Azerbaijan, officially the Republic of Azerbaijan, is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south.
Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region that Moscow recognized as part of Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s after Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed the status of the territory. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The issue closest to this country's heart is that of Nagorno-Karabakh, an area in its southwest where Armenian separatists formed an independent enclave in the 1990s. For years, Azerbaijan has tried, through international mediation, to reclaim the territory and allow Azeri refugees who fled to return.
Azerbaijan announced on Monday the completion in its capital, Baku, of a sparkling new 25,000-capacity arena for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest – but rights workers say scores of families were kicked out of their homes to make way for it.
“Hundreds of people were evicted from the adjacent territory in complete contradiction of Azerbaijani law,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher for Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog.
Azerbaijan has arrested 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran, charging them with treason and illegal possession of weapons, the BBC reports. The detainees are accused of having ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, a powerful and feared branch of Iran’s military.
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.
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.
Azerbaijan's high economic growth during 2006-08 was attributable to large and growing oil exports, but some non-export sectors also featured double-digit growth, spurred by growth in the construction, banking, and real estate sectors, although most of this increase was still tied to the expansion in the hydrocarbon sector. In 2011, economic growth slowed to 0.2%, largely because oil production reached a plateau. The current global economic slowdown presents some challenges for the Azerbaijani economy as oil prices remain volatile, highlighting Azerbaijan's reliance on energy exports and lackluster attempts to diversify its economy.
Since there are few navigable rivers in Azerbaijan, most freight is carried by railroad and truck. The Aberson region, including the peninsula and cities such as Baku and Sumqayit, is the most urbanized and industrialized part of Azerbaijan. Several highways link this region to all parts of the republic as well as to neighboring countries such as Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Russia.
In spite of its small size and many mountainous regions, Azerbaijan enjoys a profitable and highly diversified agriculture. Plentiful water for irrigation and different climatic zones combine to make a wide variety of crops possible, from those that thrive in cold winters and mild summers to crops such as tea and citrus fruit that need subtropical conditions. An estimated 40 percent of the nation's landmass is suitable for agriculture, and more than half of that potential farmland is currently under cultivation.
Azerbaijan, a small, oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea, has balanced the interests of Russia and the United States since it won its independence from the Soviet Union. It accepts NATO training but does not openly state an intention to join. American planes can refuel on its territory, but American soldiers cannot be based here.