Azerbaijan - a secular nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-Shia Muslim population - was briefly independent (from 1918 to 1920) following the collapse of the Russian Empire; it was subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union for seven decades. Since 1991, Azerbaijan has had a protracted conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, populated largely by ethnic Armenians but incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous oblast in the early 1920s. In the late Soviet period, an ethnic-Armenian separatist movement developed that sought to end Azerbaijani control over the region. Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh began in 1988 and escalated after Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By the time a ceasefire took effect in May 1994, separatists, with Armenian support, controlled Nagorno‑Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories.
Efforts to negotiate a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia began in the mid-1990s under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, which was co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States. At the same time, cease-fire violations and sporadic flare-ups continued. In September 2020, a second sustained conflict began when Azerbaijan took action to try to regain the territories it had lost in the 1990s. After six weeks of fighting that saw significant Azerbaijani gains, Russia brokered a cease-fire. Armenia returned to Azerbaijan the seven territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that it had previously occupied and also the southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite Azerbaijan’s territorial gains, peace in the region remains elusive because of unsettled issues concerning the delimitation of borders, the opening of regional transportation and communication links, the status of ethnic enclaves near border regions, and the final status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh to supervise the cease-fire for a minimum five-year term have not prevented the outbreak of sporadic, low-level military clashes along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border and in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In the three decades since its independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has significantly reduced the poverty rate and has directed some revenue from its oil and gas production to develop the country’s infrastructure. However, corruption remains a burden on the economy, and Western observers and members of the country’s political opposition have accused the government of authoritarianism, pointing to elections that are neither free nor fair, state control of the media, and the systematic abuse of human rights targeting individuals and groups who are perceived as threats to the administration. The country’s leadership has remained in the ALIYEV family since Heydar ALIYEV, formerly the most highly ranked Azerbaijani member of the Communist Party during the Soviet period, became president in the midst of the first Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1993. Heydar ALIYEV groomed his son to succeed him, and Ilham ALIYEV subsequently became president in 2003. As a result of two national referendums that eliminated presidential term limits and extended the presidential term from 5 to 7 years, President ALIYEV secured a fourth term in April 2018 in an election that international observers noted had serious shortcomings. Reforms are underway to diversify the country’s economy away from its dependence on oil and gas; additional reforms are needed to address weaknesses in government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, and the court system.
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NOTE: The information regarding Azerbaijan on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Azerbaijan 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Azerbaijan 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
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