Historical BackgroundA Rich, Proud and Diverse Foundation

Today’s Azerbaijani citizens are the heirs to a rich history and culture. Located in the Caucasus, on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan occupies the world’s most important strategic crossroads between East and West. A country at the center of the historic Silk Road, Azerbaijan treasures its natural and cultural diversity. The largest country of the South Caucasus, it is home, along with ethnic Azeris, to more than 70 different ethnic groups, including Kurds, Jews, Russians, Armenians, Lezghis and many others.

Azerbaijan with its favorable nature and a mild climate was among the birthplaces of mankind. It was here that the Azykh cave, the earliest human habitat on Earth dating back 1-1,2 million years, was found.


As early as in the third millenium BC, tribal entities like Aratta, Lullubum and Kutium emerged on the territory of historic Azerbaijan. Later, in the first millenium BC, the Zoroastrian states of Manna and Midiya were established on Azerbaijani lands. Midya, in alliance with Babylon, successfully fought the Assyrians but in the 7th century BC was defeated by the Persian Empire.

Located at the heart of ancient civilizations, Azerbaijan has been invaded and fought over by many empires and rulers, including Alexander the Great, the Roman general Pompey, the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, and Russia’s Peter the Great.

The conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great led to the emergence of the states of Atropatena (Adarbaygan) and the Caucasian Albania. Atropatena was established in the year 323 BC on the Azerbaijani –populated territories, which are now in Iran, and the Caucasian Albania in 4-5th century BC on the territory of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan..
During that of time, the Zoroastrian religion dominated in Azerbaijan, and Qazaka, the capital of Atropatena was the spiritual center of Zoroastrian priests. In the 3rd century, Christianity became a principal religion in the Caucasian Albania and in the 4th century, an autonomous Albanian Apostolic Church was established. The Russian Empire’s authorities revoked the long-held autonomy of the Albanian Christian Church in the 19th century.

In the 7th century, Muslim Arabs invaded Azerbaijan introducing Islam to the Caucasus. Until the 9th century Azerbaijan was a province of the Arab Caliphate. The Caliphate gradually weakened and lost its influence, partially due to the longest revolt in its history, the Azerbaijani – based uprising of Khurramittes in the 9th century.

The 9th century saw the formation of autonomous feudal states on the Azerbaijani lands. The most stable among them was the state of Shirvanshahs, which survived until 1538.

Azerbaijan became a part of the Seljuk Empire in the 11th century. Under the Seljuk rule, the immigration of Turkic tribes further strengthened the ancient and already dominant Turkic presence in Azerbaijan.

The 12th century marked the emergence of the powerful state of Atabeys (Eldegizes) and the ’’age of the Muslim renaissance’’ in Azerbaijan. This “renaissance” owed its glory, among others, to the literary genius of Nizami Ganjavi, poets like Mahsati Ganjavi, Abu-l Ula Ganjavi, Falaki Shirvani, Khaqani Shirvani, and the architect Ajami Nakhchivani. Azerbaijani literary and architectural masterpieces became an outstanding contribution to the world’s cultural heritage.
The Mongols invaded Azerbaijan in the 13th century and at the end of the 14th century Azerbaijan was conquered by the Central Asian ruler Tamerlan.

Between 1501 and 1736 the Azerbaijani Sefevi dynasty, founded by Shah Ismayil Khatai, ruled Iran and neighboring countries, including Azerbaijan. Among the 19 semi-independent entities, such as khanates and sultanates, which emerged following the fall of the Sefevi dynasty, were the Azerbaijani khanates of Karabakh with the capital in Shusha and the khanate of Iravan with the capital in Iravan (Erevan, the capital of modern Armenia).

Russia’s imperial expansion in the Caucasus began in 1723 with Peter the Great’s Caspian crusade. In 1796 the Russian army returned to the Caucasus. After the annexation of Georgia in 1801, the Russian Empire began the process of occupation of the Azerbaijani khanates, and by 1828, after two Russian-Persian wars, Azerbaijan was split into two parts. The northern portion is what would become modern Azerbaijan.

Since the mid – 19th century the oil industry has been flourishing in Azerbaijan. The first industrial oil well was drilled in 1848. In the late 19th - early 20th centuries, Baku was producing 95% of the Russian Empire’s and about 50% of the world’s oil production. Westerners such as the Nobels and Rotchshilds were among the oil magnates of Baku. It was also at that time that the Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibayov wrote his “Leyli and Majnun,” the first opera in the Muslim world.

When the Czar’s rule ended in Russia at the end of World War I, Azerbaijan seized the opportunity to declare its independence. On May 28, 1918 - a date still celebrated today as the Republic Day - the Azerbaijani people established their own independent state, the first Republic in the Muslim East. The international community, including the United States, recognized the sovereignty of the new country. Azerbaijan became one of the first nations in the region to adopt a secular, democratic form of government. At the conclusion of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was said to have remarked that the Azerbaijanis he met “talked the same language that I did with respect to ideals, and the concepts of liberty and justice.”

Within two years of declaring independence, however, Russia again asserted its rule over Azerbaijan. In April 1920, the Bolshevik Red Army supported by Armenian armed units invaded the country massacring scores of civilians and overthrowing the democratic government. Azerbaijan was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union and for the next 70 years, was governed under Communist rule.

During the late 1980s, many Azerbaijanis were hopeful that independence would return as a result of the Soviet Union’s decline. On September 23, 1989, Azerbaijan was among the first Soviet republics to adopt its own Constitutional Law on Sovereignty.

Yet, Azerbaijan’s independence did not come easily. In 1990, Soviet troops invaded Baku, resulting in the deaths of more than a hundred civilians. In the end, however, Azerbaijan’s pro-Moscow regime grew weaker and by 1991, popular pressure led the country to break away from Soviet rule and declare its independence.

On August 30, 1991, Azerbaijan’s Parliament adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and on October 18, 1991, the Constitutional Act on the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan was approved.

November 1991 marked the beginning of international recognition of Azerbaijan’s independence. In 1992, the country became a member of the United Nations and Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), now known as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

This was also a period when the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan became a major international dispute. The collapse of the Soviet Union had created chaos and uncertainty in the region, and Armenian extremists took advantage of these circumstances. In 1992, Armenia launched a campaign of open aggression against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces conducted brutal ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide against Azerbaijani civilians. During only one night, more than 750 Azerbaijani civilians were massacred in the town of Khojali and Armenia gained a major stronghold in the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Today, the per capita ratio of the displaced population within the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the highest in the world. The displaced communities in Azerbaijan include refugees brutally expelled from Armenia in 1988-89, Internally Displaced Persons from the regions occupied by the Armenian forces, and the Meskheti Turkish refugees.

Following these difficulties, the leader of the Popular Front political movement, Abulfaz Elchibey, was elected Azerbaijan’s first new, post-Soviet president. However, within a year, the new government’s inability to address the worsening military situation in Nagorno Karabakh and the declining domestic economy led to Elchibey’s departure from office. In October 1993, Heydar Aliyev, the Speaker of the Parliament, was elected President.

Newly elected President Aliyev faced many challenges, including numerous, uncontrolled armed mobs, which had emerged in Azerbaijan at the time the Soviet Union was dissolved. Renegade groups attempted to overthrow President Aliyev’s government, but each time they failed, and the armed opposition groups lost support among the population and became weaker.

The results of presidential elections in October of 1998 and both parliamentary elections held in November of 1995 and November of 2000, respectively, affirmed public approval of President Aliyev’s policies. His New Azerbaijan Party received the majority of seats in both parliamentary elections, a sign of considerable popular support for the President’s efforts to establish democratic institutions.

President Aliyev is credited with creating a stable political environment, instituting positive economic reforms, and preventing further bloodshed in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. He has overcome major obstacles, both internal and external, to bring peace, stability, economic and democratic reforms to Azerbaijan. As a result of his leadership, the country is on the verge of becoming an influential political and economic leader in the region, a dynamic free market, and a new ally to the United States. In January 2001, the Republic of Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe.

On 15 October 2003 Ilham Aliyev was elected the President of Azerbaijan. Former President Heydar Aliyev passed away on 12 December 2003.

President Ilham Aliyev spared no effort to continue the policy of his predecessor to modernize and enrich the country, to transform it into a modern, economically, and politically strong state. Democratic and economic reforms energetically carried out under his leadership made Azerbaijan the island of stability and prosperity in the region.

Exit polls and finger inking were used for the first time during November 2006 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.  85% of exit polls results matched with preliminary official results. The Government also banned the law prohibiting NGO’s receiving funding from foreign physical or juridical persons to observe the elections. The Government took appropriate steps to seriously investigate all the irregularities occurred during the elections. As a result, the reelections in 10 constituencies were conducted on May 13, 2006.

In 2005 Azerbaijan’s economic growth was 24 percent and only for the period of first six months of 2006 constituted 40 percent. On July 13, 2006 the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main oil export pipeline were inaugurated. Construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline is also to be completed till the end of this year. These projects will deliver Azerbaijan’s own oil and gas to the world markets as well as allow carrying hydrocarbon resources of the neighboring countries through Azerbaijan, earning Azerbaijan transit revenues. Implementation of these projects will emphasize the role of Azerbaijan as a reliable energy source and transportation route. To collect and manage revenues from energy-related activities, a transparent National Oil Fund has been established.

Diversification of economy and ensuring the development of non-oil sectors is the priority for the government. This policy includes implementation of projects and programs that create favorable conditions for development of private entrepreneurship, attracting investment in non-oil sector, creating new jobs, evaluation of potential industries and markets and development of infrastructure in the regions.

President I. Aliyev continues to actively take part in the process of negotiations aimed at settlement of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Position of Azerbaijan at the negotiations remains constructive and meets not only its own multi-ethnic interests, but also of the international community as a whole.

On 19 May 2004 during his visit to Belgium, President I. Aliyev submitted Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) Presentation Document to NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Now Azerbaijan is completing the IPAP implementation process and actively participates in other Prague Summit initiative – Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism. Azerbaijan also closely cooperates with European Union and successfully moves with EU-Azerbaijan Action Plan on New Neighborhood initiative. 

On April 25-28, 2006 President Ilham Aliyev for the first time paid an official visit to Washington D.C. by the invitation of President George Bush. This visit commemorated a milestone in the development of US-Azerbaijan bilateral relations and gave an impetus to the strengthening of strategic cooperation between the two countries.

Human Rights and Democratic Reforms

Since regaining its independence in 1991, the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan has been developing a democratic society based on such fundamental principles as the respect for political and civil rights and liberties; the protection of interest of every citizen irrespective of her/his ethnic, religious or any other affiliation; the division of power; and the rule of law.

Achievements in the field of democratic state-building include political pluralism, more than 800 functioning mass media outlets, abolition of censorship in 1993, development of civil society with approximately 1400 non-governmental organizations, and the establishment of a modern judiciary system.

Three Parliamentary and two Presidential elections were held in the country after the adoption of Azerbaijan’s Constitution in 1995.

Azerbaijan is a party to a number of international legal instruments in the promotion and protection of human rights and civil liberties, rule of law and democratization, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which are the cornerstone documents in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Azerbaijan has also joined more than 40 Conventions of the Council of Europe, which ensure human rights and democracy. Ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and its relevant protocols allows Azerbaijani citizens to appeal directly to the European Court of Human rights.

As a moderate Muslim country, Azerbaijan has a multi-ethnic society with various religious denominations. Azerbaijanis have always been tolerant of religious diversity. To date 330 religious communities (of which 28 are non-Muslim) have been registered at the State Committee on Religious Associations.

A major step in advancing human rights was the establishment of an independent Office of the Ombudsman (Human Rights Commissioner) in 2002.






The State Flag

The three-color national flag of Azerbaijan was accepted by the government of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan on November 9, 1918. After the collapse of the Democratic Republic in April 28, 1920 and the establishment of the Soviet regime this flag was relinquished in Azerbaijan. Yet the flag was restored by the order of the Supreme Medjlis of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and was declared the national flag of the Autonomous Republic on November 17,1990. At the same time the Supreme Medjlis of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic petitioned to the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan SSR for recognition of the three-color flag the national flag of Azerbaijan.

The Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan Republic considered the petition of the Supreme Medjlis of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and approved the three-color flag the national flag of the Azerbaijan Republic on February 5, 1991.

The national flag of the Azerbaijan Republic consists of three equal strips. The upper strip is of blue color, the middle-of red, the lower is green. The blue strip designates the Turkish origin of the Azerbaijan Republic, the red color-its intention to create a modern state and develop the democracy, the green strip-its relation to the Islam civilization. In the middle of the red strip on both sides of the flag there is a white-color crescent and an eight-point star. The relation between the width and the length of the flag is 1 to 2.

The State Emblem

The government of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan declared a competition on the national emblem of Azerbaijan on January 30, 1920 and made a decision to present the emblem model on May of the same year. However, due to the collapse of the Azerbaijan democratic Republic On April 28, 1920, the emblem was not approved.
The Supreme Medjlis of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic discussed the issue connected with the national emblem and raised petition in the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan SSR on declaration of a new competition on the national emblem of Azerbaijan on November 17, 1990.

The competition was declared by the decision of the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan Republic on February 5, 1991. Tens of projects of the emblem were presented during the competition of 1991-1992 and it was also proposed to approve one of the projects developed in 1919-1920.

By the Constitutional Law of the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan Republic, approved on January 19, 1993, one of the projects, developed in 1919-1920 with certain alterations was confirmed the national emblem of the Azerbaijan Republic.

The National Emblem of the Azerbaijan Republic symbolizes the independence of Azerbaijan. The national emblem is the image of an oriental shield and a semicircle formed by the branches of an oak-tree and ears resting on it. The shield contains the image of a fire in the center of an eight-point star against a background of the colors of the National flag of Azerbaijan.


January 1 - New Year’s Day

January 20 - Day of the Martyrs

March 8 - Women’s Day

March 21 - Novruz Bayrami

May 9 - Victory in WW II Day

May 28 - Republic Day

June 15 - National Salvation Day

June 26 - Army and Navy Day

October 18 - National Independence Day

November 12 - Constitution Day

November 17 - Day of National Revival

December 31 - Day of Solidarity of Azerbaijanis throughout the World

In April 2005, Azerbaijan was elected a member of UN Commission for Human Rights.

On May 10, the United Nations elected 44 of the initial 47 members of its new Human Rights Council in a first round of voting. After the second round of voting, Azerbaijan also took a seat in the new Council.