Azerbaijan

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The Republic of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan, Armenian: Ադրբեջան) is a country bounded by Armenia to the east, Iran to the south, Russia and Georgia to the north, and Turkey by way of the country's Nakhichevan exclave. Today there are thought to be perhaps 15,000 Armenians remaining in Azerbaijan's capital of Baku after most fled in the early 1990s following anti-Armenian pogroms. Those remaining are almost exlusively cases of mixed marriages, usually where the wife is Armenian and the husband Azeri.

History

Before the arrival of Turkish tribes a thousand years ago, Azerbaijan was a Christian state known as Caucasian Albania, or in Armenian Aghvan (sp?). Their church followed the same branch of Christianity as the Armenian Church, and they used the same alphabet.

On the lowlands, the Turkic conquers began to assimilate the local population, who slowly adopted the language and religion of the Turks. In the mountains, pockets of Christians remained, and the Albanian Church remained intact until the 1800s, when the Russian rulers abolished the Albanian Church and what remained was absorbed into the Armenian Church. The remaining Albanians are today known as Udis. In 1873, oil was discovered in and around the city of Baku, Azerbaijan's future capital. Oil has since become an important source of revenue for the area.

Most of present-day Azerbaijan roughly corresponds to the former Baku and Elisabethpol Governorates of the Russian Empire (parts of the latter eventually became what are today the provinces of Syunik and Tavush in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh). The concept of the Azerbaijani national identity came into being for the first time with the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in 1918. Prior to that time, the term "Azerbaijan" had only been applied to a region in Northern Iran while the term "Arran" was applied to what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan. Likewise, the Turkic inhabitants of the area were known as Tatars by both Russian authorities as well as outside observers. This lasted until the founding of the Azerbaijan SSR, when the term "Azerbaijanis" or "Azeris" fell into common use.

The Musavat (Equality) Party founded and controlled the ADR for most of its short existence. Seeing Ottoman Turkey and the Young Turks as potential allies they named their country "Azerbaijan." This move promoted the concept of Pan-Turkism for if the Ottoman Empire wished they could unify the area with region in northern Iran and then merge the combined territory with the Ottoman Empire. This ideology led to constant clashes between the ADR and the Democratic Republic of Armenia (DRA) which felt itself threatened by the concept. Both countries engaged in territorial disputes over Karabakh, Nakhichevan, Syunik, and Kazakh-Shamshadin (today the province of Tavush in Armenia and the rayon of Qazakh in Azerbaijan), which eventually led to mutual ethnic cleansings on both sides.

After the Soviet takeover of the area, the name "Azerbaijan" was retained because the Soviets too hoped to expand into the region of Northern Iran (something that became apparent during the joint Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran). Furthermore, the Soviet government also began teaching the idea of a "patitioned Azerbaijan" in Azerbaijani school textbooks, making the divide between the Azerbaijan SSR and the Azerbaijan region in Northern Iran sound similiar to the conflicts over East and West Germany or North and South Korea, even though this was not the case. Despite this, many Azerbaijanis during the Soviet years still lacked the sense of a national identity and if asked in a city like Moscow where they had come from, they would respond by indicating a city or region in Azerbaijan (e.g. "Baku" or "Ganja") instead of the republic as a whole.

In general, the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians had friendly relations during the Soviet years (with frequent cases of intermarriages). However this changed when the government of the Azerbaijan SSR (led by Heydar Aliyev) began making efforts to assimilate and "Azerify" the predominately Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh (which had, since its incorporation into the USSR, become an autonomous oblast). This ultimately lead to the outbreak of the Karabakh conflict. Most Azerbaijanis supported retaining Karabakh, believing that it could threaten the remaing territory of Azerbaijan and thus the focal point of Azerbaijan's national identity.

During the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan went through a succession of presidents: the pro-Soviet/Russian Ayaz Mütallibov, Isa Gambar who filled in immediately as president after Mütallibov, the pan-Turkist Abülfaz Elçibay (whose Minister of the Interior İsgandar Hamidov resigned in April 1993 after having threatened Armenia with a nuclear strike), and finally the former KGB officer and Azerbaijan SSR leader Heydar Aliyev. Although the latter manged to stabilize the country in the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh War and exploit Baku's oil wealth, his regime was also very autocratic and grossly corrupt. Upon his death, he selected his son Ilham Aliyev to run as president in his place.

Ilham Aliyev won Azerbaijan's 2003 presidential election amid massive protests by pro-democratic Azeri opposition forces and the Azerbaijani intelligentsia. The election of Aliyev was criticized by many foreign observers and human rights institutions as being neither free nor fair. Under Aliyev's regime, Azerbaijan's human rights record has hit an all-time low while the country's military spending has seen a dramatic increase. A cult of personality also exists around both Ilham and his father Heydar.

Aliyev has also managed to crush opposition while retaining a certain degree of popularity by keeping the question of Karabakh's status open. The Aliyev administration often asserts Azerbaijan's territorial integrity over the area. He often states that peace talks with Armenia over Karabakh are "hopeless" while refusing to have open dialogue with the government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic itself. Aliyev has also openly threatened to "liberate" the enclave "by force" and actively opposes Turkey opening its border with Armenia.

Armenian Genocide

Aliev Says Armenian Genocide A 'Fantasy'

Reuters
Source

Azerbaijan, which lost land in a war with neighboring Armenia, on Friday condemned French draft legislation making it a crime to deny the genocide of Armenians by Ottoman Turks and said the massacre was a "fantasy".

Azeri President Ilham Aliev, speaking in English, criticized the bill, which was approved by France's lower house of parliament earlier this month causing fury in Turkey.

"It has nothing to do with reality. The so-called genocide is the fantasy of the Armenian lobby ... to justify their aggression against other countries to present themselves as the victims," Aliev told foreign journalists. He said the bill was a "blatant violation" of democracy.

France is home to Europe's largest share of the Armenian diaspora.

Azerbaijan, which shares with Turkey the Muslim faith, common ethnic roots and a similar language, lost its Nagorno-Karabakh territory to its Christian neighbor Armenia in the 1990s during a full-scale military conflict in which some 35,000 people were killed.

See also

Conflicts