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History of Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan – land of fire

The ancient states of Azerbaijan, which maintained political, economic and cultural ties with Sumer and Akkad and formed part of the wider civilization of Mesopotamia, were governed by dynasties of Turkic descent. The Turkophone peoples which have inhabited the area of Azerbaijan since ancient times were fire worshippers and adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions Zoroastrianism. The country’s name, in its current form, is derived from a Turkic collocation meaning “land, noble people, keepers of the flame”.

Over the period from the late ninth to the seventh centuries BC, the Mannaean kingdom held sway in the area of lake Urmia. The Cimmerian Scythian Saka kingdom flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries BC in the south west of Azerbaijan. In the 670s BC, the Mannaean kingdom arose in the territory of Azerbaijan and was overthrown by the Persian Achaemenid kingdom in the mid sixth century BC.

A vital role was played in Azerbaijani history by the kingdom of Atropaten, which came into existence in the southern part of the country in the 520s BC and which was heavily influenced by Hellenism.

The Caucasian Albanian state was created in the north of Azerbaijan in the third millennium BC, with the river Araz as its southern frontier.

Following the invasion by the Arabs, the dominant religion from the early eighth century in Azerbaijan became Islam. Most of the Albanians also converted to Islam and only a minority retained their former religion.

Following the anti Caliphate rising by the local population, several new states arose in the territory of Azerbaijan in the ninth century, the most powerful of which was the State of Shirvan, with its capital at Shemakha, which was ruled by the Shirvanshah dynasty. This endured until the sixteenth century and played an enormous role in the history of medieval Azerbaijan. The independent states of the Sajids, Salarids, Ravvadids (with their capital at Tabriz) and Shaddadids (with their capital at Ganja) arose from the ninth to the eleventh centuries in the territory of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan was ruled by the Seljuk dynasty from the end of the eleventh century. Over the period 1136 1225, the Atabek Eldegiz state held sway in Azerbaijan.

The sharing by the country’s indigenous population of a common Turkic language and Turkic provenance and their adherence to the same Islamic faith made possible a process of consolidation of the Azerbaijani nation which reached its culmination in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This same period saw the greatest flowering of the culture of Azerbaijan, which bequeathed to the world an array of illustrious philosophers, architects, poets and scholars. The crowning achievement of Azerbaijani social and cultural thought of that period was the work of Nizami Ganjavi (1141 1209), poet and philosopher, now one of the treasures of the world’s cultural heritage.

From the mid thirteenth century, the Azerbaijani states became vassals of the Mongol Hulagid dynasty (1258 1356). In the mid fourteenth century, following an uprising by the local population to cast off the yoke of the invaders, the local Jalairid feudal lords took up the reins of power and, with the support of the Azerbaijani nobility, established the Jalairid state (1359 1410).

From the end of the fourteenth century, Azerbaijan was repeatedly invaded by Tamerlan and served as the theatre for his battles with the Golden Horde.

The Azerbaijani dynasties of Qara Qoyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu ruled over Azerbaijan in 1410 1468 and 1468 1501 and under them Azerbaijan grew significantly in power. In 1501, the Safavid state was formed in Azerbaijan, which was named after the ruling Azerbaijani dynasty, with its capital in Tabriz. Under this dynasty, all the lands of Azerbaijan were united, for the first time in their history, into a single Azerbaijani state. The territory of the Safavid state stretched from the Amu Darya River to the Euphrates and from Derbent to the shores of the Persian Gulf. This polity was created and developed as an essentially Azerbaijani state and all political power remained in the hands of the Azerbaijani feudal nobility. Senior court officials, military generals and provincial governors were all appointed from among the Azerbaijani nobility. The army was made up from the militia of the most powerful Azerbaijani clans. Azerbaijani was the official language of the Safavid state. By the end of the sixteenth century, the capital of the Safavid state had been transferred to Isfahan and its shah now drew his support primarily from the Persian nobility. The State, while ruled by an Azerbaijan dynasty, took on an increasingly Persian aspect.

In the 1747 after demise of Nadir Shah and with the weakening of the power exercised by the Iranian shahs over the territory of Azerbaijan, the country disintegrated into some 20 khanates, namely, Ardabil, Baku, Ganja, Derbent, Erivan, Javad, Karabagh, Karadagh, Khoi, Maku, Maragin, Nakhichevan, Quba, Salyan, Sarab, Shirvan, Sheki, Tabriz, Talysh and Urumi.

The first Russo Persian war of 1804 1813, fought to establish dominance over the Azerbaijani khanates, resulted in the first division of Azerbaijani territories between Russia and Persia. The peace treaty of Gulistan, signed on 12 October 1813 by Russia and Persia, gave legal recognition to the effective annexation by Russia of the khanates of northern Azerbaijan, with the exception of Nakhichevan and Erivan. The second Russo Persian war of 1826 1828 led, on 10 February 1828, to the signing of the Turkmanchai peace treaty, under which Persia officially renounced its claims to northern Azerbaijan and finally recognized its annexation, with the inclusion of the Nakhichevan and Erivan khanates, by Russia.

Since the mid-19th century, the oil industry had been flourishing in northern Azerbaijan. The first ever industrial oil well was drilled in 1848. In the late 19th–early 20th centuries Baku was producing 95% of Russia's and about 50% of the world's oil production. The Nobels and Rothschilds were among the oil magnates of Baku, and made a great income. The capital of Nobels was made largely due to the income that came from the Azerbaijani oil.

2nd half of the 19th - early 20th c. was also a period of national culture's progress in Azerbaijan; for example, in 1907, Uzeyir Hajibayov, famous Azerbaijani composer, wrote his «Leyli and Majnun», the first opera in the Muslim world. In general, Azerbaijan's musical culture was so developed that Azerbaijan was called as ''East's Conservatoire'' or ''East's Italy''.

Considerable uplift and real national awakening were seen in other spheres too. Thus, since the mid-19th century the ideas of masses’ enlightenment have been in an active spread. To that end, the “Azerbaijan” newspaper was issued by the efforts of national intelligentsia in 1858 in Tabriz, southern Azerbaijan. It was the first one in Azerbaijani and published under different names for some years.

In North Azerbaijan, in 1875-1877, the newspaper “Akinchi” (“Ploughman”) was published under the guidance of the outstanding enlightener Hasan bay Zardabi. Historic achievements of “Akinchi” include, first of all, the struggle for enriching the native language and its propaganda.

There should be mentioned the literary and enlightening activities of Mirza Fatali Akhundov, Mirza Alakbar Sabir, Jalil Mammadguluzadah, Jafar Jabbarli, Firudun bay Kocharli, Ahmad Javad, and many others. Moreover, the national professional fine arts, architecture, theater, and cinematography were in substantial progress.

Above-mentioned rapid cultural-ideological processes also made a great influence on political institutionalization and the consolidation of the Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijanis, living within Russia, were among the pioneers of the Empire Muslims’ democratic movement for their rights. Alimardan bay Topchubashov, a distinguished Azerbaijani statesman, became one of the founders of “Ittifaqi Muslimin” (“Union of Muslims”). It was established in order to represent and pursue the Turkic-Muslim peoples’ interests in the Empire authorities in 1905. In general, the Azerbaijani representatives took an active part in this movement striving for the common aims of the oppressed Muslims in the Czarist Russia.

Talking about the considerable progress in the sphere of the political consciousness in the early 20th century, it’s impossible not to notice visions of pan-Turkist Ahmad bay Agaoglu, and Ali bay Huseynzadeh, who shaped the Azerbaijanism idea, consolidating the nation in a moral level, as a synthesis of traditional Islamic and Turkic priorities with the modern ones.

The late 19th – 1st half of the 20th c. also marked the activation of political consciousness of Azerbaijanis lived in Southern Azerbaijan. Movements of 1905-1911 for the limitation of Shah’s absolutism - headed by the Azerbaijani national heroes like Sattar khan and Baghir khan – for the first time brought the democratic forms of political culture and institutionalization to the then Persia, which was under the rule of Gajar dynasty. The brightest page of this struggle was the revolt of 1908-1909 in Tabriz, the main city of South Azerbaijan, where the power during the uprising was in the hands of anjuman.

A direct socio-political result of the 1905-1911 developments became the movement under the guidance of Sheikh Khiyabani broken out in Tabriz in 1919. The establishment of parliament and government in 1945 in Southern Azerbaijan indicates the rise of political culture of Azerbaijanis living in the Shah Iran to higher level of development. Thus, South Azerbaijan became a heart of all democratic processes in Iran in the late 19th- 1st half of the 20th c.

After the revolutionary events of 1917 in Russia, the processes of disintegration of the country became more pronounced and the conditions were ripe for the formation, in outlying ethnic regions of the former Russian Empire, of independent States. Thus, on 28 May 1918, the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic was proclaimed in the territory of the eastern part of the southern Caucasus - the first parliamentary democracy in the Islamic east - which was to play a historic role in the renaissance and formation of the sense of ethnic identity and statehood of the Azerbaijani nation.

In its brief existence of less than two years, the multi-party Azerbaijani parliament and the coalition Government managed to take a number of important steps in the process of nation building and the development of statehood, and in such areas as education, formation of an army, development of independent financial and economic systems and securing international recognition for the young republic as a full member of the international community of nations. On 11 January 1920, the Paris Peace Conference, with the Treaty of Versailles, accorded de facto recognition of the independence of the Azerbaijani Republic, to whose capital - Baku.

The political decision by the Bolshevist Government of the Russian Socialist Federative Republic (RSFSR) not to recognize the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, the deployment of the Eleventh Red Army on the frontiers of the Azerbaijani Republic in Spring 1920, the aggression waged by Dashnak ruled Armenia against Azerbaijan in

Karabagh and Zangezur, the terrorist strikes by Armenian groups and the Bolsheviks against the peaceful Azerbaijani population inside Azerbaijan and the social and economic crisis gripping the country - all these factors combined to bring about the weakening of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic and led to the occupation of its capital by the Eleventh Army on 27-28 April 1920.

70 years, during which it formed part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), marked a new, important stage in the development of the Azerbaijani statehood, during which the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic forged ahead in its social, economic and cultural development. At the same time, the Soviet period also saw many negative trends emerge in Azerbaijan, as elsewhere throughout the USSR.

In 1988-1990, the national democratic movement in Azerbaijan campaigned vigorously for the restoration of the country’s independence. On September 23, 1989, Azerbaijan was among the first Soviet republics to adopt its own Constitutional Law on Sovereignty.

With a view to suppressing this movement, on 20 January 1990, with the approval of the Soviet leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet army units were dispatched to Baku. Their reprisals, which were conducted with uncommon savagery, left hundreds of innocent Azerbaijani citizens dead and wounded. A state of emergency was declared in the country and this remained in force until mid 1991.

18 October 1991 saw the passage of the act establishing the State independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which set out the foundations for the statehood of an independent Azerbaijan and determined the principles of its political and economic structure. With that act the Republic of Azerbaijan once again, after a 71-year interval, became an independent subject of international law.

Azerbaijan is a democratic, secular, unitary republic with a single legislative body. State power is based on the principle of division of powers: legislative power is implemented by the Parliament, executive power – by President and judicial – by courts. Milli Meclis (Parliament) – one chamber body comprising 125 deputies, elected by direct elections for 5 years term. The head of state is President, elected for 5 years term by direct elections, is responsible for executive power. The head of the government is Prime Minister, appointed by President with the consent of Milli Meclis. Judicial Power is executed solely by Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and Economic Court, general and specialized courts.

From 1993 to 2003 outstanding political leader of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev was the president of Azerbaijan. On October 15, 2003 Ilham Aliyev was elected as president of Republic of Azerbaijan.