Azerbaijanis a country in the Caucasus, at the crossroads of Europe and Southwest Asia, with an eastern coast on the Caspian Sea. It has frontiers with Russia in the north, Georgia in the northwest, Armenia in the west, and Iran in the south. The Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (an exclave of Azerbaijan) borders Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, and Turkey to the northwest.
The country’s formal name is the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan Respublikası). Azerbaijan is a secular state, and has been a member of the Council of Europe since 2001. A majority of the population are Shia Muslim and of Western Turkic descent, known as Azerbaijanis, or simply Azeris. The country is formally an emerging democracy, however with strong authoritarian rule.
Historically Azerbaijan has been occupied by a variety of peoples, including Persians, Romans, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Russians. The first state to emerge in the territory of present-day Republic of Azerbaijan was Mannae in the 9th century BC, lasting until 616 BC when it was overthrown by the Medes. The satrapies of Atropatene and Caucasian Albania were established in the 4th century BC and included the approximate territories of present-day Azerbaijan and southern parts of Dagestan.
Islam spread in Azerbaijan following the Arab conquests in the 7th–8th centuries. In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks became the dominant force in Azerbaijan and laid the ethnic foundation of contemporary Azerbaijanis. In the 13–14th centuries, the country experienced Mongol-Tatar invasions.
Azerbaijan was part of the Safavid state in 15th–18th centuries. It also underwent a brief period of feudal fragmentation in the mid-18th to early 19th centuries, and consisted of independent khanates. Following the two wars between the Qajar dynasty of Persia and the Russian Empire, Azerbaijan was acquired by Russia through the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, and the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Azerbaijan declared independence and established the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. This first Muslim republic in the world lasted only two years, from 1918 to 1920, before the Soviet Red Army invaded Azerbaijan. Subsequently, Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan re-established its independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite a cease-fire in place since 1994, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh enclave (largely Armenian-populated). Azerbaijan has lost 16% of its territory, and must support some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of the conflict.