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Near East Kingdoms



Modern Azerbaijan
AD 1991 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1992-2024)

The republic of Azerbaijan nestles the south-western coast of the Caspian Sea, beneath the eastern edge of the Caucasus mountains. On the eastern limits of Europe, literally a crossroads between that and the Near East's western Asia, and with its capital at Baku, the state is neighboured by Russia to the north, Iran to the south, Armenia to the west, and Georgia to the north-west.

It also possesses the autonomous Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, a landlocked exclave which lies on the southern edge of Armenia, with Iran to its south and Turkey to the west.

The region has a long history of human settlement, very little of which has taken place during the existence of Azerbaijan itself. In the first millennium AD its territory formed large parts of the independent kingdom of the Caucasian Albanians. Prior to that it had been occupied by Medes and then Persians, during which it largely matched the borders of the eastern division of the Persian satrapy of Armina.

The Greeks came next, and the Greek Seleucids, during which time it was largely part of the of the kingdom of Atropatene before becoming a Sassanid vassal region. Islam arrived in the first half of the seventh century AD, conquering the Sassanids and taking control of all of their western possessions.

At the beginning of the AD 1000 the area was gradually seized by waves of Turkic Oghuz tribes from Central Asia. The first Turkic dynasty to command here was the Ghaznavids, who entered the area by AD 1030. A layer of Turkic culture and language was overlaid onto the region, although its ancient customs and cultures deeply embedded themselves into this new arrival.

FeatureToday's Azeris are largely descendants of a mixture of Caucasian Albanians and ethnic Turkic people. The Azeri language is Turkic, while Azeris follow the Shiite interpretation of Islam, having had this forced upon them by the Safavids during that dynasty's wars against the Ottomans. Iran has continued to influence the Azeris ever since. 'Azeri' means 'Azmen' in Turkish.

Turkic tribal names such as 'Ok - uz' (Oghuz), Guzz, 'Uz-bek' (Uzbeks), 'Kaz - ak', 'Kırg - uz' (Kyrgız or Forty uz), and 'Az - er' (Azer) all originate in the same root of Uz or Az. That root looks suspiciously like the Os or As of the Indo-Iranians, confirming a much deeper integration between them and the proto-Turks than is generally perceived (see feature link, right, for more information about the Os and As).

Despite the country's adoption of Turkic as its national language, there are still those older influences to be heard. 'Sarı' in Azeri means 'yellow' (ie blond), while in Armenian the same word means 'mountain'. The two meanings probably come from one original word - mountains which are topped with snow can be described as being 'white capped', which is also a way of describing blonde people.

In Germanic-derived languages the words 'white' and 'winter' (ie a snow-covered land) have the same origin as the tribal names for the Venedi and Vandali (Vandals) because the latter at least usually gave birth to blonde-haired children. People of North Germanic stock often start out blonde and then go brown around the age of five. It is likely that the Azeri word is an Armenian or Armenian-influenced survival.

Although an idea which initially was opposed, it can be seen that the modern Azerbaijani identity was constructed during the Soviet period. The name itself was first used in 1918 by the area which makes up the current republic. Prior to that it had been used in a less precise sense for the neighbouring area of northern Iran.

The Soviet policy of encouraging an ethno-national identity was legitimised through myths of antiquity at the expense of distorting and destroying the histories and cultures of ancient Media, Atropatene, Caucasian Albania, and Armenia's historical north-eastern regions of Utik, Artsakh, and Nakhichevan.

This provided Soviet Azerbaijan with the expansionist opportunity and ambition to assimilate the country's various ethnic and religious minorities, including the majority of Kurds, Udis, Lezgis, and Tats, presenting the Azeris as indigenous heirs to the ancient peoples who had lived in that territory. The Soviet collapse between 1989-1991 finally set Azerbaijan free to become an independent republic.

Dargavs necropolis, Ossetia

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Brigitta Davidjants and Edward Dawson, from Ethnocide in Artsakh: The Mechanisms of Azerbaijan's Usurpation of Indigenous Armenian Cultural Heritage, Hamlet L Petrosyan, from Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers, Touraj Atabaki (I B Tauris, 2006), from Washington Post (24 August 2000, 19 June 1993, & 26 September 1993), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Mud volcano erupts in Azerbaijan (BBC), and Bloody clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over disputed territory (The Guardian), and Azerbaijan's Aliyev wins fourth term as president (Reuters), and Armenia leader orders end to fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh (Sutton & Croydon Guardian), and Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal brokered by Moscow prompts anger in Armenia (The Guardian).)

1991 - 1994

Although conflict had begun in 1989, full-scale war now breaks out. Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh fight for independence from Azerbaijan, supported by troops and resources from Armenia proper.

Nagorno-Karabakh War
The war over Nagorno-Karabakh lasted for just three years, but constant flare-ups and a marked increase in 2014 of border skirmishes signify that the problem is far from being resolved

On the ground the Nagorno-Karabakh War (or the Artsakh Liberation War to Armenians) is largely a success for Armenia, with Nagorno-Karabakh secured and a total of sixteen percent of Azerbaijani territory captured overall.

In 1994 a Russian-brokered ceasefire is put in place to end outright hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, but it fails to deliver any lasting solution. For the time being, the region is left as a self-proclaimed republic, with ethnic Armenian forces in control of Azerbaijani territory which surrounds Karabakh.

1992 - 1993

Abulfez Elchibey

First democratically-elected post-Soviet president. Resigned.


Due to the military losses in the recent war, the country's military has become disenchanted with Elchibey. Surat Huseynov leads forty-five thousand troops to the capital of Baku, causing Elchibey to resign and turning over power over to Heydar Aliyev, former head of the state's KGB. Elchibey flees the capital.

Between June and September 1993, Aliyev is acting president for Elchibey, during which time - in September 1993 - Azerbaijan rejoins the 'Commonwealth of Independent States', which is headed by Moscow. Aliyev quickly displays signs of wanting to be a dynasty founder. In 1994 his son, Ilham, is made vice-president.

Boris Yeltsin in 1991
Boris Yeltsin won mass popular support in Russia during his leading role in thwarting the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991

Both are frequently accused of authoritarian rule and suppressing political dissent, and the unease surrounding them is not assuaged when Ilham changes the constitution in 2009 to allow him to run for (and win almost unopposed) a third term of office. His own son, Heydar, is suspected of being the official heir to the 'throne'.

1993 - 2003

Heydar Aliyev

'President', but increasingly dictatorial. Died Dec 2003.


Government troops crush a rebellion by Rovshan Javadov, head of a special police squad. He and dozens of other rebels are killed. In the same year, Nagorno-Karabakh, now acting as an independent republic, holds legislative elections. Robert Kocharian, the former head of Karabakh's State Defence Committee, becomes executive president.

The New Azerbaijan Party which is led by President Aliyev wins the majority of seats in independent Azerbaijan's first multi-party elections which, observers say, fail to meet international standards.

Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev
Despite his less-than-spotless reputation with a swathe of the international world, President Heydar Aliyev won admiration from the general Azerbaijani population for his creation of a strong, oil-wealthy state on the coast of the Caspian Sea


Robert Kocharian leaves Nagorno-Karabakh to become prime minister in Armenia. Foreign Minister Arkadiy Gukasian is elected as the new president of Karabakh.

Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter-Petrosian, agree to an OSCE proposal for a staged Karabakh solution. The Armenian leader is criticised at home for making too many concessions and he subsequently resigns.


Azerbaijan officially shifts to the Latin alphabet for the Azeri language, in the country's fourth alphabet change in a century. In the same year the country becomes full member of the Council of Europe, although council officials criticise it over its human rights record.

2003 - On

Ilham Aliyev

Son. Succeeded his father as 'president'.


Azerbaijan's deep new desire for historical roots, as well as the country's hostility towards the cultural heritage of indigenous Armenians, is expressed in the destruction of Armenia's historical record. As part of this process, cultural monuments are targeted, such as the complete destruction in this year of the medieval Jugha (Julfa) cemetery.

Jugha Cemetery
Jugha Cemetery dated back to the ninth century, when the kingdom of Greater Armenia ruled over the Nakhchivan region in which it lay, before being completely destroyed by Azerbaijan in 2005 and turned into a military zone


In March the worst fighting in recent years breaks out in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan and Armenia accuse each other of starting the clashes which leave several dead on each side. Further clashes in 2012, 2016, and 2017 leave more dead on both sides.


Following elections in the country which again fall short of truly democratic standards, on 24 September a mud volcano erupts in Azerbaijan, sending plumes of black smoke and flames up to three hundred metres into the sky. Cracks up to forty metres deep had already appeared in the area after the Otman-Bozdag volcano had become active the day before the eruption.

With around four hundred of the world's estimated thousand mud volcanoes (or sedimentary volcanoes) being in Azerbaijan, this is not entirely an uncommon occurrence as they are generally located within oil fields.


In the midst of the year's Covid-19 pandemic, with Armenia seemingly harder hit than Azerbaijan, the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020 war is sparked. Following minor clashes along the border on 27 September both sides declare martial law.

Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020
The Moscow-brokered ceasefire saw Russian troops interposed between Armenians and Azerbaijanis to keep them apart, but considerable territory had been surrendered by Armenia, with thousands of Armenians fleeing the region and burning their houses to leave nothing for their enemy

Azerbaijan launches its largest offensive in a generation to retake Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions which have been under Armenian control since 1991. Thousands are killed and more than 100,000 displaced in the worst fighting since that time.

Azerbaijan this time is backed and supplied by a far more militaristic Turkey, while Russia's traditional support of Armenia seems to be somewhat lacking. In the end Russian peacekeepers are deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after Moscow brokers a peace deal which grants Azerbaijan significant territorial concessions.

The southern half of Nagorno-Karabakh has already been captured by Azerbaijan while the Azeri territory between the enclave and Armenia has to be handed over to the Azeris by 1 December, with the truncated Armenian-held remains being heavily policed by Russian peacekeepers.

A Russian tank burns in Ukraine in 2022
Despite outnumbering the more lightly-armed Ukrainian forces by at least three-to-one, Russian forces continued to suffer far heavier casualties in its unofficial war, leaving Armenia without vital peackekeeping backup


On 19 September, Azerbaijan launches attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh, with bombing raids hitting the regional capital of Stepanakert. The Azeris label the attack an 'anti-terrorist' campaign, but the bombardment also hits civilian targets and appears to be aimed at forcing the weakened Armenian breakaway government into a full surrender (Russian intervention is entirely lacking).

More than half of the region's Armenian population has no option but to flee into Armenia proper across the next week: around 70,000 out of a total of about 120,000 in just that week alone.

The Armenian prime minister's spokesman labels the campaign 'ethnic cleansing'. Anyone who remains will be forced to integrate into Azeri society to be able to benefit from Azeri rebuilding and consolidation efforts.

On 28 September, recognising the totality of its defeat, Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian government signs a decree to dissolve all state institutions by 1 January 2024. The republic ceases to exist from that day.

Armenians evacuate from Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023
Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Kornidzor, Armenia, on Wednesday 27 September, having fled their homes for, many of them say, the last time

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