.

The ADR was the first modern parliamentary republic in the Muslim world. Among the important accomplishments of the Parliament was the extension of suffrage to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. Another important accomplishment of ADR was the establishment of Baku State University, which was the first modern-type university founded in the Muslim East.

By March 1920, it was obvious that Soviet Russia would attack Baku. Vladimir Lenin said that the invasion was justified as Soviet Russia could not survive without Baku’s oil. Independent Azerbaijan lasted only 23 months until the Bolshevik 11th Soviet Red Army invaded it, establishing the Azerbaijan SSR on 28 April 1920.

Although the bulk of the newly formed Azerbaijani army was engaged in putting down an Armenian revolt that had just broken out in Karabakh, Azerbaijanis did not surrender their brief independence of 1918–20 quickly or easily. As many as 20,000 Azerbaijani soldiers died resisting what was effectively a Russian reconquest.

On 13 October 1921, the Soviet republics of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia signed an agreement with Turkey known as the Treaty of Kars. The previously independent Republic of Aras would also become the Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Azerbaijan SSR by the treaty of Kars. On the other hand, Armenia was awarded the region of Zangezur and Turkey agreed to return Gyumri (then known as Alexandropol).

During World War II, Azerbaijan played a crucial role in the strategic energy policy of the Soviet Union, with 80 percent of the Soviet Union’s oil on the Eastern Front being supplied by Baku. By the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in February 1942, the commitment of more than 500 workers and employees of the oil industry of Azerbaijan were awarded orders and medals.

Operation Edelweiss carried out by the German Wehrmacht targeted Baku because of its importance as the energy (petroleum) dynamo of the USSR. A fifth of all Azerbaijanis fought in the Second World War from 1941 to 1945. Approximately 681,000 people with over 100,000 of them women went to the front, while the total population of Azerbaijan was 3.4 million at the time. Some 250,000 people from Azerbaijan were killed on the front. More than 130 Azerbaijanis were named Heroes of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijani Major-General Azi Aslanov was twice awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Following the politics of glasnost, initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, civil unrest and ethnic strife grew in various regions of the Soviet Union, including Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous region of the Azerbaijan SSR. The disturbances in Azerbaijan, in response to Moscow’s indifference to an already heated conflict, resulted in calls for independence and secession, which culminated in the Black January events in Baku.

Later in 1990, the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan SSR dropped the words “Soviet Socialist” from the title, adopted the “Declaration of Sovereignty of the Azerbaijan Republic” and restored the flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as the state flag.
As a consequence of the failed coup which occurred in August in Moscow, on 18 October 1991, the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration of Independence which was affirmed by a nationwide referendum in December 1991, while the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on 26 December 1991. The country now celebrates its Independence Day on 18 October.

The early years of independence were overshadowed by the Nagorno-Karabakh war with the ethnic Armenian majority of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by Armenia. By the end of the hostilities in 1994, Armenians controlled up to 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh itself. During the war, many atrocities were committed including the massacres at Malibeyli and Gushchular, the Garadaghly massacre, the Agdaban and the Khojaly massacres.

Furthermore, an estimated 30,000 people have been killed and more than a million people have been displaced. Four United Nations Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874, and 884) demand for “the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” Many Russians and Armenians left Azerbaijan during the 1990s. According to the 1970 census, there were 510,000 ethnic Russians and 484,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan.

In 1993, democratically elected president Abulfaz Elchibey was overthrown by a military insurrection led by Colonel Surat Huseynov, which resulted in the rise to power of the former leader of Soviet Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. In 1994, Surat Huseynov, by that time the prime minister, attempted another military coup against Heydar Aliyev, but he was arrested and charged with treason.

A year later, in 1995, another coup was attempted against Aliyev, this time by the commander of the OMON special unit, Rovshan Javadov. The coup was averted, resulting in the killing of the latter and disbanding of Azerbaijan’s OMON units. At the same time, the country was tainted by rampant corruption in the governing bureaucracy.

In October 1998, Aliyev was reelected for a second term. Despite the much-improved economy, particularly with the exploitation of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field and Shah Deniz gas field, Aliyev’s presidency was criticized due to suspected election frauds, high levels of economic inequality and domestic corruption.

Ilham Aliyev, Heydar Aliyev’s son, became chairman of the New Azerbaijan Party as well as President of Azerbaijan when his father died in 2003. He was re-elected to a third term as president in October 2013.


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