Today’s Azerbaijani citizens are the heirs to a rich history and culture. Located in the Caucasus, on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan occupies the world’s most important strategic crossroads between East and West. A country at the center of the historic Silk Road, Azerbaijan treasures its natural and cultural diversity. The largest country of the South Caucasus, it is home, along with ethnic Azeris, to more than 70 different ethnic groups, including Kurds, Jews, Russians, Armenians, Lezghis and many others.
Azerbaijan with its favorable nature and a mild climate was among the birthplaces of mankind. It was here that the Azykh cave, the earliest human habitat on Earth dating back 1-1,2 million years, was found. As early as in the third millenium BC, tribal entities like Aratta, Lullubum and Kutium emerged on the territory of historic Azerbaijan. Later, in the first millenium BC, the Zoroastrian states of Manna and Midiya were established on Azerbaijani lands. Midya, in alliance with Babylon, successfully fought the Assyrians but in the 7th century BC was defeated by the Persian Empire.
Located at the heart of ancient civilizations, Azerbaijan has been invaded and fought over by many empires and rulers, including Alexander the Great, the Roman general Pompey, the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, and Russia’s Peter the Great. The conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great led to the emergence of the states of Atropatena (Adarbaygan) and the Caucasian Albania. Atropatena was established in the year 323 BC on the Azerbaijani –populated territories, which are now in Iran, and the Caucasian Albania in 4-5th century BC on the territory of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan.
During that of time, the Zoroastrian religion dominated in Azerbaijan, and Qazaka, the capital of Atropatena was the spiritual center of Zoroastrian priests. In the 3rd century, Christianity became a principal religion in the Caucasian Albania and in the 4th century, an autonomous Albanian Apostolic Church was established. The Russian Empire’s authorities revoked the long-held autonomy of the Albanian Christian Church in the 19th century.
In the 7th century, Muslim Arabs invaded Azerbaijan introducing Islam to the Caucasus. Until the 9th century Azerbaijan was a province of the Arab Caliphate. The Caliphate gradually weakened and lost its influence, partially due to the longest revolt in its history, the Azerbaijani – based uprising of Khurramittes in the 9th century.
The 9th century saw the formation of autonomous feudal states on the Azerbaijani lands. The most stable among them was the state of Shirvanshahs, which survived until 1538. Azerbaijan became a part of the Seljuk Empire in the 11th century.
Under the Seljuk rule, the immigration of Turkic tribes further strengthened the ancient and already dominant Turkic presence in Azerbaijan. The 12th century marked the emergence of the powerful state of Atabeys (Eldegizes) and the ’’age of the Muslim renaissance’’ in Azerbaijan. This “renaissance” owed its glory, among others, to the literary genius of Nizami Ganjavi, poets like Mahsati Ganjavi, Abu-l Ula Ganjavi, Falaki Shirvani, Khaqani Shirvani, and the architect Ajami Nakhchivani. Azerbaijani literary and architectural masterpieces became an outstanding contribution to the world’s cultural heritage. The Mongols invaded Azerbaijan in the 13th century and at the end of the 14th century Azerbaijan was conquered by the Central Asian ruler Tamerlan.
Between 1501 and 1736 the Azerbaijani Sefevi dynasty, founded by Shah Ismayil Khatai, ruled Iran and neighboring countries, including Azerbaijan. Among the 19 semi-independent entities, such as khanates and sultanates, which emerged following the fall of the Sefevi dynasty, were the Azerbaijani khanates of Karabakh with the capital in Shusha and the khanate of Iravan with the capital in Iravan (Erevan, the capital of modern Armenia).
Russia’s imperial expansion in the Caucasus began in 1723 with Peter the Great’s Caspian crusade. In 1796 the Russian army returned to the Caucasus. After the annexation of Georgia in 1801, the Russian Empire began the process of occupation of the Azerbaijani khanates, and by 1828, after two Russian-Persian wars, Azerbaijan was split into two parts. The northern portion is what would become modern Azerbaijan.
Since the mid – 19th century the oil industry has been flourishing in Azerbaijan. The first industrial oil well was drilled in 1848. In the late 19th - early 20th centuries, Baku was producing 95% of the Russian Empire’s and about 50% of the world’s oil production. Westerners such as the Nobels and Rotchshilds were among the oil magnates of Baku.
It was also at that time that the Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibayov wrote his “Leyli and Majnun,” the first opera in the Muslim world.
When the Czar’s rule ended in Russia at the end of World War I, Azerbaijan seized the opportunity to declare its independence. On May 28, 1918 - a date still celebrated today as the Republic Day - the Azerbaijani people established their own independent state, the first Republic in the Muslim East. The international community, including the United States, recognized the sovereignty of the new country. Azerbaijan became one of the first nations in the region to adopt a secular, democratic form of government. At the conclusion of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was said to have remarked that the Azerbaijanis he met “talked the same language that I did with respect to ideals, and the concepts of liberty and justice.”
Within two years of declaring independence, however, Russia again asserted its rule over Azerbaijan. In April 1920, the Bolshevik Red Army supported by Armenian armed units invaded the country massacring scores of civilians and overthrowing the democratic government. Azerbaijan was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union and for the next 70 years, was governed under Communist rule.
During the late 1980s, many Azerbaijanis were hopeful that independence would return as a result of the Soviet Union’s decline. On September 23, 1989, Azerbaijan was among the first Soviet republics to adopt its own Constitutional Law on Sovereignty. Yet, Azerbaijan’s independence did not come easily. In 1990, Soviet troops invaded Baku, resulting in the deaths of more than a hundred civilians. In the end, however, Azerbaijan’s pro-Moscow regime grew weaker and by 1991, popular pressure led the country to break away from Soviet rule and declare its independence.
On August 30, 1991, Azerbaijan’s Parliament adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and on October 18, 1991, the Constitutional Act on the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan was approved. November 1991 marked the beginning of international recognition of Azerbaijan’s independence.
In 1992, the country became a member of the United Nations and Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), now known as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
This was also a period when the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan became a major international dispute. The collapse of the Soviet Union had created chaos and uncertainty in the region, and Armenian extremists took advantage of these circumstances. In 1992, Armenia launched a campaign of open aggression against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces conducted brutal ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide against Azerbaijani civilians. During only one night, more than 750 Azerbaijani civilians were massacred in the town of Khojali and Armenia gained a major stronghold in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.
Today, the per capita ratio of the displaced population within the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the highest in the world. The displaced communities in Azerbaijan include refugees brutally expelled from Armenia in 1988-89, Internally Displaced Persons from the regions occupied by the Armenian forces, and the Meskheti Turkish refugees.
Following these difficulties, the leader of the Popular Front political movement, Abulfaz Elchibey, was elected Azerbaijan’s first new, post-Soviet president. However, within a year, the new government’s inability to address the worsening military situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the declining domestic economy led to Elchibey’s departure from office.
In October 1993, Heydar Aliyev, the Speaker of the Parliament, was elected President. Newly elected President Aliyev faced many challenges, including numerous, uncontrolled armed mobs, which had emerged in Azerbaijan at the time the Soviet Union was dissolved. Renegade groups attempted to overthrow President Aliyev’s government, but each time they failed, and the armed opposition groups lost support among the population and became weaker.
The results of presidential elections in October of 1998 and both parliamentary elections held in November of 1995 and November of 2000, respectively, affirmed public approval of President Aliyev’s policies. His New Azerbaijan Party received the majority of seats in both parliamentary elections, a sign of considerable popular support for the President’s efforts to establish democratic institutions. President Aliyev is credited with creating a stable political environment, instituting positive economic reforms, and preventing further bloodshed in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. He has overcome major obstacles, both internal and external, to bring peace, stability, economic and democratic reforms to Azerbaijan.
In January 2001, the Republic of Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe.
On 15 October 2003 Ilham Aliyev was elected the President of Azerbaijan. Former President Heydar Aliyev passed away on December 12, 2003. President Ilham Aliyev spared no effort to continue the policy of his predecessor to modernize and enrich the country, to transform it into a modern, economically, and politically strong state. Democratic and economic reforms energetically carried out under his leadership made Azerbaijan the island of stability and prosperity in the region.
On July 13, 2006 the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main oil export pipeline was inaugurated. Construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline was completed soon afterwards. These pipelines deliver Azerbaijan’s own oil and gas to the world markets as well as allow carrying hydrocarbon resources of the neighboring countries through Azerbaijan, earning Azerbaijan transit revenues. Implementation of these projects emphasizes the role of Azerbaijan as a reliable energy source and transportation route. To collect and manage revenues from energy-related activities, a transparent National Oil Fund has been established.
Diversification of economy and ensuring the development of non-oil sectors is the priority for the government. This policy includes implementation of projects and programs that create favorable conditions for development of private entrepreneurship, attracting investment in non-oil sector, creating new jobs, evaluation of potential industries and markets and development of infrastructure in the regions.