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Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia

 

Modern Azerbaijan
AD 1991 - Present Day

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 Eastern Europe, literally a crossroads between that and 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 eleventh century 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 1030. A layer of Turkic culture and language was overlaid on the region, although its ancient customs and cultures deeply embedded themselves in 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 that 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. 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 that 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.

(Information by Peter Kessler, 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), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Mud volcano erupts in Azerbaijan (BBC), and Azerbaijan's Aliyev wins fourth term as president (Reuters).)

1991 - 1994

Although conflict had begun in 1989, full-scale war now breaks out as ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh fight for independence from Azerbaijan, supported by troops and resources from Armenia proper. On the ground the war is largely a success for Armenia, with Nagorno-Karabakh secured and a total of sixteen per cent 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 that surrounds Karabakh.

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

1993

The Aliyev dynasty takes charge in Azerbaijan when the former head of the KGB in the country, Heydar Aliyev, becomes president. In 1994 his son, Ilham, is made vice-president. 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

Third president. Dynasty founder. Died Dec 2003.

1995

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.

1997

Robert Kocharian leaves 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.

2001

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 - Present

Ilham Aliyev

Son. Succeeded his father as president.

2005

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

2008

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.

2018

Following elections in the country which 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 (980 feet) into the sky. Cracks up to forty metres deep appeared in the area after the Otman-Bozdag volcano became 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 an entirely uncommon occurrence as they are generally located within oil fields.