Azerbaijan is a country of Asia
with a surface area of 86,600 km² (density of 105.83 inhab./km²). The population of Azerbaijan is 9,164,600 inhabitants in the last census.The capital of Azerbaijan is the city of Baku which has 2,045,815 inhabitants. The president of unitary presidential constitutional republic is Ilham Aliyev.
Azerbaijan or Azerbaijani Republic is a western Asian country located in the Caucasus and bordering on Armenia, Turkey, Georgia, Russia and Iran. It is bordered by the Caspian Sea.
Although located geographically in Asia, Azerbaijan is culturally close to Europe as the other countries of Transcaucasia, Georgia and Armenia. This ambivalence allows it to be a member of various international organizations, including the Council of Europe or the Turkish Council.
Azerbaijan at a glance
Administrative divisions: 66 departments or districts
Population: more than 9 million inhabitants
Main language: Azeri (Azerbaijani or Azerbaijani-Turkish)
Main religion: Islam (85% Shiite and 15% Sunni)
Current President: Ilham Aliyev
Current Prime Minister: Artur Rasiada
Currency: Azerbaijani Manat (1 Manat = 100 qepik)
Conversion into Euro: 100 Azerbaijani Manat = EUR 53
Tourism: stays in Nagorno-Karabakh and at the border areas with Iran and Dagestan are strongly discouraged
In the land of rivers and lakes
Azerbaijan is divided into three major geographical areas, the coastal strip along the Caspian Sea, the plains covering the center of the country and the mountains belonging to the Great and Little Caucasus. The highest peak in Azerbaijan is the Bazardüzü Dagi which peaks at 4,466 meters above sea level.
The country benefits from an important hydrographic network and has more than 8,000 rivers and 250 lakes, which makes it possible to irrigate the crops and to alleviate the low rainfall recorded by the country.
Due to its different reliefs, Azerbaijan experiences several types of climate, temperate coastal, continental in the west, cold in the mountains and subtropical to semi-arid in the center and east.
Azerbaijan has the particularity of having an Armenian enclave in the heart of its territories, Nagorno-Karabakh. This enclave is at the center of an unresolved conflict between the two countries since the end of the USSR.
In 1991 Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed itself independent but it was never recognized as a state by most nations. Despite a cease-fire signed between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in 1994 and the organization of negotiations by the Minsk Group set up by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, tensions remain high.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan also includes the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan separated from the rest of the country by an Armenian strip of land.
A cradle of humanity
Azerbaijan has been occupied since the prehistory, probably during the Stone Age. Archaeological excavations in caves located mainly in the Karabagh and Gazakh regions and in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic have revealed traces of occupation dating back more than 1.5 million years.
The country is therefore home to one of the earliest human habitats as confirmed by the discovery of the jaw of the man of Azikh who lived about 400,000 years ago.
By the 4th millennium BC, a sedentary people organized themselves into structured tribes. The study of Sumerian and Assyrian texts suggests that the lands of Azerbaijan were occupied successively by different emerging clans, including the Scythians, between the third millennium and the 4th century BC. These different clans would therefore be at the origin of the oldest cultures of Asia Minor like Sumer, Babylon or Assyria.
Many peoples have sought to capture the country's fertile territories, enabling Azerbaijani culture to be enriched by these different influences which give it its originality even today.
The Turkish era
In the 11th century, the Seljuks, a family belonging to the Turkish tribe of Oghuz originating from the current Kazakhstan, extend its territories and encompass part of Azerbaijan whose regency is entrusted to Turkish dignitaries from 1137. The atabegs Of Azerbaijan turned against the Seljuks to form their own dynasty. This disappeared in turn in 1225 following the division of territories between the descendants of the atabeg Qizil Arslan and the weakening of the empire that did not resist Jalal ad-Din. This Shah of the Persian-Turkish dynasty of the Khwârezm is proclaimed sovereign of Azerbaijan, but his reign is of short duration. He must abandon his new conquests, including the capital of eastern Azerbaijan, Tabriz, against the troops of the Mongol Ögedei, son of Genghis Khan, on his way to conquer the Russian steppes.
The influence of Tabriz
The Mongols then founded the Empire of the Ilkhanides and chose Tabriz (Eastern Azerbaijan) as its capital and administrative center. The city is experiencing an incredible economic and cultural expansion and attracts many merchants taking the Silk Road. Plundered in 1392 by the founder of the Timurid dynasties, Tamerlane, Tabriz will be entirely rebuilt by the Sunni Turkmen tribe Aq Qoyunlu who will take power from 1469 to 1502.
The golden age of Tabriz ended at the beginning of the 16th century under the reign of Ismail I, Shah of Persia and founder of the Safavid dynasty converted to duodeciman Shiism (12 Imams successors of the Prophet Muhammad).
Tabriz located near the Ottoman border undergoes regular assaults and the Shah moves his capital to Qazvin, Iran.
Under Iranian domination
The Ottomans eventually emerge victorious from this war that drags on until the end of the 16th century. They reigned over Azerbaijan for about twenty years before being in their turn crushed by the Shah Abbas who straightened the Safavid dynasty. The capital of this new Empire is transferred to Isfahan, while the Azerbaijani language, Azeri, is no longer the official language of a country that has turned entirely to Iranian civilization.
The descendants of Abbas I who reign for more than 40 years do not have its scale and the Empire begins a slow decline that will end in 1760 during the reign of Ismail III dismissed by the Kurd Mohammad Karim Khan.
The Soviet period
At the same time, the Russian Empire was thinking of extending its territories to the Caucasus in order to make its way to the Middle East. Tsarina Catherine II founded the viceroyalty of the Caucasus and Russia engaged in conflicts against the Ottomans and Persia.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the viceroyalty was divided into four parts: the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, the Democratic Republic of Georgia, the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the North Caucasian Mountain Republic.
All of these states will be included in 1920 in the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan became the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in 1936.
The country proclaimed itself independent after the fall of the USSR on August 30th 1991 and became a member of the United Nations the following year. Baku becomes the capital of the country.
The war with Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in 1988 and in 1993 the Armenian army occupied the Azerbaijani strip of land between its own borders and the coveted territory. Although the UN Security Council severely condemns this occupation, the situation creates an internal conflict that culminates in a coup and the election of Heydar Aliyev who will remain at the head of the country for more than 10 years.
His son, Ilham Aliyev, succeeded him in 2003.
Azerbaijan is a strong presidential republic whose president is elected by universal suffrage for a period of 5 years, its mandate is renewable.
The executive is entrusted to the President who appoints his Prime Minister (Head of Government) and the Ministers. This appointment must be validated by Parliament. The religion and the State are separate.
The unicameral legislative power is entrusted to the National Assembly of the Republic of Azerbaijan (parliament) but its influence remains anecdotal. The President retains control over the legislative and judicial powers of the country.
Nakhichevan is an autonomous republic of Azerbaijan which has no common border with the rest of the country. The region is particularly isolated due to tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the other hand, it does not participate militarily in the conflict.
An economy based on oil
As a historically agricultural country, Azerbaijan is experiencing strong growth thanks to oil exploitation in the Caspian Sea, despite a marked slowdown since the global economic crisis.
However, the average standard of living of the population remains low as a result of the collapse of the eastern bloc. The access to health care is still too low.
Azerbaijan depends almost exclusively on its exports of petroleum products and must try to diversify its resources to cope with crises and to develop.
The total population of Azerbaijan exceeds the 9 million inhabitant’s majority (more than 90%) of the Azerbaijani ethnic group.
Azeri is the mother tongue of most Azerbaijanis. It is a Turkish Altaic language that includes Persian, Arabic and Russian words, and a legacy of conquests.
Azeri Azerbaijani has been written in the Latin alphabet since 1991. It was formerly written in Cyrillic (from 1939 to 1991) and Arabic (from the 7th century to 1939).
Most Azerbaijani Muslims are Shiites or Sunni Muslims. Only a few are Orthodox Russian or Apostolic Armenians.
Azerbaijani cuisine is very varied and has been influenced by the history of the country. The meats, the eggs and the fish accompanied by the bread or the rice are consumed in abundance. Their pastries are inspired by oriental gastronomy.
The beer and the tea served with jams are the favorite drinks. The alcohol of blackberries and cornouilles is prepared to cure the sick.
The tourism is not yet developed in Azerbaijan and some areas close to Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the border with Armenia, Iran and Russia, are discouraged due to the insecurity prevailing there.
The city of Baku is safe but it is better not to venture into poorly lit streets and generally avoid any displacement during the night.
If vaccination is not mandatory, it is recommended to be vaccinated against Diphtheria-Tetanus-Poliomyelitis, rubella, mumps, measles, typhoid fever, rabies and viral hepatitis A and B. The protection against insect bites responsible for malaria and avoid risky behavior due to the risk of infection with the HIV virus and sexually transmitted diseases.
Azerbaijan is a traditionally welcoming country and the foreigners are frequently invited to share tea or meals with their guests.
The capital Baku is the largest city in the country. Set on the Caspian Sea, it has a beautiful historical heritage including several monuments of Persian architecture. The fortress of Icheri-Shekher founded in the 11th century is the place to visit before sitting in one of the former caravanserais transformed into restaurants.