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INTRODUCTION Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states, bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. The Greater Caucasus mountain range runs in the north of the country, and flat plains lie in the centre. Azerbaijan experiences nine out of the 13 world climate classifications and has more mud volcanoes than any other country. Since regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has emerged as a vibrant society with a dynamic economy. In recent years, it has boasted one of the fastest-growing GDPs in the world, booming across all sectors. Azerbaijan remains an intriguing and attractive prospect, both for tourists and multinational corporations seeking investment and growth opportunities. This brochure provides an overview of modern Azerbaijan. It has been prepared by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), established to raise the profile of Azerbaijan within the international community, and to promote relations between Azerbaijan and the rest of the world.

Q uic k F act s Official name: The Republic of Azerbaijan Capital: Baku Area: 86,600km2 Population: 9,100,000 Principal exports: Oil, gas, aluminium, caviar, carpets Interesting fact: Fastest-growing GDP in the world in three of the last five years, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Official language: Azerbaijani Business languages: English and Russian

Maiden Tower, Baku

HISTORY Azerbaijan was home to one of the world’s earliest Neolithic settlements and is acknowledged as a centre of ancient civilisation. Such sites as Gobustan are a testament to this. This is a unique landmark, featuring rock paintings (petroglyphs), and is the location of many archaeological discoveries. It has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The earliest Azerbaijani state emerged in the 3rd millennium BC, and from the 9th–6th centuries BC it developed as one of the foremost states in the ancient world, known as Manna, located on the banks of Lake Urmiya. Following the death of Alexander the Great and the dissolution of his empire, the state of Albania (Caucasus) emerged in the north, with Atropatena in the south. Albania was one of the first Christian states, known for its alphabet and writing systems and for its extensive trade links. Islam began to spread across Azerbaijan in the 7th century, and traditional culture benefited from the innovations of Islamic civilisation. Newly independent states were formed in Azerbaijan from the 9th–11th centuries, with the country later becoming part of the Seljuk Empire. From the 12th–13th centuries,

Empire of the Nadir Shah Afshar emerged after the

many strong states evolved within Azerbaijan, such as

fall of the Safavid State. Following the collapse of that

the Atabeis and Shirvanshahs.

empire, Azerbaijan split into a number of independent khanates. Thereafter, the territories of Azerbaijan were

The 9th–12th centuries are regarded as the Azerbaijani

divided between the Russian Empire and Iran under

renaissance period. At this time, Nizami Ganjavi

the provisions of the Gulustan (1813) and Turkmanchay

(1141–1209), the renowned poet, created his famous

(1828) treaties.

Khamsa (five works). In addition, the eminent architect Ajami Abubakr established a school of architecture

After more than a century of Tsarist Russian rule in

in Nakhchivan, designing the Mausoleum of Momina

northern Azerbaijan, the first democratic republic in the

Khatun (1186) and other monuments. From the 13th–

East – the People’s Republic of Azerbaijan (1918–20) –

14th centuries, Azerbaijan occupied an important

was established.

position in the Mongol imperial system. Despite being recognised de facto by the international During the 15th century, the Qaraqoyunlu and

community, it was invaded by Soviet Russia, leading

Aghqoyunlu states emerged alongside the Shirvanshahs.

to the establishment of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist

In 1501, Shah Ismail, the eminent statesman and thinker,

Republic. Azerbaijan SSR was part of the USSR from

created the centralised Safavid State (1501–1736) and

1922, redeclaring its independence on 18 October

Azerbaijani became the official state language. The

1991. Nizami statue, Baku


Old City, Baku (with Flame Towers under construction in background)

Modern Azerbaijan developed during the period 1993–

international law. Following this, a balanced foreign policy

2003, following civil unrest arising from the dangerous

was developed. The country was subsequently integrated

volatility of the post-Soviet period. This was swiftly

into the international community, achieving efficient co-

resolved, and political stability was established.

operation with worldwide organisations. The concept of statehood introduced during this period remains in

A new Constitution was adopted in 1995; free market

effective operation.

relations were initiated; and advantageous conditions were created to attract foreign capital investment. A

Azerbaijan is undergoing a period of national resurgence.

broad oil exploitation strategy, including the Contract of

In 2007, the country’s GDP increased by a staggering 25

the Century (1994), was prepared and implemented. The

per cent, with per capita income rising by 38 per cent.

revenues which this created enabled the government to

This has resulted in a building boom across the country,

invest in new educational, scientific and cultural projects.

particularly in Baku, the capital.

A ceasefire in the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-

Present-day Azerbaijan is a key country in the East–West

Karabakh conflict was negotiated in 1994, and steps

energy corridor. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and

were taken to resolve the conflict within the norms of

Baku-Tbilisi-Arzurum gas pipeline deliver Azerbaijani

hydrocarbon resources to Europe. They serve to connect

essentially Turkic, yet Eurocentric. A tradition of hospitality

the rich resources of the Caspian basin with the world

prevails at every strata of society, and all visitors are

energy markets.

guaranteed a warm welcome.

Azerbaijan is also poised to be a major contributor to the

Armenia continues to occupy the formerly autonomous

network of pipelines comprising the proposed Southern

region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding

Corridor, which will ensure secure energy transit from

districts, amounting to nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani

Central Asia to Europe for many decades to come. The

territory. This illegal military incursion has subsequently

planned projects include the Nabucco Pipeline; the

created nearly one million Internally Displaced Persons

Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline; and Interconnector Turkey–

(IDPs) and refugees.

Greece–Italy (ITGI). Azerbaijan is renowned for its ethnic diversity and Against the background of this economic prosperity lies a

religious tolerance. In addition, there are over 20m

deeply traditional ethos with a strong sense of the family.

ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran, and strong relations are

The unique culture and history of Azerbaijan has resulted

maintained between them and other Azerbaijani diaspora

in an intriguing national character – moderate Muslim and


P o l iticS A N D E conomic s Politics & Economics – Azerbaijan is a secular, unitary

resulting from the signing of the Contract of the Century

republic. There is division of power in the country, with


an Executive, a legislative body (the Milli Majlis) and an independent judiciary. The Milli Majlis is elected every

Overseas observers have noted the improvement

five years, with elections being supervised by the OSCE

in transparency in each successive election since

and other international observers.






international conventions on human rights. It has also There are around 40 political parties in the country. Major

made great progress towards adopting related standards,

economic decisions affecting the future of the country

including abolishing the death penalty and establishing

were brokered during the first independent government,

an Ombudsman’s Office. An extensive range of non-

following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which existed

governmental organisations has been formed.

from 1993–2003. This included such significant projects as construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline,

Baku at night


Flame Towers, Baku (currently under construction)

Business and trade – There are numerous opportunities

International relations – Azerbaijan has a westward-

for European businesses in Azerbaijan, with the economy

looking foreign policy. It strives to achieve and maintain

experiencing a high level of growth. UK Trade and

excellent relations with its neighbours, and has successfully

Investment (UKTI), the European Commission (EC), and

worked with Georgia, Russia and Iran. It has particularly

The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), an international

strong cultural and historical ties with Turkey. Azerbaijan

NGO, promote and support investment in Azerbaijan.

is a member of the UN, the OSCE, the European Neighbourhood Policy and Council of Europe. It is

Economy – Economic growth in the Azerbaijani economy

negotiating to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

has been boosted by international investment, linked to its oil and gas reserves. It experienced the highest GDP

Azerbaijan has active agreements and strong engagement

growth rate in the world in 2006 at 34.5 per cent, reaching

with NATO and the EU. Many European countries have

25 per cent in 2007. According to Reuters, Azerbaijani

representative embassies in Baku that, with the EU, are

GDP would achieve 7.6 per cent growth in 2011, having

very dynamic in the country. Azerbaijani soldiers have

attained 6 per cent in 2010.

participated in NATO operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. Since 2001, military aircraft and supply trucks

Alongside this spectacular growth, the Government has

have carried US and NATO forces to Afghanistan via

implemented a new Poverty Reduction and Development


Plan. This programme includes measures to boost the non-oil sector, continuance of strong monetary policy monitoring,

There has been close Azerbaijani–UK collaboration in the

governance initiatives (such as reforming the Cabinet of

energy sector, resulting in regular high-level visits. The UK

Ministers), and expenditure control improvement.

is the largest western investor in Azerbaijan, having long recognised the potential in the country. The UK topped

The World Bank and International Finance Corporation

the Foreign Direct Investment table into Azerbaijan during

rated Azerbaijan as 69th amongst 183 countries in its Doing

January–July 2010 with £401.3m, equating to a 30.8 per

Business 2012 report.

cent increase on the previous year.


Education and science – High-quality education has

Music – Azerbaijani ‘mugham’ has been recognised

ancient roots in Azerbaijan. A new chapter was opened

since 2003 by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and

in the 19th century with the foundation of European-style

Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

educational institutions. In 1919, Baku State University was established, being one of the first institutions of its

This highly complex art form, performed in a passionate

type in the East, thereby introducing further education to


the country. During the Soviet era, the national educational


policy was substituted for that of the Soviet system.

International Mugham Centre has opened in Baku, and the









modes. An

International Mugham Festival is regularly organised. Following the regaining of Azerbaijani independence in 1991, the Educational Reform Programme was launched.

A modern incarnation of mugham is ‘jazz-mugham’,

Implemented in 1999, the government developed an

developed by pianist and composer Vagif Mustafazadeh.

educational methodology that conforms to world standards.

Some of the world’s leading musicians perform at the Baku

The current system comprises pre-school establishments,

International Jazz Festival.

comprehensive schools, vocational schools, junior colleges and universities.

Another indigenous form is ashiq music, performed by travelling bards who accompany themselves on the saz, a

New educational legislation, adopted in 2009, established

traditional stringed instrument.

a legal basis for a renewed education system. In addition to state schools, a network of private educational

Uzeyir Hajibeyov is the founder of Azerbaijani classical

organisations has also been created. The higher education

music. His Leyli and Majnun (1908) was the first opera in

institutions of Azerbaijan actively participate in the Bologna

the Orient. The first Eastern ballets and symphony orchestras

Process. Thousands of youths from countries across the

also emerged in Azerbaijan. The appreciation of classical

world currently study in the country’s higher education

music is promoted, and the resident orchestra for the fourth

institutions. The Azerbaijani educational system also makes

Gabala International Music Festival will be the London-

provision for top students to study in the world’s leading

based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Audiences and


musicians from across the world are expected to attend.

Azerbaijani scientific discovery has a long history. Scientific

Cinema – Cinema emerged in Azerbaijan in 1898. Since

research is currently undertaken by the Azerbaijani National

this time, cinematography has evolved as an art-form.

Academy of Sciences (ANAS), founded in 1945, together

Azerbaijani Rustam Ibrahimbayov won an Oscar for his

with a range of other universities. There are specialist schools

script for Burnt by the Sun, and Ayaz Salayev’s The Bat was

for sciences, covering mathematics, physics, oil chemistry,

awarded the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival

geology, biology and other disciplines. The Azerbaijan

in Angers, France. Azerbaijani producer Vaqif Mustafayev

State Oil Academy is renowned for its scientific research

was elected as a member of the European Cinema and

and innovations in the oil extraction industry. Furthermore,

Television Academy for his film Good-for-Nothing.

research undertaken in humanitarian and social sciences has enriched understanding and appreciation of Azerbaijani literature, history, philosophy and other humanities.

Art and architecture – Prominent Azerbaijani artists include Sattar Bahlulzade (1909–74), who founded contemporary Azerbaijani landscape painting. He represented the countryside of his homeland in a surreal way, combining pastel colours and broad strokes. Exhibitions of his work have taken place across the world. Tahir Salahov (b.1928) was the main exponent of the ‘severe style’, being renowned for his portraits of workers and celebrities, such as composer Kara Karayev. On the other side of the spectrum, Togrul Narimanbekov (b.1930) depicted aspects of Azerbaijani folk life in rich, vibrant colours. Art is exhibited across the country, through a broad network of museums and galleries, and in Baku there are institutions dedicated to literature, fine arts, carpets, decorative arts and modern art. Azerbaijani architecture combines influences from many styles and periods. Hundreds of historic and modern structures are in existence, representing various aesthetic styles and architectural schools. The Caucasian Albanian legacy is particularly important, being represented by both civil buildings and Christian temples. One of these is located in Kish village, Sheki, and is regarded as the ‘mother of Albanian churches’. This is the most ancient Christian monument in the Caucasus and was recently renovated during a special project. Islam spread across the country during the 7th century, resulting in the adoption of Islamic styles. The quality of Azerbaijani architecture reached a new zenith during the 10th–12th centuries, and the Momina Khatun Mausoleum (1186), constructed in Nakhchivan under the leadership of Ajami Abubakr’s son, Nakhchivani, is both a pearl of Azerbaijani and world architecture. The jewels of Azerbaijani architecture include the Icheri Sheher walled city of Baku, which comprises over 50 historical and architectural monuments, such as the Shirvanshahs’ Palace and the Maiden’s Tower. These are included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. In the late 19th–early 20th centuries, rapid development of the Baku oil industry stimulated the development of civil and industrial architecture. Following the re-establishment of independence, Soviet official architecture was replaced by a new, contemporary approach. Tombstone at Shirvanshahs’ Palace, Old City, Baku

C U LT U R E A N D A R T Cuisine – Azerbaijani food is renowned for being amongst the most delicious in the Caucasus. The richly fertile agricultural land and Caspian Sea provide a wide variety of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Caspian Sea caviar is an internationally sought-after delicacy. Azerbaijani cuisine incorporates more than 30 kinds of soup, and the most famous meal is plov. A wide variety of kebabs, using lamb, beef, chicken, and fish are prepared for special occasions. Dried fruits and walnuts are used in abundance. Azerbaijani cuisine is famous for its widespread use of seasonal vegetables and a range of herbs. Literature – Literature has a special place in Azerbaijani culture, with folklore at its heart. The Azerbaijani epic The Book of DadaQurqud is a significant literary piece that is more than 1,300 years old. In the Middle Ages, Azerbaijani poet Nizami created his world-famous Khamsa, and prominent prose writer Fizuli was recognised across national and regional borders. His Leyli and Majnun is renowned as a literary gem. Another great exponent of Azerbaijani literature was Mirza Fatali Akhundov, who refined dramatic form for the theatre during the 19th century. During the Soviet period, such brilliant Azerbaijani literary figures as Huseyn Javid, Ahmad Javad and Mikail Mushfiq fell victim to repression. Samad Vurgun, Suleyman Rustam, Ilyas Afandiyev and Mammed Ordubadi were particularly renowned. The Azerbaijani poet Shahriyar was of great importance to Azerbaijani and Iranian literature. Ali and Nino by Azerbaijani émigré writer Gurban Said is famous across the world. Modernday literary figures are Bakhtiyar Vahabzada, Anar and others. Chingis Abdullayev has become internationally recognised for his gripping detective novels and short stories.

Hasan bey Zardabi statue, Baku

If you would like any further information about The European Azerbaijan Society, please contact: 2 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AA, UK Tel: +44 (0) 207 808 1918

Azerbaijan Brochure 2012 | TEAS

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