General facts

An independent republic in the Caucasus Mountains. The Azeris are Turkic-speaking people: see under Azeri for details of their language. The region of modern Azerbaijan was variously under Ottoman, Persian, and Russian rule in earlier centuries, with the khanate of Baku, the capital, finally passing to Russia in 1806. Formerly also spelt Azerbaidzhan, from the Russian.

Azerbaijan is also the name of the extreme north-western region of Iran, bordering the independent country. Its main city is Tabriz and in the centre of the region is Lake Urmia. The rest of this write-up is mainly about the former Soviet republic, now independent.

The country is potentially very rich in oil in the Caspian Sea, but the maritime boundaries are disputed with its neighbours.

The Soviet rouble was replaced after 1990 by a currency called the manat, of 100 qəpik.

After independence the Cyrillic alphabet was ditched and a romanisation similar to that of Turkish was adopted for the Azeri language. In this the capital is Bakı (undotted i), the disconnected area is Naxçıvan, and the country itself is called Azərbaycan, with a schwa symbol.

History: Russian and Soviet Rule

For most of the time as part of Russia it was federated with neighbouring Armenia and Georgia, and this briefly continued when the Tsarist regime was overthrown and the Russian Empire broke up. Then after Azerbaijan declared its independence in 1918, Baku was occupied first by British then by Turkish forces, before being taken by Soviet Russia in 1920. They set up an independent Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1922 this united again with Georgia and Armenia, and the federation was admitted to the newly-created Soviet Union. Azerbaijan and the others were reconstituted as separate members of the USSR in 1936.

Amid these complicated revolutionary goings-on in the Caucasus were pre-existing ethnic troubles. In the case of Azerbaijan there were two areas that didn't fit the borders neatly. Karabakh had an ethnic Armenia majority but was fully within the borders of Azerbaijan, while Nakhichevan was majority Azeri but away from it, sandwiched between Armenia and Turkey. Under the guiding hand of Josef Stalin both these areas were allocated to Azerbaijan as autonomous regions.

History: Modern Independence

With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990 the enclaves became the cause of war with Armenia, which continues to occupy much of Azerbaijan.

After some initial instability, with Presidents Ayaz Mütəllibov (1990-1992) and Əbülfəz Elçibəy (1992-1993) shown the door, the country was ruled for ten years by Heydər Əliyev, the former Communist boss in Nakhichevan. In late 2003 he designated his son İlham Əliyev as prime minister, and after winning the presidential election İlham became president on 31 October 2003. This was none too soon, as Heydər Əliyev died in a US hospital in December, at the age of 80. Parliamentary elections in November 2005, won by Əliyev's New Azerbaijan Party, were regarded as highly flawed, and triggered protests by opposition supporters.

Originally E1, much revised 2003. History mainly garnered from I've pipelinked names to simpler forms without special letters.

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