Azerbaijan, or Azerbaidjan, independent country on the westcoast of the Caspian Sea, bordered by Russia, Armenia and Iran. The capital and chief port is Baku, and Kirovabad and Sumgait are important cities.
Land and climate
The republic consists mainly of lowlands surrounded by the Kura River and its tributary, the Araks, which forms the border with Iran. Near the Caspian coast is a fertile plain with an abundant water supply. Tea, citrus fruits, tobacco, and rice are produced there. Further inland the climate is arid, but extensive irrigation makes cultivation possible.
The majority of the inhabitants are Azerbaijanis. The most important minority group consists of Armenians. Most Azerbaijanis are Muslims. The official language is Azerbaijani.
Cotton and sheep are the basis of a large textile industry. The region is rich in minerals, notably oil and natural gas from the long-established Baku oilfields; it is one of the oldest oil-producing areas in the world. The Caucasian hills provide iron ore.
Settled by Medes as part of the Persian Empire, it was periodically dominated by Romans, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks, returning to Persia in the 16th century. The Russian Tsar Alexander I annexed northern Azerbaijan in 1813. An independent republic was formed in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviets in 1920. In 1991 Azerbaijan regained its independence and joined the Commonwealth of Independent States. Relations with Russia remained tensed. The economic outlook seems favourable because of the large oil and gas supplies.
See also: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.