Country in western Asia, bounded south by Iran, east by the Caspian Sea, west by Armenia and Georgia, and north by Russia.
Government Under its 1995 constitution, Azerbaijan is a presidential republic, with an authoritarian political system. There is a single-member legislature, the National Assembly (Milli Majlis), with 125 members elected in single-member constituencies for a five-year term. The state president is directly elected, also for a five-year term, and heads the executive and appoints a prime minister, drawn from the majority grouping within the national assembly. The president can veto National Assembly decisions and the veto can only be overridden by a majority of 95 votes. A lack of free and fair elections has made the political system authoritarian.
History Azerbaijan shares a common language and culture with Turkey; however, before its conquest by tsarist Russia in the early 19th century, it was a province of Persia, and today 20 million Shiite Azeris live across the border in Iran. In the late 19th century, Baku became the centre of a growing oil industry. In 1917, after the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Azerbaijan joined Armenia and Georgia in the Transcaucasian Federation. When this collapsed, in 1918, Azerbaijan became an independent republic: the first democratic, parliamentary republic in the Islamic world. But the country was invaded and this republic overthrown in 1920 by communist Russia's Red Army, which established a Soviet socialist republic. The republic was secularized under USSR rule and during World War II Azerbaijan became a key source of oil supply for the Eastern Front.
Growth of nationalism During the 1980s, the USSR's reform communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, permitted more openness (glasnost) and political reform. This stimulated a growth in Azeri nationalism from the later 1980s, spearheaded by the Azeri Popular Front, founded in 1989, and fanned by the dispute with neighbouring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, and Nakhichevan, a predominantly Azeri enclave within Azerbaijan. This dispute, which reawakened centuries-old enmities, flared up into full civil war from December 1989, prompting Azeri calls for secession from the USSR. In January 1990 Soviet troops were sent to Baku to restore order, and a state of emergency was imposed. The Azerbaijan Communist Party (ACP), led by Ayaz Mutalibov, allied itself with the nationalist cause and rejected compromise in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
Backlash In the 1990 assembly elections the Popular Front, having been on the verge of power before the January 1990 crackdown, was convincingly defeated by the ACP. A new state flag was adopted in December 1990 and the words ‘Soviet Socialist’ were dropped from the republic's name. In the March 1991 USSR constitutional referendum, the Azerbaijan population voted overwhelmingly in favour of preserving the Union and the August 1991 attempted anti-Gorbachev coup in Moscow was warmly welcomed by President Mutalibov, who ordered the military suppression of demonstrations organized by the Popular Front.
Independence declared After the failure of the Moscow coup, Mutalibov resigned from the ACP, which was soon disbanded, and in August 1991 independence was declared. The state of emergency, still in force in Baku, was lifted. In September 1991 Mutalibov was directly elected state president as the sole candidate in a contest boycotted by the opposition. In December 1991, after voters approved a referendum on independence, Azerbaijan joined the new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which superseded the USSR. After independence, the state began to form its own armed forces and in February 1992 the Cyrillic alphabet, imposed by Moscow in 1937, was replaced by the Latin alphabet. In March 1992 Azerbaijan was admitted into the United Nations.
Nagorno-Karabakh war The first three years after independence were dominated by war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which lasted until 1994, wrecking the economy, forcing high levels of military spending, claiming 30,000 lives and displacing 600,000 Azeris The Nagorno-Karabakh war also dominated Azerbaijan's politics, resulting in the downfall of the new republic's first two leaders and bringing to power an authoritarian, former communist leader.
The dispute erupted into a full-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan early in 1992 when Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian leadership proclaimed an independent republic. After Azeri defeats in Nagorno-Karabakh in March 1992, the supreme court forced Mutalibov to resign and Albufaz Elchibey, a former dissident and political prisoner who was leader of the Popular Front, was elected president in June 1992, with 60% of the vote.
Elchibey pledged withdrawal from the CIS, closer relations with Turkey, and a renewed campaign against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. But, after some early military successes, Armenia made further gains in spring 1993 and Elchibey lost public and military support. In June 1993, faced by an army rebellion led by Surat Huseynov, Elchibey fled the capital. The 70-year-old Geidar Aliyev, who had been communist party leader in Azerbaijan 1969–87 and had ruled Nakhichevan since 1991, had been brought to the capital, Baku, to mediate in the dispute and had been made parliamentary speaker. Aliyev now assumed the presidency, with the initial support of Huseynov, who bcame prime minister.
By mid-1993, Armenian forces had overrun Nagorno-Karabakh and controlled a fifth of Azeri territory. The new Azeri leadership launched a counter-attack in late 1993 which reclaimed some land. But it recognized it could not reverse the tide militarily. In May 1994 Azerbaijan agreed a ceasefire with Armenia. This resulted in the loss of its control over Nagorno-Karabakh and a sixth of its territory overall. Since 1994, violence has periodically erupted along the borders, clashes being particularly intense in 2014, claiming the lives of soldiers on both sides.
Aliyev establishes his grip In October 1993 Aliyev was popularly elected president with 99% of the vote in a contest boycotted by opposition parties. He now began a process of gradually removing his opponents to establish a firm grip over the country's political and military system, suppressing dissent. Soon after the presidential election, Aliyev dismissed Huseynov as premier, accusing him of siding with opposition forces and attempting to launch a coup. A state of emergency was declared, and Fuad Kuliyev became the new prime minister, lasting until 1996, when he was replaced by Artur Rasizade.
In March 1995, Aliyev foiled a further attempt to overthrow him, this time by the head of the military police, which he dissolved. Parliamentary elections were held in August 1995, from which 15 opposition parties were barred from participating. A pro-Aliyev legislature was returned, dominated by his New Azerbaijan Party (NAP). Aliyev's grip on power was strengthened with the arrest in Moscow of two of his most serious political rivals, Mutalibov and military strongman, Rahim Haziev, in connection with alleged coup attempts.
Economic expansion In the first five years after independence, Azerbaijan's GDP declined at an average rate of more than 10% per annum and inflation spiralled. But a market-centred economic reform programme, involving price liberalization and privatization, was gradually implemented and joint ventures negotiated with Western companies to develop oilfields in the Caspian Sea. This accelerated under Aliyev, who provided political stability which encouraged inward foreign investment, despite problems of corruption in the governing bureaucracy.
In 1994 the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), a consortium including 11 international oil companies, signed a 30-year contract with the Azerbaijan government involving investment of $13 billion and the opening of new multiple pipelines from the Caspian Sea. Oil extraction commenced in November 1997; production was 800,000 barrels per day by 2011. BP became the main foreign oil company in the country and in 1999 a major gas field was discovered at Shah Deniz. A Baku to Ceyhan (in Turkey) oil pipeline, via Tbilisi in Georgia (bypassing Russia) was opened in 2005 and a gas pipeline in 2006. From 2014, BP began the building of a Southern Gas Corridor to supply Europe by 2019 (bypassing Russia).
Aliyev's second and third terms In October 1998 Aliyev was re-elected president, with 75% of the vote, but the opposition, led by former president Abulfaz Elchibey, who had returned from exile, and some foreign observers, said the poll was marred by fraud. Aliyev was again re-elected in November 2000, but once more foreign observers denounced the election as unfair.
In January 2001, Azerbaijan was admitted to the Council of Europe. It also formed an agreement with Russia on the two countries's Caspian Sea borders, and on a ten-year framework for political, economic, and military cooperation.
Succession by Aliyev's son In April 2003, the 80-year-old Aliyev collapsed while giving a speech on live television. In August 2003, he went to the USA for medical attention and appointed his son, Ilham Aliyev, as prime minister. Two months later, his son was named the NAP's candidate in the October 2003 presidential election, which he won with 77% of the vote, in an election marred by violence and alleged vote-rigging. In December 2003, Geidar Aliyev died. Ilham Aliyev continued to pursue his father's policy of developing Azerbaijan's economy with Western investment. He was re-elected in October 2008, with 88% of the vote, although this poll was not viewed as fair or free by regime opponents.
High international oil prices and development of offshore gas fields led to rapid economic growth, but, with wealth not well distributed, there remained significant poverty and unemployment in rural areas. Mass protests, organized by the Azadlig opposition party, followed the NAP's victory in the November 2005 parliamentary elections, in which opposition activists had been harassed. Following a constitutional referendum in March 2009, presidential term limits were abolished and press freedoms restricted further. The NAP and its allies went on to win all the seats in the November 2010 parliamentary elections, after many opposition candidates were excluded. This fuelled further pro-democracy protests in March 2011 to which the government's response was a security crackdown involving hundreds of arrests. In October 2013, Aliyev was re-elected for a third term as president, with 85% of the vote. And in November 2015 the ruling NAP won parliamentary elections, But the elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties as a mark of protest against continuing arrests of pro-democracy activists and independent journalists.
Azerbaijan – A Country Study
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