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Azerbaijan Republic

Azarbaichan Respublikasy


FLAG: Three equal horizontal bands of blue (top), red, and green; a crescent and eight-pointed star in white are centered in the red band.

ANTHEM: Azerbaijan National Anthem, composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyov.

MONETARY UNIT: The manat, consisting of 100 gopik, was introduced in 1992 and remains tied to the Russian ruble with widely fluctuating exchange rates. 1 manat = $0.00021 (or $1 = 4,794.15 manat) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; International Women's Day, 8 March; Novruz Bayrom (Holiday of Spring), 22 March; Day of the Republic, 28 May; Day of Armed Forces, 9 October; Day of State Sovereignty, 18 October; Day of National Revival, 17 November; Universal Azeri Solidarity Day, 31 December.

TIME: 4 pm = noon GMT.


Azerbaijan is located in southeastern Europe/southwestern Asia between Armenia and the Caspian Sea. Comparatively, Azerbaijan is slightly smaller than the state of Maine with a total area of 86,600 sq km (33,436 sq mi). This area includes the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Azerbaijan shares boundaries with Russia on the n, the Caspian Sea on the e, Iran on the s, Armenia on the w, and Georgia on the nw. Azerbaijan's boundary length totals 2,013 km (1,251 mi). Azerbaijan's capital city, Baku, is located on the Apsheron Peninsula that juts into the Caspian Sea.


The topography of Azerbaijan features the large, flat Kura-Aras Lowland (much of it below sea level) surrounded on three sides by mountains. The Great Caucasus Mountains are to the north, the Lesser Caucasus Mountains are to the southwest, and the Talish Mountains are in the south along the border with Iran. The Karabakh Upland lies in the west. About 19% of Azerbaijan's land is arable with approximately 16% under irrigation.

The Nakhichevan exclave lies to the west, separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenia. Nakhichevan also shares borders with Turkey and Iran.


The country's climate is subtropical in the eastern and central parts. In the mountainous regions the climate is alpine-like. The southeastern section of the country has a humid subtropical climate. The average temperature in the capital, Baku, in July is 25°c (77°f). In January the average temperature is 4°c (39°f). Rainfall varies according to climate zones. The average rainfall for most of the country is only about 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in). However, at the highest elevations of the Caucasus and in the Länkäran lowlands, annual rainfall can exceed 100 cm (39 in).


The country's flora and fauna is rich and varied. There are 16 nature reserves and more than 28 forest reserves and hunting farms.


Azerbaijan's current environmental problems result in part from the effects of the economic priorities and practices of the former Soviet Union. General mismanagement of the country's resources has resulted in a serious threat to several areas of the environment. UN agencies have reported severe air and water pollution in Azerbaijan, which ranks among the 50 nations with the world's highest level of carbon dioxide emissions. The combination of industrial, agricultural, and oil-drilling pollution has created an environmental crisis in the Caspian Sea. These sources of pollution have contaminated 100% of the coastal waters in some areas and 45.3% of Azerbaijan's rivers. In 2001, only 78% of the total population had access to safe drinking water. The pollution of the land through the indiscriminate use of agricultural chemicals such as the pesticide DDT is also a serious problem.

Azerbaijan's war with Armenia has hampered the government's ability to improve the situation. Due to the severity of pollution on all levels, the country's wildlife and vegetation are also seriously affected. From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, the amount of forest and woodland declined by 12.5%. As of 2000, about 13% of the total land area was forested. In 2003, about 6.1% of the total land area was protected, including two Ramsar wetland sites: Agh-Ghol and Ghizil-Agaj.

As of 2002, there were at least 99 species of mammals, 229 species of birds, and 4,300 species of higher plants. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 11 types of mammals, 11 species of birds, 5 types of reptiles, 5 species of fish, and 6 other invertebrates. Endangered species include the Barbel sturgeon, beluga, the Azov-Black Sea sturgeon, the Apollo butterfly, and the Armenian birch mouse.


The population of Azerbaijan in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 8,388,000, which placed it at number 90 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 7% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 26% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 94 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.0%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 9,700,000. The population density was 97 per sq km (251 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 51% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.15%. The capital city, Baku, had a population of 1,816,000 in that year. Other urban centers include Gyanja (formerly Kirovabad) with a population of about 300,000 people, and Sumgait with about 289,700. There has been an additional influx of foreign refugees to the urban centers in recent years.


As a result of the war with Armenia, which started in 1988, more than one million people were forced to leave the region. The Law on Citizenship allows for the automatic acquisition of Azerbaijani citizenship by refugees from Armenia. Also, there are some 48,000 Meshketians, also known as Meskhis, who were forcibly resettled from Central Asia after bloody Soviet pogroms in 1989. The Meshketians, descendants of rural Muslim populations, were originally deported from Georgia to Central Asia under the Stalin era. Most Azerbaijani were displaced between 1993 and 1994. Since May 1994, when the ceasefire was enacted, only 60,000 persons were able to return to their homes along the front line. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, as of the end of 2004 there were 578,545 (around 7% of the total population) internally displaced persons (IDP) in Azerbaijan.

Between 1989 and 1995, there was an emigration of Slavic peoples from Azerbaijan. These included 169,000 Russians, 15,000 Ukrainians, and 3,000 Belarusians as they emigrated back to their homelands. By the end of 2004, several thousand Azerbaijan citizens sought asylum in Western Europe, mainly in Sweden and Germany.

As of 2001 there were 148,000 migrants living in Azerbaijan, with less than 1% of these being refugees. However, as of 2004, Azerbaijan hosted 40,267 other refugees and asylum seekers. Most are Azeri refugees from Armenia.

In 2005 the net migration rate was estimated as -4.64 migrants per 1000. The government views this migration level as satisfactory.


At the 1999 census, 90.6% of the population was Azeri; about 2.2% were Dagestani, 1.8% were Russian, another 1.5% were Armenian, and 3.9% were of other ethnic origins. Almost all Armenians live in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.


Azerbaijani (or Azeri) is a language related to Turkish and is also spoken in northwestern Iran. It is traditionally written in Arabic script. In 1995, an estimated 89% of the population spoke Azeri; 3% spoke Russian; 2% spoke Armenian; and 6% other. In 1939, the Soviets introduced a Cyrillic alphabet, with eight special characters.


For most of the 20th century, from 19201991, the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic observed the restrictions in religious belief and practice common throughout the former Soviet Union. According to official figures available in 2004, the population was 96% Muslim (70% of whom were Shias, and 30% were Sunnis). However, the percentage of those who are active practitioners of the faith is believed to be much lower. Religious identity within the country tends to be primarily based on culture and ethnicity. Because of the Persian influence on Azerbaijan, most Azerbaijanis are Shiites, even though all of the other Turkic groups of the former Soviet Union are Sunni Muslims.

Islam (both Shia and Sunni), Russian Orthodox, and Judaism are considered to be traditional religions of the country. A majority of Christians live in the Baku and Sumgait urban areas. There are two main groups of Jews: the Mountain Jews, who are believed to be descendents of those who first came to the northern part of the country over 2,000 years ago, and the Ashkenazi Jews, who are the descendant of European immigrants. There are small communities of Evangelical Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Molokans (an older branch of Russian Orthodox), Seventh-Day Adventists, Baha'is, Wahhabist Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Hare Krishnas.

The constitution specifically provides that persons of all faiths may choose and practice their religion without restrictions. There are legal provisions which allow the government to regulate religious groups. All religious groups must be registered with the government through the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, a department of the Ministry of Justice. Proselytizing by foreigners is against the law. Muslims who convert to non-Muslim faiths often face social discrimination, and even hostilities.


Azerbaijan's railway system, as of 2004, was made up of 2,957 km (1,839 mi) of broad gauge (1.520-m) track, with Baku as the hub. Of that total, 1,278 km (795 mi) was electrified. In 2003, the high-way system totaled 27,016 km (16,803 mi), of which 12,698 km (7,898 mi) were paved. In that same year, there were 128 km (80 mi) of expressways. As of 2003, there were 350,559 passenger cars and 124,482 commercial vehicles registered. Azerbaijan's major port is at Baku. In 2005 the merchant marine had 81 ships (1,000 GRT or over), totaling 253,004 GRT. Ships from the Caspian fleet have called at some 125 ports in over 30 countries. In 2004 there were an estimated 50 airports. As of 2005, a total of 27 had paved runways, and there were also two heliports. There are flights from Baku's Bina Airport to more than 70 cities of the former Soviet Union. In 2003, a total of 684,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The territory of present-day Azerbaijan has been continuously inhabited since the Paleolithic era. The first evidence of tribal alliances date to the first millennium bc, when such peoples as the Mannaians, the Medes, the Cadusiis, the Albanoi, and the Caspians appeared. In the 7th century bc, the state of Media appeared in what now is southern Azerbaijan, growing to cover large portions of the Near East. The Medians were displaced by the Persian dynasty of Achaemenids, who in turn were defeated by Alexander the Great. In the 4th century bc, another state arose which Greek sources called Atropatena, or "Land of the Fire Keepers"; it is this name, reflecting the predominance of Zoroastrianism, which may have given the present state its name. Around the beginning of the common era Atropatena was succeeded by a state called Albania, which the Romans attempted to conquer.

In the 3rd and 4th centuries ad, Azerbaijan existed with fluid boundaries between the Sassanid state in Persia and the Romans, whose battles inflicted great damage, leaving Azerbaijan open to raids by Turkic nomadic tribes from the north, including Khazars and Huns. Outside influence reappeared in the 7th and 8th centuries, when Arabs conquered much of Transcaucasia. As their influence receded, a number of small local states were established, the best known of which was the Shirvanshahs.

In the 11th century Azerbaijan was invaded by Oguz Turks, of the Seljuk dynasty. By the 13th century the gradual displacement of pre-Turkic local languages was complete, although many traces of non-Turkic predecessors remain in the Azerbaijani language. Persian, however, remained the language of art, science, and education.

In the 1230s Azerbaijan was conquered by Genghiz Khan, whose power remained in the Il-Khanid state, which at the end of the 14th century was displaced by the armies of Tamerlaine. In the 16th century, the Safawid state emerged, coming to control most of the land between the Syr Darya and the Euphrates, and reestablishing agriculture and commerce destroyed under the Mongols. In the 17th century, the Safawids became Persianized, which made present-day Azerbaijan decline in importance.

In the 18th century Azerbaijan became the intersection of the Turkish, Persian, and Russian empires, as well as the focus of British and French attempts to block Russian expansion. The northern part of the territory was incorporated into Russia in the first third of the 19th century, but the area did not become important until the 1880s, when the area's abundant oil gained commercial importance. The southern portion of what was originally Azerbaijan has remained in Iran, except for the period 194146, when it was occupied by Soviet troops.

When the 1917 Russian revolution came, Ottoman Turkish troops moved into Azerbaijan, and later British forces controlled the capital, Baku. The Azerbaijani Musavat, or Equality Party, established a government, declared Azerbaijan's independence, and received diplomatic recognition from several states. Azerbaijan was invaded by the Russian Bolsheviks' Red Army in April 1920, and Azerbaijan was declared a Soviet state. In 1922 it was made part of the Transcaucasian Federated Socialist Republic, along with Georgia and Armenia. That was dissolved in 1936, when the three states were each made into separate Soviet Socialist Republics.

In 1988, calls by ethnic Armenians living in Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region to be incorporated into the Armenian republic led to open conflict, which lasted until 1994. This pre-dominantly Armenian area had been unsuccessfully claimed by the Armenians in the 1920s, at the time of the creation of Soviet Azerbaijan. Inability to solve the NK conflict was one of the problems that ultimately brought down Mikhail Gorbachev and broke apart the USSR. Ethnic and civil violence in January 1990 prompted the occupation of Baku by Soviet armed forces and Moscow's replacement of Abdulrakhman Vezirov with Ayaz Mutalibov as republic head. During this period of martial law, the legislature elected Mutalibov as president in May 1990. Independence was declared on 30 August 1991, and Mutalibov was reaffirmed as president in a popular, uncontested election in September 1991.

In December 1991, NK's Armenians held a referendum (boycotted by local Azerbaijanis) that approved NK's independence and elected a Supreme Soviet, which on 6 January 1992, declared NK's independence and futilely appealed for world recognition. Following a late February 1992 massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly in NK, Mutalibov was accused of failing to protect Azeri citizens and forced by the nationalist oppositionist Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF) and others to resign as president. His replacement, legislative head Yakub Mamedov, was also forced to resign in May 1992, in the face of further Azerbaijani military defeats in NK. Mutalibov was then reinstated by loyalists in the Supreme Soviet, but he had to flee two days later, when the APF seized power. Former Soviet dissident and APF leader Abulfaz Elchibey, was elected president in a popular contest in June 1992.

The nationalist government took several moves to cut its ties to Russia, including demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops, refusing to participate as a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, negotiating with Western firms to develop its oil resources, and improving relations with Turkey. However, military losses in NK increased. In 1993, Heydar Aliyev, who had been the Communist Party leader of the republic from 197185 but then was ousted and disgraced by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, began to press for Elchibey's dismissal.

An abortive attempt by the Elchibey government in June 1993 to disarm paramilitary forces in the town of Ganja precipitated the fall of the government and provided the opportunity for Aliyev to regain power. These forces were led by Suret Huseynov, formerly in charge of troops in NK, who had been fired by Elchibey. Huseynov's forces, supplied with Russian equipment, defeated an Azerbaijani Army attack and began to march on Baku. His government in chaos, Elchibey invited Aliyev to come to Baku, and on 15 June, he endorsed Aliyev's election by the legislature as its new speaker. Elchibey fled to the Nakhchiveni Autonomous Republic (NAR) on 17 June. On 24 June 1993, a bare quorum of legislators met and formally stripped Elchibey of presidential powers, transferring them to Aliyev. Huseynov demanded and was given the post of prime minister.

On 3 October 1993, Aliyev was elected president with 98.8% of the vote. The referendum and election were viewed as not "free and fair" by many international observers because of suppression of APF and other opposition participation. In late September 1994, police and others in Baku launched a purported coup attempt. Aliyev darkly hinted at Russian involvement. After defeating the coup attempt, Aliyev also accused Prime Minister Huseynov of major involvement, and Huseynov fled the country. Other coup attempts were reported in 1995 and 1999. All of the alleged coup attempts triggered mass arrests of Aliyev's opponents.

On 11 October 1998, incumbent President Aliyev defeated five other candidates and was elected to a second five-year term, receiving over 76% of 4.3 million votes cast. The major "constructive opposition" candidate running was Etibar Mamedov of the National Independence Party (NIP), who received 11.6% of the vote. Most international observers judged the vote not "free and fair," citing myriad irregularities, though also noting that the election marked some improvement in political pluralism.

The conflict with Armenian separatists over its Nagorno-Karabakh region continues to plague Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan asserts that NK forces occupy over 20% of Azerbaijan's territory both in and around NK. The conflict has resulted in about 30,000 casualties on both sides and over 840,000 Azerbaijani refugees and displaced persons (and over 300,000 Armenians). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began the "Minsk Group" peace talks in June 1992. A Russian-mediated ceasefire was agreed to in May 1994 and was formalized by an armistice signed by the ministers of defense of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the commander of the NK army on 27 July 1994 (and reaffirmed a month later). Moscow talks were held by the sides, with token representation by the OSCE, along with Minsk Group talks. With strong US backing, the OSCE at its Budapest meeting agreed in December 1994 to send OSCE peacekeepers to the region under UN aegis if a political settlement could be reached. Russia and the OSCE assented to merge their mediation efforts. France was nominated as a cochair in 1996. This elicited criticism from Azerbaijan that the French had appeared pro-Armenian, leading to the seating of US, French, and Russian cochairs. (Many Azerbaijanis also have voiced reservations about Russia's objectivity as a mediator, citing its defense ties to Armenia.) Direct Armenian-Azerbaijani contacts by the presidents and advisors have also occurred.

Prospects for a negotiated settlement remain elusive because the sides remain far apart on most substantive issues such as the placement and composition of a peacekeeping force and NK's ultimate political status. Personal meetings by the two presidents raised hopes that a statement of intention could be issued at the November 1999 OSCE Summit, but events such as resignations of some Azerbaijani officials apparently opposed to NK proposals, Aliyev's infirmity, and October 1999 assassinations in Armenia appeared to set back progress.

Peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan were held in Paris and Florida in 2001, but by December 2002, Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian, commander-in-chief of the armed forces of NK, warned Azerbaijan that the enclave's army was "better prepared than ever before" and "ready to repulse the enemy" and carry out a successful counteroffensive should conflict begin. President Aliyev in September 2002 told representatives of the Minsk Group that "the people's mood is changing. They are starting to lose hope in a peaceful solution and are coming to the view that we have to recover our land ourselves by whatever means necessaryIt has beennearly ten years since the Minsk Group was created. How much longer can we go on talking about a peace settlement?"

In 2001, the United States lifted a ban on aid imposed during the NK conflict after Azerbaijan provided airspace and intelligence to the United States following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

In September 2002, construction began on a multibillion-dollar pipeline to carry Caspian oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia (the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, otherwise known as the BTC).

The government held a referendum on 24 August 2002 to approve 39 changes to the constitution. Some of the major articles at issue were the abolishment of the proportional system of election of deputies to the national parliament; making the prime minister, not the speaker of the parliament, a caretaker president in case the president is not able to carry out his duties; and giving lower level courts the right to ban political parties. Opposition leaders argued that abolishment of the proportional system would damage the multiparty system in the country and further strengthen the ruling elite. In addition to this, the opposition claimed that President Aliyev intended to appoint his son Ilham prime minister and then retire, thus paving the way for his son to become the next president. President Aliyev also approved adding a provision to the Law on State Secrets, which would make editors and journalists of local mass media accountable for disseminating state secrets. The government claimed that there was nearly 100% support for the constitutional changes with 88% voter turnout, while opposition groups stated turnout was closer to 15%, which would render the vote invalid. Demonstrators called for the resignation of President Aliyev and for holding free and fair elections. Supporters of more than 30 opposition parties, including the major parties Musavat, the Popular Front, the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, and the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, held marches on 14 September 2002 urging the authorities to cancel the results of the referendum. On 27 October and again on 24 November of that year, the opposition parties marched again under the banner of the United Opposition Movement, claiming that over 50,000 people participated in the marches.

In August 2003, Aliyev appointed his son Ilham prime minister. In October, Ilham Aliyev won a presidential vote by a landslide in a poll outside observers declared not meeting international standards, which sparked opposition protests. These were met by police violence; hundreds were arrested. In December, Heydar Aliyev died in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States; he had been suffering from heart and kidney problems.

In March 2005, outspoken opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov was shot and killed in Baku; thousands of Azerbaijanis mourned his death. After months of preelection tension and the suppression of riots, voters cast their ballots for parliament on 6 November 2005. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party declared victory, while leaders of Azadliq ("Freedom"), a three-party opposition bloc, said the official results were a sham, and the races were tainted by fraud, falsification, and police action. During the campaign, beatings of demonstrators, arrests of opposition figures, and the continued use of government resources for its candidates took place. After the elections, thousands of opposition members protested the fraudulent elections, and the Azeri government was forcedin part by intense diplomatic pressureto undo some of the most obviously falsified results, by firing two regional governors for interfering with vote counts, annulling the results for five parliamentary seats, and dismissing several election officials and opening criminal cases against them, in addition to carrying out investigations of complaints. The official results showed the Yeni Azerbaijan Party winning 58 parliamentary seats and the Azadliq bloc only 11. The rest were scattered among small parties and independents. Tens of thousands of citizens staged peaceful protests on 26 November 2005, calling on President Ilham Aliyev to resign, and chanting "freedom"; the protests were broken up by the police, who beat many of the participants.


Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential form of government. Heydar Aliyev assumed presidential powers after the overthrow of his popularly elected predecessor and was elected president in 1993. Aliyev and his supporters from his home region of Nakichevan and elsewhere dominated the government and the legislature. Aliyev's son Ilham was elected president in October 2003; Heydar Aliyev died in December 2003.

The Azerbaijani constitution was approved by 91.9% of voters in a referendum held in November 1995. It establishes a strong presidency, sets up a new 125-member legislature (the Milli Mejlis), declares Azerbaijani the state language, proclaims freedom of religion and a secular state, stipulates ownership over part of the Caspian Sea, and gives Nakhchiveni Autonomous Republic (NAR) quasi-federal rights. The president appoints and removes cabinet ministers (the Milli Mejlis consents to his choice of prime minister), submits budgetary and other legislation that cannot be amended but only approved or rejected within 56 days, and appoints local officials. It is extremely difficult for the Milli Mejlis to impeach the president. The transition to democracy has been impeded by government efforts to hinder the opposition. In NK, political turmoil and war damage have slowed development, and ethnic Azerbaijanis are prevented from returning to the region and surrounding areas by the lack of a peace settlement.

In June 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that changes to the constitution proposed by President Heydar Aliyev did not conflict with the principles of Azerbaijan's basic law. One major change in the constitution concerned what happens if the president retires or becomes incapacitated. Prior to the 24 August 2002 referendum, under the constitution's Article 105, the speaker of parliament assumed the president's duties. Under the new rule, the prime minister, who is appointed by the president and is responsible to him, not the legislature, assumes presidential powers. An amendment to Article 101 changed the threshold for a candidate to be elected president in the first round of voting, from two-thirds to a simple majority. Members of the Milli Mejlis were previously elected on the basis of majority and proportional election systems under Article 83 of the constitution. Under the new provisions, proportional party lists were eliminated and deputies are elected only through winning majorities in districts. Changes to Article 3 forbid holding a referendum on issues that fall under the scope of executive institutions, such as taxes, the state budget, amnesties, elections and appointments to executive positions.

In the November 1995 election, 25 of the seats were allocated through a proportional party list vote and 100 through single-member district balloting. Eight parties were allowed to take part in the party list voting in the legislative elections, but only the Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF) was clearly an anti-Aliyev party. These were the Yeni (New) Azerbaijan (YAP), APF, Azerbaijan Democratic Independence (ADIP), National Independence (NIP), Azerbaijan Democratic Proprietors (ADPP), Motherland, Azerbaijan National Statehood (NSPA), and Alliance for Azerbaijan parties. Aliyev's YAP won most seats in the legislative races. The elections were marred by the harassment and exclusion of most opposition parties and candidates from participation and by rampant irregularities such as the open stuffing of ballot boxes, according to international observers. Some observers stressed that the elections marked some progress in holding a multiparty vote. Heydar Aliyev's YAP candidates ran unopposed in many electoral districts because of the exclusion of opposition candidates. Campaign advertising by most parties was severely restricted on state-owned television, while Heydar Aliyev received extensive positive coverage. Legislative elections held in November 2000 saw the NAP and its allies win 108 out of 125 seats in the Milli Mejlis in elections that were criticized by international observers. The APF took the next highest number of seats with 6.

The next legislative elections were held in November 2005. Due to the 2002 changes in the constitution approved by referendum, all 125 members of parliament were elected from single mandate constituencies. Amid accusations of fraud and public demonstrations, the government's official results showed the YAP winning 58 seats; the Azadliq ("Freedom") bloc won only 11 seats, and the rest were awarded to independents and split among the smaller parties.


Some three dozen parties are registered, but some opposition parties have been arbitrarily refused registration. Some parties that are deemed explicitly ethnic or religiously based also have been refused registration. Under election legislation passed after Heydar Aliyev's accession, a party must have at least 1,000 members to be legally registered. Party membership is forbidden to government officials in agencies of the judiciary, law enforcement, security, border defense, customs, taxation, finance, and the state-run media. Six pro-Aliyev parties participated in the 1995 legislative party list vote, including Yeni Azerbaijan (YAP; formed in November 1992), Azerbaijan Democratic Independence (ADIP; broke off from NIP in late 1993), Motherland (formed in 1990), and the Democratic Entrepreneurs' Party (formed in 1994). Only the YAP gained enough votes to win seats in the party list vote (though these other parties won seats in constituency balloting). Two centrist or opposition parties participated and won seats in the party-list voting: the Azerbaijan Popular Front (APFformed in 1988) and National Independence Party (NIP; broke off from APF in early 1992). Opposition parties excluded from the party list ballot included Musavat (formed in 1912). All parties are small; YAP is the largest. YAP, formed by Aliyev, encompasses many of his former Azerbaijani Communist Party (ACP) supporters. The APF was at the forefront of the nationalist and anticommunist movement and its chair, Abulfaz Elchibey, was elected president in 1992. With Heydar Aliyev's return to power, APF members and officials were arrested and harassed. NIP views itself as a moderate nationalist party in "constructive opposition" to Aliyev. Musavat has supported close ties with Turkey and has cooperated on some issues with the APF. The pro-Iranian Islamic Party was stripped of its registration in 1995. Preparing for the 1998 presidential race, in March 1998, 46 pro-government political parties and groups formed the Center for Democratic Elections (CDE). Five prominent opposition political leaders and others formed the Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform (MDEER) in May 1998: Elchibey (the AFP), Isa Gambar (Musavat), Lala Shovkat Hijyeva (Azerbaijan Liberal Party or ALP), former speaker Rasul Guliyev, and Ilyas Ismayilov (Democratic Party of Azerbaijan). The Democratic Party finally achieved registration in early 2000, but co-leader Guliyev remained in forced exile.

Other political parties include the Civil Solidarity Party (CSP), Civic Union Party, Compatriot Party, Justice Party, Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, and the Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (SDP). Opposition parties regularly factionalize and form new parties. The opposition bloc that fielded candidates in the November 2005 parliamentary election was called Azadliq ("Freedom").

Heydar Aliyev died in December 2003. Prior to his death he had appointed his son Ilham prime minister. In October 2003 Ilham Aliyev was elected president to succeed his father.


Soviet-era Azerbaijan was subdivided administratively into one autonomous republic, Nakhichevan, an area separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by a thin strip of Armenian territory, which had its own parliament of 110 members; and an autonomous region, Nagorno-Karabakh (NK). Azerbaijan dissolved NK's status as an autonomous region in November 1991 in an attempt to reassert central control. NK has claimed an independent existence since December 1991, and a swath of territory around it has been occupied by NK Armenian forces. Azerbaijan has 59 districts (rayons ) and 11 cities, whose executive heads or mayors are appointed and dismissed by the president. Although the constitution called for the local election of legislative assemblies (councils) by the end of 1997, these elections did not take place until December 1999 (with runoffs in some municipalities in March 2000). In these races, nearly 2,700 municipal and district assemblies were formed. Some 36,000 candidates contested for 22,087 seats in these assemblies. Of these candidates, 18,000 were sponsored by 26 political parties, while others run as independents. The election was not viewed by many international monitors as "free and fair" because of government interference in the electoral process, including the stacking of territorial and precinct electoral commissions with members of the ruling party and other local government supporters, the harassment or disqualification of opposition candidates, and ballot box stuffing. Many of the local assemblies found it difficult to begin work because their roles were somewhat unclear and local executive heads, appointed by Heydar Aliyev, proved somewhat reluctant to share power.

Local elections were held once again in December 2004. In all, 38,041 candidates competed to contest 21,622 seats on 2,731 municipal councils. More than 22,000 of the candidates were registered Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) members. Thirty other parties registered only 2,347 candidates. The major opposition parties, with the exception of the NIP, boycotted the vote. Voting irregularities were reported by outside observers. The YAP maintained its political monopoly in the municipal councils.


The old Soviet court system has been essentially retained, consisting of district courts and municipal courts of first instance and a Supreme Court which usually performs the function of appellate review. However, the Supreme Court also performs the function of court of first instance for some serious cases. District courts consist of one judge and two lay assessors and hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. Criminal defendants have the right to an attorney and to appointed counsel, the right to be present at trial, to confront witnesses, and to a public trial.

The 1995 constitution provides for public trials in most cases, the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, and a defendant's right to legal counsel. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal. In practice, however, the courts are politically oriented, seeming to overlook the government's human rights violations. In July 1993, Heydar Aliyev ousted the Supreme Court chief justice because of alleged political loyalties to the opposition. The president directly appoints lower level judges. The president also appoints the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court judges with confirmation by the legislature.

Prosecutors (procurators) are appointed by the president with confirmation by the legislature. The minister of justice organizes prosecutors into offices at the district, municipal, and republic levels. The constitution provides equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys before the courts, but in practice the arrest and investigatory powers of the prosecutors have dominant influence before the courts. Judges will often remand a case for further prosecutory investigation rather than render an innocent verdict. Investigations often rely on obtaining confessions rather than on gathering evidence.

The Azerbaijan government's human rights record is poor, although some public policy debate is allowed and human rights organizations operate. The government restricts freedom of assembly, religion, and association. Numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, beatings (some resulting in deaths), unwarranted searches and seizures, and other human rights abuses are reported. Political oppositionists are harassed and arrested, and there are dozens of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The conflict between NK Armenians and Azerbaijanis contributed to widespread human rights violations by both sides. Some opposition newspapers are allowed to exist. Ethnic Lezgins and Talysh have complained of human rights abuses such as restricted educational opportunities in their native languages.


Azerbaijan had 66,490 active personnel in its armed forces in 2005. Reserves included 300,000 members who had been in the military within the past 15 years. The Navy numbered 1,750 active personnel, which operated 6 patrol/coastal craft, 5 mine warfare vessels, 4 amphibious landing craft, and 2 logistics/support vessels. The Army consisted of 56,840 personnel with equipment that included 220 main battle tanks, 127 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 468 armored personnel carriers, and 270 artillery pieces. The Air Force and Air Defense services had a combined 7,900 active personnel with 47 combat capable aircraft, including 37 fighters, 15 fighter ground attack aircraft, and 15 attack helicopters.

Azerbaijan also had an estimated 15,000 people serving in two separate paramilitary units: a 10,000 plus militia; and a border guard with an estimated strength of 5,000. The defense budget for 2005 was $310 million.


Azerbaijan was admitted to the UN on 2 March 1992 and serves on several specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, IFC, ILO, IMF, UNESCO, and the World Bank. The country is also a member of the Black Sea Cooperation Group (BSEC), the Asian Development Bank, Council of Europe, OSCE (1992), EBRD, Economic Cooperation Organization (Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, the Central Asian states, and Afghanistan), the Islamic Development Bank, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the European-Atlantic Partnership Council. The country is also a member of the CIS and has observer status in the WTO. Azerbaijan is part of the group known as GUUAM (Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova). The group was formed in 2001; Uzbekistan withdrew in 2005.

The OSCE continues to mediate in the struggle between the Azerbaijani government and the ethnic Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. While Azerbaijan claims sovereignty over the region, the predominantly ethnic Armenian inhabitants are fighting for secession into Armenia.

In environmental cooperation, Azerbaijan is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Montréal Protocol.


Azerbaijan is one of the oldest oil-producing regions of the world. Here in ancient times the Zoroastrians, for whom fire was a sacred symbol, built temples around the "eternal fires" of burning gas vents. At the beginning of the 20th century, as international competition increased in the first great era of economic globalization, Azerbaijan was supplying almost half of the world's oil. As a constituent republic of the USSR it was a leading supplier to the rest of the Union until the focus of Soviet oil development efforts shifted to the Ural mountains and western Siberia during the 1970s and 1980s. Remaining oil reserves are estimated in the BP statistical review of world energy for 2002 to be about 7 billion barrels. For oil, its reserve to production ratio (R/P ratio) of 64.3 is topped only by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Proven reserves of natural gas are estimated at 440 billion cu m (15.5 trillion cu ft). In addition, the country is endowed with ample deposits of iron, aluminum, zinc, copper, arsenic, molybdenum, marble, and fire clay.

Azerbaijan boasts a diversified industrial sector that accounts for approximately a third of GDP (2000 est.) up from less than a fifth in 1998, and 15% of employment (including construction), a figure that has remained unchanged. Agriculture, which employs about 40% of the labor force and accounts for 20% of GDP (including forestry), also rests on a relatively diversified base, producing cotton, tobacco, grapes, and a variety of foodstuffs. The transport sector is well developed, integrating the country's various regions and facilitating both domestic and external trade.

Despite its economic potential, Azerbaijan has been slow in making the transition from a command to a market economy. Large state companies continue to dominate the economy and below-market price controls still cover many key commodities. The war with Armenia has also slowed economic growth by disrupting trade ties and draining government revenues. In 1992, Azerbaijan implemented an economic blockade against both Armenia and the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is still in effect despite the ceasefire reached in 1994. In 1992 the United States passed Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, restricting assistance to Azerbaijan until "demonstrable steps" were taken to lift the embargo and cease offensive actions. In January 2002, however, US president George W. Bush waived Section 907 purportedly due to Azerbaijan's support of the US-proclaimed War on Terror. In August 2002, CCC, a Greek-based construction and project management firm, won the tender for laying pipes for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline officially approved September 2002 and scheduled to go into operation in 2005. Trade has traditionally been with Russia and the former Soviet republics and the economy is still greatly affected by events in those countries.

In 1994, Russia, citing its own conflict in Chechnya, closed all rail and road borders with Azerbaijan. Cut off from its major source of production inputs and main outlet for manufactured projects, Azerbaijan's industrial production fell by more than 20% in 1995. Overall, it is estimated that from 1991 through 1995 the economy declined by about 60%. Recently, Azerbaijan has begun to shift trade to Iran and Turkey and away from Russia and Ukraine. The BTC pipeline is designed to avoid Russia. Foreign investment, the majority in hydrocarbons, began a period of steady growth in the late 1990s, and in 2001 the economy registered its fifth straight year of real GDP growth. For 1999 to 2001, based on data supplied by the government of Azerbaijan, growth rates were 7.2%, 11.1% and 8.5%, respectively, with a forecast of about 9% (US State Department estimate) for 2002. Nevertheless, the country's GDP is not expected to reach its 1991 level until 2007.

Localized fighting with Armenia broke out in the spring of 1997 and in the summer of 1999, and efforts to reach a peace agreement have failed to date. The prospects for long-term economic growth have been significantly enhanced in 2002, however, by the cutting of one Gordian knot: the official sanctioning in September 2002 of the BTC pipeline from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean, which has been pending since the country's first production sharing contract (PSC) was agreed to in 1994 with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AOIC). The AOIC is an international consortium of companies headed by British Petroleum (BP) as operator with a plurality share of 34.1% share. Actual construction on the BTC pipeline began in 2002. Azerbaijan's second PSC, signed and ratified in 1996, for the Shah Deniz gas pipeline involving another consortia headed by BP (with 25.5% and also designated operator) and Norway (Statoil with 25.5%) more typically failed to be sanctioned in October 2002 as planned due to problems sorting out finance. Azerbaijan's economic development will ultimately depend on the diversification of its production for export, but in the near future the prospect is for the increasing dominance of the hydrocarbon sector as a percent of GDP and as a percent of exports.

In 2004, the GDP was $30 billion, an improvement of 10.2% over the previous year. Estimates of the Economist Intelligence Unit show that the GDP growth rate will reach 21% in 2005, and a whopping 25% in 2006, as a result of increased oil and gas exports. Official unemployment has remained fairly stable at around 1.2%, but it is believed that part of the working population is "technically" unemployed or working for the gray market. Inflation has been fluctuating, but at 6.7% in 2004 it is not a major source of concern.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Azerbaijan's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $36.5 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $4,600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 18.3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 12%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 14.1% of GDP, industry 45.7%, and services 40.2%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $171 million or about $21 per capita and accounted for approximately 2.4% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $297 million or about $36 per capita and accounted for approximately 4.4% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Azerbaijan totaled $4.51 billion or about $548 per capita based on a GDP of $7.1 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 5.4%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 51% of household consumption was spent on food, 16% on fuel, 9% on health care, and 2% on education. It was estimated that in 2002 about 49% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, there were an estimated 5.45 million workers in the labor force. As of 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), agriculture and forestry accounted for 41% of employment, industry 7%, and the services sector 52%. As of 2005, the nation's unemployment rate was officially put at 1.2%.

The constitution provides for the right to form labor unions, but in practice this right is limited and unions are generally not effective in wage negotiations. Collective bargaining is at a rudimentary level. Wages are still set by government ministries for organizations within the budget. Most major industries are state-owned and the government runs the largest industrial and white-collar unions. Uniformed police, military, and customs personnel are prohibited from forming unions, and trade unions may not participate in political activity. The use of compulsory labor is limited to certain circumstances.

The minimum wage as of 2005, was $25 per month. However, the minimum wage is below the level needed to support a worker and family, nor is it effectively enforced. As a result, many rely upon outside income sources and the structure of extended families generally, to ensure a decent living. In addition, most workers earn in excess of the minimum wage. The legal workweek is 40 hours, although workers in dangerous occupations are limited to 36 hours per week. The maximum daily work shift is 12 hours, and lunch and rest periods are also required. There is a minimum working age of 16 with exceptions for children as young as 14 to work during vacations.

Although health and safety standards have been set by law, these rules are mostly ignored and inspections by the government were ineffective and weak. Workers who leave their jobs due to health and safety hazards, do so at the risk of losing their jobs.


Some 24% of Azerbaijan's area was cultivated or considered arable in 2002. There are currently 59 agricultural regions in 10 geographic zones; the principal crops are grapes, cotton, and tobacco. Agriculture accounted for 21% of GDP in 2002.

Wheat production in Azerbaijan suffers from a number of problems common in the former Soviet Union, including inadequate production credit and lack of inputs. Most wheat is still produced on state farms, as privatization is only beginning. Production in 2004 amounted to 1,600,000 tons from 620,000 hectares (1,530,000 acres). Seed cotton production amounted to 135,685 tons in 2004, from a harvested area of 77,700 hectares (192,000 acres). Cotton production has been stagnant due to low producer prices, lack of incentives, and a shortage of both inputs and operating capital. Tobacco was grown on about 2,100 hectares (5,200 acres) in 2004; production totaled 6,518 tons.

During the Soviet period, some 1,200 state and cooperative farms existed. Since independence, former state-owned farms have become more productive, and private fruit and vegetable farming is increasing. Of the total crop production of 2004, grapes totaled 55,000 tons; cotton (lint), 40,000 tons; tomatoes, 420,000 tons; watermelons, 280,000 tons; sugar beets, 60,000 tons; hazelnuts, 20,000 tons; garlic, 20,000 tons; sunflower seeds, 18,000 tons; walnuts, 9,700 tons; and tea, 1,048 tons.

Grapes were grown across 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) in 2004; wine production amounted to 52,800 tons that year. Azerbaijan has an expanding wine-producing industry whose wines have frequently won awards at international exhibitions.


Azerbaijan has some 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) of permanent pasture. The livestock population in 2004 included 16,878,000 chickens, 6,676,000 sheep, 1,934,000 cattle, 604,000 goats, 20,000 pigs, and 68,000 horses. Meat production in 2004 amounted to 145,500 tons, almost three-fourths of which was beef and mutton. In 2004, about 1,190,000 tons of cow's milk, 46,500 tons of eggs, and 12,100 tons of greasy wool were produced.


The Caspian Sea is Azerbaijan's principal fishing resource. Commercial fishing traditionally centered on caviar and sturgeon. The total catch was 6,937 tons in 2003, primarily Azov sea sprat.


About 13% of the land area consists of forests and woodlands. Soviet-era policies gave priority to high production and rapid growth at the expense of the environment. The State Committee for Ecology and Use of Natural Resources has introduced new regulations to protect forest resources. Roundwood production in 2003 totaled 14,000 cu m (494,000 cu ft), with 23% used for fuel wood.


Besides significant reserves of natural gas and petroleum, Azerbaijan has iron ore reserves near the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, and lead-zinc and copper-molybdenum deposits in the Nakhichevan area. Production of metallic and industrial minerals in 2002 included alunite (no figure was available for 2002, but 23,000 tons were produced in 2000. There is no recorded production in 2001), alumina (217,000 tons in 2000 and 91,000 tons in 2002), bromine, clays, gypsum (1,039 metric tons), iodine (300,000 kg), limestone, marble, sand and gravel, decorative building stone, and precious and semiprecious stones.


At the turn of the 20th century, Azerbaijan accounted for half of the world's oil production. Oil wells have been operating in Baku since the 1840s. As of the early 21st century, almost all production came from offshore in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan was one of only four former Soviet republics (along with Russian, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan) to be self-sufficient in petroleum. However, production declined following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union until foreign investment provided the capital for new development, turning this trend around in 1998. Production rose from 194,000 barrels per day in 1998 to an average of 318,000 barrels per day in 2004.

According to industry journals and government sources, proven oil reserves as of 2004 totaled between 7 billion and 13 billion barrels. The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) has planned for joint development of the offshore fields (which are now largely untapped) and has entered into several agreements to build oil pipelines. For instance, a project with the Caspian Pipeline Consortium would carry oil from the Caspian Sea to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. Another deal with Turkey involved the construction of a 1,760-km (1,090-mi) pipeline, the symbolic first length of which was installed in September 2002, to carry crude oil from Baku to Ceyhan, Turkey. In 1995 Azerbaijan had 17 offshore oil fields in production. Guneshli, about 60 mi (96 km) off the Azeri coast, currently accounts for more than half the annual production. By the end of 2002, 33 companies in 15 foreign countries had signed agreements to develop 21 major oil fields in Azerbaijan. As of 2003 disputes over offshore oil rights in the Caspian Sea continued to hinder development of those reserves.

Natural gas production has become more important in recent years, especially in Baku, where some of the oil wells have been exhausted. Proven reserves as of late 2004 totaled 1.37 trillion cu m (48.4 trillion cu ft). Production of natural gas in 2004 totaled 4.6 billion cu m. Ukraine and Iran are interested in running a natural gas pipeline through Azerbaijan en route to Eastern Europe.

In 2003, net electricity generation was estimated at 19.5 billion kWh. In 2003, consumption of electricity was estimated at 19.8 million kWh. Total installed capacity at the beginning of 2001 was 5.1 million kW. Eight thermal plants supply more than 80% of capacity, and the rest comes from hydroelectric plants. The main power plants (both thermal) were near Ali-Bayramy (1,100 MW) and Mingechaur (2,100 MW).

Petroleum and natural gas resources are the basis for an extensive system of refineries, which produce gasoline, herbicides, fertilizers, kerosene, synthetic rubber, and plastics.


The oil and gas industry has traditionally been pivotal to the economy; in 1891, Azerbaijan produced more than half of the world's total oil production. In 2001 refinery production accounted for over 14.9% of total industrial production, second only to the 58.6% accounted for by the extraction of crude oil and natural gas, according the Azeri government statistics. Oil refining is concentrated in the Azerineftyag (Baku) refinery, with a capacity of 230,000 bpd, and the Azerneftyanajag (New Baku) refinery, with a capacity of 212,000 bpd.

The total domestic production of oil in 2001 was 311,200 bpd of which an estimated 175,200 bpd (56%) was exported, which left the two refineries operating well below capacity, with overall utilization rates as low as 40%. Both refineries are in need of modernization, which the government estimates will cost $600 million to $700 million. The US Trade and Development Agency financed a $600,000 feasibility study, awarded to ABB Lumas in January 2002, on upgrading the refineries and the specialized oil port of Dubendi.

Failure to replace worn and outdated technology as well as falling demand in the rest of the former USSR resulted in a steady decline in the production of oil products since the early 1980s. Total output averaged 185,000 bpd in 1995, as compared to 285,000 bpd in 1987, and has declined further since. Output of refined products in 2001 included heating oil (approximately 50%), diesel fuel (28%), gasoline (10%), motor oil (7%), kerosene (3%), and other products (3%). Petroleum production is situated in 40 deposits on land and 12 offshore deposits in the Caspian Sea.

The offshore Gunashli petroleum mining operation supplies half of the country's petroleum. As of June 2002, Azerbaijan had entered into 23 production-sharing agreements (PSAs) involving about 30 companies from about 15 countries involving 13 offshore fields, and 10 onshore fields. Only sixthe offshore Azeri, Chirag, and deepwater Gunashli (ACG) field being developed by the AIOC consortium for connection to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyan (BTC) pipeline, and five relatively small onshore fieldswere actually producing measurable daily output in 2002.

In line with the historic importance of the oil sector for the Azeri economy, the fabrication of equipment related to petroleum production had been one of the country's major industries. As a source of 70% of the former Soviet Union's oilfield equipment, it also held great importance for other oil-producing post-Soviet republics in the early years of the transition from Communism. Azerbaijan's petroleum equipment manufacturing industry comprised the second-largest concentration of such industries in the world (behind that of the United States). Like most other of the country's economic sectors, however, the industry was plagued by plant obsolescence. Industrial production and export statistics for 2001 indicate no manufacturing or export of oilfield equipment. On the contrary, the US Commercial Service has issued bulletins pointing to upwards of $10 billion in procurement opportunities in Azerbaijan for foreign suppliers of oil field equipment in the period 200205. In August 2002, CCC, a Greece-based construction and project management firm, won the contract for laying the pipeline for the Azeri portion of the BTC pipeline.

Other important industrial sectors in the Azeri economy include electrical power production (12.1% of total industrial production in 2001), chemicals (3.4%), food processing (3.2%), cars and other transport equipment (2.9%), and tobacco goods (1.6%), as well as various kinds of light manufacturing. As with fuel and oilfield equipment production, however, output in almost all of these sectors declined or stagnated in the 1990s due to the conflict with Armenia.

In aggregate terms, the real value of total industrial production in Azerbaijan dropped 21% in 1995, following already steep declines of 31% in 1992, 8% in 1991, and 17% in 1990. In 1998 total industrial production index registered its first year-on-year increase in the decade, moving from 28% of the 1990 level to 29%. By 2001 the index stood at 34% of the 1990 level, and it is estimated that pre-transition levels industrial output will not be achieved until 2007. Manufacturing, the main component in the industrial production index, is lagging the most. In 2001 it stood at only 24% of the 1990 level, whereas other components, namely, the extraction industry and utilities (electric, gas, and water), had reached 83% and 69%, respectively, of 1990 levels of output. A structural change is evidenced in the relative weights of production and refining actives in industrial production between 1997 and 2001. Refining declined from 34% to 14.9% of the total, while extraction increased from 31.2% to 58.6% in 2001. In 2001 total industrial production rose 5.1% over 2000.

In 2004, the industrial production growth rate was 4%, and industry accounted for more than 45% of the GDP, while employing only 7% of the working population; agriculture contributed 14.1% to the GDP, and employed 41% of the labor force; services came in second in terms of contribution to the economy (40.2%), but first in terms of employed labor force (52%).


The Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences in Baku has departments of physical engineering and mathematical sciences, chemistry, earth sciences, and biology; as of 1997, 19 science and technology-related research institutes were attached to it. The country has numerous other institutes conducting research in agriculture, medicine, and technology.

The Azerbaijan Technical University in Baku, founded in 1920, has faculties in automation and computing technology, electrical engineering, machine-building, automechanics, metallurgy, radio-engineering, robotics, and transport. Baku State University, founded in 1919, has faculties of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and geography. Azerbaijan also has five higher institutes offering courses in agriculture, medicine, petroleum engineering, engineering, and technology. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 37% of college and university enrollments. The Azerbaijan Scientific and Technical Library is located in Baku.

As of 2002, there were 1,248 researchers and 197 technicians actively engaged in research and development (R&D). R&D spending in that year totaled $81.045 million, of which 54% was by the government, 24.5% by higher education, and 21.1% by business. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $10 million or 8% of manufactured exports.


Despite the government's claims that it is moving towards a free market economy, government ownership is still common among large industries. Since independence, there has been an informal privatization of the trading sector as many small shops have sprung up throughout Azerbaijan. Private traders now handle most retail sales. Private business people see trade as relatively low risk in an environment where private ownership rights do not exist. Business and retail hours can vary according to the owner's preference; however, most businesses are open from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Many businesses and offices also have Saturday hours. Private transactions are primarily in cash. Credit cards are not generally accepted, except in major hotels and restaurants. An 18% value added tax applies to all goods and services.


Like other post-Soviet economies, Azerbaijan is highly trade-dependent; however, it is endowed with a more diversified export

Italy-San Marino-Holy See1,345.974.01,271.9
United States63.9132.6-68.7
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account-2,020.9
     Balance on goods-98.5
     Balance on services-1,614.5
     Balance on income-442.1
     Current transfers134.2
Capital Account-23.1
Financial Account2,279.7
     Direct investment abroad-933.3
     Direct investment in Azerbaijan3,285.0
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets-169.2
     Other investment liabilities97.2
Net Errors and Omissions-111.8
Reserves and Related Items-123.8
() data not available or not significant.

structure than many other former USSR countries, especially in neighboring Central Asia. While the centrally planned state ordering system is steadily losing its place as the basis for trade in the former Soviet Union, the Azeri Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations still controls the export of all products considered to be of strategic importance to the national economy.

Key to Azerbaijan's trade future will be the development and operations of a major oil pipeline out of the Caspian Sea. Currently, the construction of a major export pipeline to the Mediterranean is under way and scheduled for completion in 2005. Exports include oil and gas (84%), chemicals, oilfield equipment, textiles, and cotton. Imports include machinery and parts (32%), consumer goods, food, and textiles.

In 2004, exports totaled $3.2 billion (FOBFree on Board) and mainly went to Italy (26.6%), the Czech Republic (11.9%), Germany (8.1%), Indonesia (6.4%), Romania (6.2%), and Georgia (6%). Imports were slightly higher at $3.6 billion, and they chiefly came from Russia (16.1%), the United Kingdom (12.5%), Turkey (10.5%), Germany (7.8%), and the Ukraine (5.6%).


The war with Armenia in and around Nagorno-Karabakh had facilitated Azerbaijan's trade deterioration, which was further exacerbated by the collapse of the local currency. Reviving ruble-related trade links with Russia was a key reason for Azerbaijan's entry into the Commonwealth of Independent States in September 1992. In 1995 inflation fell and the currency was stable until it was devalued in 1999, causing inflation of 10% to 15%. The current account deficit was over one-third of GDP in 1998.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2002 the purchasing power parity of Azerbaijan's exports was $2 billion while imports totaled $1.8 billion resulting in a trade surplus of $200 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Azerbaijan had exports of goods totaling $2.08 billion and imports totaling $1.47 billion. The services credit totaled $290 million and debit $665 million.

Exports of goods and services totaled $3.7 billion in 2004, slightly higher than the imports ($3.6 billion). Estimates of the Economist Intelligence Unit see the exports almost tripling by 2007, with the imports stabilizing around $4.7 billion. Obviously, the increased oil production will be the main engine of this growth. The current account balance was -$2.6 billion, but is expected to go into the positive by 2006. Reserves of foreign exchange and gold reached $875 million in 2004, covering almost three months of imports.


The National Bank of Azerbaijan is the central bank of Azerbaijan. The central bank is charged with regulating the money supply, circulating currency, and regulating the commercial banks of the country. However, the banking system in Azerbaijan is minimal and ineffective. An estimated $1 billion is held in cash or outside the banking sector, a considerable amount in comparison with the scope of the country's entire economy.

There are approximately 70 foreign and local banks in Azerbaijan. Of the four state-owned banks, only the International Bank of

Revenue and Grants3,380.2100.0%
      Tax revenue2,403.571.1%
      Social contributions73321.7%
      Other revenue180.55.3%
      General public services1,377.332.3%
      Public order and safety482.911.3%
      Economic affairs362.48.5%
      Environmental protection
      Housing and community amenities1.5<1.0%
      Recreational, culture, and religion54.71.3%
      Social protection1,412.133.1%
() data not available or not significant. f = forecasted or projected data.

Azerbaijan (IBA) was solvent in 1999. The IBA was in the process of being privatized in that year. Major commercial banks include the Promtekhbank, Azakbank, Azerdemiryolbank, Bacobank, Gunay International Bank, Halgbank, ILKBANK, and the Universal Bank. Most businesses use the IBA, or the British Bank of the Middle East, Baku.

The central bank increased the minimum bank capital to $1.5 million in 1999, and expected to increase the figure to $3 million in 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), effectively consolidating the sector. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $363.6 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $738.5 million. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 10%.

The Baku Stock Exchange, known as the BSE, opened in 2001 trading short-term treasury bonds and the common stock of recently privatized state-owned enterprises. Trading volume in the first six months was just under $1 million. A regulatory framework for the new exchange is under development and is expected to conform to international transparency standards.


As of 1995, at least 14 insurance companies were doing business in Azerbaijan.


Since 1996, the Azerbaijani government has emphasized privatization as a means towards consolidation of the public debt and revitalization of the economy. Over 70% of all parastatals are set to be privatized; more than 20,600 companies were privatized during 1997 and 1998. Foreign investment was encouraged, especially in the oil sector, however the diversification needed for long-term growth is lacking. The budget deficit in 2001 was a mere 0.5% of GDP.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Azerbaijan's central government took in revenues of approximately $31.8 billion and had expenditures of $29.8 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $28.8 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 13.9% of GDP. Total external debt was $2.253 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1999, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues in billions of manat were 3,380.2 and expenditures were 4,260.9. The value of revenues in millions of US dollars was $1 and expenditures $1, based on a official exchange rate for 1999 of 4,120.17 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 32.3%; defense, 11.1%; public order and safety, 11.3%; economic affairs, 8.5%; health, 0.8%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.3%; education, 3.2%; and social protection, 33.1%.


On 1 January 2001, a new tax code went into effect. Personal income rates remained the same, at rates ranging from 1235%, as did the corporate tax rate, at 27%. However, as of 2005, the corporate rate was set at 24%. The revised depreciation schedule for corporate assets favors investments in high-tech equipment and oil and gas exploration. Depreciation rates are 10% a year for buildings, 25% a year for equipment and computers, 25% for geological and exploratory costs, and 20% a year for all other assets. However, accelerated depreciation is allowed for capital spending allocated for production purposes at twice the standard rates. Included in this are expenditures on the building of those facilities that are to be used in the actual manufacture of goods. The value-added tax (VAT) was reduced from 20% to 18%, while the property tax was raised from. 5% to 1% of assessed value. A. 05% Road Fund Tax on turnover was abolished, but there is a highway tax imposed on foreign-registered vehicles collected by customs authorities. There are payroll taxes paid by the employer amounting to 32%, 30% going to the Social Protection Fund, and 2% going to the Employment Fund. There are excise taxes, but excise paid for goods used in production can be offset against excise charged for the finished product. In 2001, total government revenue came to an estimated 21.4% of GDP, while total expenditures, including net lending, amounted to only 20% of GDP, producing a positive fiscal balance equal to 1.4% of GDP.


Tariffs are set at 15%, 5%, 3%, or 0.5%. Most goods carry the 15% import customs duty. Capital goods and some primary goods are exempt. There is also a 20% value-added tax on certain imports. A dividend withholding tax of 15% is applicable to monies sent abroad.

In 1992, Azerbaijan signed trade agreements with all the republics of the former USSR except Armenia and Russia. Azerbaijan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in September 1993 and acceded to the CIS economic union treaty the same year. Azerbaijan is a member of the Economic Cooperation Organization. In 1999, Azerbaijan entered into a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union and was seeking membership in the World Trade Organization, but as of 2003 has not yet received it.


Foreign investment plays a major role in financing the development of much of Azerbaijan's industrial sector, especially the oil and gas-related industries. The 1992 Law on Foreign Investment provided many basic guarantees to foreign investors, including nondiscriminatory treatment, the repatriation of profits, guarantees against expropriation, and dispute settlement. The Privatization Law passed in 1995 allowed foreign investors to acquire shares in state companies and purchase real estate jointly. Starting in 1997, foreign tax privileges were revoked. As of 1999, foreign investors were required to obtain a license and pay a fee in order to open business in Azerbaijan.

Only about 100 joint venture projects were registered by mid-1992; these were dominated by Turkish firms and involved primarily in trade and textiles. In the oil sector, preliminary agreements were signed with US, Scottish, British, and other foreign companies for the exploration and development of several major oil fields in the Caspian Sea. In 1992, Azerbaijan joined a consortium with Oman, Kazakhstan, and Russia aimed at constructing a pipeline through Armenia, Iran and Turkey, or Georgia. Little action was taken on these agreements, due to heightened political tensions. The Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), led by BP Amoco, signed an $8 billion contract in 1994 to exploit oil reserves at Azeri, Chirag, and Guneshli (ACG). Foreign direct investment leapt from only $30 million in 1994 to over $1 billion in 2002 (about 17% of GDP), with approximately 90% of FDI concentrated in the hydrocarbons sector.

Although the US government had banned public aid to Azerbaijan in 1992, US investors played a large role in exploiting Azerbaijani oil reserves, increasingly so since January 2002 when the Bush administration waived the ban on public assistance (due to Azerbaijan's trade embargo against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh) because of Azerbaijan's support in the War on Terror. In the energy sector, by June 2002, the government had concluded Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) with over 30 companies representing 15 countries.

Over 90 US energy-related companies are currently resident in Baku pursing investment opportunities. Significant foreign investors in the energy sector included British Petroleum (BP)the designated operator for both the ACG oil field and the Shah Deniz natural gas fieldUnocal, ExxonMobil, Devon Energy (Pennzoil), Chevron, Conoco, Moncrief Oil, TPAO (Turkish Oil Company), Statoil (Norway), Lukoil (Russia), Itochu (Japan), Agip (Italy), and TotalfinaELF (France).

The US State Department projects that as work on the BTC pipeline proceeds and development of Azerbaijan's oil and gas resources intensifies, foreign investment should increase from levels of 1525% of GDP to 50% of GDP. The US State Department also noted that data from Azerbaijan is not reliable, and only rough estimates can be made. On this basis, it reported that foreign investments in 2000 amounted to about $927 million, of which $546.1 million (58.9%) was in the energy sector.

Investments came in at a faster pace in subsequent years, reaching $1.4 billion in 2002, $3.3 billion in 2003, and $3.0 billion in 2004. Most of the capital inflows went to the energy sector, but there were also some investments in the transport and communications sectors.


Rapid development of the Azeri economy in the former USSR was based on the expansion of both its industrial sector, led by oil-related industries, and its agricultural sector, led by grape, tobacco, and cotton production. With grape and wine production weakened by the effects of Gorbachev's anti-alcoholism campaign in the 1980s, and much of the country's industrial sector afflicted by technological obsolescence, overall economic growth in the republic had already begun to decline by 1989, when NMP dropped 6%. Real gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by almost 60% from 1990 to 1995. However, in the late 1990s, foreign investment in the country's oil and natural gas sectors opened a period of steady growth. Key strategies of the Azeri government to bring about economic revitalization have included both an economic restructuring program as well as efforts to expand its economic ties to countries beyond the former Soviet Union. To the latter end, Azerbaijan joined the Economic Cooperation Organization set up by Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey to promote trade among Muslim countries. It was also the first of the former Soviet republics to become a member of the Islamic Development Bank, which provides potential access to financing for programs related to agriculture, construction, training, and food aid. In 2002, economic prospects brightened considerably with progress made on its two major pipeline projects designed to connect the Caspian Sea to the Turkish Mediterranean to provide oil and gas for the European and North American markets, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Export Oil Pipeline (BTC) and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum Gas Pipeline. The BTC particularly received an important impetus when the Azeri government came out as a strong ally of the United States in its War on Terror.

The restructuring program in Azerbaijan has been similar to those of other countries in the former USSR. Its main points include stabilization measures (price liberalization, introduction of national currency, and establishment of an exchange rate stabilization fund); introduction of new legislation regarding privatization, foreign investment, and employment; fiscal and monetary reform (including introduction of a VAT and controls on government expenditures); civil service reform; and development of the banking sector. Four committees on antitrust, support for enterprises, state property, and land reform have been established to oversee the implementation of reform legislation. Privatization of the state enterprise sector is moving at a slow pace. Particular attention is being directed at modernizing those strategic sectors of the economy with the greatest potential for export growth, particularly the oil industry and, to a lesser extent, textile production; the role of foreign investment is seen as pivotal in these areas.

Since 1994, the Azerbaijan parliament has ratified 22 other PSCs, 19 of which were still operative in the early 2000s. Virtually every major oil company in the world is a player in Azerbaijan, including over 90 American companies resident in Baku in 2002. The US State Department estimates that for the period 200205 opportunities for sales of upwards of $10 billion will be available in association with the expansion of AIOC's offshore oil and gas production. Macroeconomic stability has also been a clear achievement with the government's tight fiscal and monetary policies producing low consumer price inflation rates in 2000 and 2001 of 1.8% and 1.5%, respectively, according to IMF staff reports, after two years of actual declines in the price level in 1998 and 1999, of -0.8% and -8.5%, respectively.

Economic reforms in Azerbaijan have come increasingly under the conservative supervision of the IMF and the World Bank, which have also taken aim at the problem of pervasive corruption in the administration of taxes and custom duties. In 2002, Azerbaijan was under a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) program with the IMF, the objectives of which include establishing financial discipline in the energy sector, and increasing efficiency and transparency in the operations of the Ministry of Taxation and the State Customs Committee, and developing a comprehensive anticorruption program.

In March 2002, Azerbaijan reached agreement with the World Bank for a second Structural Adjustment Credit (SAC-II) program, funded at $60 million. If implemented, the IMF and World Bank programs would greatly improve the investment climate in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's two privatization programs since its transition to a free market economy have faltered on the lack security and market transparency. The first, from 1996 to 1998, focused on small and medium-sized enterprises was hindered by lack of resources to properly prepare assets for privatization and insufficient information about these enterprises. A presidential decree of August 2000 opened up case-by-case sales of some of the country's largest enterprises, and in March 2001 additional decrees were issued identifying about 450 enterprises to be privatized during the second privatization program. Progress continues to be slow, however. Attempts to privatize large state enterprises, such as the Azerboru pipe facility, failed for lack of qualified bidders, although by January 2002 the government had succeeded in placing the Baku electrical distribution network under the long-term private management of a Turkish firm, Barmek Holdings. There has been no substantial progress in privatizing the important telecommunications sector. The private sector's contribution to the economy does continue to grow due to both the first privatization program and to land reform. Official statistics placed the private sector's contribution to GDP at over 70% for 2002, although independent economic observers estimate this share at closer to 5060%, according to the US State Department.

The pursuit of development plans remains hampered by ongoing political conflicts in the country. Border disputes limit vital trade with Turkey, not to mention the overall economic benefits of a lasting peace between the Azerbaijan and Armenia. Azerbaijan's potential for economic development based on both its natural and human resources remains high, but the challenges posed by both external and internal politics which have eaten at the supporting infrastructure, tangible and intangible, remain quite formidable.


Old age, disability, and survivor benefits have been provided since 1956. Pensions are provided for men at age 62 with 25 years of employment, and at age 57 for women with 20 years of employment. Social insurance, instituted in 1997, covers all employed residents. Workers' compensation provides both short-term disability benefits and pensions. Unemployment benefits were introduced in 1991. To obtain benefits there must be at least 26 weeks of covered employment in the 12 months prior to unemployment. These benefits are suspended if the applicant refuses two acceptable job offers. Benefits amount to 70% of average gross monthly earnings but are not to exceed the national average monthly wage.

Women nominally enjoy the same legal status as men and are underrepresented in government and higher levels of the work force. Although women receive opportunities for education, work, and political activity, social traditions tend to keep them in subordinate positions. Violence against women is a serious problem especially in rural areas. As of 2004 there are no laws on spousal abuse or rape, and there are no government-sponsored programs for victims of sexual abuse. The government is committed to protecting the rights of children, however economic hardship limits the ability to safeguard children.

Ethnic tensions and anti-Armenian sentiment are still strong. Many Armenians have either been expelled or emigrated. It was estimated that approximately 20,000 Armenians, almost all of mixed marriages or mixed parentage, continue to reside in Azerbaijan in 2004. Other minorities, such as the Kurds and the Turks, also report problems of discrimination. The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, religion, and speech, but these rights are often restricted by the government. Azerbaijan's human rights record remains poor. Excessive force is used by police, and the judicial system continues to be inefficient and corrupt. Torture remains a problem, and harsh prison conditions continue.


As part of the former Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has had to develop and maintain its own health care system and standards. As of 2004, there were an estimated 354 doctors and 728 nurses per 100,000 people practicing in the country. Additionally, there were an estimated 26 dentists and 122 midwives per 100,000 residents. The total expenditure on health was estimated at 1.8% of GDP.

Azerbaijan's infant mortality rate for 2005 was 81.74 per 1,000 live births, which represents an enormous increase in the previous five years. Life expectancy in 2005 was 63.35 years. As of 1999, the country immunized an estimated 99% of one-year-old children against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus and 99% against polio.

The overall death rate in 2002 was estimated at 10 per 1,000 inhabitants. Thousands of lives were lost between 1989 and 1992 when the country was at war with Armenia. Diphtheria, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, and diarrheal and acute respiratory infections have been serious public health problems. There have also been outbreaks of anthrax, botulism, cholera, tetanus, and malaria. Measles and tuberculosis still remain in this country despite a high incidence of vaccination for one-year-old children. The incidence of tuberculosis was 62 per 100,000 people. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 1,400 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 100 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


As of 1996, over 1.3 million people were living in houses that were considered to be structurally dilapidated and dangerous. About 67% of current dwellings were built within the period 198196. In the period 199195, construction of new housing fell by nearly 50% due to poor economic conditions and the government estimated that a total of about 107,000 homes had been lost due to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The government keeps statistics on the square meters of living space available. In 2003, the total dwelling stock was estimated at about 1,000,400 square meters of available living space. About 94% of the population has access to piped water (cold), but only 19.2% have access to hot piped water. About 92% have access to appropriate sewage systems and 76% have central heating systems. About 21% of the population are living in apartment buildings and about 14% live in private houses. Most private homes are located in rural areas.


Education is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 15. In 2001, about 23% of children ages three to five attended some type of preschool program. Primary school covers a program of four years, followed by a five-year basic program and a two-year secondary program. Secondary students might choose to attend a three-year technical program instead. The usual language of instruction is Azerbaijani, although Russian, Armenian, Georgian, and English are also offered by some schools. The academic year runs from September through May. The Ministry of Education and the Council of University Presidents are the primary national administrative bodies. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.2% of GDP.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 80% of age-eligible students; 81% for boys and 79% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 76%; 77% for boys and 75% for girls. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 15:1 in 2003. The ratio for secondary school was about 9:1.

Azerbaijan's most important institutes of higher learning are the Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute, located in Baku, with seven departments and an enrollment of 12,000 students; and the State University, also located at Baku and founded in 1919. It has an enrollment of over 15,000 students in 11 departments. Other institutions include the Medical University, Technological University, the Economic Institute, and the Oil and Chemistry Academy. Russian is more commonly used as the language of instruction at higher-level institutions, but this is slowly changing with a growing demand for the use of Azerbaijani. In 2003, about 16% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; 19% men and 14% women. The adult literacy rate is at about 97%.

Baku is sometimes referred to as an "oil academy" because of its ongoing research in the areas of turbine drilling, cementation of oil wells, and the development of synthetic rubber from natural gas.


The Mirza Fatali Akhundov National Library of Azerbaijan is in Baku and contains about 4.4 million volumes. Other public libraries in Baku include City Central Library, the Kocharli Azerbaijan State Children's Library, and Jafar Jabbarly Republican Youth Library. The country has about 4,000 public libraries that are administered by the Ministry of Culture. Academic libraries include a library of Russian language and literature at the Azerbaijan Pedagogical University and a scientific library at Baku State University. The Azerbaijan Library Development Association was founded in 1999.

There are 115 recognized museums in the country, 27 of which are art museums, and there are 20 theaters. The country also has 6,571 monuments and historic sights. The Ichari Shahar, or Old Town, in Baku has the Shirvanshah Palace, an architectural monument from the 15th and 16th centuries which has been restored and is now a museum. Other museums are the Museum of History of Azerbaijan (1920), which exhibits archeological, ethnographic, and other relics; the Rustam Mustfayev Azerbaijan State Arts Museum, displaying works of Azerbaijani, Russian and West European artists from the 15th19th centuries along with the works of modern Azerbaijani artists; the State Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets and Folk and Applied Art; and the Nizami State Museum of Azerbaijani Literature, depicting the stages of literary development. The Gobustan Museum features prehistoric dwellings and cave paintings over 10,000 years old. Baku, the capital, remains an important cultural and intellectual center in Transcaucasia.


Azerbaijan is connected to other former Soviet republics by landline or microwave and to other countries through Moscow. Phone service is said to be of poor quality and inadequate. Most telephones are in Baku and other industrial centers. There are about 700 villages still without public telephone service. In 2003, there were an estimated 114 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 55,400 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 128 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

In 2004, there were over 40 independent newspapers and magazines. There were 10 state newspapers and 80 newspapers funded by city or district-level officials. Most newspapers and magazines are printed in government publishing houses or on private printing presses owned by individuals close to the government.

Major newspapers include Azarbaycan, a government daily, and Ekho. Zerkalo is a published in Russian and English and the Baku Sun is a popular English paper. Weeklies include Ekspress and 525 Qazet. Ganjlari (Youth of Azerbaijan ) had a circulation of 161,000 in 2002. Over 100 other periodicals are published, more than half in Azerbaijani.

A majority of radio and television broadcasting sources are controlled by the government, but some private stations have begun to flourish. In 2004 there were 15 television stations and 9 radio stations in operation. The public broadcasting station ITV was launched in 2005. Domestic and Russian television programs are received locally, while Iranian television is received from an Intelsat satellite through a receive-only earth station. In 2003, there were an estimated 22 radios and 334 television sets for every 1,000 people. In 2003, 37 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were three secure servers in the country in 2004.

The constitution of Azerbaijan specifically outlaws press censorship; however, it is said that the government does not always respect freedom of the press in practice.


The Azerbaijan Republic Chamber of Commerce and Industry is based in Baku. Azad Istehlakchilar Birliyi is an independent consumers' union. Important political associations in the Republic of Azerbaijan include the Helsinki Group, a human rights group, the National Democratic Movement, and Musavat (Equality). The Committee of Democracy and Human Rights in Azerbaijan, founded in 1993, is made up of both individuals and organizations focusing on promoting respect for human rights. The group publicizes human rights abuses and offers legal assistance to victims.

The Azerbaijan Medical Association promotes the rights of both physicians and patients and serves as a networking organization for a number of associations in specialized fields of medicine.

A number of groups promote and protect civil rights and humanitarian and development needs for women and children. These include: the Association for the Defense of Rights of Azerbaijan Women, the Azerbaijan Women's Association, Azerbaijan Women and Development Center, Azerbaijan Women's Intelligence Organization, Azerbaijani League for the Defense of the Rights of Children, and the Mothers Outcry Society.

There are over 20 youth organizations united and coordinated in part by the National Assembly of Youth Organizations of Azerbaijan (NAYORA), which was established in 1995. The Azerbaijan Union of the Democratic Youth (AUDY), established in 1994, is an independent group seeking to unite youth of all languages, religions, and nationalities into a single cause of patriotism for an independent and democratic Azerbaijan society. A scouting organization is also present. There are several athletic associations representing particular sports, including skating, weightlifting, handball, and track and field. There is a National Olympic Committee, a Paralympic Committee, and a chapter of the Special Olympics.

There are national chapters of the Red Crescent Society, UNICEF, World Vision, and Caritas.


The capital city of Baku is one of the prime tourist destinations of the Caucasus region. Its Old Town, with the Shirvanshah Palace dating back to the 1516th centuries, is especially popular with sightseers. Other attractions include the Museum of History and the State Arts Museum, as well as museums of folk art and literature. Elsewhere in Azerbaijan, the Gobustan Museum displays prehistoric dwellings and cave paintings, and the village of Surakhani attracts visitors to the Atashgah Fire-Worshipper's Temple. Visitors are also welcome at the carpet-weaving factory in the village of Nardaran, the Wine-making State Farm in the Shamakhi area, the Fruit and Vegetable State Farm around the town of Guba, and the Mashtagha Subtropical Fruit State Farm.

There were 1,013,811 tourist arrivals in Azerbaijan in 2003, with about 73% of visitors coming from Europe. Tourism receipts that year reached about $70 million. Hotel rooms numbered 5,034 with 10,068 beds.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Baku at $328 per day.


Heydar Aliyev (1923?2003) was president from 1993 until 2003, when he was succeeded by his son Ilham Aliyev (b.1961). The poet Nizami Ganjavi (11411204) is celebrated for his Khamsa, a collection of five epic poems. Muhammed Fizuli (14381556) based his poems on traditional folktales, and his poetic versions provide the basis for many 20th century plays and operas. Satirical poet Sabir (18621911) was openly critical of the clergy at a time when their influence controlled much of society. Abul Hasan Bakhmanyar, an 11th century scientist, wrote respected books on mathematics and philosophy. Hasan Shirvani wrote a book on astronomy.

The composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (18851948) wrote the first Azerbaijani opera, and also founded the Azerbaijani Symphonic Orchestra and composed Azerbaijan's National Anthem. Other famous composers from Azerbaijan include Gara Garayev (191882), Haji Khannmammadov (b.1918), Fikrat Amirov (192284), and Vasif Adigozal (b.1936). Vagif Mustafa Zadeh (194079) is considered the founder of the Azerbaijani music movement of the 1960s that mixed jazz with the traditional style known as mugam. His daughter, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh (b.1969), is a noted jazz pianist.

Prominent modern Azerbaijani scientists include Lotfi Zadeh (b.1921), pioneer of the "fuzzy logic" concept, and Ali Javan (b.Iran, 1928), inventor of the gas laser.


Azerbaijan has no territories or colonies.


De Waal, Thomas. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

Elliot, Mark. Azerbaijan with Georgia. Cincinnati, Ohio: Seven Hills, 2001.

Leeuw, Charles van der. Azerbaijan: A Quest for Identity. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Liberman, Sherri. A Historical Atlas of Azerbaijan. New York: Rosen, 2004.

Streissguth, Thomas. The Transcaucasus. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2001.

Swietochowski, Tadeusz. Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Terterov, Marat (ed.). Doing Business with Azerbaijan. 2nd ed. London, Eng.: Kogan Page, 2005.

Transcaucasia, Nationalism and Social Change: Essays in the History of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.


views updated May 18 2018


Basic Data
Official Country Name:Azerbaijani Republic
Region:Middle East
Language(s):Azeri, Russian, Armenian
Literacy Rate:97%
Number of Primary Schools:4,454
Compulsory Schooling:11 years
Public Expenditure on Education:3.0%
Foreign Students in National Universities:3,986
Educational Enrollment:Primary: 719,013
 Secondary: 819,625
 Higher: 115,116
Educational Enrollment Rate:Primary: 106%
 Secondary: 77%
 Higher: 17%
Teachers:Primary: 35,514
 Higher: 15,929
Student-Teacher Ratio:Primary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate:Primary: 105%
 Secondary: 81%
 Higher: 18%

History & Background

The Azerbaijan Republic (Azarbaycan Respublikasi or Azerbaijan) is the largest of the three Transcaucasian republics of the former Soviet Union, located in southwestern Asia. Bordered by the Caspian Sea to the east, Iran to the south, Armenia (and nine kilometers of Turkey) to the west, Georgia to the northwest, and Dagestan of the Russian Federation to the north, Azerbaijan measures 86,600 square kilometers. Slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Maine, Azerbaijan includes the non-contiguous autonomous enclave of Naxçivan to its southwest as well as 500 square kilometers of water. About 20 percent of the country, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the southwest, is occupied by Armenian forces who came into violent conflict with Azerbaijanis starting in 1988.

While a cease-fire was declared in May 1994, the final peace settlement with Armenia had not yet been reached by early 2001 and hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens were still displaced from their home communities. In 1998 the total number of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) living within Azerbaijan was about one million; the refugees included about 230,000 Azerbaijanis who fled Armenia when the armed conflict began and 50,000 Meshetian Turks who fled from Uzbekistan in 1989. The IDPs are primarily from Nagorno-Karabakh, an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian troops and separatist fighters since the early 1990s. In 1998 13 major refugee camps existed in Azerbaijan; in addition, numerous, overcrowded public buildings, many of them in almost complete disrepair, housed Azerbaijani refugees. (About 300,000 Armenians who previously lived in Baku and other Azerbaijani cities are now living outside of Azerbaijan due to the unresolved conflict.) Certain European nations and international organizations, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have worked steadily to help Azerbaijan settle its conflict with Armenia, but with incomplete success.

Azerbaijan has often been the battleground for contesting forces over the centuries. Three centuries before Christ the land now occupied by Azerbaijan was ruled by the Sassanid dynasty of the Persian Empire. During the Middle Ages the land was divided into several khanates that eventually were united by Shah Ismayil, the founder of the Safevid dynasty. Two-thirds of what used to be known as Azerbaijan in historic times is now in present-day Iran, and 20 million or more Azeris now live in Iran's northern region. Over the centuries Azerbaijan's territory was the object of fighting by the Persian, Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, Ottomon, and Russian empires. The territory that currently is Azerbaijan came from areas relinquished by Persia to Russia in 1828.

Annexed to the fledgling Soviet Union when the "Red Army" invaded the Caucasus region in April 1920, Azerbaijan remained under communist rule for 70 years as part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Republic, which also included Georgia and Armenia. Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union on 30 August 1991; soon after, it was recognized by the international community as an independent country. Azerbaijan joined the UN Organization and OSCE in 1992. It also became a member of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programs, one of the first of the former Soviet republics to join.

A land consisting mainly of mountains and valleys due to the Caucasus Mountains passing through the north of the country, Azerbaijan has a wide range of climates, ranging from the cold weather of the mountainous north to the temperate weather of the Kura River's plain and the subtropical climate of the Lenkoran lowlands along the Caspian coast. The country's average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius in July and 1 degree Celsius in January. Baku, the capital city, has more days of fair weather than any other place in the Caucasus. It is moderately warm, subtropical, and dry but quite windy throughout the year. The highest elevation in Azerbaijan is Bazarduzu Dagi at 4,485 meters.

In 2000 the ethnic composition of Azerbaijan's population was about 90 percent Azeri, 3.2 percent Dagestani, 2.5 percent Russian, 2.3 percent Armenian, and 2 percent other, with most of the Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. At that time about 93 percent of Azerbaijan's population was Muslim (mainly Shiite); the rest of the population was Russian Orthodox or Armenian Orthodox (each about 2.3 percent) or other. Approximately 57 percent of Azerbaijan's population lived in urban areas in 1999 when the country's population density was 92.2 persons per square kilometer. By the year 2000 approximately 99 percent of Azerbaijan's male population age 15 and older was literate, as well as 96 percent of the female population in that age range.

In 1999 the population of Azerbaijan was estimated to be 8 million and had a growth rate of only 0.9 percent, in part because difficult economic conditions in the 1990s caused many young Azerbaijanis to delay starting their own families. The total fertility rate in 1999 was 2.0 (i.e., a woman bearing children for her entire childbearing years at the current fertility rate would produce two children). Approximately 30 percent of Azerbaijanis in 2000 were 14 years old or younger while nearly two-thirds of the population was between 15 and 64 years of age and only about 7 percent were 65 or older. Azerbaijan had an infant mortality rate of 16.2 per thousand live births in 1999 and an under 5 years child mortality rate of 21.0 per thousand. The life expectancy at birth of Azerbaijanis in 2000 was 62.9 years, 58.5 years for men and 67.5 years for women.

World Bank analysts noted the degree of poverty in Azerbaijan in their November 2000 Country Assistance Report for the country and remarked on the changes that had occurred during the 1990s: "Azerbaijan had strong social indicators before independence. Basic food and consumer needs were met and access to health and education was universal. Since independence [in 1991], however, social indicators have deteriorated, partly because of the large number of displaced people. About 60 percent of Azerbaijan's population are considered poor, compared with around 40 percent in other Central Asian countries."

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at market prices in 1999 was four billion in current U.S. dollars. Widespread corruption and patronage had interfered with the transition to a well-functioning, free-market economy in Azerbaijan in the transition period of the 1990s. The Azerbaijani workforce in 1997 was composed as follows: 15 percent of the labor force was employed in industry, 53 percent in service jobs, and 32 percent in agriculture and forestry. (The comparable figures for the value added by each sector expressed as a percent of GDP were the following: industry, 35.4 percent; service, 41.3 percent; and agriculture, 23.3 percent.) By 1999 the Azerbaijani economy had an annual growth rate of roughly 7.4 percent, which further improved to an annual rate of about 8.5 percent by the first 6 months of 2000. However, Azerbaijan's annual per-capita income (measured as GNP per capita) in 2000 was about $550 in current U.S. dollars, representing a significant drop in per-capita income since the early 1990s. Azerbaijan's poverty rate of 60 percent at the turn of the millennium was due in large measure to the effects of the government's attempts to shift the economy from a centralized, state-controlled economy to a free-market economy; to falling oil revenues in the early 1990s; and to the war with Armenia, which had produced streams of refugees and thousands of displaced persons in the country. As the World Bank analysts noted in November 2000, about 75 percent of the IDPs were living below the poverty level. In 1999 about 20 percent of the population in Azerbaijan was classified as very poor. Sparked mainly by the richly promising oil opportunities in the country, foreign direct investment in Azerbaijan in 1999 was $510.3 million in U.S. dollars, while the country's debt value was $744.3 million. About 70 percent of the export commodities in the year 2000 were oil and gas. Other natural resources in Azerbaijan include iron ore, nonferrous metals, and alumina. The primary agricultural products are grains, wine, cotton, fruit, vegetables, tea, tobacco, crude sheepskin, and livestock (cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats), but only 18 percent of the land is arable.

Azerbaijan joined the World Bank and the International Development Association in 1992 and received its first loan from the Bank in 1995 for financing advisory services and setting up a framework to attract foreign private investment in Azerbaijan's burgeoning petroleum industry, in the amount of $21 million in U.S. dollars. A credit of the same amount also was provided that year to improve the water supply in the capital city of Baku, where about 25 percent of Azerbaijanis live. Other World Bank projects have followed, including an Educational Reform Project developed for Azerbaijan in 1999.

In 1997 Azerbaijanis had about 170,000 televisions and 175,000 radios. In 1998 10 AM radio stations, 17 FM stations, and 1 short-wave radio station broadcast programs in Azerbaijan. Computer and Internet access was growing by the end of the 1990s, when Azerbaijan had two Internet service providers.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Azerbaijan is a parliamentary republic with a strong-presidential form of government. The governing structures were established by the Constitution of 1995, which was adopted by referendum. All Azerbaijanis, men and women alike, are allowed to vote beginning at age 18. Azerbaijan's elected chief executive and head of state, the president, serves a five-year term of office. Since 1993 Heydar Aliyev has been the President of Azerbaijan, having overthrown the previous democratically elected president in 1993. The executive branch of the national government also includes a prime minister as well as a Council of Ministers appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly (the Milli Mejlis ), Azerbaijan's national unicameral legislature of 125 members who are elected for five-year terms by popular vote. As of the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the legislature continued to be dominated by the New Azerbaijani Party whose chairman was incumbent President Aliyev. (In that election, substantial vote fraud was protested, and the competition of opposition parties initially was somewhat limited by the government, who eventually relented closer to the time of elections and sought to correct some of its previous measures taken to discourage political competition). The Constitution accords the national legislature the power to approve the national budget and to impeach the President of the Republic. The third branch of Azerbaijan's national government is the judicial branch, consisting of a Supreme Court. While the judiciary supposedly is independent of the other two branches of the national government, in the year 2000 the judiciary continued to be influenced by the executive branch and was rife with corruption and inefficiency. Subnational governance is effected through a system of 59 rayons (rayonlar ), 11 cities, and 1 autonomous republic (Naxçivan Muxtar Respublikasi ) attached to Azerbaijan.

The police, together with the Ministries of International Affairs and of National Security, are responsible for the internal security of the country. However, in the year 2000 the police allegedly were committing numerous human-rights abuses against Azerbaijanis, such as conducting searches and seizures without warrants, arbitrarily arresting and detaining people, and torturing and beating persons in custody. In general, the government reportedly failed to intervene; though in a few cases, police accused of abusing the rights of others were prosecuted. Harsh prison conditions led to the deaths of some prisoners in 2000, pre-trial detention was sometimes illegally extended, and freedom of expression and of the press was actively limited by the government, despite the participation of opposition parties in the November elections.

Laws Affecting Education: Education in Azerbaijan has long been valued by many of the people, and before the economic and political problems of the late 1980s and early 1990s arose, the general level of education in the country and literacy rates among many segments of the population were relatively high. In 1992, shortly after independence was declared, legislation establishing a new educational system for Azerbaijan was passed: "The Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Education." Educational reforms were also proposed in the late 1990s by the World Bank in consultation with Azerbaijani educational authorities, researchers, and other experts. The World Bank's Education Reform Project was approved by the President of Azerbaijan in June 1999 and was being implemented in three phases: 1999, 2000-2003, and 2004. The decision was made to concentrate on improving the first several grades of general, compulsory education, although it was also clear that higher education institutions needed attention, too. However, because a number of private efforts already were being made by the late 1990s to increase quality educational offerings at higher levels in Azerbaijan, the Bank and the Azerbaijani government chose to focus the initial Education Reform Project on measures that would strengthen basic education.

To transform Azerbaijan's educational system from the inefficient, heavily burdened system of the Soviet era, the Education Reform Project had the following goals: 1) upgrading curricular content and developing improved processes for creating new curricula; 2) improving teacher education as well as teaching and learning methods by making teachers knowledgeable of modern teaching methods and making learning a more-active, engaging, and individualized experience for each student; 3) increasing financial resources for educational materials and programming and encouraging the state to dedicate more resources for education; 4) improving methods of education budgeting, creating a better balance between expenditures for educational staff salaries and other educationrelated expenditures, and allowing greater flexibility across line items within the same fiscal year; 5) providing support to build and repair educational facilities and to equip school programs with freshly developed textbooks that correlate well with current curricular needs; and 6) decreasing inequities in educatione.g. between rural and urban students and between impoverished students and those coming from better circumstances. To meet the goals of the Project, the Bank outlined several main areas of activity: 1) creating in-service teacher-education institutes (TEIs) in five pilot districts (Baku, Sumgayit, Lenkoran, Genje, and Nakhichevan) which would pilot the training of more-modern teaching methods involving active learning and projects, support new in-service teacher-education courses, increase linkages between schools and TEIs, train trainers who could replicate the training of other teachers in new teaching methods, and develop small teacher resource centers as part of the pilot TEIs; 2) establish pilot schools (4 in each of the 5 pilot districts, for a total of 20 pilot schools) and involve local community members more actively in the schools; and 3) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the project interventions by answering specific questions related to the effectiveness of the measures taken in the Education Reform Project. In conjunction with working toward accomplishing the above-outlined goals, the Project was designed to bring about reforms in educational policy-making and in the performance of educational institutions.

Vocational education schools and programs already had received special attention from the Azerbaijani government in 1996, when the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Presidential Decision #16, "On the Measures for Improvement of the Vocational Education System in the Republic of Azerbaijan," on 23 August 1996. This Decision gave vocational education institutions newly recognized status as vocational schools and vocational lycées, and a list of specific professions for which vocational training would be provided was approved. According to the Ministry of Education, new vocational-education initiatives were being promoted by the President in the late 1990s that included developing vocational education according to strategic guidelines, creating new opportunities for the continuing education of workers (especially to manage new technology), and democratizing education.

Educational SystemOverview

Compulsory Education: In the 2000-2001 school year, 1,591,000 Azerbaijani students were enrolled in a total of 4,486 general education schools operated by the Ministry of Education covering grades 1 through 11, the years of compulsory education where most fees are covered by the government. Gross enrollment in the primary classes (grades 1 through 4) and the main classes (grades 5 through 9) averaged 97 percent for boys and 96 percent for girls that year (with net enrollment rates of 89 percent for boys and 90 percent for girls). At the secondary level gross enrollment rates were 73 percent for boys and 81 percent for girls. General education in Azerbaijan is divided into three stages: 1) four years of primary education, where students in each class are taught by a teacher who progresses with them each year up through the four primary grades, 2) main education, consisting of five years of schooling, and 3) secondary education, where students receive their final two years of state-provided schooling.

The violent conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s exacted a heavy toll on Azerbaijani students and the education system in Azerbaijan. 616 general education schools reportedly were captured and destroyed by Armenian forces. This led to the displacement of over 100,000 pupils and 10,000 educational staff members, according to the government of Azerbaijan, with 85,000 displaced children served by 707 schools established in the densest areas of refugee and IDP concentrations.

Although schooling at the secondary level is free in Azerbaijan, by the late 1990s parents of primary students were increasingly asked to pay a certain proportion of the school fees and to purchase textbooks for their children. This is attributable apparently to the economic problems the country was experiencing at that time. With the educational support provided by the World Bank Education Reform Project begun in 1999 and other international donors to the education sector, as well as the gradually improving economic conditions in the country at the turn of the millennium, this trend toward parents' paying increasingly for their children's basic education hopefully would be turned around. It should be noted, however, that improvements began to be seen by the year 2000 in the national economy due to proceeds from a major oil-pipeline project in the country and the development of the petroleum industry through foreign investment. These are not anticipated to immediately change the bleak economic picture prevailing in the country in the 1990s. It is expected that an additional five to eight years of continuing economic improvements would be needed before oil revenues would have a positive impact on government funding in the education sector.

Private Schools: While government-supported schools were the norm for students in basic education at the turn of the millennium, increasing efforts were being made by international organizations and other private funders to create private educational opportunities in the country, especially at upper levels. Statistics on the number of private schools operating in Azerbaijan in 2001, however, are not readily available.

In the 2000-2001 school year, 17,000 pupils attended boarding schools and 10,000 very-talented students attended 39 new kinds of educational institutionslycées and gymnasiumssome of which may have been privately funded. Special education was provided for about 6,000 mentally and physically handicapped students through 21 boarding schools, 3 "subsidiary schools," and 2 "home-schools," although again it is unknown to what extent these schools were publicly or privately funded.

TextbooksCurriculum Development: With the World Bank's Education Reform Project begun in 1999, special attention was directed toward revising and improving Azerbaijani textbooks and the curricula used in Azerbaijani schools. As already indicated, significant problems existed with the textbook situation in the 1990s. Textbooks were neither sufficiently plentiful nor of adequate quality to provide students with the necessary instruction in subjects that would have direct applicability in their lives, nor were students given the type of instruction that would enable them to transfer school learning to everyday situations or to competently solve problems in the real world. For this reason, the World Bank education project concentrated heavily on developing new norms for the production and improvement of texts and curricula in the country. A leftover from the Soviet era, two state-sponsored publishing houses essentially had complete control over the production of texts, a situation that demanded reform so that teaching materials could be made more responsive to the needs of contemporary Azerbaijani students preparing for jobs in a globalizing labor market no longer dominated by the Soviet-style centralized economy of the past.

CurriculumDevelopment: The teaching style in Azerbaijan emphasizes passive learning and generally speaking is not adequately individualized to the needs of each student. Although in some schools, administrators and teachers were ready to implement a more student-focused and active-learning style of teaching by the late 1990s, a lack of appropriate resources on contemporary teaching methods hindered progress in updating teaching methodology in the country. Emphasis during the Soviet era had been placed on learning facts rather than the skills needed to solve problems and apply school-based learning to real-life situations. Consequently, one of the major reforms attempted by the Azerbaijani government in tandem with the World Bank starting in 1999 centered on training and retraining teachers in more child-focused, active styles of teaching involving student projects and activities.

Foreign Influences on Educational System: While Azeri, the main language spoken in Azerbaijan, is the country's official language, only 89 percent of the population spoke Azeri in 1995. Three percent of the population spoke Russian, 2 percent spoke Armenian, and 6 percent spoke other languages at that time. The Azerbaijani language, part of the south-Turkic group of languages, originally was written using the Arabic script, but the Latin alphabet was introduced in 1929. Cyrillic script became compulsory in 1939 when Azerbaijan was well enmeshed in the Soviet system. After independence in 1991, the Russian language was phased out by the Azerbaijani government, and Latin was reintroduced in 1992. Nonetheless, Russian is still commonly used in urban areas such as Baku and Sumgayit and understood in most parts of the country.

By the year 2000 Azerbaijan was cooperating on a regular basis with over 30 countries in the area of higher education and had been admitted to both the Asian and Pacific Basin Regional Committee of UNESCO on higher education and UNESCO's European Regional Committee on higher education. Azerbaijan also acceded to the Conventions on Mutual Recognition of Higher Education Institution Diplomas, Scientific Titles and Degrees and Educational Programs pertaining to the countries of those two regions. Azerbaijani educators were becoming increasingly involved with a growing number of international organizations such as the European Union, UNESCO, and the Soros Foundation, whose programs and projects provided necessary financial supports and technical assistance to Azerbaijani educators and the country's educational institutions.

About 5,000 Azerbaijani students were studying outside of Azerbaijan in about 40 countries in the second half of the 1990s. Key areas of specialization for these students were economics, international relations, business, tourism and the hotel industry, finance, the customs business, and banking. In the late 1990s students from about 50 countries were studying in Azerbaijani schools and universities, focusing in particular on law, medicine, construction, and the oil industry.

Role of Education in Development: Aware of the key role education plays in a country's socioeconomic development, Azerbaijan's government was actively collaborating with many international organizations and donors by the late 1990s to improve the country's education system and training institutions in order to develop the human resources necessary for the country's economic and social development. Unfortunately, problems of poverty and population displacements during the 1990s further exacerbated existing disparities in school attendance across the country. For 6- to 16-year-olds from very poor households in 1999, for example, 97 percent of those living in Baku and Apsheron were attending school but only 75 percent of children from very poor families in the near southwest were enrolled in school.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Kindergarten attendance in Azerbaijan during the 1990s had declined due to the economic and political problems the country was experiencing. In 1990 about 19 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 6 were enrolled in kindergarten, but in 1997 only 13 percent of this age group was enrolled (19.1 percent in cities and 7.1 percent in villages). In the 2000-2001 school year 1,854 preschools1,659 of them operated by the Ministry of Education and the other 195 operated by other Ministries and organizationseducated 116,100 young children with 101,700 of the children attending Ministry of Education preschools. The preschoolers were taught by 16.1 thousand educational staff, three-quarters of whom were mid-level or higher professionals. Primary education and compulsory schooling in Azerbaijan begins at age six, and the primary grades (grades one through four, as noted above) represent the first of three stages of required general education.

Secondary Education

As previously noted, grades five through nine form the "main education" stage of general education in Azerbaijan. Grades 10 and 11 are considered the upper-secondary grades in the country and represent the third stage of compulsory schooling. As with schooling overall in the country during the troubled times of the 1990s, the second and third stages of education suffered from the violence of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and the economic problems that beset Azerbaijan as the country shifted from a centralized economy to a free-market economy and came to rely, perhaps too heavily and prematurely, on oil revenues to finance the national budget. Whereas 34 percent of the relevant age group of 15 to 18 year olds had attended upper-secondary school (the final 2 grades of compulsory schooling) in 1990, only 28 percent of the age-relevant group was enrolled in upper-secondary education in 1996. Many students had been displaced or had become refugees during the early part of the 1990s, and the difficult economic conditions led a larger share than normal of secondary school students to drop out of school or be absent for extended periods in order to find work to help support their families.

Vocational Education: Special importance came to be attached to improving the quality of vocational education in Azerbaijan in the transition years of the 1990s, and as already mentioned, the government had begun special initiatives to improve the quality of vocational training with new legislation in 1996. In 1999 over 23,000 Azerbaijani students were enrolled in a total of 108 vocational institutions (including 61 vocational schools and 47 vocational lycées) that provided training in 120 professions. The number of educational staff in these institutions was 5,136 of whom 1,990 were teachers and 1,806 were production training masters. In addition to the vocational schools and lycées already mentioned, 11 evening correspondence schools, plus correspondence groups and 2,137 evening classes given at day schools, provided continuing education opportunities for more than 40,000 youth in their late teens at the start of the new millennium.

Higher Education

Types ofPublic & Private: In the mid-1990s about 17 percent of the age group appropriate for tertiary studies was enrolled in higher-education programming in Azerbaijan. Since 1993 Azerbaijan has been reshaping its college and university level training programs to match European multi-stage standards for Bachelor's and Master's level courses. By the late 1990s, higher education in Azerbaijan was provided through a network of 48 educational institutions (30 government-supported and 18 privately funded) that encompassed a total of twenty universities, 8 academies, and 20 other types of educational institutions (institutes, higher colleges, higher seminary, and higher-education institutions for professional improvement and retraining). Through this network of 48 institutions, training was provided in more than 90 fields (related to 390 professions) at the Bachelor's level and in 80 fields (related to 580 professions) at the Master's level. Over 110,000 students were enrolled in highereducation institutions in Azerbaijan, taught by about 15,000 professors and teachers (about 1,000 of them professors and over 8,000 assistant professors and senior lecturers). Over 15,000 additional staff members were employed as managers, logisticians, teaching assistants, service staff, and the like in institutions of higher education.

Admission Procedures: Admission to university-level training in Azerbaijan is through competitive examinations taken at the end of secondary education. More than 20,000 studentsabout 20 to 25 percent of secondary school graduateswere being admitted annually to higher-education institutions by the end of the 1990s. Professors or teachers of higher education were each responsible for 5.2 students at that time, when attendance at higher-education institutions cost about US$100 per student for the academic year.

Administration: Responsibility for higher education in Azerbaijan falls principally to the Ministry of Education, composed of a carefully structured array of departments, divisions, and offices. Higher education in the sciences and at the doctoral level is the responsibility of an entirely separate department in the Ministry of Education, the Science Department, which supervises training and research, including pedagogical training and research, and provides leadership and planning for doctoral programs and post-graduate training and credentialing in the sciences and the arts.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Government Educational Agencies: Responsibility for developing and implementing educational policies and programs rests primarily with the Ministry of Education, which collaborates directly with the World Bank-funded Education Reform Project. Under the Minister of Education is the Central Administration, which includes the Ministry of Education's assistant, secretary, jurist, licensing office, press, and Refugee Affairs bureau. Also directly under the Minister are the Economy and Finance Department (which in turn supervises the Division of Planning and Finance, the Division of Accounts, the Payroll office, and the office of Capital Construction and Procurement), the Human Resources Department, and the Higher Education Department (which in turn supervises two other departments: one for higher education and one for vocational education). Three Deputy Ministers are also directly under the authority of the Minister of Education. One of the Deputy Ministers supervises the Preschool and General Education Department, the Division of Textbooks, Press and Publications, and the Education of Children with Special Needs, Social Care and Rehabilitation Programs Section. Another Deputy Minister oversees the Science Department, the Analysis and Prognosis Department, and the Vocational-Technical Education Department. The third supervises the International Relations, Information and Coordination Department (which oversees Study Abroad and Overseas Students' Affairs), Patriotic Education, and the Office Management Department (whose responsibility includes supervising the offices in charge of Protocol, Service Staff, Logistics, and Archive).

Education Budgets: In 1997 Azerbaijan spent less than 4 percent of its GDP on education, a sizable drop from the nearly 7 percent of GDP spent on education in 1992. In 1999 over 50 percent of all non-defense-related budgetary expenditures on employment went to salaries for educational staff. Educational staff accounted for more than 10 percent of all employmentrates that were considerably higher than other countries in the region. Due to the decline in government revenues during the 1990s, funding for education fell and in 1997 public expenditures on education were only one-third of what they had been in 1992.


As oil revenues begin to be generated at an increasing rate and international donor agencies continue to provide significant aid for education, Azerbaijan's currently rather difficult economic situation in the education sector hopefully will be remedied. Through the World Bank-funded Education Reform Project, educational conditions in the country should improve, if only gradually at first. One of the most promising initiatives in the World Bank project appeared to be that of improving teacher-training institutes through a set of five pilot programs that include training of trainers who will be able to replicate the teaching of newer, more-appropriate methods of engaging students in the learning process. In addition, international nongovernmental donors, such as the Soros Foundation that is interested in promoting ethnic conflict resolution, democratization, and human rights in Azerbaijan, should have a very positive impact over time on the political and social climate in the country, as they work collaboratively with Azerbaijanis in schools and community programs to plan and implement programming meant to encourage the development of a strong civil society and greater democratic participation. As the culturally rich and historically experienced people of Azerbaijan continue to further their country's progress through imaginative solutions to educational problems and the dilemmas of sustainable development at the start of the new millennium, Azerbaijan should be able to return to its previously highly regarded status as a center of culture and learning where education is prized and made available to all segments of the population, regardless of their economic status.


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2000. U.S. Department of State, February 2001. Available from

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2001. Available from

The European Commission. The EU and Azerbaijan. 2001. Available from

Human Development Network. Education Sector Strategy. Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 1999.

Human Development Sector, Europe and Central Asia Regional Office. Project Appraisal Document on a Proposed Learning and Innovation Credit in an Amount of SDR 3,700,000 to the Azerbaijan Republic for an Education Reform Project. The World Bank, 4 May 1999. Available from

Human Rights Watch. World Report 2001. Available from

Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan Republic. 2000. Available from

Operations Evaluation Department. Azerbaijan Country Assistance Evaluation. Report No. 21459. The World Bank, 30 November 2000. Available from

The Task Force on Higher Education and Society. Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise. Washington, DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2000.

UNICEF. Azerbaijan. 26 December 2000. Available from

United Nations. Azerbaijan: Country Information. 2000. Available from

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World Bank. World Development Report, 2000/2001. Available from

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World Bank Group. Azerbaijan at a Glance. September 2000. Available from

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Barbara Lakeberg Dridi


views updated May 29 2018


Culture Name

Azerbaijani, Azeri

Alternative Names

Azerbaijani Turkish, Azeri Turkish. The country name also is written Azerbaidzhan, Azerbaydzhan, Adharbadjan, and Azarbaydjan in older sources as a transliteration from Russian. Under the Russian Empire, Azerbaijanis were known collectively as Tatars and/or Muslims, together with the rest of the Turkic population in that area.


Identification. Two theories are cited for the etymology of the name "Azerbaijan": First, "land of fire" (azer, meaning "fire," refers to the natural burning of surface oil deposits or to the oil-fueled fires in temples of the Zoroastrian religion); second, Atropaten is an ancient name of the region (Atropat was a governor of Alexander the Great in the fourth century b.c.). The place name has been used to denote the inhabitants since the late 1930s, during the Soviet period. The northern part of historical Azerbaijan was part of the former Soviet Union until 1991, while the southern part is in Iran. The two Azerbaijans developed under the influence of different political systems, cultures, and languages, but relations are being reestablished.

Location and Geography. The Azerbaijan Republic covers an area of 33,891 square miles (86,600 square kilometers). It includes the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is inhabited mostly by Armenians, and the noncontiguous Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which is separated from Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. Nakhchivan borders on Iran and Turkey to the south and southwest. Azerbaijan is on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. To the north it borders the Russian Federation, in the northwest Georgia, in the west Armenia, and in the south Iran. Half the country is covered by mountains. Eight large rivers flow down from the Caucasus ranges into the Kura-Araz lowland. The climate is dry and semiarid in the steppes in the middle and eastern parts, subtropical in the southeast, cold in the high mountains in the north, and temperate on the Caspian coast. The capital, Baku, is on the Apsheron peninsula on the Caspian and has the largest port.

Demography. The population of the Azerbaijan Republic has been estimated to be 7,855,576 (July 1998). According to the 1989 census, Azeris accounted for 82.7 percent of the population, but that number has increased to roughly 90 percent as a result of a high birthrate and the emigration of non-Azeris. The Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh and a large number of Azeris (an estimated 200,000) who had been living in Armenia were driven to Azerbaijan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There are about one million refugees and displaced persons altogether. It is believed that around thirteen million Azeris live in Iran. In 1989, Russians and Armenians each made up 5.6 percent of the population. However, because of anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku in 1990 and Sumgait in 1988, most Armenians left, and their population (2.3 percent) is now concentrated in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russians, who currently make up of 2.5 percent of the population, began to leave for Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The number of Jews decreased as they left for Russia, Israel, and the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Numerous ethnic groups (up to ninety) of the former Soviet Union are represented in small numbers (Ukrainians, Kurds, Belorussians, Tatars). Other groups with a long history of settlement in Azerbaijan include the Persian-speaking Talysh and the Georgian-speaking Udins. Peoples of Daghestan such as the Lezghis and Avars make up 3.2 percent of the population, with most of them living in the north. Fifty-three percent of the population is urban.

Linguistic Affiliation. Azeri (also referred to as Azeri Turkish) or Azerbaijani is a Turkic language in the Altaic family; it belongs to the southwestern Oguz group, together with Anatolian Turkish, Turkmen, and Gagauz. Speakers of these languages can understand each other to varying degrees, depending on the complexity of the sentences and the number of loan words from other languages. Russian loan words have entered Azeri since the nineteenth century, especially technical terms. Several Azeri dialects (e.g., Baku, Shusha, Lenkaran) are entirely mutually comprehensible. Until 1926, Azeri was written in Arabic script, which then was replaced by the Latin alphabet and in 1939 by Cyrillic. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan and other Turkic-speaking former Soviet republics reintroduced the Latin alphabet. However, the main body of modern Azeri literature and educational material is still in Cyrillic, and the transition to the Latin alphabet is a time-consuming and expensive process. The generations that learned Russian and read Azeri in Cyrillic still feel more comfortable with Cyrillic. During the Soviet period, linguistic Russification was intensive: although people referred to Azeri as their native tongue, the language many people in the cities mastered was Russian. There were both Azeri and Russian schools, and pupils were supposed to learn both languages. Those who went to Russian schools were able to use Azeri in daily encounters but had difficulty expressing themselves in other areas. Russian functioned as the lingua franca of different ethnic groups, and with the exception of rural populations such as the Talysh, others spoke very little Azeri. Roughly thirteen languages are spoken in Azerbaijan, some of which are not written and are used only in everyday family communication. Azeri is the official language and is used in all spheres of public life.

Symbolism. Azerbaijan had a twenty-three-month history of statehood (19181920) before the institution of Soviet rule. The new nation-state's symbols after the dissolution of the Soviet Union were heavily influenced by that period. The flag of the earlier republic was adopted as the flag of the new republic. The flag has wide horizontal stripes in blue, red, and green. There is a white crescent and an eight-pointed star in the middle of the red stripe. The national anthem forcefully portrays the country as a land of heroes ready to defend their country with their blood. The sentiments associated with music in Azerbaijan are very strong. Azeris regard themselves as a highly musical nation, and this is reflected in both folk and Western musical traditions.

To show pride in country, Azeris first refer to its natural resources. Oil is at the top of the list, and the nine climatic zones with the vegetables and fruits that grew in them also are mentioned. The rich carpet-weaving tradition is a source of pride which is used to highlight the artistic sensibilities of carpet weavers (most of the time women) and their ability to combine various forms and symbols with natural colors. Hospitality is valued as a national characteristic, as it is in other Caucasus nations. Guests are offered food and shelter at the expense of the host's needs, and this is presented as a typical Azeri characteristic. The use of house metaphors was widespread at the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenians were regarded as guests who wanted to take possession of one of the rooms in the host's house. Ideas of territorial integrity and the ownership of territory are very strong. Soilwhich in Azeri can refer to soil, territory, and countryis an important symbol. Martyrdom, which has a high value in the Shia Muslim tradition, has come to be associated with martyrdom for the Azeri soil and nation. The tragedy of the events of January 1990, when Russian troops killed nearly two hundred civilians, and grief for those who died in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, have reinforced the ritual activity attached to martyrdom.

Azeri women and their characteristics are among the first ethnic markers (attributed characteristics) that differentiate Azeris as a nation. Their moral values, domestic abilities, and role as mothers are pointed out in many contexts, especially in contrast to Russians.

The recent history of conflict and war, and thus the suffering evoked by those events in the form of deaths, the misery of displaced persons, and orphaned children, has reinforced the idea of the Azeri nation as a collective entity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Azerbaijan was inhabited and invaded by different peoples throughout its history and at different times came under Christian, pre-Islamic, Islamic, Persian, Turkish, and Russian influence. In official presentations, the Christian kingdom of Caucasian Albania (which is not related to Albania in the Balkans) and the state of Atropatena are regarded as the beginnings of the formation of Azerbaijani nationality. As a result of Arab invasions, the eighth and ninth centuries are seen as marking the start of Islamization. The invasions of the Seljuk Turkish dynasty introduced the Turkish language and customs. From the thirteenth century onward, it is possible to find examples of literature and architecture that today are considered important parts of the national heritage. The local dynasty of Shirvan shahs (sixth to sixteenth centuries) left a concretely visible mark in Azeri history in the form of their palace in Baku. Until the eighteenth century, Azerbaijan was controlled by neighboring powers and was invaded repeatedly. In the nineteenth century, Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia took an interest in Azerbaijan. Russia invaded Azerbaijan, and with the 1828 treaty borders (almost identical to the current borders), the country was divided between Iran and Russia. The rich oil fields in Baku that were opened in the midnineteenth century attracted Russians, Armenians, and a few westerners, such as the Nobel brothers. The vast majority of the oil companies were in Armenian hands, and many Azeri rural inhabitants who came to the city as workers joined the socialist movement. Despite international solidarity between the workers during strikes (19031914), tension existed between Armenian and Azeri laborers, with the Azeris being less skilled and thus worse paid. This discontent exploded in bloody ethnic conflicts in the period 19051918. The fall of the Russian monarchy and the revolutionary atmosphere fed the development of national movements. On 28 May 1918, the Independent Azerbaijan Republic was established. The Red Army subsequently invaded Baku, and in 1922 Azerbaijan became part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In November 1991, Azerbaijan regained its independence; it adopted its first constitution in November 1995.

National Identity. In the early twentieth century, secular Azeri intellectuals tried to create a national community through political action, education, and their writings. Ideas of populism, Turkism, and democracy were prevalent in that period. As a reaction to the colonial regime and exploitation that was expressed in ethnic terms, the formation of Azeri national identity had elements of both Islamic and non-Islamic traditions as well as European ideas such as liberalism and nationalism. The idea of an Azeri nation also was cultivated during the Soviet period. The written cultural inheritance and the various historical figures in the arts and politics reinforced claims to independent nationhood at the end of the Soviet regime. During the decline of the Soviet Union, nationalist sentiment against Soviet rule was coupled with the anti-Armenian feelings that became the main driving force of the popular movements of national reconstruction.

Ethnic Relations. Since the late 1980s, Azerbaijan has been in turmoil, suffering interrelated ethnic conflict and political instability. Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians had raised the issue of independence from Azerbaijan a number of times since 1964, and those claims became more forceful in the late 1980s. Armenia supported the Nagorno-Karabakh cause and expelled about 200,000 Azeris from Armenia in that period. Around that time, pogroms took place against Armenians in Sumgait (1988) and Baku (1990), and more than 200,000 Armenians subsequently left the country. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict turned into a protracted war, and atrocities were committed by both sides until an enduring cease-fire was agreed to in 1994. The massacre of the village of Khojaly in 1992 by Armenians is engraved in Azeri memory as one of the worst aggressive acts against Azeri civilians. Azeris who lived in Nagorno-Karabakh territory were driven out during the war. They are now among the refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan and make the conflict with Armenia visible. The Lezgis and Talysh also made demands for autonomy, but despite some unrest, this did not result in extensive conflicts. Azeris in Iran have been subject to strictly enforced assimilation policies. Although the opening of the borders has nurtured economic and cultural relationships between the two Azerbaijans, Iranian Azeris do not have much cultural autonomy.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

There are various dwellings in different regions. Traditionally, people in towns lived in quarters (mahallas ) that developed along ethnic lines. Modern Azerbaijan adopted the Soviet style of architecture; however, Baku retains a Maiden Tower and an old town criscrossed with narrow streets as well as examples of a mixture of European styles in buildings that date back to the beginning of the twentieth century. These edifices usually were built with funds from the oil industry.

Soviet-era governmental buildings are large and solid with no ornamentation. Residential complexes built in that period usually are referred to as "matchbox architecture" because of their plain and anonymous character. Public space in bazaars and shops is crowded, and people stand close to each other in lines.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. There are regional differences in the selection and preparation of food resulting from the availability of agricultural products and membership in different ethnic groups. A mixture of meat and vegetables and various types of white bread constitute the main foods. In rural areas, there is a tradition of baking flat white bread (churek, lavash, tandyr ). Kufte bozbash (meat and potatoes in a thin sauce) is a popular dish. Filled pepper and grape leaves and soups also are part of daily meals. Different types of green herbs, including coriander, parsley, dill, and spring onions, are served during meals both as a garnish and as salad. Pork is not popular because of Islamic dietary rules, but it was consumed in sausages during the Soviet period. The soup borsch and other Russian dishes are also part of the cuisine. Restaurants offer many varieties of kebabs and, in Baku, an increasingly international cuisine. Some restaurants in the historic buildings of Baku have small rooms for family and private groups.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Pulov (steamed rice) garnished with apricots and raisins is a major dish at ritual celebrations. It is eaten alongside meat, fried chestnuts, and onions. During the Novruz holiday, wheat is fried with raisins and nuts (gavurga ). Every household is supposed to have seven types of nuts on a tray. Sweets such as paklava (a diamond-shaped thinly layered pastry filled with nuts and sugar) and shakarbura (a pie of thin dough filled with nuts and sugar) are an indispensable part of celebrations. At weddings, pulov and various kebabs are accompanied by alcohol and sweet nonalcoholic drinks (shyra ). At funerals, the main course is usually pulov and meat, served with shyra and followed by tea.

Basic Economy. Azerbaijan has a rich agricultural and industrial potential as well as extensive oil reserves. However, the economy is heavily dependent on foreign trade. The late 1980s and 1990s saw intensive trade with Russia and other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Turkey and Iran have begun to be important trade partners. About one-third of the population is employed in agriculture (producing half the population's food requirements); however, with 70 percent of agricultural land dependent on poorly developed irrigation systems and as a result of delays in the privatization process, agriculture is still inefficient and is not a major contributor to the economy. People in rural areas grew fruits and vegetables in small private gardens for subsistence and sale during the Soviet period. The major agricultural crops are cotton, tobacco, grapes, sunflowers, tea, pomegranates, and citrus fruits; vegetables, olives, wheat, barley, and rice also are produced. Cattle, goats, and sheep are the major sources of meat and dairy products. Fish, especially sturgeon and black caviar, are produced in the Black Sea region, but severe pollution has weakened this sector.

Land Tenure and Property. In the Soviet period, there was no private land as a result of the presence of state-owned collective farms. As part of the general transition to a market economy, privatization laws for land have been introduced. Houses and apartments also are passing into private ownership.

Commercial Activities. There is a strong carpet-weaving tradition in addition to the traditional manufacturing of jewelry, copper products, and silk. Other major goods for sale include electric motors, cabling, household air conditioners, and refrigerators.

Major Industries. Petroleum and natural gas, petrochemicals (e.g., rubber and tires), chemicals (e.g., sulfuric acid, and caustic soda), oil refining, ferrous and nonferrous metallurgy, building materials, and electrotechnical equipment are the heavy industries that make the greatest contribution to the gross national product. Light industry is dominated by the production of synthetic and natural textiles, food processing (butter, cheese, canning, wine making), silk production, leather, furniture, and wool cleaning.

Trade. Other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Western European countries, Turkey, and Iran are both export and import partners. Oil, gas, chemicals, oil field equipment, textiles, and cotton are the major exports, while machinery, consumer goods, foodstuffs, and textiles are the major imports.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The urban merchant class and industrial bourgeoisie of the pre-Soviet era lost their wealth under the Soviet Union. The working class in the cities usually retained rural connections. The most significant social stratification criterion is an urban versus rural background, although the educational opportunities and principles of equality introduced in the Soviet period altered this pattern to some extent. Russians, Jews, and Armenians were mostly urban white-collar workers. For Azerbaijanis, education and family background were vital to social status throughout the pre- and post-Soviet period. Higher positions in government structures provided political power that was accompanied by economic power during the Soviet era. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, wealth became a more important criterion for respect and power. Refugees and displaced persons with a rural background now can be considered the emergent underclass.

Symbols of Social Stratification. As in the socialist era, Western dress and urban manners usually have a higher status than does the rural style. During the Soviet period, those who spoke Russian with an Azeri accent were looked down on, since this usually implied being from a rural area or having gone to an Azeri school. By contrast, today the ability to speak "literary" Azeri carries a high value, since it points to a learned family that has not lost its Azeri identity.

Political Life

Government. According to the constitution, Azerbaijan is a democratic, secular unitary republic. Legislative power is implemented by the parliament, Milli Mejlis (National Assembly; 125 deputies are directly elected under a majority and proportional electoral system for a term of five years, most recently 19952000). Executive power is vested in a president who is elected by direct popular vote for five years. The current president Heydar Aliyev's term will end in October 2003. The Cabinet of Ministers is headed by the prime minister. Administratively, the republic is divided into sixty-five regions, and there are eleven cities.

Leadership and Political Officials. Since the late 1980s, the attainment of leadership positions has been strongly influenced by social upheaval and opposition to the existing system and its leaders. However, the network based on kin and regional background plays an important role in establishing political alliances. The system of creating mutual benefits through solidarity with persons with common interests persists.

Generally, political leaders assume and/or are attributed roles described in family terms, such as the son, brother, father, or mother of the nation. Young males have been a source of support both for the opposition and for the holders of powers. The ideals of manhood through bravery and solidarity were effective in securing popular support for different leaders in the 1980s. Personal charisma plays an important role, and politics is pursued at a personal level. There are about forty officially registered parties. The largest movement toward the end of the Soviet era was the Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF), which was established by intellectuals from the Academy of Sciences in Baku; members of the APF established several other parties later. The chairman of the APF became president in 1992 but was overthrown in 1993. Currently, the APF has both nationalist and democratic wings. The Musavat (Equality) Party has the backing of some intellectuals and supports democratic reforms, the National Independence Party supports market reforms and an authoritarian government, and the Social Democratic Party favors the cultural autonomy of national and cultural minorities and democratization. All these parties are opposed to President Heydar Aliyev's New Azerbaijan Party because of the undemocratic measures taken against their members and in the country at large. The other major parties are the Azerbaijan Liberal Party, Azerbaijan Democratic Party, and Azerbaijan Democratic Independence Party.

Social Problems and Control. According to the constitution, the judiciary exercises power with complete independence. Citizens' rights are guaranteed by the constitution. However, as a result of the uncertainties of the current transitional period, the legacy of the Soviet judicial system, and the authoritative measures taken by power holders, the implementation of legal rules is in practice a source of tension. This means that state organs can break the law by committing actions such as election fraud, censorship, and the detention of protesters. Given the prevalence of white-collar crime affecting investments, savings funds, and financial institutions, the large number of refugees and displaced persons with limited resources has resulted in various illegal business dealings. For example, recent years have seen considerable drug trafficking to Russia and the smuggling of various goods and materials. Despite improvements, people have little faith that they will receive a fair trial or honest treatment unless they belong to the right circles. The ideas of shame and honor are used in evaluating and hence controlling people's actions. Family and community opinion impose limitations on actions, but this also leads to clandestine dealings.

Military Activity. Azerbaijan has an army, navy, and air force. Defense expenditures for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict placed a sizable burden on the national budget. The official figures for defense spending were around $132 million in 1994.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There are laws providing for social security for the disabled, pensions, a guaranteed minimum wage, compensation for low-income families with children, grants for students, and benefits for war veterans and disabled persons (e.g. reduced fares on public transport etc.). However, the level of social benefits is very low. National and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in aid work for displaced persons, especially children.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Most NGOs concentrate on charity, mainly for displaced persons and refugees and focus on human rights, minority issues, and women's problems (e.g., the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan and the Association for the Defense of Rights of Azerbaijan Women). Depending on their specialties, these organizations collect information and try to collaborate with international organizations to support people financially, politically, and socially.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Many women were employed outside the home as a result of Soviet policies, but they have traditionally played a secondary role in supporting the family economically. Men are considered the main breadwinners. There are no restrictions on women's participation in public life, and women are active in politics in the opposition and ruling parties. However, their number is limited. Rural women's participation in public life is less common.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. With few exceptions, socially and politically powerful women at the top levels have male supporters who help them maintain their positions. Although professional achievement is encouraged, women are most respected for their role as mothers. Women in rural areas usually control the organization of domestic and ritual life. There is a higher degree of segregation between female and male activities and between the social spaces where they gather.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Even in rural areas, marriages increasingly are arranged in accordance with the partners' wishes. In some cases, girls in rural areas may not have the right to oppose a candidate chosen by their parents; it is also not unusual for parents to disapprove of the chosen partner. Marriages between Azeri girls and non-Muslim non-Azeris (Russians, Armenians) in the Soviet period were very rare, but Western non-Muslims apparently now have a different status. Men, by contrast, could marry Russians and Armenians more easily. Both men and women marry to have children and bring up a family, but economic security is another important concern for women. In addition to the civil marriage ceremony, some couples now go to a mosque to get married according to Islamic law.

Domestic Unit. The basic household unit is either a nuclear family or a combination of two generations in one household (patrilocal tendency). In urban areas, mainly as a result of economic difficulties, newlyweds live with the man's parents or, if necessary, the woman's parents. The head of the household is usually the oldest man in the family, although old women are influential in decision making. In rural areas, it is possible for an extended family to live in one compound or house shared by the sons' families and their parents. Women engage in food preparation, child rearing, carpet weaving, and other tasks within the compound, while men take care of the animals and do the physically demanding tasks.

Inheritance. Inheritance is regulated by law; children inherit equally from their parents, although males may inherit the family house if they live with their parents. They then may make arrangements to give some compensation to their sisters.

Kin Groups. Relatives may live nearby in rural areas, but they usually are dispersed in cities. On special occasions such as weddings and funerals, close and distant relatives gather to help with the preparations. It is common for relatives in rural areas to support those in urban areas with agricultural and dairy products, while people in the cities support their rural relatives with goods from the city and by giving them accommodation when they are in city as well as helping them in matters involving the bureaucracy, health care, and children's education.


Infant Care. Infant care differs according to location. In rural areas, infants are placed in cradles or beds. They may be carried by the mother or other female family members. In cities, they usually are placed in small beds and are watched by the mother. Parents interact with babies while attending to their daily chores and prefer to keep babies calm and quiet.

Child Rearing and Education. The criteria for judging a child's behavior are gender-dependent. Although children of all ages are expected to be obedient to their parents and older people in general, boys' misbehavior is more likely to be tolerated. Girls are encouraged to help their mothers, stay calm, and have good manners. It is not unusual for genetic makeup and thus a resemblance to the behavior patterns and talents of their parents and close family members to be used to explain children's negative and positive qualities.

Higher Education. Higher education has been important for Azeris both in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. Having higher education makes both boys and girls more attractive as prospective marriage partners. Parents go to great lengths to pay fees for higher education or other informally determined costs associated with admission to schools.


Issues relating to sex and the body usually are not talked about openly in public. Depending on the age of the speaker, some men may refrain from using words such as "pregnant"; if they must use them, they apologize. It is not considered proper for adults to openly mention going to the bathroom; in private homes, people of the same age and gender or children can be asked for directions to the toilet. Women seldom smoke in public or at parties or other gatherings, and an Azeri woman smoking on the street would be looked down on. To show respect for the elderly, it is important not to smoke in front of older people of both genders. Young men and women are circumspect in the way they behave in front of older people. Bodily contact between the same sexes is usual as a part of interaction while talking or in the form of walking arm in arm. Men usually greet each other by shaking hands and also by hugging if they have not seen each other for a while. Depending on the occasion and the degree of closeness, men and women may greet one another by shaking hands or only with words and a nod of the head. In urban settings, it is not unusual for a man to kiss a woman's hand as a sign of reverence. The awareness of space is greater between the sexes; men and women prefer not to stand close to each other in lines or crowded places. However, all these trends depend on age, education, and family background. Activities such as drinking more than a symbolic amount, smoking, and being in male company are associated more with Russian women than with Azeris. Azeri women would be criticized more harshly, since it is accepted that Russians have different values.


Religious Beliefs. Among the total population, 93.4 percent is Muslim (70 percent Shia and 30 percent Sunni). Christians (Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolics) make up the second largest group. Other groups exist in small numbers, such as Molokans, Baha'is, and Krishnas. Until recently, Islam was predominantly a cultural system with little organized activity. Funerals were the most persistent religious ritual during the socialist era.

Religious Practitioners. In 1980, the sheikhul-Islam (head of the Muslim board) was appointed. Mullahs were not very active during the Soviet period, since the role of religion and mosques was limited. Even today, mosques are most important for the performance of funeral services. Some female practitioners read passages from the Koran in women's company on those occasions.

Rituals and Holy Places. Ramadan, Ramadan Bayram, and Gurban Bayram (the Feast of Sacrifice) are not widely observed, especially in urban areas. Muharram is the period when there are restrictions on celebrations. Ashure is the day when the killing of the first Shia imam, Huseyin, who is regarded as a martyr, is commemorated by men and boys beating their backs with chains while the people watching them, including women, beat their chests with their fists. This ritual was not introduced until the early 1990s, and it attracts an increasing number of people. People go to the mosque to pray and light candles and also visit the tombs of pir (holy men) to make a wish.

Death and the Afterlife. Although people increasingly follow Islamic tradition, owing to the lack of organized religious education, people's beliefs about the afterlife are not clearly defined. The idea of paradise and hell is prominent, and martyrs are believed to go to heaven. After a death, the first and subsequent four Thursdays as well as the third, seventh, and fortieth days and the one year anniversary are commemorated. When there is too little space, a tent is put up in front of people's homes for the guests. Men and women usually sit in separate rooms, food and tea are served, and the Koran is read.

Medicine and Health Care

Western medicine is very widely used, along with herbal remedies, and people visit psychics (ekstrasenses ) and healers. The sick may be taken to visit pir to help them recover.

Secular Celebrations

The new year's holiday is celebrated on 1 January, 20 January commemorates the victims killed by Soviet troops in Baku in 1990, 8 March is International Women's Day, and 2122 March is Novruz (the new year), an old Persian holiday celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. Novruz is the most distinctive Azeri holiday, accompanied by extensive cleaning and cooking in homes. Most households grow semeni (green wheat seedlings), and children jump over small bonfires; celebrations also are held in public spaces. Other holidays are 9 May, Victory Day (inherited from the Soviet period); 28 May, Day of the Republic; 9 October, Armed Forces Day; 18 October, State Sovereignty Day; 12 November, Constitution Day; 17 November, Day of Renaissance; and 31 December, Day of Solidarity of World Azeris.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. State funds during the socialist era provided workshops for painters and other artists. Such funds are now limited, but national and international sponsors encourage artistic activity.

Literature. The book of Dede Korkut and the Zoroastrian Avesta (which date back to earlier centuries but were written down in the fifteenth century) as well as the Köroglu dastan are among the oldest examples of oral literature (dastans are recitations of historical events in a highly ornamented language). Works by poets such as Shirvani, Gancavi, Nasimi, Shah Ismail Savafi, and Fuzuli produced between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries are the most important Persian- and Turkish-language writings. The philosopher and playwriter Mirza Fath Ali Akhunzade (Akhundov), the historical novelist Husein Javid, and the satirist M. A. Sabir all produced works in Azeri in the nineteenth century. Major figures in the twentieth century included Elchin, Yusif Samedoglu, and Anar, and some novelists also wrote in Russian.

Graphic Arts. The tradition of painted miniatures was important in the nineteenth century, while the twentieth century was marked by examples of Soviet social realism and Azeri folklore. Among the widely recognized painters, Sattar Bakhulzade worked mainly with landscapes in a manner reminiscent of "Van Gogh in blue." Tahir Salakhov painted in Western and Soviet styles, and Togrul Narimanbekov made use of figures from traditional Azeri folk tales depicted in very rich colors. Rasim Babayev cultivated his own style of "primitivism" with hidden allegories on the Soviet regime (bright saturated colors, an absence of perspective, and numerous nonhuman characters inspired by folktales and legends).

Performance Arts. The local and Western musical tradition is very rich, and there has been a jazz revival in Baku in recent years. Pop music is also popular, having developed under Russian, Western, and Azeri influences. The Soviet system helped popularize a systematic musical education, and people from all sectors of society participate in and perform music of different styles. While composers and performers of and listeners to classical music and jazz are more common in urban places, ashugs (who play saz and sing) and performers of mugam (a traditional vocal and instrumental style) can be found all over the country. It is not unusual to find children who play piano in their village homes. Traditional string, wind, and percussion instruments (tar, balaban, tutak, saz, kamancha, nagara ) are widely used. Uzeyir Hacibeyov, who is claimed to have written the first opera (Leyli and Madjnun )in the Islamic East in the early twentieth century, Kara Karayev, and Fikret Amirov are among the best-known classical composers. Both now and in the past, elements from Azeri music have been incorporated into classical and jazz pieces (e.g., the pianist and composer Firangiz Alizade, who recently played with the Kronos Quartet). Beside Western ballet, traditional dances accompanied by accordion, tar, and percussion are popular.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Universities and institutions of higher education from the Soviet era have been joined by new private universities. The Academy of Sciences has traditionally been the site of basic research in many fields. Social sciences were developed within the Soviet framework, although the directions of study are changing slowly with international involvement. Financial difficulties mean that all research is subject to constraints, but oil-related subjects are given a high priority. State funds are limited, and international funds are obtained by institutions and individual scientists.


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Web Sites

Azerbaijan Republic website:

HÜlya Demirdirek


views updated May 21 2018


Azerbaijani Republic

Azarbaichan Respublikasy



Azerbaijan, a country of eastern Transcaucasia, is located on the western border of the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia. It is bounded by Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, Turkey to the southwest by the border of Nakhichevan, and Iran to the south. Azerbaijan has an area of 86,600 square kilometers (33,436 square miles), of which 86,100 square kilometers (33,243 square miles) is land and 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) is water. The area is slightly smaller than Maine. The total area includes the exclave (portion of the country separated from the main part) of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and the enclave (a distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within foreign territory) of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region whose autonomy was abolished by the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet on 26 November 1991. The coastline on the Caspian Sea is about 800 kilometers (497 miles). The total borderline of the country is 2,013 kilometers (1251 miles) long. The capital, Baku, is located on the Caspian Sea border and the other major cities, Ganja and Sumgait, are located to the west and just to the north of Baku, respectively.


The population of Azerbaijan was estimated at 7.75 million as of 2000, an increase of 10.6 percent from the 1990 population of 7 million. The population growth rate declined from 3 percent between 1959-1970, to 1.3 percent in the late 1980s, and 0.27 percent in 2000. The population is expected to reach 8.6 million in 2010. Approximately 63 percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 64, whereas people of ages 0-14 account for 30 percent of the population, while those of ages 65 and over account for 7 percent. The most populous city of Azerbaijan is the capital, Baku, with over 1.7 million inhabitants. As of 1999 the urban and rural population rates were 51.7 percent and 48.3 percent respectively.

The Azerbaijani population consists of different ethnic groups: Azeris are the majority with 90 percent share in the total population. The rest is made up of Dagestani (3.2 percent), Russian (2.5 percent), and Armenian (2 percent) groups.


Azerbaijan is a nation of Turkic Muslims. It became an independent republic following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country has come into conflict with Armenia over the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, when almost 20 percent of total land in Azerbaijan was occupied by Armenia. In comparison to Armenia and Georgia, the industrial sector in Azerbaijan is less developed, with its main focus on the oil industry. There is high structural unemployment , and a low standard of living.

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan's economy suffered from serious problems. Real gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 60 percent between 1991 and 1995, by which time high inflation had eroded real incomes, the exchange rate had weakened, and monetary reserves were nearly depleted. This sudden economic decline had a disastrous effect on the people's living standards. Per capita GDP declined from US$5,841 in 1988 to US$1,770 in 1999, the inflation rate rose as high as 1,664 percent in 1994, and from 1988-1998 food prices multiplied as much as 28,750 times. Economic recovery started only after 1996, mostly driven by investment from abroad in the oil, construction, and communications industries. Foreign companies, primarily from the United States, were eager to control Azerbaijan's oil-rich lands.

The main products of the economy are oil, natural gas, and cotton. In order to improve industrial development, Azerbaijan signed arrangements with foreign firms, which have already committed US$60 billion to oil field development. The conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, however, stands as an obstacle to economic progress, including stepped-up foreign investment. Due to the fact that old Soviet ties have been broken in the transformation to a market economy, trade with Russia and the former Soviet republics has decreased, while the country has involved itself with other regions like Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Europe. Oil is a very important product of the country, and economic success will depend on world oil prices and the agreements over a pipeline project in the region. In 2000 the construction of a prospective oil pipeline, originating in Baku, passing through the Republic of Georgia, and terminating at Ceyhan, a Turkish port on the Mediterranean coast, was still considered a high cost project. Increasing oil prices will likely make the project more affordable in the near future.

The external debt of the country increased steadily from 1991 onward due to economic restructuring , and was recorded at US$684 million in 1998. Though economic stabilization measures improved the economic climate considerably during the second half of the 1990s, and inflation improved (exceeding 1,000 percent in both 1993 and 1994, but thoroughly contained in 2000) Azerbaijan needed increasing amounts of International Monetary Fund (IMF) credits. As a result of successful restructuring with the aid of the IMF, Azerbaijan started to repay its debts after 1999.


After the declaration of the independence of the republic in 1991, severe political and economic instability lasted until 1994. Heydar Aliyev seized power in June 1993 through a military coup, toppling the democratically elected Abulfaz Elchibey. In October 1993, however, Aliyev legitimized his rule by winning presidential elections. In 1998 the incumbent president was reelected to office for a second term which continues through October 2003.

In the executive branch of the government, there is a president, a prime minister, and a Council of Ministers appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly. The president is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term. The prime minister and cabinet members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly. The National Assembly is unicameral (one-chambered), has 125 seats, and the members are elected by popular vote for a 5-year term. Parties in the Assembly from 1998 were: the New Azerbaijan Party (center party) chaired by the president Aliyev, the Party of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan (nationalist) chaired by Abulfaz Elchibey, the Party for National Independence of Azerbaijan (nationalist) chaired by Etibar Mammadov, and the Musavat Party (liberal) chaired by Isa Gambar.

Azerbaijan's government consumes about 11 percent of the GDP. However, in 1998 Azerbaijan received only 1.28 percent of its revenue from state-owned enterprises and from government ownership of property. The privatization program following independence was poorly thought out and was derailed by poor administration and corruption. It was thought necessary to privatize state-owned companies so that they could perform better in the market. However, the government mostly sold small firms rather than the large-scale companies that were poor performers. What made this process worse was that the opportunities for foreign participation were never properly defined. As a result of these major problems with the privatization program, the public sector remains large in the country's economic life. For example, 75 percent of outstanding loans in the banking system were from publicly owned enterprises in 2000, many of which chronically record operating losses. As high as that debt is, it represented some improvement from a 90 percent ratio of such loans in 1995.

The main revenue generators for the government are an income tax (levied on the employee's income at progressive rates ranging from 12 percent to 35 percent), a profit tax (0.5 percent), a value-added tax , and a social security tax (the employer is required to pay an amount equal to 33 percent of the gross salary of the employee). The contribution of these taxes reached 2.6 percent, 2.1 percent, 4.5 percent, and 3.7 percent of GDP in 1998, respectively.


Azerbaijan's infrastructure of roads and railways is poorly maintained and needs investment. Important transport links with Russia were periodically cut off due to the war in Chechnya (an autonomous Muslim republic in southwestern Russia) that disrupted much of the road and rail links. The total length of the railways is 2,125 kilometers (1,320 miles) in common carrier service, excluding industrial lines. Much of these rails need an overhaul; however, Azerbaijan does not own repair facilities. The 24,981 kilometers (15,523 miles) of roads are also in poor condition. The European Union has sponsored a project to provide new transit routes. The number of passenger cars was 35.5 per 1000 people in 1998.

There are 69 airports in Azerbaijan, 29 of which have paved runways. There are flights to other former Soviet republics, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Iran, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Baku, Ganja, and Nakhichevan have international airports that are in need of reconstruction and repair. Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and British Airways have offices in Baku.

Azerbaijan has maritime connection to the high seas only through the Volga-Don canal, a Russian waterway. Baku has the largest port on the Caspian Sea, but it needs repair. Azerbaijan has a 55-ship marine fleet (1000 GRT or over) and a total of 3000 kilometers of pipelines for crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas, which are also main sources of export income.

Azerbaijan has an 18.9 billion kilowatt electricity generating capacity (1998), which is sufficient for domestic consumption. Hydroelectric power stations account for 18 percent of the total generation capacity. The generation technology is in need of replacement. The government subsidizes the household consumption of electricity, yet the collection of charges from the consumers is a persistent problem due to the fact that for many consumers the cost is still high considering the low income levels.

As a result of heavy investment during the Soviet era, Azerbaijan has an extensive natural gas distribution and use system. Its gas distribution network extends to over 80 percent of the population and comprises 4,500 kilometers (2,797 miles) of high-pressure transmission lines, 7 compressor stations, and over 31,000 kilometers (19,263 miles) of medium and slow pressure distribution lines. While the country was at one time self-sufficient in gas, declining oil and gas production in recent years has led to a need for substantial gas imports to meet increasing supply shortfalls. The gas sector recovered in 1998, after Azerbaijan managed to eliminate gas imports from suppliers such as Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan is likely to become a gas supplier to Turkey within 10 years.

CountryNewspapersRadiosTV Sets aCable subscribers aMobile Phones aFax Machines aPersonal Computers aInternet Hosts bInternet Users b
United States2152,146847244.325678.4458.61,508.7774,100
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies 27

Azerbaijan's telecommunications system is poorly developed. Baku has the most telephones, whereas about 700 villages still do not have public telephone service. Although fixed telephone users are very small in number, mobile phone use is increasing, especially among a growing middle class, large commercial ventures, international companies, and most government officials. The Ministry of Communications (Azertel) handles international telephone requirements through the old Soviet system of cable and microwave which is still serviceable, and the satellite service between Baku and Turkey, which provides access to 200 countries. Azerbaijan is a signa-tory of the Trans-Asia-Europe Fiber-Optic Line (TAE) that is hoped to improve international communication; however, the lines are not yet laid.

Though Internet and e-mail services are available only in Baku, it is strictly controlled by the government. As of January 2001, Internet service cost was about US$0.62 per hour; however, given the relatively high cost of this service for many Azerbaijanis, the poor conditions of phone lines, and the high costs of imported personal computers and modems, the average number of Internet hosts was only 20 per 100,000 residents in January 2001. The number of television sets was estimated to be around 2 million in 1998.


The main economic sectors are agriculture, industry, and construction, which have shown much improvement from foreign investment. Agriculture, about 90 percent privatized, represented 21.7 percent of GDP in 1999. Cotton was the leading crop; however, caviar production was world famous. Industry accounted for 23.6 percent of GDP in 1999, the main contributors to which were the metallurgy and fuel industries. It was widely estimated that about 10 percent of the world's oil reserves were located in Azerbaijan and the Caspian Basin. In 1999, construction accounted for 9.4 percent of GDP.


Agriculture is the largest employer in Azerbaijan. In 1999, it had 32 percent of the total workforce and a 22 percent share of the total GDP. The primary products are grains, cotton, tobacco, potatoes, other vegetables, grapes, melons and gourds, fruits, and tea. The sector meets most of Azerbaijan's grain needs. Farming is concentrated in central Azerbaijan along the Kura and Araxes rivers, where the land is fertile. The collective and state farms that were common in the Soviet times have been dismantled, leaving room for smaller farms. Cotton, an important export crop, experienced sharp declines in production in 1999 due to shortages and price increases of fertilizers, defoliants, and spare parts of harvesting machinery.

The total value of agricultural exports decreased from US$168.2 million in 1994 to US$96 million in 1998, representing a decrease of 43 percent. Agricultural exports accounted for 26.2 percent of total exports in 1994, decreasing to 15.8 percent in 1998. Fishing also is an important sector, with 90 percent of the world's caviar production coming from the Caspian Sea.



The main mining product of Azerbaijan is oil. At the beginning of the 20th century, Azerbaijan accounted for nearly half of the world's total oil production. Although at the end of the century it lost this place to Middle Eastern countries, Azerbaijan is still the most geopolitically important country among the former Soviet republics, being relatively the closest to the high seas and possessing an open investment environment, which is crucial in terms of oil transportation. The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) is the largest employer of the country, with 78,000 workers. The revenues from exports of oil products accounted for US$434 million in 1998, 64 percent of total exports. In addition, the expenses for imports of the oil sector accounted for US$355.7 million in 1998, or 20.6 percent of total imports.

Other mineral sources of Azerbaijan include iron, bauxite, zinc, copper, arsenic, molybdenum, marble, and fire clay. There are also small reserves of gold. Large reserves of iron and aluminum are located in the Dashkesen Mountains. Since the only buyer of the iron, Georgia, stopped purchases after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, iron production has been suspended. The mining industry is in need of modernization due to the aging technology and equipment employed in the sector.


Oil equipment manufacturing and related sectors such as instrument-making, electrical engineering, and radio electronics sectors produce almost 20 percent of the total manufacturing sector. The government considers the oil engineering sector of strategic importance and the sector is not included in privatization plans. After independence, the manufacturing sector experienced a decrease in non-oil-related production. The majority of heavy industry is located in Sumgait, just north of Baku. However, much of this capacity is declining, due to a lack of government incentives, foreign capital, and infrastructure. Other important sectors include textile, food, and beverages. However, these sectors, too, have experienced a sharp decline and lost their competitiveness against imported goods for the same reasons.


The share of construction in total GDP increased from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 9.4 percent in 1999. Construction work related to the oil industry accelerated after 1995. Turkish companies are also active in the construction of homes and businesses.



The Azerbaijan National Bank (ANB), responsible for monetary policy and the supervision of the financial sector, was established in 1992 and privatized in 1995. There are many commercial banks, but most of them are small and undercapitalized. After a consolidation in the number of the banks, as of July 2000, Azerbaijan had 66 commercial banks, the central bank, the state-managed International Bank of Azerbaijan, and the United State Industrial Bank. The ANB informally protects the state-owned banks from foreign competition by allowing only 30 percent of capital to be foreign-owned in the national banking system.


During the late 1980s, exports and imports accounted for 37 percent and 46 percent of GDP, respectively. In 1999, exports stood at US$885 million, and imports totaled US$1.62 billion. After a brief trade surplus was achieved in 1992, a deficit occurred again in 1993. Due to increases in the purchase of machinery and equipment for the oil industry and increased imports of consumer goods , there was a rapid increase in imports. Accordingly, there was a chronic current account deficit, which was expected to shrink with the increase of oil exports by 2001.

Azerbaijan relies heavily on crude oil exports. Oil export figures reached 68.9 percent of total exports in 1998. Turkey was the main trading partner of Azerbaijan for both exports and imports, accounting for 22.4 percent and 20.4 percent of total exports and imports in 1998, respectively. This high rate is mainly due to the special relationship between the countries (Azerbaijan citizens speak a dialect of modern Turkish and have the same religious and cultural background as Turkey). Other major trading partners include Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.


After independence Azerbaijan suffered from the mismanagement of the economy by the former Soviet Union. The country applied severe monetary and fiscal policies in order to stabilize the economy. Inflation was reduced from upwards of 1000 percent to single digit rates. The fiscal system, banking services, and exchange system were entirely overhauled. Azerbaijan remained in the Russian ruble zone (a monetary system used by the former Soviet countries) until 1993. Leaving the zone

Trade (expressed in millions of US$): Azerbaijan
SOURCE: United Nations. Monthly Bulletin of Statistics (September 2000).
Exchange rates: Azerbaijan
manats per US$1
Feb 20014,579
Oct 19994,342
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

marked the beginning of effective economic policy making. The manat became the only legal currency after January 1994.

The first 2 years of stabilization included tight monetary and fiscal policies, overseen by the central bank, the Azerbaijan National Bank. The gradual liberalization of prices caused interest rates and the exchange rates to become more realistic and led to a more stable financial situation. In order to prevent the currency from over appreciation due to high oil-related capital inflows, the exchange rate was also managed by the state. Oil-related foreign capital inflows increased the amount of foreign currency in the Azerbaijani money markets. These inflows, and the sharp decrease in inflation, caused the appreciation of the manat over foreign currencies. Therefore, to control the balance of payments and make the country's export-driven sectors more competitive, the government chose to depreciate the national currency by launching a managed float policy.

With the drop in oil prices during 1998 and 1999 and the tight monetary policies of the previous decade, the annual average inflation rate slowed to-8.5 percent in 1999, compared to 1,664 percent in 1994. Since then, basic foods such as bread, vegetables, meat, and dairy products have become more accessible to Azerbaijanis. There are no stock exchanging facilities in Azerbaijan.

GDP per Capita (US$)
United States19,36421,52923,20025,36329,683
Russia 2,5552,5553,6543,4633,6682,138
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


The level of poverty in Azerbaijan was officially estimated to be 34 percent of the population in 1989. However, with subsidies for employment, food, housing, and social services, poverty rarely meant severe deprivation. After independence, on the other hand, poverty increased dramatically. Average food prices multiplied as much as 28,750 times from 1988 to 1998. According to the Azerbaijan Survey of Living Conditions that was conducted in 1995, over 61 percent of the population was poor. Poverty was substantially higher among internally displaced people (due to Armenian occupation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region).

The gap between the rich and the poor widened after independence, especially when the oil-related sector began surging while the other industries (manufacturing, mining) deteriorated. The country consists of an upper class (2-4 percent) living in extraordinary luxury, while the majority of the population (80-85 percent) suffers from very low wages and poor living conditions.

Although poverty is high, human development indicators such as school enrollment, literacy levels, and infant mortality rates are positive. However, public spending on education declined by three-quarters from 1992 to 1996. The health system also suffers from mismanagement, deteriorating quality, excess capacities, and access problems. In 1998, the number of hospital beds was 9.6 per 1000 people. Bribes from patients were

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
CountryAll foodClothing and footwearFuel and power aHealth care bEducation bTransport & CommunicationsOther
United States139946851
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

a major form of financing adequate health care. During the 1990s, public health spending decreased. In 1999, the government's health spending was only about 20 percent of its 1990 level.


High incomes are mostly seen in the oil-related sectors and especially in foreign companies. The legal work-week is 40 hours. In order to ensure that citizens enjoy healthy and safe working conditions, a Labor Protection Law was passed in Azerbaijan on 19 September 1992. According to the law, labor protection is defined as a system of socioeconomic, organizational, technical, sanitary, and hygienic measures and means designed to ensure the safety, health, and working capacity of persons engaged in work activities. However, these regulations are not strictly applied.

Azerbaijan is a participant of the International Labor Organization. A minimum wage, which is about US$3 per month, exists. This wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The recommended monthly wage level to meet basic subsistence needs was estimated to be US$50 per person as of 1999. Since practically all persons who work earn more than the minimum wage, enforcing its low level is not a major issue in labor or political debate. According to the European Commission, the average monthly wage rate was about US$44 in September 2000.

The largest labor organization is the Azerbaijan Confederation of Trade Unions (or the Azerbaijan Labor Federation), which depends on government support. Its main functions are to promote employment, develop the labor market, support social insurance, ensure employee health and safety, enforce the legal regulation of labor relations, and provide social partnership. The constitution provides the right to strike. Unions are free to form federations and to affiliate with international bodies; but none have done so.


1918. The first Republic of Azerbaijan is established.

1919. The Soviet Union conquers Azerbaijan, absorbing it back into the country.

1989. Azerbaijan calls for withdrawal from the Soviet Union. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh begins.

1990. Soviet military intervenes. Moscow appoints Ayaz Muttalibov as the leader of Azerbaijan.

1991. Azerbaijan declares independence in October.

1992. The war with Armenia dominates Azerbaijani politics.

1992. Abulfaz Elchibey wins the presidential election in June.

1993. Heydar Aliyev is elected president in October, with 98.9 percent of the votes.

1994. A ceasefire is signed with Armenia.

1995. A new constitution is adopted by referendum.

1998. Aliyev wins reelection as president.

2000. Aliyev's party wins parliamentary elections in November.


Azerbaijan still has to go through a severe democratization process (including proper representation of the people, free elections, and the improvement of human rights), as observed in the parliamentary elections in November 2000, which proved to be a failure in the election mechanism.

Economically, Azerbaijan is improving, with some reservations in the non-oil sectors, which have deteriorated sharply due to the focus on oil. There has been a significant fall in the agricultural, mining (excluding oil), and manufacturing sectors' production levels, decreasing the export levels at the same time. Between 1994 and 1998, agricultural exports decreased by 43 percent, metals by 87.3 percent, chemicals and petro-chemicals by 50.4 percent, and machinery and equipment by 62.6 percent.

Energy remains the keystone of Azerbaijan's economic future. In the oil sector, pipeline projects and the gains from production are estimated to reach substantial levels in 2010-2015, giving Azerbaijan political and economic leverage in the region. The production of oil and the supplementary sectors in the oil industry are of importance. In addition, recent discoveries of gas deposits will help supply both Azerbaijan's energy needs and provide exports to Turkey and Eastern Europe. Privatization is another important task. Renovation of the infrastructure, including roads, railways, communications, power generation and distribution, will gain importance as trade relations improve.

The resolution of the Armenian conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh will also affect economic and social conditions in the region and will help improve the international relations of Azerbaijan.


Azerbaijan has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Azerbaijan, 2000. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

"National Food Security Information System (Summary Report)." European Commission Food Security Network. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Population Reference Bureau. <>. Accessed January 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Facbook 2000. <>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide Azerbaijan. <>. Accessed July 2001.

World Bank Poverty Monitoring Database. <>. Accessed January 2001.

Yüksel Sezgin




Manat. One manat equals 100 gopiks; however, there are no gopiks in circulation due to inflation in the early 1990s. The currency comes in denominations of 50, 100, 250, 500, 1,000, 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000. Some coins may still be found of 10, 20 and 50 gopik.


Oil, gas, machinery, cotton and foodstuffs.


Machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, metals and chemicals.


US$14 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$885 million (1999 est.). Imports: US$1.62 billion (1999 est.).


views updated May 11 2018


Basic Data

Official Country Name:Azerbaijani Republic
Region (Map name):Middle East
Language(s):Azerbaijani (Azeri) 89%, Russian 3%, Armenian 2%, other 6%
Literacy rate:97.0%
Area:86,600 sq km
GDP:5,267 (US$ millions)
Number of Nondaily Newspapers:329
Total Circulation:122,000
Circulation per 1,000:22
Number of Television Stations:2
Number of Television Sets:170,000
Television Sets per 1,000:21.9
Number of Cable Subscribers:2,400
Cable Subscribers per 1,000:0.3
Number of Satellite Subscribers:200,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000:25.7
Number of Radio Stations:28
Number of Radio Receivers:175,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000:22.5
Number of Individuals with Internet Access:12,000
Internet Access per 1,000:1.5

Background & General Characteristics

A member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azarbaycan Respublikasi ) gained its political independence, in 1991, in the wake of the former USSR collapse. It is a country of Turkic Muslims that remains in territorial conflict with adjacent Armenia, over the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh. This conflict has had an enormous human and economic cost of over 750,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), representing slightly less than 10 percent the total population of 7.8 million Azerbai-janis.

Azerbaijan's average life span is short, with less than seven percent of the population above the age of 65. The mortality rate is nearly twice the birth rate (9.5 births per 1,000, and 18.5 deaths). Most of the population speaks Azeri, but minorities also speak Russian and Armenian. Ethnically almost all of the population is Azeri, and 93 percent are Muslims, although few practice. Literacy is high at about 97 percent.

Geographically situated within southwest Asia, Azerbaijan is a land of 33,400 square miles. It borders the Russia and Georgia to its north; Iran to the south; Armenia to the west; and the Caspian Sea to the east. Its capital city is Baku with a population of about 2 million people, or about 25 percent the total population. Historically, Azerbaijan was the home of the Scythian tribes, incorporated into the Roman Empire. Overrun by the Ottoman Empire in the eleventh century, it was occupied by the Russians in 1906 and 1913. In December 1922, it was officially annexed by the USSR. In 1936, it metamorphosed into a constituent part of the Soviet Union. On December 26, 1991 it spun out from the Soviet orbit and became politically independent. Fights between Muslim Azerbaijan and neighboring Christian Armenia escalated between 1992 and 1994 over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, over which both proclaim sovereignty.

Mr. Haydar Aliyev, a pro-Russian former communist, was democratically elected president of Azerbaijan, and a national constitution has ensued since 1995. The infant media reflects the nascent political entity. Newspaper circulation remains weak at 28/1,000 people (compared to 267/1,000 in Russia and 228/1,000 in the USA). In 1998, a presidential decree abolished censorship, but media and press restrictions continue.

Economic Framework

The international statistical news and descriptive media, as well as the local sources, present Azerbaijan as empirically a uniquely oil-rich country. For, despite a decline in oil production, over the late nineties, a trend reversal has emerged, in particular at the aftermath of the Production-Sharing Arrangements (PSAs) negotiations and deals with a multitude of foreign transnational corporations (FTCs). These FTCs have committed over $60 billion to oil field exploration, development, implementation, trade, and worldwide consumption. Naturally, these major international currency funds ought to trigger industrial and economic activities, pre-and post-oil realizations. The majority of the population, 60 percent, still lives under the poverty level. The Azerbaijani media is instrumental in reporting such major economic problems. The national budget stands at about $800 million whereas public spending is at a relatively higher point of approximately one billion dollars. It is incumbent upon the Azerbaijani press and media, including the nascent Internet technology and e-journalism, to spread the word about the considerable Azerbaijani economic opportunities and challenges.

Press Laws

In addition to the Articles 47 (Freedom of Thought and Speech) and 49 (Freedom of Information), many ordinances and decrees (particularly, the sweeping anti-censorship decree of 1998) promote free and open information. Hayat, Khalg GazetiBakinskii Rabochii, the weekly English newspaper, ANS, Azertag, BBC Azerbaijan, the Media Press Agency, Internews Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan Broadcasting Agency, Azerbaijan State TV, and foreign media are all entitled to open and free news. Journalists and media companies, however, must pass the screening tests of the Information Ministry, Ministry of Culture, and other governmental authorities. This includes paying fees and posting bonds, supporting the government against terrorism and the Armenian occupation of the Karabakh enclave, avoiding obscenity and rebellious incitements against the government, protecting the constitutional rights of the Azerbaijani people, reporting fraud and crimes, and supporting the constitutional institutions.

The Mass Media, National Politics, and Elections

The current Azerbaijani Constitution and a number of press laws fully support the use of mass media (print, audiovisual, videoconferencing, satellite communications, cyberspace, etc.) to spread the word on the democratic, frontier capitalism experiment in Azerbaijan. The Constitution encourages Azerbaijanis living overseas to be in touch with the home media, foreign-linked media, and even to form their own press (e.g., the Azerbaijan International Magazine ) to spread news and information about the local politics, elections, and socio-economic development national issues.

The Mass Media, Liberal Political Democracy, Frontier Market Economy, and Socio-Economic Development

Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution express that Azerbaijan's vision is to establish a political liberal democracy in conjunction with a free market economy. The mass media are asked to play a crucial role in informing, disseminating, and reporting about these ideals, the constitutional foundations, and the means of their achievement. Even diplomatically, this new transitional capitalist power aims, via the media diffusion within and without Azerbaijan, to foster relations with the industrialized capitalist West, principally Western Europe and the USA. The press and media prides itself in informing about the cooperative efforts with the USA in fighting and jointly combating "terrorism, [instituting] the modernization of frontier troops, and [the] coordination of efforts on non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons, trade and preparation to admit Azerbaijan to the WTO, and humanitarian sphere." (local media,,, etc.). The media was eager to report that The Bush Administration, within the 2002 fiscal year framework and the subsequent "Freedom Support Act", allocated $50 million to Azerbaijan. Pentagon military assistance, privatization enhancement, agricultural assistance, and education cooperation are other media-publicized U.S. elements of economic help.


The Constitution, the anti-censorship decree of 1998, and a variety of other government documents assert that the independence of the mass media in Azerbaijan is "an established fact." For example, in an interview of the Head of the Azerbaijani Parliamentary delegation, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, at the Council of Europe (COE/September 29, 2001), he states:

Correspondent: How will you comment [on] (the) yesterday's statement of the Chairman of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on journalists?

Ilham Aliyev: Today in Azerbaijan every condition for independent mass media is established. When I asked you how many newspapers are published in Armenia, you said about 6-7. But we have over 100 [including regional and small] daily newspapers, which mainly represent numerous circles of political establishment. Censorship has been abolished in Azerbaijan, freedom of speech is guaranteed and not under control. There are, of course, cases when the officials are subject to different critics. In some cases, even the journalists are brought to court, because they use unverified facts, often slanderous, then the court passes a decision against the newspaper. This is a democratic mechanism and there is no another. Therefore, to say that there are problems in the mass media of Azerbaijan, I think, is not right.

Effectively, since the newly introduced Constitution, the Azerbaijani mass media have proliferated and acquired a myriad of investigative, reporting, and broadcast rights. The Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Information, private journalist organizations, and the foreign media provide a variety of safeguard devices against censorship, reporting official bureaucratic abuses, bribery and corruption, violation of the constitutional civil rights of the Azeri people, and the freedom and independence of journalists. Gradually, however, particularly in virtue of more training, journalistic education, openness, and objective but courteous reporting, censorship should eventually be eliminated.

The Mass Media as A Bearer of Open Media

The Constitution purports an open and uncoerced media and press system in Azerbaijan. Thanks to international satellite communications, such a media policy is, to some extent, observed. The Parliament News and the Press Service of the Ministry of Justice, albeit the many faces of governmental control, use the media to promote freedom of expression, human rights, the freedom of assembly and peaceful strikes, ecological integrity, academic freedom, diversity and tolerance, etc. During a visit by the Council of Europe (COE), the Head of the Justice Ministry stated that Azerbaijan was a member of a number of international conventions against racism, religious intolerance, genocide, apartheid, and censorship (Azerbaijan media, March 28, 2002).

State-Press Relations

As stated above, the 1995 Constitution guarantees many press and media rights and responsibilities. Precisely, Article 28 stresses the Right to Freedom, Article 40 emphasizes the Right to Culture (the arts, literature, humanities, communication and media, lingual and religious diversity, etc.), Article 47 focuses upon the Freedom of Speech, and Article 49 zeroes in on the Freedom of Information. There is a need for the State of Azerbaijan and related institutions, principally the Ministries of Culture, Information, Justice, Education, and Foreign Relations to facilitate the role, tasks, functions, dynamics, and objectives of the Azerbaijani media and foreign-linked media. The media are expected to keep tabs on the government as well. However, further reform is required with respect to circumventing corrupt reporting; promoting the media coverage of the whole nation; fairly representing the national identity and culture; and emancipating the media and press from the yet visible tight hold of the State. The press and media are justifiably a necessary tool to building democracy and contributing to the artistic, scientific, technologic, political, and socioeconomic development of any country, and specifically to Azerbaijan's internal and global prosperity, the inter-cultural and inter-civilizational harmony amongst nations, and planetary peace.

Government & Political Framework

There is a strong correlation between the type of governmental structure, dynamics, and ends-in-view and the press and media system within a specific country. Generally, the more democratic and participatory a nation, the more liberal and uncoerced the press and media, and vice versa.

Although the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan came into being, historically, on May 28, 1918, it did not regain its autonomy until August 30, 1991 from the Soviet Union. The press and media, throughout seventy-three years of Soviet political and economic satellitism, were the replicas of the central Moscow government. Pravda and Moscow News, formulated, delivered, and manipulated most of the information system in Baku and beyond.

On November 12, 1995, the country adopted a democratic constitution that went into effect two weeks later. Its main six intentions are territorial integrity, democracy, civil society, a secular state, a free market-centered economic system that shall foster higher standards of living for every Azerbaijani, and a faithful ideology in human universal values and international law. Precisely, its basic tenets are: i) universal suffrage at 18 years of age; ii) a national civil law system; iii) the change of name from Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azarbaycan Respublikasi); iv) the inception and the administrative autonomous re-organization of the country into 59 rayons, 11 cities, and 1 autonomous republic; v) an open press and media system throughout the nation; vi) regular presidential elections via popular vote every five years; vii) regular elections of a Unicameral National Assembly (Milli Mejlis ) of 125 members, for a five-year mandate, via popular vote; viii) multipartism, hence multi-media/multi-press systems; ix) promotion and advent of political pressure groups and leaders; x) presence and maintenance of open and mutually fruitful relations with all sovereign nations via membership into a variety of world entities; and xi) the fostering of a free democratic, market-like, and capitalist transitional society, based on free competition, cooperation with the CIS, religious tolerance, state secularism, and the promotion of macro-growth and economic development in Azerbaijan as well as the participation in the causes of peace and prosperity worldwide. Many challenges and threats remain, principally because of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict, the surrounding conflicts (the Gulf and Mideast problems, and the Pakistani-Indian crisis) and the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Azerbaijan has formed a variety of agreements with foreign media that are for the most part open and intended to be constructive. Azerbaijanis are eager to read, watch, and listen to the foreign media, particularly Western European and American. To those with the financial means, access is available to international broadcast via satellite, as well as publications such as the New York Times, Le Monde, and the Wall Street Journal. Foreign journalists can easily access Azerbaijan by acquiring a visa through the Azerbaijan embassy in their home country. If national media is suppressed in content or delivery, people will increasingly look at the foreign media and private radios, television channels, and press systems. The danger may be the loss of some of the national identity and culture.

Electronic News Media

As early as 1992, Azerbaijan began to be exposed on the Internet. Today, there are over 10 years of articles, reports, documentaries, journalistic pieces, and a myriad of other writing with regard to Azerbaijan on the World Wide Web. The writing relates to the Azerbaijani culture, languages, politics, economy, society, education, territorial integrity, art, dance, folklore, the relations with the CIS and UGUAM (Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Maldovia), international relations, technology, the environment, refugees, and especially the oil andnatural gas resource-endowed, for example, is one of the most comprehensive search engines on this country. There can be some difficulty on Azerbaijani sites due to orthographic differences between transcriptions of Azeri and Russian. An early law, passed by the Azerbaijani Parliament on December 25, 1991, envisioned such problems and therefore adopted an altered, Latinized alphabet to substitute for the Cyrillic.

Issues Related to Online News Flow

Some of the frequently broadcast topics and themes include, but not limited to, the Azerbaijani culture, the arts, the territorial conflict with Armenia, the IDPs and refugees, the oil and gas economies, frontier capitalism, public policy in Azerbaijan, state secularism, technology in Azerbaijan, international and diplomatic relations, education, the media and press themselves, crimes, unemployment, corruption and bureaucratic inefficacy, censorship, tourism, business, the role of the Azerbaijani women, elections and politics, and the Constitution. One advantage of the Internet is that it has been able to make the Constitution more accessible. Articles 47 and 49, which specifically address the freedom of speech and the freedom of information, have been particularly of interest to the media. Internet publishing has been strongly influenced by Western business media.

Education & TRAINING

Higher Learning Institutes in Azerbaijan are rapidly growing and diversifying. The largest concentration of these educational and formative institutions is in the capital Baku, with 17 major schools. The Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University, Baku State University, and Khazar University are some of the main higher learning centers for training in the field of mass media and press. At Khazar University (KU), a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism is offered. It aims at acquiring strong journalistic, press and media, professional and practical skills, along with a social science and training background in ESL and ESP. Specifically, this major offers a broad education and training in the print and broadcast news professions, predicated upon the ongoing needs and changes in the Azerbaijani and world societies. It also encourages the student, or potential journalist, in learning and acquiring on-hand experience via the KU Press activities, the Khazar View Magazine, and the KU Radio and TV studios.

A miscellany of awards is conferred, from the academic training and graduation to the professional, governmental, and international echelons. The Business Journalists Association in Baku is an entity that fosters competition amid economic and business journalists, allocates monetary prizes, and facilitates trips and journeys. Within many of the major daily newspapers, and State and foreign mass media groups, bonuses and awards are afforded. In fact, the media profession is an attractive career, although compensation and wages are still comparatively low.


Since gaining its independence from the USSR in 1991, Azerbaijan has worked to foster a system of free press. Under the new constitution, the rights to free speech and free press are protected, but there is still censorship both by the government and by journalists. Conflict with Armenia and the struggle to build a democratic country have slowed efforts to improve the press system. Many universities offer journalism programs, and the media is becoming a more and more popular career choice for many people, even though it is still developing.


Azerbaijan International. Available from

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).World Factbook 2001. Directorate of Intelligence, 2002. Available from

Economist. Available from

Ellits, M. First English Long Travel Guide to Azerbaijan with Georgia. Yorkshire: Trailblazer Publishing, 1999.

Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Available from

Goltz, T. Azerbaijan Diary. White Plains, NY: M.E. Sharp, 1998.

International Monetary Fund. Finance & Development. 2002.

Said, K. and J. Gramen. Ali & Nino. New York: Overlook Press, 1998.

Sarri, S. Ethics of the International Monetary Systems. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

-. Prolegomena to Islamology. LeGlobe, 1988.

-. Poetic Reflections. Rosethorn Press, 1991.

-. Visions. EMW Publishing, 2000.

-. Middle Easterners & North Africans in Las Vegas (MENAs)-A Socio-Economic and Geo-Political Survey. EMW Publishing, 2002.

-. Applied Financial Economics. La Jolla, CA: Copley Press, 2001.

-. Twenty-first Century Macroeconomics. Redding, CA: CAT Publishing, 2000.

. Twenty-first Century Microeconomics. Redding, CA: CAT Publishing, 2000.

Swietochoswki T. and Collins, B. Historical Dictionary of Azerbaijan. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999.

U.S. News. Available from

The Wall Street Journal. Available from

The Washington Post. Available from

Samuel Sarri


views updated May 21 2018


Republic of Azerbaijan

Major City:

Other Cities:
Gyandzha, Mingechaur, Nakhichevan, Shemakha, Sumgait


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated August 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Republic of AZERBAIJAN declared its independence from the former Soviet Union on August 30, 1991. Formerly known as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, its independence was recognized by the United States on December 25, 1991. The country administers the Nakhichetan Autonomous Republic, which has an Azerbaijan ethnic majority but is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenia. It also administers the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is predominately Christian Armenian but is within Azerbaijan's borders. Ongoing civil strife between Armenia and Azerbaijan over control of Nagorno-Karabakh has, at times, turned violent.



Baku (also spelled Baky), with over 1.7 million residents (1997 est.), is the capital of Azerbaijan. Located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, Baku is the country's largest city, chief port, and main industrial center. Oil, first discovered in the eighth century, is the basis of Baku's economy. The oil field here was the world's largest in the early 1900s and, until the 1940s, was the Soviet Union's largest. Although Baku's oil field has been all but exhausted, drilling continues in the surrounding areas, as well as offshore. Pipelines connect these areas with Baku's oil refinery and processing plants. Other industries include shipbuilding, the manufacture of oil industry equipment, and electrical machinery.

Baku traces its history back to at least 885 A.D., but it is probable, based on archaeological evidence, that the area was inhabited several hundred years before Christ. Peter the Great conquered it in 1723, but 12 years later it was returned to Persia. In 1806, Russia managed to gain control and, in 1920, Baku became the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Recreation and Entertainment

The Caucasus region, with its mountainous terrain, offers many winter sports. Fishing and swimming are popular, although some areas along the Caspian Sea have suffered considerable environmental damage from the exploration of offshore oil and gas reserves. Sihov Beach is popular with Baku residents. A trip to scenic Lake Gyoygyol, in the mountains of southwest Azerbaijan, is well worth the time. This resort area is located at 4,500 feet above sea level.

Visits to the nearby wine growing regions and to Lenkoran, a subtropical city with experimental gardens, are possible from Baku. About 44 miles from Baku is the Kobustan Museum-Reserve where caves used by man 10,000 years ago can be visited. Cave drawings can be seen.

Baku, built on a hillside overlooking the Bay of Baku, has an attractive waterfront park. Restaurants, tea houses, sports facilities, and an open-air theater are found there. A ride on the funicular (cable railway) to the highest location in the city, Kirov Monument, gives the visitor a view of the entire city and bay.

The picturesque old town, or castle district, forms the core of Baku. The district features the fortress of Icheri-Shekher with its narrow streets and old buildings. Icheri-Shekher's walls still survive, as does the 12th century tower of Kyz-Kalasy (Maiden's Tower). Also in this area is the museum Shirván-Sháh's, a former palace, part of which was built in the 11th century. The oldest religious site, the Synyk-Kala Minaret and Mosque, also dates from the 11th century.

Baku is Azerbaijan's major cultural and educational center. The city has several museums; the Azerbaijan State Art Museum, with 7,000 exhibits; the Academy of Sciences' Museum of the History of Azerbaijan, which contains 120,000 displays on the history of the Azerbaijani people; and the State Museum of Azerbaijan, which specializes in Azerbaijani literature. The Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets and Applied Folk Art has exhibits featuring carpets, embroidery, ceramics, jewelry, and other related art.

Music has played an important role in Azerbaijani life. Opera and ballet performances are popular and are staged throughout the year by the Mizra Akhundov Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Muslim Magomayev Philharmonic, the Samed Vurgun Russian Drama Theatre, and the State Puppet Theatre.


Roads are extremely poor in Baku. Driving hazards such as open manholes, debris, and potholes are common. Drivers pay little heed to traffic regulations, signals, lanes, or other drivers. Drivers often travel at extremely high rates of speed and accidents are frequent. Driving within Baku should be considered extremely hazardous. Outside of the city, where roads are present, conditions are similar. They are often in poor repair, unlit, and lack lane-marking, traffic signs, and warnings. Many rural roads are unpaved and rarely traveled.


GYANDZHA , formerly known as Kirovabad and Yelizavetpol, is located along the Gyandzha River in western Azerbaijan. The city has a population of 294,000 (1997 est.) and is the country's second largest city. Gyandzha was established in the fifth or sixth century, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1139 and rebuilt four miles east of the original settlement. Surrounded by a fertile farming area, the city has several industries that are agriculture-related. Other industries include the manufacture of machinery and instruments. Agricultural and teacher-training institutes are located here.

MINGECHAUR , located in the central part of the country, has 97,000 residents (1997 est.). The Mingechaur Reservoir, built in 1953 on the Kura River, provides hydro-electric power and water for irrigation. The city's major industry is a large cotton textile mill.

NAKHICHEVAN , with a population of 60,000, is the capital of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. According to Armenian lore, the city was founded by Noah. Various archaeologists have dated the city back to 1500 B.C. Nakhichevan was once a noted trade and handicrafts center, but now is known for its wine, dairy products, furniture, and leather.

The town of SHEMAKHA is about 80 miles west of Baku in the foothills of the Caucasus. It served as a major trading center and the capital of the Shivran shahs before they moved to Baku. Earthquakes have destroyed many historic sites in Shemakha, but visitors can still see the Seven Domes Royal Mausoleum (Yeddi Gumbez), which served as a burial place for royalty, and the Djuma Mosque, which was built some time in the 10th century. The ruins of the Guistan fortress, from about the 11th or 12th century can be seen as well. Shemakha was once a major stop on the Silk Road and is still well-known for its carpet industry. Demonstrations of traditional weaving techniques are now presented to visitors at the modern carpet-weaving factory.

SUMGAIT is 22 miles northwest of Baku. An industrial center specializing in chemicals and metals, the city has numerous factories. Its industries produce aluminum, synthetic rubber, fertilizers, detergents, petrochemicals, and steel-related products. Sumgait's population is 273,000 (1997 est.).


Geography and Climate

Located in eastern Transcaucasia, the Republic of Azerbaijan is slightly larger than Maine and contains 33,744 square miles. Its borders include Russia and Georgia on the north, Iran on the south, Armenia on the west, and the Caspian Sea on the east.

The Caucasus Mountains form a natural northern border. Almost half of the country consists of lowlands, some of which are below sea level. The two main rivers are the Kura, which flows from the northwest to the Caspian Sea, and its tributary, Araks, which flows along Azerbaijan's border with Iran. Much of the farmland (70 percent) is irrigated.

Central and eastern Azerbaijan has a dry, subtropical climate with mild winters and long, hot summers. The average summer temperature in Baku is 81°F; January temperatures average 34°F. The southeastern section of the country has a humid subtropical climate. Cold winters and hot, dry summers are characteristic of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Heavy snowfalls, making travel impossible for three or four months of the year, are common in the more mountainous areas during winter.


Azerbaijan's population is estimated at 7.7 million (2000 est). The majority of people (90%) are Azerbaijanis of predominately Turkish descent. Russians and Armenians make up 4.5% of the population; almost all live in central Azerbaijan or near Baku.

Approximately 93% of the people are Muslim, mostly of the Shiite sect (70 percent); the remainder are Sunni. The Muslim Board of Transcaucasia, which has spiritual jurisdiction over all Islamic sects in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, is located in Baku. The rest of the population is Christiandivided almost equally between Russian Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox.

Azerbaijani is the official language of the country and is spoken by 82 percent of the people.


Azerbaijani sovereignty was declared in September 1989 and the Supreme Soviet (parliament) announced the country's independence from the Soviet Union on August 30, 1991. The Communist Party disbanded the next month. In a referendum held in December 1991, over 99 percent of the voters favored independence. On March 2, 1992, Azerbaijan was admitted to the United Nations and on April 30, the country officially adopted the name Republic of Azerbaijan.

The executive branch of the government consists of the president and a 21-member Council of Ministers. The 360-seat Supreme Soviet (parliament) is the highest legislative body. In October 1991, the Supreme Soviet established another legislative body, the National Council. The 50-member (20 percent are also members of the Supreme Soviet) National Council meets in continuous sessions.

The judicial system is headed by a Supreme Court. Civil law is the basis of the legal system.

The flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan consists of three equal horizontal bands of (top to bottom) blue, red, and green. Centered in the red band is a white crescent and an eight-pointed star.

Arts, Science, Education

Azerbaijan has a long history as an educational center. The educational system is extensive and illiteracy has been practically unknown. In 2001, the government adopted the use of the Roman alphabet, to replace the Cyrillic script that had been imposed by Stalin in 1939. The new alphabet affects all aspects of life, from official government documents to newspapers, magazines and billboards. The change was seen as an opportunity to move forward from a Soviet past and strengthen ties with the Western world. Many citizens are already familiar with the Roman alphabet, since it is taught in primary schools, and as a country focused on education, it seems likely that the change will not cause too much trouble.

Education is free in Azerbaijan. In 1997, there were over 4,400 primary schools with about 719,000 students enrolled and over 35,500 teachers. There were also 819,600 students enrolled in secondary schools with about 85,000 teachers. The Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute and the State University in Baku support at least 27,000 students. Other institutions of higher learning include the Medical University, Technological University, the Economic Institute, and the Oil and Chemistry Academy.

Commerce and Industry

Although Azerbaijan is not as industrialized as its Transcaucasia neighbors, Armenia and Georgia, its overall economy is the best of all the former Soviet republics. The future outlook, however, is clouded by the continuing civil unrest in Nagorno-Karabakh and the government's failure to enact needed economic reforms. Azerbaijan suffers high unemployment and a low standard of living. Foreign investment would offer a needed boost to the economy but Azerbaijan's current problems make such investment unlikely in the near future.

The economy is heavily dependent on industry and mining. Oil, gas, petroleum products, oil field equipment, steel, iron ore, and cement are the chief heavy industries. Major oil fields are located in the Apsheron Peninsula, where Baku and Sumgait are located, and around the cities of Siyar, Neftechala, and Ali-Bayramli. Pipelines connect the oil fields with Baku, where the refineries and processing plants are located. Large oil reserves have been discovered offshore, in the Caspian Sea, but are mostly unexploited. Azerbaijan's main exports are oil, gas, chemicals, and oil field equipment, mostly to the other ex-Soviet Union republics.

The chief crop is cotton, which is used in textile production. Other major crops include grain, rice, and grapes.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Azerbaijan is located at 370601 Baku, ul. Kommunisticheskaya 31/33.


Azerbaijani Airlines services several in-country cities, Russia, Georgia, Istanbul, and Turkey. Turk Hava Yolari is the only Western airline with flights into and out of Azerbaijan.

Travelers on airlines among the countries of the Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights. In addition to routine delays, flights are often overcrowded with passengers without seats standing in the aisle, along with excess unsecured cabin luggage. Even basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing. Air travel to Azerbaijan on international carriers via the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, and Turkey is generally more reliable.

Train travel in the Caucasus region is not secure. Public transportation in general is overcrowded and poorly maintained. The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages use of the Baku Metro.

Bus travel is not recommended either because they are rundown, overcrowded, and are often driven in an unsafe manner.

A reliable subway system operates in Baku, but it is often overcrowded.

Taxis are inexpensive, easy to flag down, and relatively efficient.


Local telephone service is poor by Western standards. Service is in the process of being updated.

Baku has several radio stations which broadcast in Azerbaijani, Russian, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. Shortwave radio is a good means of staying in touch with world news.

There are four TV stations in Baku. One station broadcasts in Azeri, two are relayed from Russia, and one from Turkey.

There are over 300 newspapers printed in the country. Several English-language newspapers and journals are available in the major hotels, many days late and very expensive.

Health and Medicine

Medical care, considered very good before the breakup of the Soviet Union, does not meet Western standards. Health care and social services are free to all citizens by the government. But the state-run hospital system is limited and there is a lack of basic supplies and modern equipment. Emergency treatment for travellers may be free, but you will need to pay for medicines and other supplies.

There are a few drug stores in Baku with basic medicines, but it is best to bring an ample supply of any prescription or over-the-counter medications you may need.

Community Health

Eastern Azerbaijan has been called one of the most ecologically devastated regions in the world. The area around Baku and Sumgait suffers from serious pollution due to oil, gas, and chemical industries. Extensive environmental damage has resulted from the exploitation of offshore oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea.

Sanitation services are regular, but garbage is dumped into inadequate storage facilities. Water is not potable and must be boiled prior to drinking. Plumbing and water delivery services are substandard. Food storage practices are poor; great care must be taken during purchase and preparation of all fresh foods.

There is an increasingly high rate of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis, and gastroenteric diseases. Inoculations should be current before arriving in the region.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 20 Day of the Martyrs (Day of Sorrow)

May 9 Celebration of War Veterans Day

June 15 Day of National Salvation

Aug. 28 Republic Day

Oct. 9 Army & Navy Day

Oct. 18 National Independence Day

Dec. 31 Day of Azeri Solidarity

Kurban Mayram / Id al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)*

Novruz Bayram*

Ramadan Bayram (End of Ramadan)*

*variable, based on Islamic calendar


Passage, Customs & Duties

As a result of conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh area of Azerbaijan, twenty per cent of Azerbaijani territory (in the southwest along the borders with Iran and Armenia) is occupied by insurgent forces. A cease-fire has been in effect since 1994, although reports of armed clashes along the cease-fire line and along the border with Armenia continue. Anti-personnel mines are a danger in areas close to the front lines. It is not possible to enter the self-proclaimed "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh" from Azerbaijan. Travelers contemplating entering Nagorno-Karabakh are advised that because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not predictably available to Americans in Nagorno-Karabakh. Travelers, therefore, are cautioned to avoid travel to Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied areas.

A passport and visa are required to enter Azerbaijan. Travelers with valid Georgian visas are permitted to enter Azerbaijan for a stay up to five days. Thereafter, they must include a letter of invitation from an individual or organization in Azerbaijan when applying for a visa. For additional information on visa requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of Azerbaijan, 927-15th Street, N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20005; telephone (202) 842-0001.

Americans are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within Azerbaijan. The U.S. Embassy in Baku is located at Prospect Azadlig 83. The telephone numbers are (9) (9412) 98-03-35, (9) (9412) 98-03-36, or (9) (9412) 98-03-37.


Azerbaijan is mostly a cash economy country. Traveler's checks and credit cards are accepted only in some hotels and a few restaurants and supermarkets. The local currency is the manat. U.S. dollars are required in most hotels and preferred in many restaurants


The following titles are provided as a general indication of material published on this country:

Alstadt, Audrey L. The Azerbaijani Turks: Power and Identity under Russian Rule. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1992.

Azerbaijan Economic Review. International Monetary Fund, 1992. Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1992. London: Europa (distributed in the U.S. by Gale Research), 1992.

Gink, Karoly. Azerbaijan: Mosques, Turrets, Palaces. Budapest: Corvina Kiado, 1979.

Henry, James Dodds. Baku: An Eventful History. New York: Arno Press, 1977.

Ibrahimov, Mirza. Azerbaijanian Poetry: Classic, Modern, Traditional. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969.

Kazemzadeh, Firuz. The Struggle for Transcaucasia 1917-1921. Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1981.

Katz, Zev, ed. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. New York: Free Press, 1975.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Baku Commune, 1917-1918: Class and Nationality in the Russian Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Official name : Republic of Azerbaijan

Area: 86,600 square kilometers (33,400 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Bazardyuze (Bazarduzu Dagi) (4,485 meters /14,800 feet)

Lowest point on land: The shore of the Caspian Sea (28 meters/92 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 4 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Approximately 510 kilometers (320 miles) from east to west; 380 kilometers (240 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries: 2,013 kilometers (1,251 miles) total boundary length; Armenia (with Azerbaijan proper) 566 kilometers (353 miles); Armenia (with Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave), 221 kilometers (137 miles); Georgia, 322 kilometers (200 miles); Iran (with Azerbaijan proper), 432 kilometers (268 miles); Iran (with Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave), 179 kilometers (111 miles); Russia, 284 kilometers (176 miles); Turkey (with Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave), 9 kilometers (6 miles)

Coastline: 800 kilometers (500 miles) along the Caspian Sea

Territorial sea limits: None


Azerbaijan is located in southwestern Asia between Iran to the south and Russia to the north, with its eastern border along the Caspian Sea. With a total land area of 86,600 square kilometers (33,400 square miles), Azerbaijan is slightly smaller than the state of Maine. It is divided into fifty-nine rayons, eleven cities (administrative districts), and one autonomous republic.


Both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim the land in the Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave (terri-tory not connected to the main land area of a country), surrounded by Iran on the southwest and Armenia on the northeast. Most of the exclave's residents are exclave Armenian, but the area is generally considered to be part of Azerbaijan. The country also claims several small islands that lie in the Caspian Sea. As of 2002, the countries surrounding the Caspian SeaAzerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistanhad not agreed on territorial limits and boundaries.


In the central and eastern regions, the climate is generally dry and semiarid (little annual rainfall). In the southeast, it is humid and sub-tropical. Along the shores of the Caspian Sea it is temperate (moderate), while the higher mountain elevations are generally cold.

SeasonMonthsAverage temperature in the capital, Baku
SummerJune to August25° C (77° F)
WinterNovember to March4° C (39° F)

Most of Azerbaijan receives little rain-fallonly 15 to 25 centimeters (6 to 10 inches) annually. The greatest precipitation falls in the highest elevations of the Caucasus Mountains, but significant rainfall also occurs in the Lankaran Lowlands of the extreme southeast. The yearly average in these areas can exceed 100 centimeters (39 inches). Drought (lack of rainfall) is a natural and frequent hazard, as is flooding in some lowland areas by rising levels of the Caspian Sea.


Azerbaijan is the easternmost country of Transcaucasia (the southern portion of the Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian Seas). It lies within the southern part of the isthmus between the Black and Caspian Seas. About half of Azerbaijan is covered by mountain ranges, primarily the Great Caucasus Mountains. These mountains surround the central Kura-Aras Lowlands on three sides. The shoreline along the Caspian Sea is essentially flat. The rise in elevation, from lowlands to highlands, occurs over a relatively small area. The Karabakh Uplands are in the west.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Azerbaijan has an 800-kilometer-long (500-mile-long) shoreline along the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is a saltwater lake and the largest inland body of water in the world. The sea extends approximately 1,210 kilometers (750 miles) from north to south and between 210 and 436 kilometers (130 and 271 miles) from east to west. Its total area is 371,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles). Its mean (average) depth is about 170 meters (550 feet).

Although connected to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Black Sea by extensive inland waterways (primarily the Volga River), the Caspian Sea has no natural outlet. Pollution from agricultural chemicals (especially pesticides), industry, and oil drilling has had a serious adverse impact on the Caspian Sea shoreline environment.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Bay of Baku is a natural harbor located in the wide curve on the southern side of the Apsheron Peninsula. The port city of Baku is the nation's capital.

Islands and Archipelagos

The islands of the Baku archipelago are located just off of the southern shore of the Apsheron Peninsula and form the partial boundary of Baku Bay. The islands include Nargin, Zhiloy, Bulla, Svinoy, and Glinyany, all of which were formed by underwater mud volcanoes.

Coastal Features

The Apsheron Peninsula juts out into the Caspian Sea. The northern shore of the peninsula boasts beautiful orchards and vineyards, with land particularly suited for agriculture and cattle breeding. The oil and gas fields of this peninsula region are the most important natural resources of Azerbaijan.


There are more than 250 lakes in Azerbaijan; however, most of them are very small. Many of them were formed as a result of runoff water used in industry or agriculture. This is particularly true of those located along the Apsheron Peninsula. The Mingechevir Reservoir is the largest inland body of water totally within the borders of Azerbaijan. It is a man-made lake, formed by a dam built on the Kura River, and covers an area of 605 square kilometers (234 square miles). The largest natural lake is Lake Gadzhikabul, which only covers 16 square kilometers (6 square miles). Lake Goygol is another natural lake located on the northeastern slope of the Murovdag Range in the Caucasus Mountains.


There are more than 8,350 rivers in Azerbaijan's river system, but most of them are very small. Most of the country's rivers flow down from the Caucasus ranges into the central Kura-Aras Lowlands. The Kura River (1,500 kilometers / 940 miles) flows through Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan and enters the Caspian Sea south of Baku. It is the longest river of the Transcaucasia Region. The Aras River, which is 914 kilometers (568 miles) long, flows from the east through Armenia and Azerbaijan until it joins the Kura River. Several canals connect the Kura to the Aras River.


There are no desert regions in Azerbaijan.


The country's only flatlands can be found along the shore.

The Kura-Aras Valley (lowlands) lies in the center of the country, between the mountain ranges and the Caspian Sea. It is primarily an area of wetlands that includes alluvial flatlands (flatlands containing deposits of clay, silt, sand, or gravel deposited by running water, such as a stream or river) and low seacoast deltas. Since the area is naturally arid, water is often supplied through irrigation. Mineral springs in the valleys are particularly high in iodine.


Azerbaijan is nearly surrounded by mountains. The Greater Caucasus range, with the country's highest elevations, lies to the northeast along the border with Russia. The country's highest peak, Mount Bazardyuze (Bazarduzu Dagi), rises 4,485 meters (14,800 feet) above sea level. The Greater Caucasus mountains extend into northeastern Azerbaijan and run southeast to the Apsheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea. The Lesser Caucasus range, with elevations up to 3,500 meters (11,500 feet), lies to the west along the border with Armenia. The Talysh Mountains form part of the border with Iran at the southeast tip of the country. There are several hot and cold mineral springs located in these mountains. Kobustan Mountain, located near Baku, contains deep ravines, from which bubble mineral springs and very active mud volcanoes.


There are many small caves in the mountainous regions of the Caucasus. The most notable one in Azerbaijan is Azykh, located in the southern part of the Karabakh region, where archeologists have found a number of stone tools left by the ancient cave dwellers. Ancient artifacts also have been found in the Taglar, Damjyly, and the Dashsalakhly Caves of the western Kazakh region. The Gobustan Cave, located near Baku, and other caves located on the Apsheron Peninsula contain numerous petrographs (rock drawings) that have helped scientists learn about the customs and culture of the area's earliest inhabitants.


A number of plateaus exist in Azerbaijan near the country's mountain regions. The major ones include the Baku and Guzdek. Several lava plateaus also form part of the Karabakh Uplands.


A dam built in 1953 on the Kura River created the Mingechevir Reservoir. The Upper Karabakh Canal channels water from this reservoir to the Kura and Aras Lowlands to irrigate farmlands during the dry summer months. More than fifty additional water reservoirs in Azerbaijan have been designed for irrigation.



Edwards-Jones, Imogen. The Taming of Eagles: Exploring the New Russia. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993.

Richards, Susan. Epics of Everyday Life: Encounters in a Changing Russia. New York: Viking, 1991.

Streissguth, Thomas. The Transcaucasus. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2001.

Web Sites

The United Nations Environment Programs, Azerbaijan. (accessed June 17, 2003).

The U.S. Embassy, Baku, Azerbaijan. (accessed June 17, 2003).


views updated May 23 2018



The people of Azerbaijan are called Azerbaijanis. About 83 percent of the population trace their origin to Azerbaijan. About 6 percent are Russians, and another 6 percent are Armenians. See the chapters on Russia in Volume 7, and on Armenia in this volume for more information on these two groups.