Country profile: Azerbaijan
Oil-rich Azerbaijan gained
independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 amid political turmoil and
against a backdrop of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.
been famed for its oil springs and natural gas sources since ancient
times, when Zoroastrians, for whom fire is an important symbol, erected
temples around burning gas vents in the ground.
In the 19th century this part of the Russian empire experienced an
unprecedented oil boom which attracted international investment. By the
beginning of the 20th century Azerbaijan was supplying almost half of
the world's oil.
In 1994 Azerbaijan signed an oil contract
worth $7.4bn with a Western consortium. Since then Western companies
have invested millions in the development of the country's oil and gas
reserves. However, the economy as a whole has not benefited as much as
it might have done.
Baku skyline: Oil exports fuelled a construction boom
Caspian oil is now flowing through a pipeline running from Baku
through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, providing western
countries with ready access to a vast new source of supply.
Environmental groups have protested that the cost of this benefit is
Azerbaijan has large gas reserves too.
became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001. Often accused of
rampant corruption and election-rigging, ruling circles walk a
tightrope between Russian and Western regional geo-strategic interests.
As the Soviet Union collapsed, the predominantly Armenian
population of the Nagorno-Karabakh region stated their intention to
secede from Azerbaijan. War broke out. Backed by troops and resources
from Armenia proper, the Armenians of Karabakh took control of the
region and surrounding territory.
In 1994 a ceasefire was
signed. About one-seventh of Azerbaijan's territory remains occupied,
while 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons are scattered
around the country.
Azerbaijan was in the media spotlight in
June 2007 when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the US the use
of the Gabala radar station for missile defence as an alternative to
using bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
- Full name: Republic of Azerbaijan
- Population: 8.8 million (UN, 2009)
- Capital: Baku
- Area: 86,600 sq km (33,400 sq miles)
- Major language: Azeri, Russian
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 manat = 100 qapik
- Main exports: Oil, oil products
- GNI per capita: US $3,830 (World Bank, 2008)
- Internet domain: .az
- International dialling code: +994
President: Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev took over as president from his father, Heydar, in 2003.
Ilham Aliyev, son of post-independence strongman
Heydar Aliyev described his son as his "political successor". When
his father died, Ilham was already prime minister, vice chairman of the
state oil company and deputy leader of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party
He won the 2003 presidential elections by a landslide.
Western observers were highly critical of the campaign which they said
had been marred by voter intimidation, violence and media bias.
Opposition demonstrations were met with police violence. There were
Heydar Aliyev, a former Soviet Communist leader,
reinvented himself as a post-independence political strongman and had
ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993 following a period of
great instability. His record on human rights and media freedom was
often criticised in the West.
The opposition continues to have strong doubts about Ilham Aliyev's commitment to democracy.
were reinforced when police used force to break up opposition
demonstrations in Baku in the run-up to and following November 2005
parliamentary elections in which the ruling NAP won well over half of
the seats. OSCE and Council of Europe observers declared that the vote
fell a long way short of international standards.
Mr Aliyev won
a second term of office in 2008, scoring an overwhelming victory in an
election that was boycotted by the main opposition parties. Western
observers said that although the conduct of the election represented a
marked improvement on previous votes, it still fell short of fully
He looked set to cement his grip on power
even further when a move to lift the two-term limit on the president
was approved in a referendum in March 2009, paving the way for a
possible third term.
Ilham Aliyev was born in 1961 and has a
doctorate in history. His business interests have enabled him to build
substantial personal wealth since independence. He is married with
Azerbaijan's state-run and public media outlets compete with private
and opposition publications and broadcasters. Television is the
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the
constitution, but in 2009 Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said
journalists "who dare to speak out against the evils of the regime...
expose themselves to real danger". The organization said there was a
lack of pluralism in the media.
A public broadcaster, set up in
2005, is intended to be free from government control. The service is a
requirement for Azerbaijan's membership of the democracy and human
rights body, the Council of Europe.
Local relays of the BBC and
US international radio stations were taken off the air at the end of
2008 by the broadcasting regulator. The move was condemned by media
Turkey's state-run TRT TV is rebroadcast in Azerbaijan. Iranian and Russian channels can be seen in border areas.
There were around 1.5 million internet users by December 2008 (InternetWorldStats).
- AzTV - state-run
- iTV - public, launched August 2005
- ANS TV - established private network
- Space TV - private
- Lider TV - private
- Azad Azarbaycan (ATV) - private
- Azerbaijan Radio - state-run
- Public Radio - public, launched January 2006
- ANS ChM - private FM news and music station
- Radio Lider - private FM station
- Radio Azad Azerbaijan - private FM station
- Azartac - state-run, English-language pages
- Turan - private, English-language pages
- Trend - private, English-language pages