History of Azerbaijan
The area that today constitutes the state of Azerbaijan has had a changing history. The geographical position between Europe, Asia and the Middle East has led to the area being subject to a number of different kingdoms and populated by different peoples. Therefore, name, language and religion have changed several times throughout history.
Some Azerbaijani state formation did not exist until the 20th century. After the Russian Revolution, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was established in 1918, but already two years later the area was incorporated into the Soviet Union. In August 1991, Azerbaijan declared its independence, and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December of that year, the republic was recognized as an independent state.
The oldest signs of hominids in Eurasia are found in the Azykh Cave in Azerbaijan. Tools found in the cave are believed to be at least 700,000 years old.
A number of civilizations and peoples have affected the area that is today’s Azerbaijan. The geographical position between Europe, Asia and the Middle East has led to the area being subject to a number of different kingdoms and populated by different peoples.
In the 9th century BCE. Caucasian Albanians (not related to today’s Albania) came to the area. In ancient times, Azerbaijan was part of the Media. The area became part of Persia around 600 BCE, and Zoroastrianism became the dominant religion. Alexander the Great conquered Azerbaijan in 330 BCE. Later, the area was named the Atropaths after one of Alexander the Great’s satraps, which landed after the kingdom’s division. In 190 to 428 BCE. were parts of the area subject to an Armenian kingdom. In the 100th century BCE. arose the Albanian kingdom, which became a Christian in the 300s AD.
The Arabs abandoned the area in the 6th century AD and brought Islam with them. In the 13th century came the Mongols. In the centuries that followed, Azerbaijan was part of the Persian Empire, but at the same time a conflict-bounded area between Turkish, Persian and eventually Russian influence.
Shared between Russia and Iran
Towards the end of the 18th century, Russia began to expand southward in the Caucasus. In 1799, the Russians captured Tbilisi in Georgia. The Sea of Persia went to war against Russia to regain Georgia, but ended up losing Dagestan and Azerbaijan to the tsar. Russia conquered part of Azerbaijan in 1813, and in 1828 the area was divided between Russia and Persia by the river Araks. The southern part has remained part of Persia (Iran), while the northern part declared itself independent in 1918.
In 1846, oil was found outside Baku. At the beginning of the 20th century, half of the world’s oil was produced in Azerbaijan. Mainly, European investors were rich in oil, while local workers lived in poverty. The conditions of the oil workers and the huge class differences in Azerbaijan led to political and ethnic contradictions, and contributed to the breeding ground of the Russian revolution in 1917.
After the revolution, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was established in 1918. This state formation was short-lived. The independent state first relied on Turkish, then British influence. When the British withdrew in 1920, the Red Army moved into the country.
The Petroglyphs (pictorial) from the Stone Age of Gobustan National Park in Azerbaijan are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Soviet Republic (1920–1991)
After the Russians march in 1920, the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan was established, and in 1922 the republic was merged with Georgia and Armenia into the Transcaucasus Federative Soviet Republic. In 1936, Azerbaijan gained its own Union Republic status in the Soviet Union.
After 1920, nationalist and religious leaders were persecuted and many were killed. The religious persecution was particularly severe in the 1930s, when many mosques and other religious sites were destroyed. Also, forced collectivization and Stalin’s political persecution in the late 1930s ( the great terror ) hit the Republic hard.
From the 1960s, Heidar Alijev was Azerbaijan’s leading political figure. In 1987, after Mikhail Gorbachev took over as Soviet party leader, he lost his place in the Moscow political office. Political discontent gradually became evident in demonstrations against the government of the republic.
From February 1988, the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh characterized Azerbaijan. The conflict developed into periods of pure war.
Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous district of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era; three quarters of the population are Armenians. The conflict started as a riot among the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh demanding liberation from Azerbaijan and joining Armenia.
In January 1990, violent riots broke out over large parts of Azerbaijan. The starting point was the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Azerbaijan’s Nationalist People’s Front accused the government of not doing enough to restore the country’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. The situation quickly came out of government control. The national front was close to taking over the republic when large units from the Soviet army and navy arrived in the republic. The state of emergency was introduced in Bakı (Baku) and other cities, and Prime Minister Ajaz Mutalibov became new party leader.
In the fall of 1990, the Azerbaijani Communist Party received 80 percent of the seats of the republic’s top Soviet. Ajaz Mutalibov was elected president, and when the Assembly met in February 1991, opposition parties gathered in the umbrella organization Democratic Bloc.
Azerbaijan was among the republics that until August 1991 strongly supported the idea of a unified union. In the referendum on a new union agreement in March 1991, a large majority of voters voted yes. President Ajaz Mutalibov also supported the coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991. The opposition protested against this line and boycotted the direct presidential election in September, where Mutalibov – the only candidate – was re-elected.
In August 1991, the Republic declared itself independent. Independence was confirmed by a unanimous National Assembly in October, when it was also decided to establish a national army. Following the final dissolution of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan was widely recognized as an independent state.