ääzrbjän´, äzr–, Azeri Azrbaycan, officially Republic of Azerbaijan, republic (2005 est. pop. 7,912,000), 33,428 sq mi (86,579 sq km), in Transcaucasia. Strategically situated at the gateway to SW Asia, Azerbaijan is bounded by Iran on the south, where the Aras (Araks) River divides it from Iranian Azerbaijan; by the Caspian Sea on the east; by Russia's Dagestan Republic on the north; and by Armenia on the west. Baky (Baku) is the capital; other major cities include Gyandzha and Sumqayit.
Azerbaijan occupies the western ranges of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus and the Kura River valley. The republic includes the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (an exclave separated from Azerbaijan proper by Armenia) and Nagorno-Karabakh (an ethnically Armenian region that now has de facto independence; see under History ). The Azeri (Azerbaijani), a Turkic-speaking, Shiite Muslim people of Persian culture, make up about 90% of the republic's population; Dagestanis, Russians, and Armenians (largely in Nagorno-Karabakh) are the largest minorities. The republic's educational institutions include Baky Univ. and the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences.
The Kura River valley is the region's chief agricultural zone. Wheat, barley, corn, fruits and vegetables, wine grapes, and potatoes are the leading food crops, and cotton, silk, and tobacco the foremost industrial crops. The subtropical Länkärän Lowland produces tea and rice. The Apsheron peninsula is one of the richest oil regions of the world. Although production of Caspian Sea oil and gas had declined for several years, it began growing again in the late 1990s under production-sharing agreements with multinational corporations. The republic's other mineral resources include natural gas, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, limestone, pyrites, cobalt, and alumina. Widespread salt springs have enabled health resorts to flourish. Among the chief manufactures are petroleum products, oilfield equipment, steel, chemicals and petrochemicals, and textiles. The old craft of carpet weaving is still practiced. Azerbaijan's main trading partners are Italy, Russia, and Turkey.
Azerbaijan is headed by a president who is elected by popular vote to a five-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president and confirmed by the 125-member national assembly, which is also popularly elected. The country is divided into 59 administrative divisions or rayons, 11 cities, and one autonomous republic.
The Republic of Azerbaijan comprises the Transcaucasian or northern part of the historic region called Azerbaijan. Known to the ancients as Albania, the area was linked to the history of Armenia and Persia, particularly after its conquest (4th cent.) by Shapur II. Overrun later by Mongols, it was divided after the fall (15th cent.) of Timur into several principalities (notably Shirvan). The territory of the present Azerbaijan was acquired by Russia from Persia through the treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkamanchai (1828).
Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Russian Azerbaijan joined Armenia and Georgia to form the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation. After its dissolution (May, 1918), Azerbaijan proclaimed itself independent but was conquered by the Red Army in 1920 and made into a Soviet republic. In 1922, Azerbaijan joined the USSR as a member of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Republic. With the administrative reorganization of 1936, it became a separate republic. Immediately after World War II, Azerbaijan was used as a base for Communist rebels in Iranian Azerbaijan; Azeri nationalists still press claims to Iran's Azerbaijan province.
Azerbaijan declared itself independent of the USSR in Aug., 1991, and became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. In 1992, Abulfaz Elchibey, leader of the Popular Front party, was elected president, but he was ousted by the parliament a year later, after a military mutiny. Heydar Aliyev, leader of the Azerbaijan Communist party from 1969 to 1982, assumed power and was confirmed in office by an election. Aliyev promoted exploitation of the country's oil resources through agreements with Russia and several Western oil companies for development of oil fields in the Caspian Sea. In the Nov., 1995, elections, which were condemned by outside observers as rigged, voters elected a new parliament that was dominated by Aliyev's party and approved constitutional changes that expanded his power. Aliyev was reelected in 1998, and his New Azerbaijan party retained power in the Nov., 2000, parliamentary elections, which like the 1995 balloting was not regarded as free and fair.
In Aug., 2003, the ailing president appointed his son, Ilham Aliyev, as the country's prime minister. The president withdrew from the Oct., 2003, election in favor of his son, who was elected by a landslide; the balloting was criticized by independent observers as neither free nor fair. The elder Aliyev died two months after the election. Parliamentary elections in Nov., 2005, returned the governing party to power, albeit with a reduced majority, but the vote was again criticized by European observers and denounced as fraudulent by the opposition.
Prior to the vote the government had blocked the return of exiled opposition leader Rasul Guliyev by having him held in Ukraine on corruption charges, and then arrested several current and former members of the government and others, charging them with plotting a coup against the government with Guliyev. These and subsequent government changes (into 2006) were seen as attempts by the president to consolidate his power.
During the late 1980s ethnic Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region had pressed for its unification with Armenia, leading to a guerrilla war. A large-scale conflict broke out between the two republics in 1992; the Armenian side gained effective control of the region and some adjoining Azerbaijani territory by 1994, when a cease-fire was reached with Russian mediation. Some one million Azeris were made refugees within Azerbaijan as a result of the conflict. Attempts to resolve the conflict have proved unsuccessful. Azerbaijan has offered the region a high degree of autonomy, but the Armenians there have insisted on independence or union with Armenia.
Relations with Russia and Iran have also been strained at times. Russia has forcefully sought Azeribaijan's cooperation on military and other matters, which Azerbaijan has resisted giving. Iran has supported Islamic groups in Azerbaijan and has challenged the country's right to drill for oil in parts of the Caspian.