Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, officially the Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

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Azerbaijan (i/ˌæzərbaɪˈdʒɑːn/ AZ-ər-by-JAHN; Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan), officially the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan Respublikası) is the largest country in the Caucasus region located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.[5] 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, while having a short borderline with Turkey to the northwest.

Azerbaijan has an ancient and historic cultural heritage, including the distinction of being the first Muslim-majority country to have operas, theater and plays.[6] The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was established in 1918, but was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920.[7][8] Azerbaijan regained independence in 1991. Shortly thereafter, during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, neighboring Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, its surrounding territories and the enclaves of Karki, Yukhary Askipara, Barkhudarly and Sofulu. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which emerged in Nagorno-Karabakh, continues to be not diplomatically recognized by any nation and the region is still considered a de jure part of Azerbaijan, despite being de facto independent since the end of the war.[9][10][11][12]

Azerbaijan is a unitary constitutional republic. It is one of the six independent Turkic states as well as an active member of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community. Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 158 countries and holds membership in 38 international organizations.[13] It is one of the founding members of GUAM, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)[14] and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. A member of the United Nations since 1992, Azerbaijan was elected to membership in the newly established Human Rights Council by the United Nations General Assembly on May 9, 2006 (the term of office began on June 19, 2006).[15] The country is also a member of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Azerbaijan is a correspondent at the International Telecommunication Union and member of the Non-Aligned Movement and holds observer status in World Trade Organization.[13][16]

The Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion, and all major political forces in the country are secular nationalist, but the majority of people and some opposition movements adhere to Shia Islam.[17] Relative to other Eastern European and CIS states, Azerbaijan has reached a high level of human development,[18] economic development[19] and literacy,[20] as well as a low rate of unemployment[21] and intentional homicide.[22][23] On 1 January 2012, the country started a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.[24]

Etymology

The name "Āzar" (Persian: آذر‎) means Fire and Baijan was originally known as "Pāyegān" (Persian: پایگان‎) meaning Guardian/Protector. (Āzar Pāyegān = "Guardians of Fire") (Persian: آذر پایگان‎). Such name roots back to the "Zoroastrianism" era of Persia (Iran); However after the Arab invasion of Persia many Persian words lost their original form as in Arabic there are no letter for pronouncing "G / P / ZH / CH"; Hence "Azar Paigān" came to be known as Azarbaijan. (e.g. The Persian language in Persian is now both known as "Pārsi" (Persian: پارسی‎) & Fārsi due to the Arab invasion of "Greater Iran" and the great resistance of Iranians around the north.

According to an alternate etymology, the name of Azerbaijan derives from that of Atropates,[25][26] a Persian[27][28][29] satrap under the Achaemenid Empire, who was later reinstated as the satrap of Media under Alexander the Great.[30][31] The original etymology of this name is thought to have its roots in the once-dominant Zoroastrian religion. In the Avesta, 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".[32]

Atropates ruled over the region of Atropatene (present Iranian Azerbaijan). 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".[33] The Greek name is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Over the span of millennia the name evolved to Āturpātākān then to Ādharbādhagān, Ādharbāyagān, Āzarbāydjān and present-day Azerbaijan. The word is translatable as "The Treasury" and "The Treasurer" of fire or "The Land of the Fire"[33] in Modern Persian.[34]

History

Antiquity

Petroglyphs in Gobustan dating back to 10,000 BC indicating a thriving culture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered to be of "outstanding universal value"

The earliest evidence of human settlement in the territory of Azerbaijan dates to the late Stone Age and is related to the Guruchay culture of the Azykh Cave.[35] 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.[33] Following the Scythians, Iranian Medes came to dominate the area to the south of the Aras.[31] The Medes forged a vast empire between 900–700 BC, which was integrated into the Achaemenids Empire around 550 BC. The area was conquered by the Achaemenids leading to the spread of Zoroastrianism.[36] Later it became part of Alexander the Great's Empire and its successor, the Seleucid Empire. Caucasian Albanians, the original inhabitants of the area, established an independent kingdom around the 4th century BC. During this period, Zoroastrianism spread in the Caucasus and Atropatene. Ancient Azerbaijanis spoke the Old Azari language.

Feudal era

The Maiden Tower in Old Baku is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 11th–12th century.

The Sassanids turned Caucasian Albania into a vassal state in AD 252, while King Urnayr officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. Despite numerous conquests by the Sassanids and Byzantines, Albania remained an entity in the region until the 9th century. The Islamic Umayyad Caliphate repulsed both the Sassanids and Byzantines from the region and turned Caucasian Albania into a vassal state after the Christian resistance, led by Prince 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, Shaddadids, Rawadids and Buyids. At the beginning of the 11th century, the territory was gradually seized by waves of Turkic Oghuz tribes from Central Asia. The first of these Turkic dynasties established was the Ghaznavids, which entered the area now known as Azerbaijan by 1030.

The pre-Turkic Azerbaijani population spoke an Iranian language called the Old Azari language, which was gradually replaced by a Turkic language, now known as the Azerbaijani language from the 11th century onward until it became completely extinct in the 16th century.[37] To distinguish it from the Turkic Azerbaijani or Azeri language, this Iranian language, is designated as the Azari language (or Old Azari language), because the Turkic language and people are also designated as "Azari" in the Persian language. However some linguists have also designated the Tati dialects of Iranian Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan, like those spoken by the Tats, as a remnant of Azari.[38][39] Locally, the possessions of the subsequent Seljuq Empire were ruled by atabegs, who were technically vassals of the Seljuq sultans, being sometimes de facto rulers themselves. Under the Seljuq Turks, local poets such as Nizami Ganjavi and Khagani Shirvani gave rise to a blossoming of Persian literature on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan. The next ruling state of the Jalayirids was short-lived and fell under the conquests of Timur.

The local dynasty of 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 Ak Koyunlu. The Shirvanshahs returned, maintaining a high degree of autonomy as local rulers and vassals from 861 until 1539. During their persecution by the Safavids, the last dynasty imposed Shia Islam upon the formerly Sunni population,[40][41][42] as it was battling against the Sunni Ottoman Empire.[43]

Modern era

Territories of Northern and Southern Khanates (and Sultanates) of Azerbaijan in Iran in 18th–19th centuries.[44]

After the Safavids, the area was ruled by the Iranian dynasties of Afshar and Zand and briefly by the Qajars. However de facto self-ruling khanates[45][46][47][48][49] emerged in the area, especially following the collapse of the Zand dynasty and in the early Qajar era. The brief and successful Russian campaign of 1812 was concluded with the Treaty of Gulistan, in which the shah's claims to some of the Khanates of the Caucasus were dismissed by Russia on the ground that they had been de facto independent long before their Russian occupation.[50]

The khanates exercised control over their affairs via international trade routes between Central Asia and the West.[51] Engaged in constant warfare, these khanates were eventually incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1813, following the two Russo-Persian Wars. The area to the North of the river Aras, among which the territory of the contemporary republic of Azerbaijan were Iranian territory until they were occupied by Russia.[7][52][53][54][55][56] Under the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Persia recognized Russian sovereignty over the Erivan Khanate, the Nakhchivan Khanate and the remainder of the Lankaran Khanate.

Holiday in Azeri village, 1930s. Work by Azim Azimzade

In 2007, during the construction of a stadium, constructors discovered the Guba mass grave. Studies by Azerbaijani and foreign scientists have confirmed the human remains found there to be of local residents of various nationalities, including Jews and Lezgians who were killed in the 1918 massacre carried out by Armenians.[57] To date, the remains of 600 people have been found, including about 50 children and 100 women.[58]

Map of Azerbaijan issued at Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Azerbaijan, together with Armenia and Georgia became part of the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. When the republic dissolved in May 1918, Azerbaijan declared independence as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). The ADR was the first modern parliamentary republic in the Muslim world.[7][59][60] 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.[59] Another important accomplishment of ADR was the establishment of Baku State University, which was the first modern-type university founded in Muslim East.[59]

By March 1920, it was obvious that Soviet Russia would attack the much-needed Baku. Vladimir Lenin said that the invasion was justified as Soviet Russia could not survive without Baku's oil.[61][62] Independent Azerbaijan lasted only 23 months until the Bolshevik 11th Soviet Red Army invaded it, establishing the Azerbaijan SSR on April 28, 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, Azeris 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.[63]

On October 13, 1921, the Soviet republics of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia signed an agreement with Turkey known as the Treaty of Kars. The previously independent Naxicivan SSR would also become an autonomous ASSR 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 Soviet Union, with most 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 was 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.[7] 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.[64] 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.[65]

Republic era

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,[66] a region of the Azerbaijan SSR. The disturbances in Azerbaijan, in response to Moscow's indifference to already heated conflict, resulted in calls for independence and secession, which culminated in Black January in Baku.[67] 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 flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as a state flag.[68] On 18 October 1991, the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration of Independence which was affirmed by a nationwide referendum in December 1991, when the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.[68]

The early years of independence were overshadowed by the Nagorno-Karabakh War with neighboring Armenia. By the end of hostilities in 1994, Armenians controlled up to 16 percent of Azerbaijani territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh itself.[69][70] An estimated 30,000 people had been killed and more than a million had been displaced.[71] Four United Nations Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874, and 884) demands for "the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan."[72] Many Russians and Armenians left Azerbaijan during the 1990s.[73] According to the 1970 census, there were 510,000 ethnic Russians and 484,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan.[74]

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.[75] In 1994, Surat Huseynov, by that time a prime minister, attempted another military coup against Heydar Aliyev, but Huseynov was arrested and charged with treason.[76] In 1995, another coup attempt against Aliyev, by the commander of the OMON special unit, Rovshan Javadov, was averted, resulting in the killing of the latter and disbanding of Azerbaijan's OMON units.[77][78] At the same time, the country was tainted by rampant corruption in the governing bureaucracy.[79] In October 1998, Aliyev was reelected for a second term. Despite the much improved economy, particularly with the exploitations of Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field and Shah Deniz gas field, Aliyev's presidency was criticized due to suspected vote fraud and corruption.[80]

Geography

Caucasus Mountains in northern Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, straddling Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It lies between latitudes 38° and 42° N, and longitudes 44° and 51° E. The total length of Azerbaijan's land borders is 2,648 km (1,645 mi), of which 1007 kilometers are with Armenia, 756 kilometers with Iran, 480 kilometers with Georgia, 390 kilometers with Russia and 15 kilometers with Turkey.[81] The coastline stretches for 800 km (497 mi), and the length of the widest area of the Azerbaijani section of the Caspian Sea is 456 km (283 mi).[81] The territory of Azerbaijan extends 400 km (249 mi) from north to south, and 500 km (311 mi) 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 percent of the country.[82] 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, which was also among nominees for New7Wonders of Nature.[83]

The main water sources are the surface waters. However, only 24 of the 8,350 rivers are greater than 100 km (62 mi) in length.[82] All the rivers drain into the Caspian Sea in the east of the country.[82] The largest lake is Sarysu (67 km²), and the longest river is Kur (1,515 km), which is transboundary. Azerbaijan's four main islands in the Caspian Sea have a combined area of over thirty square kilometer.

Since the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, the Azerbaijani government has taken drastic measures to preserve the environment of Azerbaijan. But national protection of the environment started to truly improve 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 make up 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.[84]

Landscape

Mount Bazarduzu, the highest peak of Azerbaijan, as seen from Mount Shahdagh.

The landscape of Khinalug valley.

Azerbaijan is home to a vast variety of landscapes. Over half of Azerbaijan's land mass consists of mountain ridges, crests, yailas, and plateaus which rise up to hypsometric levels of 400–1000 meters (including the Middle and Lower lowlands), in some places (Talis, Jeyranchol-Ajinohur and Langabiz-Alat foreranges) up to 100–120 meters, and others from 0–50 meters and up (Qobustan, Absheron). The rest of Azerbaijan's terrain consist of plains and lowlands. Hypsometric marks within the Caucasus region vary from about −28 meters at the Caspian Sea shoreline up to 4,466 meters (Bazardüzü peak).[85]

The formation of climate in Azerbaijan is influenced particularly by cold arctic air masses of Scandinavian anticyclone, temperate of Siberian anticyclone, and Central Asian anticyclone.[86] Azerbaijan's diverse landscape affects the ways air masses enter the country.[86] The Greater Caucasus protects the country from direct influences of cold air masses coming from the north. That leads to the formation of subtropical climate on most foothills and plains of the country. Meanwhile, plains and foothills are characterized by high solar radiation rates.

9 out of 11 existing climate zones are present in Azerbaijan.[87] Both the absolute minimum temperature ( −33 °C/−27.4 °F ) and the absolute maximum temperature ( 46 °C/114.8 °F ) were observed in Julfa and Ordubad.[87] The maximum annual precipitation falls in Lankaran (1,600 to 1,800 mm) and the minimum in Absheron (200 to 350 mm).[87]

Rivers and lakes form the principal part of the water systems of Azerbaijan, they were formed over a long geological timeframe and changed significantly throughout that period. This is particularly evidenced by remnants of ancient rivers found throughout the country. The country's water systems are continually changing under the influence of natural forces and human introduced industrial activities. Artificial rivers (canals) and ponds are a part of Azerbaijan's water systems. From the water supply point, Azerbaijan is below the average in the world with approximately 100,000 m³/year of water per km².[87] All big water reservoirs are built on Kur. The hydrography of Azerbaijan basically belongs to the Caspian Sea basin.

There are 8,350 rivers of various lengths within Azerbaijan. Only 24 rivers are over 100 kilometers long.[88] The Kura and Aras are the most popular rivers in Azerbaijan, they run through the Kura-Aras Lowland. The rivers that directly flow into the Caspian Sea, originate mainly from the north-eastern slope of the Major Caucasus and Talysh Mountains and run along the Samur-Devechi and Lenkeran lowlands.

Biodiversity

Mountainous countryside of Quba.

The first reports on the richness and diversity of animal life in Azerbaijan can be found in travel notes of Eastern travelers. Animal carvings on architectural monuments, ancient rocks and stones survived up to the present times. The first information on the animal kingdom of Azerbaijan was collected during the visits of naturalists to Azerbaijan in 17th century.[82] Unlike fauna, the concept of animal kingdom covers not only the types of animals, but also the number of individual species.

There are 106 species of mammals, 97 species of fish, 363 species of birds, 10 species of amphibians and 52 species of reptiles which have been recorded and classified in Azerbaijan.[82] The national animal of Azerbaijan is the Karabakh horse, a mountain-steppe racing and riding horse endemic to Azerbaijan. The Karabakh horse has a reputation for its good temper, speed, elegance and intelligence. It is one of the oldest breeds, with ancestry dating to the ancient world. However today the horse is an endangered species.[89]

Azerbaijan's flora consists of more than 4,500 species of higher plants. Due the unique climate in Azerbaijan, the flora is much richer in the number of species than the flora of the other republics of the South Caucasus.[90] About 67 percent of the species growing in the whole Caucasus can be found in Azerbaijan.

Politics

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the CIS summit in Strelna, 2008.

The structural formation of Azerbaijan's political system was completed by the adoption of the new Constitution on 12 November 1995. According to the Article 23 of Constitution, the state symbols of the Azerbaijan Republic are the flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem. The state power in Azerbaijan is limited only by law for internal issues, but for international affairs is additionally limited by the provisions of international agreements.

The government of Azerbaijan is based on the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The legislative power is held by the unicameral National Assembly and the Supreme National Assembly in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Parliamentary elections are held every five years, on the first Sunday of November. The Yeni Azerbaijan Party, and independents loyal to the ruling government, currently hold almost all of the Parliament's 125 seats. During the 2010 Parliamentary election, the opposition parties, Musavat and Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, failed to win a single seat. European observers found numerous irregularities in the run up to the election and on election day.[91]

The executive power is held by the President, who is elected for a 5-year term by direct elections. The president is authorized to form the Cabinet, an inferior executive body, subordinated to him. The Cabinet of Azerbaijan consists primarily of the Prime Minister, his Deputies and Ministers. The president does not have the right to dissolve the National Assembly, but he has the right to veto its decisions. To override the presidential veto, the parliament must have a majority of 95 votes. The judicial power is vested in the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the Economic Court. The President nominates the judges in these courts.

The Security Council is the deliberative body under the president, and he organizes it according to the Constitution. It was established on 10 April 1997. The administrative department is not a part of the president's office but manages the financial, technical and pecuniary activities of both the president and his office.

Although Azerbaijan has held several elections since regaining its independence and it has many of the formal institutions of democracy, it remains classified as "not free" (on border with "partly free") in Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2009 survey.[92]

Human rights

Azerbaijan has come under heavy criticism from international bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its record on human rights: in particular the treatment of homosexuals and the media.

Foreign relations

Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov and his spouse with the President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

The short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic succeeded in establishing diplomatic relations with six countries, sending diplomatic representatives to Germany and Finland.[93] The process of international recognition of Azerbaijan's independence from the collapsing Soviet Union lasted roughly one year. The most recent country to recognize Azerbaijan was Bahrain, on November 6, 1996.[94] Full diplomatic relations, including mutual exchanges of missions, were first established with Turkey, Pakistan, the United States, Iran[93] and Israel.[95] Azerbaijan has placed a particular emphasis on its "Special Relationship" with Turkey.[96][97]

Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 158 countries so far and holds membership in 38 international organizations.[13] It holds observer status in the Non-Aligned Movement and World Trade Organization and is a correspondent at the International Telecommunication Union.[13] On 9 May 2006 Azerbaijan was elected to membership in the newly established Human Rights Council by the United Nations General Assembly. The term of office began on 19 June 2006.[15]

Foreign policy priorities of Azerbaijan include: first of all, the restoration of its territorial integrity; elimination of the consequences of the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other regions of Azerbaijan;[98][99] integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structure; contribution to international security; cooperation with international organizations; regional cooperation and bilateral relations; strengthening of defense capability; promotion of security by domestic policy means; strengthening of democracy; preservation of the ethnic and religious tolerance; scientific, educational and cultural policy and preservation of moral values; economic and social development; enhancing internal and border security; migration, energy and transportation security policy.[98]

The Azerbaijani Government, in late 2007, stated that the long-standing dispute over the Armenian-occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is almost certain to spark a new war if it remains unresolved.[98] The Government is in the process of increasing its military budget. Furthermore, economic sanctions by Turkey to the west and by Azerbaijan itself to the east have combined to greatly erode Armenia's economy, leading to steep increases in prices for basic commodities and a great decline in the Armenian state revenues.[100]

Azerbaijan is an active member of international coalitions fighting international terrorism. The country is contributing to peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Azerbaijan is an active member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. It also maintains good relations with the European Union and could potentially one day apply for membership.[98]

Administrative divisions

Azerbaijan is divided into 10 economic regions; 66 rayons (rayonlar, singular rayon) and 77 cities (şəhərlər, singular şəhər) of which 11 are under the direct authority of the republic.[101] Moreover, Azerbaijan includes the Autonomous Republic (muxtar respublika) of Nakhchivan.[69] 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.

Absheron Economic Region
  • Absheron (Abşeron)
  • Baku (Bakı)
  • Khizi (Xızı)
  • Sumqayit (Sumqayıt)
Aran Economic Region
  • Aghjabadi (Ağcabədi)
  • Aghdash (Ağdaş)
  • Barda (Bərdə)
  • Beylagan (Beyləqan)
  • Bilasuvar (Biləsuvar)
  • Goychay (Göyçay)
  • Hajigabul (Hacıqabul)
  • Imishli (İmişli)
  • Kurdamir (Kürdəmir)
  • Mingachevir (Mingəçevir)
  • Neftchala (Neftçala)
  • Saatly (Saatlı)
  • Sabirabad (Sabirabad)
  • Salyan (Salyan)
  • Shirvan (Şirvan)
  • Ujar (Ucar)
  • Yevlakh (Yevlax)
  • Yevlakh (Yevlax)
  • Zardab (Zərdab)
Daghlig Shirvan
  • Aghsu (Ağsu)
  • Gobustan (Qobustan)
  • Ismailly (İsmayıllı)
  • Shamakhy (Şamaxı)
Ganja-Gazakh
  • Aghstafa (Ağstafa)
  • Dashkasan (Daşkəsən)
  • Gadabay (Gədəbəy)
  • Ganja (Gəncə)
  • Gazakh (Qazax)
  • Goygol (Göygöl)
  • Goranboy (Goranboy)
  • Naftalan (Naftalan)
  • Samukh (Samux)
  • Shamkir (Şəmkir)
  • Tovuz (Tovuz)
Guba-Khachmaz
  • Guba (Quba)
  • Gusar (Qusar)
  • Khachmaz (Xaçmaz)
  • Shabran (Şabran)
  • Siyazan (Siyəzən)
Kalbajar-Lachin
  • Gubadly (Qubadlı)
  • Kalbajar (Kəlbəcər)
  • Lachin (Laçın)
  • Zangilan (Zəngilan)
Lankaran
  • Astara (Astara)
  • Jalilabad (Cəlilabad)
  • Lankaran (Lənkəran)
  • Lankaran (Lənkəran)
  • Lerik (Lerik)
  • Masally (Masallı)
  • Yardimly (Yardımlı)
Nakhchivan
  • Babek (Babək)
  • Julfa (Culfa)
  • Kangarli (Kəngərli)
  • Nakhchivan (Naxçıvan)
  • Ordubad (Ordubad)
  • Sadarak (Sədərək)
  • Shahbuz (Şahbuz)
  • Sharur (Şərur)
Shaki-Zaqatala
  • Balakan (Balakən)
  • Gabala (Qəbələ)
  • Gakh (Qax)
  • Oghuz (Oğuz)
  • Shaki (Şəki)
  • Shaki (Şəki)
  • Zaqatala (Zaqatala)
Yukhari Garabakh
  • Aghdam (Ağdam)
  • Fuzuli (Füzuli)
  • Jabrayil (Cəbrayıl)
  • Khankendi (Xankəndi)
  • Khojaly (Xocalı)
  • Khojavend (Xocavənd)
  • Shusha (Şuşa)
  • Shusha (Şuşa)
  • Tartar (Tərtər)
Azerbaijan is divided into 10 economic regions

Note: The cities under the direct authority of the republic in italics.

Military

Azerbaijani Navy fleet during the 2011 military parade in Baku.

641st Special Warfare Naval Unit during military exercises.

The history of the modern Azerbaijan army dates back to Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, when the National Army of the newly formed Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was created on June 26, 1918.[102][103] When Azerbaijan gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan were created according to the Law on the Armed Forces of October 9, 1991.[104] The original date of the establishment of the short-lived National Army is celebrated as Army Day (26 June) in today's Azerbaijan.[105] As of 2002, Azerbaijan had 95,000 active personnel in its armed forces. There are also 17,000 paramilitary troops.[106] The armed forces have three branches: the Land Forces, the Air Forces and the Navy. Additionally the armed forces embrace several military sub-groups that can be involved in state defense when needed. These are the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Border Service, which includes the Coast Guard as well.[69] The Azerbaijan National Guard is a further paramilitary force. It operates as a semi-independent entity of the Special State Protection Service, an agency subordinate to the President.[107]

Azerbaijan adheres to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and has signed all major international arms and weapons treaties. Azerbaijan closely cooperates with NATO in programs such as Partnership for Peace and Individual Partnership Action Plan. Azerbaijan has deployed 151 of its Peacekeeping Forces in Iraq and another 184 in Afghanistan.[108]

The military expenditures of Azerbaijan for 2011 are set at US$4,46 billion.[109] Azerbaijani defense industry manufactures small arms, artillery systems, tanks, armors and noctovision devices, aviation bombs, pilotless vehicles, various military vehicles and military planes and helicopters.[110][111][112][113]

Economy

Azneft Square in downtown Baku, named after historical Azneft (AzOil) trust.

After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan became a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank.[114] The banking system of Azerbaijan consists of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan, commercial banks and non-banking credit organizations. The National (now Central) Bank was created in 1992 based on the Azerbaijan State Savings Bank, an affiliate of the former State Savings Bank of the USSR. The Central Bank serves as Azerbaijan's central bank, empowered to issue the national currency, the Azerbaijani manat, and to supervise all commercial banks. Two major commercial banks are the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan and the UniBank.

Pushed up by spending and demand growth, the 2007 Q1 inflation rate reached 16.6%.[115] Nominal incomes and monthly wages climbed 29% and 25% respectively against this figure, but price increases in non-oil industry encouraged inflation in the country.[115] Azerbaijan shows some signs of the so-called "Dutch disease" because of the fast growing energy sector, which causes inflation and makes non-energy exports more expensive.

In the early years of this century the chronically high inflation was brought under control and this led to the launch of a new currency, the new Azerbaijani manat, on January 1, 2006, to cement the acquisition of the economic reforms and erase the vestiges of an unstable economy.[116][117]

In 2008, Azerbaijan was cited as one of the top 10 reformers by the World Bank's Doing Business Report.[118]

Azerbaijan led the world as the top reformer in 2007/08, with improvements on seven out of 10 indicators of regulatory reform. Azerbaijan started operating a one-stop shop in January 2008 that halved the time, cost and number of procedures to start a business. Business registrations increased by 40% in the first six months. Azerbaijan also eliminated the minimum loan cutoff of $1,100, more than doubling the number of borrowers covered by the credit registry. Also, taxpayers can now file forms and pay their taxes online. Azerbaijan’s extensive reforms moved it far up the ranks, from 97 to 33 in the overall ease of doing business.

Azerbaijan is also ranked 57th in the Global Competitiveness Report for 2010–2011, which is above other CIS countries.[119]

Energy

A pumping unit for the mechanical extraction of oil on the outskirts of Baku.

Two thirds of Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas.[120] The region of the Lesser Caucasus accounts for most of the country's gold, silver, iron, copper, titanium, chromium, manganese, cobalt, molybdenum, complex ore and antimony.[120] In September 1994, a 30-year contract was signed between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and 13 oil companies, among them Amoco, BP, ExxonMobil, Lukoil and Statoil.[114] As Western oil companies are able to tap deepwater oilfields untouched by the Soviet exploitation, Azerbaijan is considered one of the most important spots in the world for oil exploration and development.[121] Meanwhile the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan was established as an extra-budgetary fund to ensure the macroeconomic stability, transparency in the management of oil revenue, and the safeguarding of resources for future generations.

Azeriqaz, a sub-company of SOCAR, intends to ensure full gasification of the country by 2021.[122]

Banking

The Central Bank building in downtown Baku.

The GDP growth rates observed in Azerbaijan during last years made the country one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But the banking sector of Azerbaijan has yet to tap the vast growth potential that should be achievable due to the continuation of the high economic growth.[123] For this reason the banking sector remains small in relation to the size of the Azerbaijani economy. Although in the more advanced countries banking sectors made further visible progress in the catch-up process, the Azerbaijani banking market being in an earlier stage of development, also successes in pushing forward market-oriented reform and the privatization process.[123]

Still the banking system is considered an important element of financial system of Azerbaijan. An advanced two-stepped banking system, which is based on market principles, (the Central Bank of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the first step, in the second one commercial banks and other non-bank credit organizations) functions in the republic.[124]

Since 2002 important stage of restructuring of banking system started to be carried out. Taking into consideration entry of big oil revenues in the country, as a logical result of successful oil strategy, and in this base, as the banks were ready to an effective transfer of their financial resources to the strategic goals, development strategy was made for 2002–2005. Far-reaching reforms of the banking sector are conducted in the country. The main challenges are due to the slow privatization rate of the state banks, a weak financial market and a lack of bank transparency. However, the reforms have started showing positive resu lts and competition among the leading banks is increasing.[125]

By April 1, 2010, 47 banks, 631 bank branches function in Azerbaijan. One of banks was founded with participation of state capital, 23 of foreign capital. To the same date, 98 non-bank credit organizations operate in the republic along with banks. Growth of real money incomes of population, development of trust in bank system, improving the legal bases of protection of interests of creditors and depositors, in particular launch of ‘Deposits Insurance Fund’ were the criteria characterizing rapid growth of deposits of population. As of April 1, 2010, bank deposits of population were equal to 2,4 billion AZN. 33,3% of them were long-term deposits (higher than a year). Along with population, bank deposits of corporative customers increase dynamically. By April 1, 2010, bank deposits of corporative customers is 2,1 bn AZN.[124] Dynamic development of volume of special and involved funds of the banks has created effective conditions for enlargement of active operations. As of April 1, 2010, the volume of bank assets is 12 bn AZN. Crediting plays special role in structure of bank assets. As of April 1, 2010, bank credits to customers is 8.5 bn AZN, which makes 70.5% of bank assets. Special weight of private sector in structure of credit investments is higher than 82% (7 bn AZN).[124]

Agriculture

Azerbaijan has the largest agricultural basin in the region. About 54,9 percent of Azerbaijan is agricultural lands.[81] At the beginning of 2007 there were 4,755,100 hectares of utilized agricultural area.[126] In the same year the total wood resources counted 136 million m³.[126] Azerbaijan's agricultural scientific research institutes are focused on meadows and pastures, horticulture and subtropical crops, green vegetables, viticulture and wine-making, cotton growing and medicinal plants.[127] In some lands it is profitable to grow grain, potatoes, sugar beets, cotton and tobacco. Livestock, dairy products, and wine and spirits are also important farm products. The Caspian fishing industry is concentrated on the dwindling stocks of sturgeon and beluga. In 2002 the Azerbaijani merchant marine had 54 ships.[128]

Some portions of most products that were previously imported from abroad have begun to be produced locally (among them are Coca Cola by Coca Cola Bottlers LTD, beer by Baki-Kastel, parquet by Nehir and oil pipes by EUPEC Pipe Coating Azerbaijan).[129]

Tourism

The 13th century Bibi-Heybat Mosque in Baku

Tourism is an important part of the economy of Azerbaijan. The country was a well-known tourist spot in the 1980s, yet, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Nagorno-Karabakh War during the 1990s, damaged the tourist industry and the image of Azerbaijan as a tourist destination.[130]

It was not until the 2000s that the tourism industry began to recover, and the country has since experienced a high rate of growth in the number of tourist visits and overnight stays.[131] In the recent years, Azerbaijan has also becoming a popular destination for religious, spa, and health care tourism.[132]

The Government of Azerbaijan has set the development of Azerbaijan as an elite tourist destination a top priority. It is a national strategy to make tourism a major, if not the single largest, contributor to the Azerbaijani economy.[133] These activities are regulated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan.

Transportation

A vessel on the Caspian Sea.

The convenient location of Azerbaijan on the crossroad of major international traffic arteries, such as the Silk Road and the South-North corridor, highlights the strategic importance of transportation sector for the country’s economy.[134] The transport sector in the country includes roads, railways, aviation, and maritime transport.

Azerbaijan is also an important economic hub in the transportation of raw materials. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) became operational in May 2006 and extends more than 1,774 kilometers through the territories of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The BTC is designed to transport up to 50 million tons of crude oil annually and carries oil from the Caspian Sea oilfields to global markets.[135] The South Caucasus Pipeline, also stretching through the territory of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, became operational at the end of 2006 and offers additional gas supplies to the European market from the Shah Deniz gas field. Shah Deniz is expected to produce up to 296 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.[136] Azerbaijan also plays a major role in the EU-sponsored Silk Road Project.

In 2002, the Azerbaijani government established the Ministry of Transport with a broad range of policy and regulatory functions. In the same year, the country became a member of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.[137] The highest priority being; upgrading the transport network and transforming transportation services into one of the key comparative advantages of the country, as this would be highly conducive to the development of other sectors of the economy.

In 2012, the construction of Kars–TbilisiBaku railway expected to provide transportation between Asia and Europe through connecting the railways of China and Kazakhstan in the east with Turkey's Marmaray to the European railway system in the west.[138] Broad gauge railways in 2010 stretched for 2,918 km (1,813 mi) and electrified railways numbered 1,278 km (794 mi). By 2010, there were 35 airports and one heliport.[69]

Science and technology

In the 21st century, a new oil and gas boom helped to improve the situation in the Azerbaijan's science and technology sectors, and the government launched a campaign aimed at modernization and innovation. The government estimates that profits from the information technology and communication industry will grow and become comparable with those from oil production.[139]

The country has also been making progress in developing its telecoms sector. Nonetheless, it still faces problems. These include poor infrastructure and an immature telecom regulatory regime. The Ministry of Communications & Information Technologies (MCIT), as well as being an operator through its role in Aztelekom, is both a policy-maker and regulator. Public pay phones are available for local calls and require the purchase of a token from the telephone exchange or some shops and kiosks. Tokens allow a call of indefinite duration. As of 2009, there were 1,397,000 main telephone lines[140] and 1,485,000 internet users.[141] There are five GSM providers: Azercell, Bakcell, Azerfon (Nar Mobile), Aztrank, Catel mobile network operators and one CDMA.

In the 21st century a number of prominent Azerbaijani geodynamics and geotectonics scientists, inspired by the fundamental works of Elchin Khalilov and others, designed hundreds of earthquake prediction stations and earthquake-resistant buildings that now constitute the bulk of The Republican Center of Seismic Service.[142][143][144]

The Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency is planning to launch its first satellite AzerSat 1 into orbit in July or August 2012 from Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana at orbital positions 46° East.[145][146][147] The satellite will cover Europe and significant part of Asian countries and Africa and will have transmission for TV, radio broadcasting and the internet.[148] The launch of its own satellite on orbit will be Azerbaijan's first action in realizing prospective projects to turn itself into a country with a space industry.[149][150]

Demographics

From the total population of 9,165,000 people as of July 2011, nearly 52% was urban population, the remaining 48% was the rural population.[152] 51% of the total population were female.[152] The sex ratio for total population in that year was therefore 0.97 males per female.[69]

The 2011 population growth rate was 0.85%, compared to 1.09% worldwide.[69] A significant factor restricting the population growth is rather a high level of migration. An estimated 3 million Azerbaijanis, many of them guest workers, live in Russia.[153] In 2011 Azerbaijan saw migration of −1.14/1,000 persons.[69] With 800,000 ethnic Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs, Azerbaijan has the largest internally displaced population in the region, and, as of 2006, had the highest per capita IDP population in the world.[154]

The highest morbidity in 2005 was from respiratory diseases (806.9 diseases per 10,000 of total population).[155] In 2005, the highest morbidity for infectious and parasitic diseases was noted among influenza and acute respiratory infections (4168,2 per 100,000 population).[155] 2007 estimate for total life expectancy is 66 years, 70.7 years for women and 61.9 for men.[156]

The Azerbaijani diaspora is found in 42 countries[157] and in turn there are many centers for ethnic minorities inside Azerbaijan, including the German cultural society "Karelhaus", Slavic cultural center, Azerbaijani-Israeli community, Kurdish cultural center, International Talysh Association, Lezgin national center "Samur", Azerbaijani-Tatar community, Crimean Tatars society, etc.[158]

The ethnic composition of the population according to the 2009 population census: 91.60% Azerbaijanis, 2.02% Lezgians, 1.35% Armenians (almost all Armenians live in the break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh), 1.34% Russians, 1.26% Talysh, 0.56% Avars, 0.43% Turks, 0.29% Tatars, 0.28% Tats, 0.24% Ukrainians, 0.14% Tsakhurs, 0.11% Georgians, 0.10% Jews, 0.07% Kurds, other 0.21%.

Iranian Azerbaijanis are the largest minority in Iran. The CIA World Factbook estimates Iranian Azerbaijanis as comprising nearly 16 million, or 24% of Iran's population.[159]

  • v
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Largest cities or towns of
2010 Demographic statistics according to the administrative divisions, State Statistics Committee
Rank City name Economic regions Pop. Rank City name Economic regions Pop.
1 Baku Absheron 2,064,900 11 Khachmaz Guba-Khachmaz 62,900
2 Ganja Ganja-Gazakh 314,600 12 Agdam Yukhari Garabagh 59,800
3 Sumgait Absheron 312,000 13 Jalilabad Aran 56,400
4 Mingachevir Aran 97,000 14 Khankendi Yukhari Garabagh 55,100
5 Lankaran Aran 83,300 15 Agjabadi Aran 46,900
6 Shirvan Aran 78,100 16 Shamakhi Daghlig Shirvan 43,700
7 Nakhchivan Nakhchivan 74,500 17 Fuzuli Yukhari Garabagh 42,000
8 Shamkir Ganja-Gazakh 67,200 18 Salyan Aran 41,300
9 Shaki Shaki-Zaqatala 65,600 19 Barda Aran 38,600
10 Yevlakh Aran 65,100 20 Neftchala Aran 38,200

Religion

Dome of 13th century Bibi-Heybat Mosque. The mosque was built over the tomb of a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.[160]

Around 95 percent of the population are Muslims.[161] 85% of the Muslims are Shia Muslims and 15% Sunni Muslims,[162] and the Republic of Azerbaijan has the Second highest Shia population percentage after Iran.[163] In Baku there is the Hindu[164] Fire Temple of Baku ("ateshgah") with an "old" structure[165] which, according to travellers, has been a place of visit for Hindu priests for more than a millennium[166] The place is often "misrepresented as a Zoroastrian fire-temple" due to frequent association of "fire temple" with the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism.[164] There are some other faiths practiced among the different ethnic groups within the country. By article 48 of its Constitution, Azerbaijan is a secular state and ensures religious freedom. Of the nation's religious minorites, Christians are mostly Russian and Georgian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic (almost all Armenians live in the break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh).[69]

In 2003 there were 250 Roman Catholics.[167] Other Christian denominations as of 2002 include Lutherans, Baptists and Molokans.[168] There are also Jewish, Bahá'í, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witnesses communities, as well as adherents of the Nehemiah Church, Star in the East Church and the Cathedral of Praise Church.[168]

Language

Map showing locations of Azerbaijani speakers.

The official language is Azerbaijani, which belongs to the Turkic language family, spoken in southwestern Asia, primarily in Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani is member of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic languages and is closely related to Turkish, Qashqa'i and Turkmen. The Azerbaijani language is divided into two varieties, North Azerbaijani[169] and South Azerbaijani,[170] and a large number of dialects. Turkic Khalaj,[171] Qashqa'i,[172] and Salchuq[173] are considered by some[174] to be separate languages in the Azerbaijani language group. Azerbaijani served as a lingua franca throughout most parts of Transcaucasia (except the Black Sea coast), in Southern Dagestan,[175][176][177] eastern Turkey, and Iranian Azerbaijan from the 16th century to the early 20th century.[178][179]

Although Azerbaijani (also called Azeri) is the most widely spoken language in the country and is spoken by about a quarter of the population of Iran, there are 13 other languages spoken natively in the country.[180] Some of these languages are very small communities, others are more vital.[181] Azerbaijani is mutually intelligible with Turkish and Gagauz. The northern variety of the language is written with a modified Latin alphabet today, but was earlier written in the Perso-Arabic alphabet (until 1929), in the Uniform Turkic Alphabet (1929–1939), and in the Cyrillic alphabet (1939–1991).[182] The changes in alphabet have been largely molded by religious and political forces.

Education

A relatively high percentage of Azerbaijanis have obtained some form of higher education, most notably in scientific and technical subjects.[183] In the Soviet era, literacy and average education levels rose dramatically from their very low starting point, despite two changes in the standard alphabet, from Perso-Arabic script to Latin in the 1920s and from Roman to Cyrillic in the 1930s. According to Soviet data, 100 percent of males and females (ages nine to forty-nine) were literate in 1970.[183] According to the United Nations Development Program Report 2009, the literacy rate in Azerbaijan is 99.5 percent.[184]

Since independence, one of the first laws that Azerbaijan's Parliament passed to disassociate itself from the Soviet Union was to adopt a modified-Latin alphabet to replace Cyrillic.[185] Other than that the Azerbaijani system has undergone little structural change. Initial alterations have included the reestablishment of religious education (banned during the Soviet period) and curriculum changes that have reemphasized the use of the Azerbaijani language and have eliminated ideological content. In addition to elementary schools, the education institutions include thousands of preschools, general secondary schools, and vocational schools, including specialized secondary schools and technical schools. Education through the eighth grade is compulsory.

Culture

The Azerbaijani carpet, a UNESCO Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The culture of Azerbaijan has developed as a result of many influences. Today, Western influences, including globalized consumer culture, are strong. National traditions are well preserved in the country. Some of the main elements of the Azerbaijani culture are: music, literature, folk dances and art, cuisine, architecture, cinematography and Novruz Bayram. The latter is the traditional celebration of the ancient New Year. Novruz is a family holiday.[186]

Azerbaijan folk consists of Azerbaijanis, the representative part of society, as well as of nations and ethnic groups, compactly living in various areas of the country. Azerbaijani national and traditional dresses are the Chokha and Papakhi. There are radio broadcasts in Russian, Armenian, Georgian, Kurdish, Lezgian and Talysh languages, which are financed from the state budget.[158] Some local radio stations in Balakan and Khachmaz organize broadcasts in Avar and Tat.[158] In Baku several newspapers are published in Russian, Kurdish (Dengi Kurd), Lezgian (Samur) and Talysh languages.[158] Jewish society "Sokhnut" publishes the newspaper Aziz.[158]

Music and folk dances

Uzeyir Hajibeyov merged traditional Azerbaijani music with Western styles in early 20th century.

Music of Azerbaijan builds on folk traditions that reach back nearly a thousand years.[187] For centuries Azerbaijani music has evolved under the badge of monody, producing rhythmically diverse melodies.[188] Azerbaijani music has a branchy mode system, where chromatization of major and minor scales is of great importance.[188] Among national musical instruments there are 14 string instruments, eight percussion instruments and six wind instruments.[189] According to The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion the Azeri are musically much closer to Iran than Turkey."[190]

Mugham, meykhana and ashiq art are one of the many musical traditions of Azerbaijan. Mugham is usually a suite with poetry and instrumental interludes. When performing Mugham, the singers have to transform their emotions into singing and music. Mugham singer Alim Qasimov is revered as one of the five best singers of all time.[191] In contrast to the mugham traditions of Central Asian countries, Azeri mugham is more free-form and less rigid; it is often compared to the improvised field of jazz.[192] UNESCO proclaimed the Azerbaijani mugham tradition a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003.

Meykhana is a kind of traditional Azeri distinctive folk unaccompanied song, usually performed by several people improvising on a particular subject.

Ashiq combines poetry, storytelling, dance and vocal and instrumental music into a traditional performance art that stands as a symbol of Azerbaijani culture. It is a mystic troubadour or traveling bard who sings and plays the saz. This tradition has its origin in the Shamanistic beliefs of ancient Turkic peoples.[193] Ashiqs' songs are semi-improvised around common bases. Azerbaijan’s ashiq art was included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO on September 30, 2009.[194]

Azerbaijan made its debut appearance at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. The country's entry gained the third place in 2009 and fifth the following year.[195] Ell and Nikki won the first place at the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 with the song "Running Scared", entitling Azerbaijan to host the contest in 2012, in Baku.[196][197]

There are dozens of Azerbaijani folk dances. They are performed at formal celebrations and the dancers wear national clothes like the Chokha, which is well preserved within the national dances. Most dances have a very fast rhythm. The national dance shows the characteristics of the Azerbaijani nation.

Architecture

Azerbaijani architecture typically combines elements of East and West.[198] Many ancient architectural treasures such as the Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs in the Walled City of Baku survive in modern Azerbaijan. Entries submitted on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list include the Ateshgah of Baku, Momine Khatun Mausoleum, Hirkan National Park, Binegadi National Park, Lok-Batan Mud Volcano, Baku Stage Mountain, Caspian Shore Defensive Constructions, Susha National Reserve, Ordubad National Reserve and the Palace of Shaki Khans.[199][200]

Among other architectural treasures are Quadrangular Castle in Mardakan, Parigala in Yukhary Chardaglar, a number of bridges spanning the Aras River, and several mausoleums. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, little monumental architecture was created, but distinctive residences were built in Baku and elsewhere. Among the most recent architectural monuments, the Baku subways are noted for their lavish decor.[201]

Plans have recently been revealed for the building of the Azerbaijan Tower. It will reportedly replace the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world with a planned height of 1,050 metres (3,440 ft).[202]

Cinematography

A scene from The Oil Gush in Balakhany (1898), one of the earliest films ever produced (directed by Alexander Mishon).[203]

The film industry in Azerbaijan dates back to 1898. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography.[203] Therefore It's not surprising that this apparatus soon showed up in Baku – at the start of the 20th century, this bay town on the Caspian was producing more than 50 percent of the world's supply of oil. Just like today, the oil industry attracted foreigners eager to invest and to work.[204] In 1919, during the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a documentary The Celebration of the Anniversary of Azerbaijani Independence was filmed on Azerbaijan's independence day, May 28, and premiered in June 1919 at several theatres in Baku.[205] After the Soviet power was established in 1920, Nariman Narimanov, Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, signed a decree nationalizing Azerbaijan's cinema. This also influenced the creation of Azerbaijani animation.[205]

In 1991, after Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union, the first Baku International Film Festival East-West was held in Baku. In December 2000, the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, signed a decree proclaiming August 2 professional holiday of filmmakers of Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijani filmmakers are again dealing with issues similar to those faced by cinematographers prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1920. Once again, both choice of content and sponsorship of films are largely left up to the initiative of the filmmaker.[203]

There are 3 state-owned television channels: AzTV, Idman TV and Medeniyyet TV. One public channel, Ictimai TV and 7 private channels: ANS TV, Space TV, Lider TV, Azad Azerbaijan TV, Xazar TV and Azerbaijan International.

Folk art

Traditional Azerbaijani clothing and musical instruments.

Azerbaijanis have a rich and distinctive culture, a major part of which is decorative and applied art. This form of art is represented by a wide range of handicrafts, such as chasing, jeweler, engraving in metal, carving in wood, stone and bone, carpet-making, lasing, pattern weaving and printing, knitting and embroidery. Each of these types of decorative art, evidence of the and endowments of the Azerbaijan nation, is very much in favor here. Many interesting facts pertaining to the development of arts and crafts in Azerbaijan were reported by numerous merchants, travelers and diplomats who had visited these places at different times.

The Azerbaijani carpet is a traditional handmade textile of various sizes, with dense texture and a pile or pile-less surface, whose patterns are characteristic of Azerbaijan’s many carpet-making regions. In November 2010 the Azerbaijani carpet was proclaimed a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.[206][207] Azerbaijan has been since the ancient times known as a center of a large variety of crafts. The archeological dig on the territory of Azerbaijan testifies to the well developed agriculture, stock raising, metal working, pottery and ceramics, and last but not least carpet-weaving that date as far back as to the 2nd millennium BC. Azerbaijani carpets can be categorized under several large groups and a multitude of subgroups. The true scientific research of the Azerbaijani carpet is connected with the name of Latif Kerimov, a prominent scientist and artist. It was his classification that related the four large groups of carpets with the four geographical zones of Azerbaijan, Guba-Shirvan, Ganja-Kazakh, Karabakh and Tabriz.[208]

Cuisine

The traditional cuisine is famous for an abundance of vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes. Fresh herbs, including mint, cilantro (coriander), dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leeks, chives, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress, are very popular and often accompany main dishes on the table. Climatic diversity and fertility of the land are reflected in the national dishes, which are based on fish from the Caspian Sea, local meat (mainly mutton and beef), and an abundance of seasonal vegetables and greens. Saffron-rice plov is the flagship food in Azerbaijan and black tea is the national beverage.[209]

Literature

Prominent poet Samad Vurgun.

The earliest known figure in Azerbaijani literature was Hasanoghlu or Pur Hasan Asfaraini, who composed a divan consisting of Persian and Turkic ghazals.[210][211] In Persian ghazals he used his pen-name, while his Turkic ghazals were composed under his own name of Hasanoghlu.[210]

Khurshidbanu Natavan was the daughter of the last ruler of the Karabakh Khanate and is considered one of the best lyrical poets of Azerbaijan.

Classical literature in Azerbaijani was formed in 14th century based on the various dialect Early Middle Ages dialects of Tabriz and Shirvan. Among the poets of this period were Gazi Burhanaddin, Haqiqi (pen-name of Jahan-shah Qara Qoyunlu), and Habibi.[212] The end of 14th century was also the period of starting literary activity of Imadaddin Nesimi,[213] one of the greatest Turkic[214][215][216] Hurufi mystical poets of the late 14th and early 15th centuries[217] and one of the most prominent early Divan masters in Turkic literary history,[217] who also composed poetry in Persian[215][218] and Arabic.[217] The Divan and Ghazal styles were further developed by poets Qasim al-Anvar, Fuzuli and Khatai (pen-name of Safavid Shah Ismail I). The acclaimed Book of Dede Korkut consists of two manuscripts copied in the 16th century,[219] was not written earlier than the 15th century.[220][221] It is a collection of 12 stories reflecting the oral tradition of Oghuz nomads.[221] The 16th century poet, Muhammed Fuzuli produced his timeless philosophical and lyrical Qazals in Arabic, Persian, and Azeri. Benefiting immensely from the fine literary traditions of his environment, and building upon the legacy of his predecessors, Fizuli was destined to become the leading literary figure of his society. His major works include The Divan of Ghazals and The Qasidas. In the same century, Azerbaijani literature further flourished with the development of Ashik (Azerbaijani: Aşıq) poetic genre of bards. During the same period, under the pen-name of Khatāī (Arabic: خطائی‎ for sinner) Shah Ismail I wrote about 1400 verses in Azeri,[222] which were later published as his Divan. A unique literary style known as qoshma (Azerbaijani: qoşma for improvization) was introduced in this period, and developed by Shah Ismail and later by his son and successor, Shah Tahmasp I.

In the span of the 17th and 18th centuries, Fizuli's unique genres as well Ashik poetry were taken up by prominent poets and writers such as Qovsi of Tabriz, Shah Abbas Sani, Agha Mesih Shirvani, Nishat, Molla Vali Vidadi, Molla Panah Vagif, Amani, Zafar and others. Along with Turks, Turkmens and Uzbeks, Azeris also celebrate the Epic of Koroglu (from Azerbaijani: kor oğlu for blind man's son), a legendary folk hero.[223] Several documented versions of Koroglu epic remain at the Institute for Manuscripts of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan.[211]

Modern literature in Azerbaijan is based on the Shirvani dialect mainly, while in Iran it is based on the Tabrizi one. The first newspaper in Azerbaijani, Akinchi was published in 1875. In mid-19th century, it was taught in the schools of Baku, Ganja, Shaki, Tbilisi, and Yerevan. Since 1845, it has also been taught in the University of Saint Petersburg in Russia.

Sports

Khazar Lankaran fans during a football match.

Sport in Azerbaijan has ancient roots, and even now, both traditional and modern sports are still practiced. Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally regarded as Azerbaijan's national sport, however today, the most popular sports in Azerbaijan are football and chess. The national football team of Azerbaijan demonstrates relatively low performance in the international arena compared to the nation football clubs. It is mainly because of the foreign footballers playing in the clubs. However, the newly opened Azerbaijan Football Academy in February 2009 is a huge step in the development of the youth football.[224] The most successful Azerbaijani football clubs are Neftchi Baku, FK Baku, Inter Baku, FK Karabakh and Khazar Lankaran.

On March 19, 2010, Azerbaijan won the bid to host the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.[225] Futsal is another popular sport in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan national futsal team reached the fourth place in 2010 UEFA Futsal Championship, while domestic club Araz Naxçivan clinched bronze medals at 2009–10 UEFA Futsal Cup.[226]

Rugby match between Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Backgammon plays a major role in Azerbaijani culture.[227] This game is very popular in Azerbaijan and is widely played among the local public.[228] There are also different variations of backgammon developed and analyzed by Azerbaijani experts.[229] Azerbaijan is known as one of the chess superpowers; despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, chess is still extremely popular.[230] Notable Azerbaijani chess players include Teimour Radjabov, Shahriyar Mammadyarov, Vladimir Makogonov, Garry Kasparov, Vugar Gashimov and Zeinab Mamedyarova. Azerbaijan has also hosted many international chess tournaments and competitions and became European Team Chess Championship winners in 2009.[231][232]

Other well-known Azerbaijani athletes are Namig Abdullayev, Rovshan Bayramov, Mariya Stadnik and Farid Mansurov in wrestling, Ramil Guliyev and Hayle Ibrahimov in athletics, Elnur Mammadli and Movlud Miraliyev in judo, Rafael Aghayev in karate, Valeriya Korotenko and Natalya Mammadova in volleyball and K-1 fighter Zabit Samedov.

Further reading

  • Olukbasi, Suha. Azerbaijan: A Political History (I.B. Tauris, 2011) 292 pages; $90). Focus on post-Soviet era.

More information

Airports37 (2012)
Borders WithArmenia
Borders WithArmenia
Borders WithGeorgia
Borders WithIran
Borders WithIran
Borders WithRussia
Borders WithTurkey
Coastline0 km (landlocked); note - Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea (713 km)
Coordinates40 30 N, 47 30 E
Domain Suffix.az
Ethnic GroupAzeri 90.6%
Ethnic GroupDagestani 2.2%
Ethnic GroupRussian 1.8%
Ethnic GroupArmenian 1.5%
Ethnic Groupother 3.9% (1999 census)
Female Life Expectancy74.68 years (2012 est.)
Female Median Age31.3 years (2012 est.)
Fertility Rate1.92 children born/woman (2012 est.)
GDP$93.05 billion (2011 est.)
GDP$92.97 billion (2010 est.)
GDP$88.57 billion (2009 est.)
GDP Growth0.1% (2011 est.)
GDP Growth5% (2010 est.)
GDP Growth9.3% (2009 est.)
Government typerepublic
Highest PointBazarduzu Dagi 4,485 m
Land Area82,629 sq km
Land boundary2,013 km
LanguageArmenian 1.5%
LanguageAzerbaijani (Azeri) (official) 90.3%
LanguageLezgi 2.2%
LanguageRussian 1.8%
Languageother 3.3%
Languageunspecified 1% (1999 census)
LocationSouthwestern Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia, with a small European portion north of the Caucasus range
Lowest PointCaspian Sea -28 m
Male Life Expectancy68.38 years
Male Median Age27.9 years
NationalityAzerbaijani(s)
Population Growth1.017% (2012 est.)
Railways2,918 km
RegionSouthwestern Asia
Roadways59,141 km
Terrainlarge, flat Kur-Araz Ovaligi (Kura-Araks Lowland, much of it below sea level) with Great Caucasus Mountains to the north, Qarabag Yaylasi (Karabakh Upland) in west; Baku lies on Abseron Yasaqligi (Apsheron Peninsula) that juts into Caspian Sea
Total Area86,600 sq km
Total Life Expectancy71.32 years
Total Median Age29.5 years
Water Area3,971 sq km

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