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Azerbaijan

  Azerbaijan officially the Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the South Caucasus region of  Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the west and northwest, Armenia to the southwest, and Iran to the south. Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, a nation with an ethnic Azeri and Shi‘ite Muslim majority population, is a secular and unitary republic. The country has been a co-founder of GUAM and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and has been a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States since September 1993. The country has a Permanent Mission to the European Union, hosts a Special Envoy of the European Commission and is a member of the United Nations, OSCE, Council of Europe, and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

History

     The earliest evidence of human settlement in the territory of Azerbaijan dates to the late Stone Age and is related to the Quruçay culture of Azykh Cave. The Upper Paleolithic and late Bronze Age cultures are attested in the caves of Tağlar, Damcili, Zar, Yataq-yeriand in the necropolises of Leylatepe and Sarytepe. The area was conquered by the Achaemenids around 550 B.C., leading to the spread of Zoroastrianism, while later become part of the Alexander the Great's empire, and it's successor Seleucid Kingdom. Caucasian Albanians, the original inhabitants of the area established an independent kingdom around 4th century B.C but circa 95-67 B.C. parts of it were subjugated by Tigranes the Great. As the Romans and Parthians began to expand their domains in the area around Caucasus, Albania, unlike Iberia and Armenia, managed to remain independent and in addition signed a peace treaty with Roman Republic as Strabo attested.

     In 252 A.D. the Sassanids turned it into a vassal state while King Urnayr officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century A.D. Despite numerous conquests by the Sassanids and Byzantines, Caucasian Albania remained an entity in the region until the 9th century A.D. The territory of modern Azerbaijan roughly corresponds to that of the ancient kingdom. The Islamic Umayyad Caliphate repulsed both Sassanids and the Byzantines from the region and turned Caucasian Albania to a vassal state after the Christian resistance, led by Prince Javanshir, was suppressed in 667 A.D. The power vacuum left by the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate was filled by numerous dynasties such as the Salarids, Sajids, Shaddadids, Rawadids and Buyids. At the beginning of the 11th century, the territory was gradually seized by waves of Turkic Oghuz tribes from Central Asia. The first of these Turkic dynasties were the Ghaznavids, who took over the area now known as Azerbaijan by 1030.

        Locally, the possessions of the subsequent Seljuk Empire were ruled by atabegs, who were technically vassals of the Seljuk sultans, being sometimes de facto rulers themselves. Under the Seljuk Turks, local poets such as Nizami Ganjavi and Khagani Shirvani gave rise to a blossoming of Persian literature on the territory of present-day Azerbaijan. The next ruling state of the Jalayirids was short-lived and fell under the conquests of Tamerlan. The local dynasty of Shirvanshahs became a vassal state of Tamerlan's empire and assisted him in his war with the ruler of the Golden Horde Tokhtamysh. Following Tamerlan's death two independent and rival states emerged: Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu. The Shirvanshahs returned, maintaining a high degree of autonomy as local rulers and vassals from 861 until 1539. Then Safavidsruled these areas. After Safavids the area was ruled by the Iranian dynasties of Afshar and Zand and briefly by Qajars. However, while nominally under Persian rule de facto independent khanates emerged in the area, especially following collapse of Zand dynasty and in early Qajar era. Engaged in constant warfare, these khanates were eventually incorporated to the Russian Empire, following two Russo-Persian Wars. Under the Treaty of Turkmenchay the Persian Empire recognized Russian sovereignty over the Erivan khanate, the Nakhchivan khanate and the remainder of the Talysh khanate.

            After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Azerbaijan, together with Armenia and Georgia became part of the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. When the republic dissolved in May 1918, Azerbaijan declared independence as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). The ADR was the first democratic parliamentary republic in the Muslim world, but lasted only 23 months until the Bolshevik XIth Red Army invaded it in April 1920, establishing the Azerbaijan SSR on April 28, 1920. In 1922, Azerbaijan became part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic {TSFSR), which itself became a constituent member of the newly-established Soviet Union. In 1936, TSFSR was dissolved and Azerbaijan SSR became one of the constituent member states of the Soviet Union. During WW2, Azerbaijan supplied much of the Soviet Union's oil on the Eastern Front of World War II while Close to 600,000 Azerbaijanis fought against Nazi Germany. Operation Edelweiss carried by wermacht targeted Baku because of its importance as the energy dynamo of USSR..

     Following the politics of glasnost, initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, civil unrest and ethnic strife grew in various regions of the Soviet Union, including Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of the Azerbaijan SSR. The disturbances in Azerbaijan, in response to Moscow's indifference to already heated conflict, resulted in calls for independence and secession, which subsequently culminated in the events of Black January in Baku. At this time, Ayaz Mutallibov was appointed as the First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party. Later in 1990, the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan SSR dropped the words "Soviet Socialist" from the title; adopted the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Azerbaijan Republic and restored the modified flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic as a state flag. On September 8, 1991, Ayaz Mutallibov was elected as president in nationwide elections in which he was the only candidate running.

         A painting by Enver Aliyev depicting Azerbaijani citizens digging entrenchments and antitank obstacles near Baku to prevent a possible Nazi invasion.

     On October 18, 1991, Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration of Independence which was affirmed by a nationwide referendum in December, 1991, when the Soviet Union was officially dissolved. The early years of independence were overshadowed by the Nagorno-Karabakh War with neighboring Armenia. By the end of hostilities in 1994, Azerbaijan lost control of up to 16% of its territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh itself. In 1993, democratically elected president Abulfaz Elchibey was overthrown by a military insurrection led by Colonel Suret Huseynov, which resulted in the rise to power of the former leader of Soviet Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. In 1994, Suret Huseynov, by that time a prime minister, attempted another military coup against Heydar Aliyev but HE was arrested and charged with treason. In 1995, another coup attempt against Aliyev, by the commander of the military police, Rovshan Javadov, was averted, resulting in the killing of the latter and disbanding of Azerbaijan's military police.
            
                   Although during his presidency, Aliyev managed to reduce the country's unemployment, reined in criminal groups, established the fundamental institutions of independent statehood, and brought stability, peace and major foreign investment, the country was tainted by rampant corruption in the governing bureaucracy. In October 1998, Aliyev was reelected for a second term. Despite the much improved economy, particularly with the exploitations of Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field and Shah Deniz gas field, Aliyev's presidency became unpopular due to vote fraud, wide-spread corruption and objection to his autocratic regime. The same harsh criticism followed the elections of former Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev, the second leader of New Azerbaijan Party after the death of his father Heydar.
       Geography

     The total length of Azerbaijani land borders is 2,648 km, of which Armenia constitutes 1007, Iran 756, Georgia 480, Russia - 390 and Turkey - 15. The territory of Azerbaijan extends 400 km from north to south, and 500 km from west to east. The three mountain ranges are the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, and the Talysh Mountains, together covering approximately 40% of the country. The highest peak of Azerbaijan is mount Bazardüzü (4,466 m), while the lowest point lies in the Caspian Sea (-28 m). Nearly half of all the mud volcanoes on Earth are concentrated in Azerbaijan.

    
 The main water sources are the surface waters. However, only 24 of the 8,350 rivers are greater than 100 km in length. All the rivers drain into the Caspian Sea in the east of the country. The largest lake is Sarısu (67 km²) and the longest river is Kur (1,515 km), which is transboundary. Azerbaijan's four main islands in the Caspian Sea have a combined area of over thirty square kilometers.

       Administrative divisions

         Azerbaijan is divided into 59 rayons, 11 city districts , and one autonomous republic of Nakhchivan, which subdivides into 7 rayons and a city. The President of Azerbaijan appoints the governors of these units, while the government of Nakhchivan is elected and approved by the parliament of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. The local governments of regions and cities under Armenian occupation, such as Khankendi or Shusha, continue to function in exile.
       Main Cities : 
       Bacu is the biggest city, 1900000 dwellers
      Ganja, 300000 dwellers

       Astara (Azerbaijan)

       Ordubad

       Khankandy

  Sumqayit

       Shusha

       Shaki

       Shirvan

       Shamakhi

   Climate:

     The formation of climate in Azerbaijan is influenced particularly by cold arctic air masses of Scandinavian anticyclone, temperate of Siberian anticyclone, and Central Asian anticyclone.[24] Regarding landscape diversity, air masses have different ways to enter the country.[24] The Greater Caucasus protects the country from direct influences of cold air masses, coming from the north. That leads to the formation of subtropical climate on most foothills and plains of the country. Meanwhile plains and foothills are characterized by high solar radiation rates.

     Nine out of eleven existing climate zones are present in Azerbaijan. Both the absolute minimum temperature (-33 °C (-27.4 °F)) and the absolute maximum temperature (+46 °C (114.8 °F)) were observed in Julfa and Ordubad. The maximum annual precipitation falls in Lankaran (1,600 to 1,800 mm) and the minimum in Absheron (200 to 350 mm).

    Economy

     After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan became a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The banking system of Azerbaijan consists of the National Bank of Azerbaijan, commercial banks and non-banking credit organizations. The National Bank was created in 1992 based on the Azerbaijan State Savings Bank, an affiliate of the former State Savings Bank of the USSR. The National Bank serves as Azerbaijan's central bank, empowered to issue the national currency, the Azerbaijani manat, and to supervise all commercial banks. Two major commercial banks are the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan and the United Universal Joint-Stock Bank.

     Pushed up by spending and demand growth, the 2007 Q1 inflation rate reached 16.6%. Nominal incomes and monthly wages climbed 29% and 25% respectively against this figure, but price increases in non-oil industry encouraged inflation in the country.  Azerbaijan shows some signs of the so-called "Dutch disease" because of the fast growing energy sector, which causes inflation.

     Two thirds of Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas. The region of the Lesser Caucasus accounts for most of the country's gold, silver, iron, copper, titanium, chromium, manganese, cobalt, molybdenum, complex ore and antimony. In September 1994, a 30-year contract was signed between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and 13 oil companies, among them Amoco, BP, Exxon, LUKoil, and Statoil. As Western oil companies are able to tap deepwater oilfields untouched by the Soviet exploitation, Azerbaijan is considered one of the most important spots in the world for oil exploration and development. Meanwhile the State Oil Fund was established as an extra-budgetary fund to ensure the macroeconomic stability, transparency in the management of oil revenue, and the safeguarding of resources for future generations.

    At the beginning of 2007 there were 4,755,100 hectares of utilized agricultural area. In the same year the total wood resources counted 136 million m³.Azerbaijan's agricultural scientific research institutes are focused on the meadows and pastures, the horticulture and subtropical crops, the green vegetables, the viticulture and wine-making, the cotton growing and the medicinal plants. In some lands it is profitable to grow grain, potatoes, sugar beet, cotton and tobacco. The Caspian fishing industry is concentrated on the dwindling stocks of sturgeon and beluga. In 2002 the Azerbaijani merchant marine had 54 ships.

     Some part of most products before imported from abroad has begun to be produced locally (among them are Coca Cola by Coca Cola Bottlers LTD, beer by Baki-Kastel, parquet by Nehir and oil pipes by EUPEC Pipe Coating Azerbaijan).

                  Azerbaijan is also an important economic hub in terms of the raw materials transportation. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) became operational in May 2006 and stretches over 1,774 kilometers through the territory of Azerbaijan (440 km), Georgia (260 km) and Turkey (1114 km). The BTC is designed to transport up to 50 million tons of crude oil annually and carries oil from the Caspian Sea oilfields to global markets. The South Caucasus Pipeline, also stretching through the territory of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, became operational in the end of 2006 and offers additional gas supply to European market from the Shah Deniz gas field. It is expected to produce up to 296 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year. Azerbaijan also plays a major role in the EU-sponsored Silk Road Project.

    Policy

  The structural formation of Azerbaijan's political system was completed by the acceptance of the new Constitution on November 12, 1995. The state symbols of the Azerbaijan Republic are, according to the Article 23 of Constitution, the flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem. The state power in Azerbaijan is limited only by law for internal issues, but for international affairs is additionally limited by the provisions of international agreements.

  The government of Azerbaijan is based on the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The legislative power is held by the unicameral National Assembly and the Supreme National Assembly in the Nakhchevan Autonomous Republic. Parliamentary elections are held every five years, on the first Sunday of November. The accuracy of the election results are checked and confirmed by the Constitutional Court. The laws enacted by the National Assembly, unless specified otherwise come into effect from the day of their publication. The executive power is carried out by the president, who is elected for a 5 year term by direct elections. The president is authorized to form the Cabinet of Ministers, an inferior executive body, subordinated to him. The Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan consists primarily of the Prime Minister, his Deputies and Ministers. The president does not have the right to dissolve the National Assembly, but has the right to veto its decisions. To override the presidential veto, the parliament must have a majority of 95 votes. The judicial power is vested in the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the Economic Court. The President nominates the judges in these courts.

  The Security Council is the deliberative body under the president and he organizes it according to the Constitution. It was established on April 10, 1997. The administrative department is not a part of the president's office, but manages the financial, technical and pecuniary ensuring of activity of both the president and his office.
Demographics
   From the total population as of April, 2006 there were 4,380,000 (nearly 51%) city dwellers and a rural population of 4,060,000 (49%). 51% of the total population were female. The gender ratio for total population in that year was therefore 0.94 males per female.
 
 2006 population growth rate was 0.66%, compared to 1.14% worldwide. A significant factor restricting the population growth is rather a high level of migration. In 2005 for instance 1,342 men and 1,564 women left the country due to labour migration. In 2006 Azerbaijan saw migration of -4.38/1,000 persons. The highest morbidity in 2005 was among respiratory diseases (806.9 diseases per 10,000 of total population). The highest 2005 morbidity for infectious and parasitic diseases was noted among influenza and acute respiratory infections (4168,2 per 100,000 population). 2007 estimate for total life expectancy is 66 years, 70.7 years for women and 61.9 for men.

       Culture

  Azerbaijan folk consists of Azerbaijanis, the representative part of society, as well as of nations and ethnic groups, compactly living in various areas of the country. There are radio broadcasts in Kurdish, Lezgin, Talysh, Georgian, Russian and Armenian languages, which are financed from the state budget. The local radio station in Balakan organizes broadcasts in the Avar language and in Khachmaz also in Tat. In Baku several newspapers are published in Russian, Kurdish (Dengi Kurd), Lezgin (Samur) and Talysh languages. Jewish society "Sokhnut" publishes the newspaper Aziz.

  Among national musical instruments there are fourteen string instruments, eight percussion instruments and six wind instruments.

  Azerbaijan national and traditional dress, are the Chokha and Papakhi.

  Azerbaijan made its debut appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest 2008, and placed 8th among 43 contestants.

  Entries, submitted on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list include the Gobustan State Reserve, the Fire Temple of Baku, the Momine Khatun Mausoleum and the Khan Palace  in Sheki.
Religion
  According to official figures, between 93.4% and 96% of the population is Muslim. Christians compose of 3 to 4% of the population, of which most are Russian and Armenian Orthodox. In 2003 there were 250 Roman Catholics. Other Christian denominations as of 2002 include Lutherans, Baptists and Molokans. There are also Jewish, Bahá'í, Hare Krishna and Jehovah's Witnesses communities, as well as adherents of the Nehemiah Church, Star in the East Church and the Cathedral of Praise Church. Hinduism and Zoroastrianism had a long history in Azerbaijan, evident in sites such as the Fire Temple of Baku, and along with Manichean but none are followed as such in the countr anymore.