The Republic of Azerbaijan is is the largest country in the Caucasus.
The treaties of Golestān (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828), between the Russian Empire and Iran, established a new border between the two empires. Russia acquired Baku, Shirvan, Ganja, Nakhichevan and Yerevan. The Azerbaijani Turks of Caucasia were separated from the majority of their linguistic and religious compatriots, who remained in Iran.
Today, Azerbaijan is divided into 71 administrative regions, consisting of 59 districts, 11 cities, and the autonomous republic of Naxçivan. The country is a presidential republic, governed under a constitution adopted by referendum in 1995.
The official language of Azerbaijan is Azeri, a Turkic language of the Altaic family that is closely related to the Turkish and Turkmen languages. Other languages spoken in Azerbaijan include Russian and Armenian.
Islam was introduced in the area of present-day Azerbaijan during the 7th century and Shia Islam was established as the official religion of the Azerbaijanis in the 16th century. During the Soviet period, religious leaders were persecuted, mosques were closed or destroyed, and religious practice was officially condemned. Islam has experienced a revival in Azerbaijan since the late 1980s, when political reforms allowed most of the Soviet restrictions on religion to be lifted. Nearly all Azerbaijanis now identify as Muslim, although few actively practice their religion. Christianity is practiced to varying degrees among the Georgian, Armenian, and Slavic minorities.
Azerbaijan’s cultural institutions, located primarily in Baku, the capital of the country, include the State Museum of Shirvan-Shakh, which houses weapons and decorations from palaces of the khans and the State Museum of Azerbaijan Literature. The culture of the peoples inhabiting eastern Transcaucasia developed during the ancient and medieval periods under a predominantly Persian influence, although Turkic influences also were present. Azerbaijanis contributed several notable literary and scientific works during the medieval period.
After Azerbaijan became part of the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, Azerbaijani intellectuals such as scholar and poet Abbas Qoli Agha Bakikhanov began the study of the Azeri language and attempted to set up schools that would teach literacy. At times during the Soviet period, artistic expression that conveyed any hint of Azerbaijani nationalism was brutally suppressed.
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