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Country statistics


86,600sq km (33,436sq mi) 8,141,400

capital (population):

Baku (1,817,900)


Federal multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Azerbaijani 90%


Azeri, official


Shi'a Muslim 60%, Sunni Muslim 40%, Christian 3%


Manat = 100 gopik

Republic in sw Asia. Azerbaijan lies in e Transcaucasia, bordering the Caspian Sea to the e. The Caucasus Mountains are in the n and include Azerbaijan's highest peak, Mount Bazar-Dyuzi, at 4480m (14,698ft). Another highland region, including the Little Caucasus Mountains and part of the rugged Armenian plateau, lies in the sw. Between these regions lies a broad plain drained by the River Kura; its eastern part (s of the capital, Baku) lies below sea level. Azerbaijan also includes the autonomous republic of Nakhichevan on the Iran frontier, totally cut off from the rest of the state by Armenia.

Climate and Vegetation

Azerbaijan has hot summers and cool winters. The rainfall is low on the plains, ranging from c.130 to 380mm (5 to 15in) a year, but is much higher in the highlands and on the subtropical se coast. Forests of beech, oak, and pine trees grow on the mountain slopes, while the dry lowlands comprise grassy steppe or semidesert.

History and Politics

In ancient times, the area now called Azerbaijan was invaded many times. Arab armies introduced Islam in 642, but most modern Azerbaijanis are descendants of Persians and Turkic peoples who migrated to the area from the e by the 9th century. Azerbaijan was ruled by the Mongols between the 13th and 15th centuries and then by the Persian Safavid dynasty. By the early 19th century it was under Russian control.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, attempts were made to form a Transcaucasian Federation made up of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. When these attempts failed, Azerbaijanis set up an independent state, but Soviet forces occupied the area in 1920. In 1922, Azerbaijan was subsumed into the Soviet Republic of Transcaucasia, but in 1936 it became a separate socialist republic of the Soviet Union.

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced social and political reforms. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and, like its neighbours, Azerbaijan gained independence. In 1992, Abulfaz Elchibey became president in Azerbaijan's first contested election. In 1993, Elchibey fled and Heydar Aliev, former head of the Communist Party and the KGB in Azerbaijan, assumed the presidency. He was elected later that year and Azerbaijan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Since independence, economic progress has been slow, largely because of civil unrest in Nagorno-Karabakh, a large enclave within Azerbaijan where the majority of the population are Christian Armenians. In 1992, Armenia occupied the area between its e border and Nagorno-Karabakh, while ethnic Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh itself. The ensuing war killed thousands of people and resulted in mass migrations of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. In 1994, a ceasefire left c.20% of Azerbaijan under Armenian control. There was little sign of a long-term solution to the problem, however, and sporadic fighting continues. In 1998, Aliev was re-elected president. In 2001, Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe. In 2003, Aliev's son Ilham Aliev became president after Heydar was forced to withdraw from elections due to ill health.


With its economy in disarray since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan now ranks among the world's lower-middle-income countries (2000 GDP per capita, US$3000). Its chief resource is oil – Azerbaijan is the oldest centre of production in the world – with the main oilfields in the Baku region, both on the shores of the Caspian Sea and in the sea itself. In 1994, Aliev invited Western companies to develop and exploit the offshore oil deposits. Manufacturing, including oil refining and the production of chemicals, machinery, and textiles, is the most valuable activity. Large areas of land are irrigated, and crops include cotton, fruit, grains, tea, tobacco, and vegetables. Fishing is still important, although the Caspian Sea is becoming increasingly polluted. Under the communists, most economic activity was subject to strict state control, but (as with most other former Soviet republics) private enterprise is now encouraged.

Political map

Physical map


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Province in northwestern Iran; also, a republic (fully independent since 1991) along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, with Baku as capital.

An Iranian province with documented history going back to the Achaemenian period (700 to 330 b.c.e.), Azerbaijan was gradually Turkified by the end of the twelfth century through the migration of Turkic tribes from central Asia. Its spoken language, Azeri, is a Turkic language strongly influenced by Persian. Alongside the Turkish-speaking population, Azerbaijan is also home to a substantial Kurdish minority. Most Turkish-speaking Azerbaijanis are Shiʿa Muslims, and the Kurds are mostly Sunni.

Iranian Azerbaijan is divided into three provinces: Western Azerbaijan, with its provincial seat in Urumia; Eastern Azerbaijan, the capital of which is Tabriz; and Ardebil, with its provincial capital at Ardebil. The independent Republic of Azerbaijan, formerly a republic within the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, also had been a part of Iranian territory but was ceded to Czarist Russia under the provisions of the Treaties of Golestan (1813) and Turkamanchai (1828).

In 1945 a Soviet-backed autonomous republic, led by local Marxist leaders Jaʿfar Pishevari and Gholam Yahya, was declared in Iranian Azerbaijan. Opposition from the United States, combined with the shrewd diplomacy of Azerbaijan's prime minister, Ahmad Qavam, secured the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and led to the demise of the short-lived and self-styled Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan.

Iranian Azerbaijan has varied climatic conditions. It includes some of Iran's richest agricultural lands, producing barley, wheat, rice, and potatoes. Tabriz is the region's industrial center, where tractors, factory machinery, electrical equipment and turbines, motorcycles, clocks and watches, cement, textiles, processed foods, and agricultural implements are produced. In other parts of Azerbaijan sugar and textile mills and food-processing plants are in operation. There are copper, arsenic, coal, and salt mines in the province. According to the 1996 census, the total population of East Azerbaijan was 3,369,000, of which 64.8 percent lived in urban areas. West Azerbaijan's population was 2,496,320, of which 57.39 percent were urban dwellers. Of Ardebil's 1,197,364 inhabitants, 647,154 live in urban areas. According to the Statistical Center of Iran, in East Azerbaijan 75.4 percent of the population is literate; in West Azerbaijan, 69 percent; and in Ardebil, 73.3 percent.

see also azeri language and literature; iran; tabriz; turkmanchai, treaty of (1828).


Atabaki, Touraj. Azerbaijan: Ethnicity and Autonomy in Twentieth-Century Iran. London and New York: British Academic Press, 1993.

Chehabi, H. E. "Ardabil Becomes a Province: Center-Periphery Relations in Iran." International Journal of Middle East Studies 29, no. 2 (1997): 235253.

Fawcett, Louise L'Estrange. Iran and the Cold War: The Azerbaijan Crisis of 1946. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Neguin Yavari

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Azerbaijan (region, Iran)

Azerbaijan (ä´zĕrbījän´, ă´zər–), Iran. Azarbayejan, region, c.34,280 sq mi (88,785 sq km), NW Iran, divided into the provinces of East Azerbaijan (1996 pop. 3,325,540), West Azerbaijan (1996 pop. 2,496,320), and Ardabil (1996 pop. 1,168,011). The chief cities include Tabriz (the capital of East Azerbaijan), Urmia (the capital of West Azerbaijan), Ardebil (the capital of Ardabil), Maragheh, and Khoy (Khvoy). The region is bounded in the N by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan (from which it is separated by the Aras River) and in the W by Turkey and Iraq.

Azerbaijan, which includes Lake Urmia, is mountainous, with deep valleys and fertile lowlands. Grains, fruits, cotton, rice, nuts, and tobacco are grown. Wool, carpets, and metalware are produced. Industries include food processing, cement, textiles, electric equipment, and sugar milling. An oil pipeline runs through the region. The majority of the people of Azerbaijan are Turkic-speaking Azeris, who are Shiite Muslims. There are also Armenians, Kurds, Jews, and Persians.

In ancient times Azerbaijan was dominated by the kings of Van and Urartu (in Armenia). By the 8th cent. BC it had been settled by the Medes (see Media), and it later formed the province of Media Minor in the Persian Empire. Azerbaijan is the traditional birthplace (7th cent. BC) of Zoroaster, the religious teacher and prophet. After Alexander the Great conquered Persia, he appointed (328 BC) as governor the Persian general Atropates, who eventually established an independent dynasty. Later, the region, which came to be called Atropatene or Media Atropatene, was much disputed. In the 2d cent. BC it was taken by the Parthian Mithradates I, and c.AD 226 it was captured by the Sassanid Ardashir I. Shapur II enlarged Azerbaijan by adding territory in the north.

Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor, briefly held the region in the 7th cent., just before the Arabs conquered it; they converted most of its people to Islam and made it part of the caliphate. The Seljuk Turks dominated the region in the 11th and 12th cent., and the Mongols under Hulagu Khan established (13th cent.) their capital at Maragheh. After being conquered by Timur in the 14th cent., Tabriz became an important provincial capital of the Timurid empire. It was out of Ardebil that the Safavid dynasty arose (c.1500) to renew the state of Persia. There was fierce fighting between the Ottoman Empire and Persia for Azerbaijan. After brief Ottoman control, Abbas I, shah of Persia, regained control of the region in 1603.

Azerbaijan remained entirely in the possession of the shahs until the northern part was ceded to Russia in the treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmanchai (1828). The remainder was organized as a province of Persia; in 1938 the province was divided into two parts. In 1941, Soviet troops occupied Iranian Azerbaijan; they were withdrawn (May, 1946) after a Soviet-supported, autonomous local government had been created. Iranian troops occupied the region in Nov., 1946, and the autonomous movement was suppressed.

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