History of Azerbaijan

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Azerbaijan or Azerbeijan (Azerbaijani: Azerbaycan, Azerbeycan) is a historical country and territory situated in a crossroads between Eastern Europe and western Asia, adjacent to the Caspian Sea. The heritage, culture and civilization of Azerbaijan is amongst the richest and most ancient, and the history of this land and its people is thousands of years old. The people of Azerbaijan are the heirs of ancient civilizations such as Sumer, Elam, Aratta, Urartu, Mannai, Media and Caucasian Albania and are the descendants of various bodies of Turkic peoples, especially the Oghuz Turks who, in the tenth century, set the national foundation of modern Azerbaijan.

The borders of post-Islamic and modern Azerbaijan start at Derbent (present-day southern Russia) and end in Hamedan (present-day western Iran). Scholars consider the historical territory of Azerbaijan to include the land populated today by the Azerbaijani Turks" who inhabit the region stretching from the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains along the Caspian Sea to the central parts of what is present-day Iran. In the Balami history of the 10th century, we read that "All these lands (between Derbent and Hamedan) are called Azerbaijan and all these lands belong to Turks." In the 15th century, the territory of Azerbaijan was divided by the local dynasty of the Safavids into four Beklerbekliks, or administrations: Tabriz, Nakhchivan (Shukhursada) Shirvan and Qarabaq, and by the 18th century Azerbaijan had a federal system composed of the khanates (principalities) of Tabriz, Baku, Quba, Urmia, Ardebil, Khoy, Sheki, Shamakhi, Qarabaq, Qaradaq, Maku, Maraga and Nakhchivan, which formed the country of Azerbaijan, a kingdom that was under the administration of the Qajar dynasty as part of the empire of "Mamalek i Mahruse" or "Protected kingdoms."

In the early 19th century, Azerbaijan was separated in half following wars fought between Russia and Iran. The Russians annexed the northern parts of Azerbaijan, amid expansion into the Caucaus and Turkic-Islamic lands in Central Asia. Following the treaty of Turkmenchay signed in February 1828, Azerbaijan was divided along the Araz river, a physical barrier that has divided the land politically up until now. The land north of the Araz river coincides with the modern Republic of Azerbaijan, including its enclave, the autonomous republic of Nakhchivan; and the land south of the Araz is referred to as South Azerbaijan (Ardebil province, East Azerbaijan province, West Azerbaijan province and Zanjan province), and is under the administration of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

After more than 150 years of colonization under first the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union, the northern part of Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, and is an independent country. It had previously gained independence in 1918, establishing the first democratic and secular state in an Islamic land, making the Azerbaijanis the first Islamic people in the 20th century to give women the right to vote. It was also the first independent Turkic republic, gaining independence prior to the Republic of Turkey. This state was invaded by the Soviet forces in 1920, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Azerbaijan was established once again (1991-present.)

The southern portion of Azerbaijan, referred to by the United Nations as South Azerbaijan, managed to gain autonomy twice in the 20th century; both movements were subjugated by the Iranian army. In 1937, South Azerbaijan was divided into two different provinces, and as of 2005, it is divided into the provinces of Ardebil, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan and Zanjan by the administration of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Azerbaijan is the ancestral home of the Azerbaijanis (Azerbaijani Turks, Azeris) who number more than 8 million in the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, and more than 20 million in the northwestern region of Iran referred to as South Azerbaijan, or Iranian Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is often referred to as "the land of eternal flames" and "the land of fire", for it is in Azerbaijan, in lands both north and south of the Araz river, where natural gas spontaniously erupts from the ground in the form of fire flames, as it has since antiquity.


Ancient History

The cave of Azykh in the territory of the Fizuli district in the Republic of Azerbaijan is considered to be the most ancient human habitation. Based on discoveries and recent exploration of the Azykh cave and a number of stone age sites, Azerbaijan's history can be carbon dated to 1.5 million years ago. Remnants of the pre-ashel culture were found in the lowest layers of the Azykh cave. This culture is one of the oldest, and in many ways similar to the Olduvai culture in South Africa and Walloon culture in the southeast of France.

The fragment of the lower jaw of a woman who lived about 350,000-400,000 years ago was unearthed from the 5th layer of the Azykh cave. This woman was very close to people of the ashel culture, whose remnants were discovered in the Arago cave in France. The Paleolithic (Homo Sapiens) period in Azerbaijan is represented in Taglar, Damjily, Yatagery and some other sites. It lasted for about 20,000 years and vanished in the 13th millennium BC. During the Mesolithic period, evidence of carved drawings in Gobustan, south of Baku, demonstrate scenes of hunting, fishing, labor and dancing that can be seen on the rocks. The Neolithic period (6th - 4th millenniums BC) was the period of transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. Many Neolithic settlements have been discovered in Azerbaijan, and carbon dated artifacts show that during this period, people built homes, made copper weapons, and were familiar with irrigated agriculture.

The Garden of Eden, considered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the birthplace of mankind, is thought by some to be located west of Urmia in South Azerbaijan. The influence of ancient peoples and civilizations including the Sumerians and Elamites came to a crossroads in the territory of Azerbaijan, and their ancient and distinct cultures still symbolize parts of Azerbaijan's modern character. The earliest written evidence of tribes inhabiting Azerbaijan (mostly in South Azerbaijan) is dated to 2,300 BC. The inscriptions describe the tribes of Gutis, Lulubis, Kasis and Hurris who had civilizations in areas close to Tabriz. The Hurris (Hurra) tribal union played an extremely important role in the history of the ancient east, and formed one of the great eastern civilizations.

Chols, Cimmerians and Massagets lived in Azerbaijan before the Christian era. In the ninth century BC, the seminomadic Scythians from Central Asia settled the Kingom of Mannae in areas of what is now Azerbaijan. The Assyrians also had a civilization that flourished in the western part of Lake Urmia in the years prior to Media and Albania. Most of the ancient documents and inscriptions used for historical analysis of the area comes from the Assyrians. In dealing with the history of Azerbaijan, most western scholars refer to Greek, Arab, Roman, and Persian sources. Azerbaijan's oldest structure is a tower that stands in the middle of Baku on the bay. It is called the Qiz Qalasi (Girl's Castle) and is from the 7th century B.C. There is also a Qiz Qalasi (Girl's Castle) monument from the Ilkhanid era, located in the city of Meyaneh (between Tabriz and Zanjan) in southern Azerbaijan.

Media and Albania

Throughout much of its pre-Islamic history, Azerbaijan's northern portion was what became known as the state of Caucasian Albania, and its southern portion was what became known as the state of Media Atrupatan (Atropatene).

Azerbaijani scholars regard both Media and Albania as predecessors of modern Azerbaijan. Media (Mata, Media Atrupatan) and Albania (Agvan, Aran) shared similar characteristics, and the majority population in these areas before the 3rd century AD were composed mostly of central Asian tribes such as the Scythians, who had migrated to the region beginning in the 9th century BC. The state and civilization of the Medes is believed to have been highly influenced by the earlier Urartu and Mannai civilizations and populations that had been established in the land.

Prior to the Islamic age, Persia, Macedon and the Roman Empire had invaded Azerbaijan and had incorporated it into their empires. The area was invaded by Persian king Cyrus in the 6th century BC, by Alexander the Great two centuries later and by Roman legions under Pompey three centuries after that. A boulder bearing what is believed to be the eastern-most Roman inscription survives just southwest of Baku.

The name "Azerbaijan" is most probably derived from Atrupatan, the name of the region after Greek invasion in the 3rd century BC. Atrupat (Atropates) was a general of Alexander the Great, and the territory of Azerbaijan was given to him to rule. Hence, Atrupatan, later "Media Atrupatan", the region stretching north and south of the Araz river, was named after Atrupat. Although some historians believe that Azerbaijan is a name with Turkic roots, the most common theory regarding the name is that it is from Atrupatan. In Turkish, Azer would mean "high" and baygan would signify a "place for the wealthy and exalted."

From around 550 BC until the 6th century AD, the state religion of Azerbaijan was Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster, the prophet of Zoroastrianism was born in Urmia. Christianity, Shamanism and Buddhism were also practiced in Azerbaijan prior to the 6th century. Churches in Tabriz, Urmia and Qarabaq as well as Zoroastrian fire temples are some of Azerbeijan's pre-Islamic religious monuments. At the time of the Islamic conquest, one of the terms of capitulation by the residents was an agreement by Arabs to respect the sanctity of their fire temples.

Turks in pre-Islamic Azerbaijan

The successive migration and settlement of nomadic and semi-nomadic proto-Turkic and Turkic peoples from Central Asia continued to be a familiar pattern in the history of Azerbaijan since ancient times from the era of Media and Albania up until the Islamic age and the establishment of modern Azerbaijan by the Oghuz Turks in the 10th century A.D. Throughout the history of pre-Islamic Azerbaijan, Turkic peoples had lived in the land for centuries, although they were not fully unified. The Huns, Khazars, Bulgars, Barsils, Sabirs, Gokturks, Kutugurs, and Oghuz had been some of the Turkic people who had dwelled in Azerbaijan and participated in pre-Islamic Azerbaijan's state formations.

The historian Ashurbeyli in "History of Azerbaijan" writes that in Azerbaijan "since antiquity there were incursions of Turkic groups from the beginning of our era which increased in the 5th to the 7th and the 9th to the 11th centuries", and also states that in the Pre-Islamic period, there were elements of Caucasian and Indo-European tribes in the area as well. According to the 1911 Britannica, "the people of the Mada (Mata), the Medes, appear in history first in 836 BC, when the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser II in his wars against the tribes of the Zagros received the tribute of the Amadai ....Herodotus gives a list of six Median tribes among them the Paraetaceni....names in the Assyrian inscriptions prove that the tribes in the Zagros and the northern parts of Media ( now Azerbaijan) were not Iranians (Indo-Europeans.)

Richard Nelson Frye states the following regarding the ethnic composition of Media: "in Azerbaijan (Media) the Medes were in contact with a settled majority of non-Indo European (non-Iranian) speakers represented by the Urartians, Mannaeans, Hurrians etc.. possibly related to the peoples speaking "Japhetic" languages" also spoken in the Caucasus (northern Azerbaijan, Albania). The "Japhetic" languages are sometimes considered equivilant to "Ural-Altaic" languages of the present, of which Turkic is the largest branch. The Biblical name of "Japhet" is equivilant to "Tur" in the Zend Avesta, who was the prophet Noah's grandson, and who, according to Mahmud Kashgarli (Mahmud of Kashgar) of the 11th century and other scholars, was considered the forebearer of the name "Turk" and the original forefather of Turks. According to Biblical scholars, the Scythians (Ishkuz) were the descendants of Japheth's son Gomer (whence Cimmerians) and grandson Ashkenaz. Of course, the Indo-European languages were also once called "Japhethic", including that of the Medes (Madai was another son of Japheth).

According to historian Kalankatly, in the period between 191-200 A.D., hordes of Barsil and Khazar Turks crossed the Kura river in Azerbaijan. According to the historian Tabari, descriptions of incursions into Azerbaijan by Turks (Huns and Khazars) occurred in the 4th and 5th centuries. Tabari also states that by the mid-6th century, there was a significant Turkic presence in Azerbaijan. Kalankatly also states that in the year 629, the army of the Gokturks as well as a series of Khazar Turkic tribes entered Azerbaijan and declared the land to be "eternal possesion" of Turks. Byzantine sources of the mid 6th century refer to the "settlement of Khazar Turks" on the left bank of the Kura river, and Moisey Khaghankatli, a historian from pre-Islamic Azerbaijan referred to a "Hun state" on the left bank of the Kura River in the 7th century.

The existence of the ethnic composition of Turks in Azerbaijan in pre-Islamic times is evident in literature after the Islamic conquest of the region, in an era that was famous for its historical, geographical and scientific analyses of the world by Muslim scholars and Islamic states. According to the 7th century work of Ubeid ibn Shariyya al-Jurhumi, the Muslim Caliph Mueviyyen (661-680) was told that Azerbaijan "has long been a land of Turks. Having gathered over there, they have mixed with one another and become integrated." It must also be noted that the famous "Book of Dede Korkut" - the epic of the Oghuz Turks, considered the main ancestors of Azerbaijanis - was written in Azerbaijan in the 6th and 7th centuries, and compiled in the ensuing centuries; indicating that the Oghuz Turks, who were a majority in Azerbaijan in the 10th and 11th centuries and thereafter, were also present in the land prior to Islam.

Islamic Azerbaijan

Throughout its pre-Islamic history, Azerbaijan was subject to myriad invasions, migrations, and cultural and political influences. The land became Islamic territory during the Arab conquest under Omar's caliphate, sometime between 639 and 643. The implementation of Islam in Azerbaijan was not easy for the Arabs. In the 7th century, in a series of conflicts that became known as the "Arab-Khazar wars", the Turks under the banner of the Khazar confederation sought to efface Azerbaijan of an Arab presence. One of the major battles fought between the Turks and Arabs in 7th century Azerbaijan was near the historic city of Ardebil, one of the largest cities of present-day South Azerbaijan.

In the 8th century, rebels under the leadership of Babek resisted Arab rule, and started a revolt lasting for close to 20 years. Babek's revolt became known as the "Khuremit Movement." Although Arab garrisons were placed in several strategic towns (Ardebil, Barda, Nakhchivan, Derbent, Maragha), the followers of the Khuremit movement resisted their control. The Arabs eventually defeated Babek and his followers, yet the legend of Babek still lives on in contemporary Azerbaijan, in both the northern and southern spheres. To Azerbaijanis, Babek is a symbol of resistance to foreign rule.

The settlement of Arabs in Azerbaijan, and the fact that non-Muslims paid higher taxes, led eventually to the Islamization of most of the Azerbaijani population. After the full establishment of Islam, centuries of prosperity as a province of the Islamic caliphate followed. Much of the Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan was built from the 7th until the 10th century. During this period, many Azerbaijanis would travel to different Arab cities such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo for Islamic education.

Oghuz Turks

After the decline of the Arab caliphate, the Oghuz Turks in a series of mass migrations from Central Asia formed a majority in Azerbaijan in the 10th and 11th centuries, during Seljuk rule. The Oghuz Turks were the founders of the Seljuk state, and had recently begun their domination of the area under Seljuk leadership.

The modern statehood, blood, language, literature, culture, garments, dances, folklore and national character of the Azerbaijanis comes from the Oghuz Turks. However, the disunified ancient Turks of the land and their cultural traits were strengthened and revived by the newly arrived Oghuz. As an nationial entity, Azerbaijan did not exist prior to the 20th century.

During the Oghuz migration into Azerbaijan, there was also Oghuz migration into Anatolia (Turkey) and parts of eastern Europe. The name "Seljuk" belonged to a Turkish sultan in central Asia.

Seljuks and Modern Azerbaijan

The Seljuk period of Azerbaijan's history set the foundation of its ancient and modern culture and established the modern Azerbaijani-Turk nation.

The Seljuk Atabeks were the governing elite from the 10th-12th centuries. Under their rule, Azerbaijan was characterized by a cultural growth, considered a period of renaissance in Azerbaijan. Palaces of the Ildeniz and the Shirvanshahs hosted distinguished people of the time, many of whom became outstanding Muslim artists and scientists.

Great progress was achieved in mathematics, medicine, chemistry, philosophy, natural science, logic, law, and astronomy. Bakhmanyar, Khatib Tabrizi, Shikhabaddin Sukhravardi and many others were among those scientists.

New characteristic styles and trends in literature and arts arose in the 11th-12th centuries. The Shirvan, Nakhchivan, and Arran architectural schools that established principal features of Azerbaijani medieval architectural style, were founded at that time.

Fortress walls of Baku, Ganja and Absheron were built during this time, and towers, mosques, schools, mausoleums, and bridges, with their distinct and original style, are the most remarkable memorials of the contemporary architecture of that era.

In 1225, the Shakh of Khorezm Djalaladdin occupied Azerbaijan, putting an end to the Atabek State. The most famous of the Atabek kings was Shems al-din Ildeniz.

Mongols & Ilkhanid rule

After Atabek rule came the Mongols, who attacked parts of Azerbaijan, but also built architectural sites (especially in the south), and resided in Tabriz and other cities across the nation as rulers.

In 1231, the Mongols occupied most of Azerbaijan and killed Khan Jalaluddin, who had overthrown the Atabek dynasty. In 1235 the Mongols destroyed Ganja, Shamkir, Tovuz, and other cities and fortresses in Azerbaijan. The Mongols, through the Derbend passage in the north, struck a severe blow on the national economy, and Azerbaijanis continually rebelled against them. Being unable to resist the Mongol enemies, the Azerbaijani rebels who fought the Mongols were defeated, yet the long resistance eventually put an end to Mongol supremacy in the region, bringing the local Azerbaijani Turks into power again during the Qara Qoyunlu, Aq Qoyunlu and Safavid dynasties in the later centuries.

A major library, reported to contain perhaps 400,000 volumes, was attched to the Maragha observatory (built 1258-1261) in South Azerbaijan under the direction of a major scholar of that time, Nasreddin Tusi (1201-1274).

The post-Islamic Turkic migrations into Azerbaijan were fully consolidated with the establishment of the Ilkhanids. Under Mongol rule, more Turks migrated to Azerbaijan to escape invasion in central Asia. The Turks who arrived in the 13th and 14th centuries mostly belonged to the Kipchak Turkic tribes, including the Tatar and Kazak Turkic groups.

Upon his return from the conquest of Baghdad in 1258, Hulegu Khan of the Mongols chose the city of Maragheh as his capital, which became the Ilkhanid center of dominion in Azerbaijan. In this period, Nasir-ad din Tusi erected Maraghe's famous astronomical observatory. When Hulegu's successor Abaqa ascended the Ilkhanid throne, he moved the capital of the empire from Maragheh to Tabriz. Elements of Chingizid law also existed, for Timur in the late 14th century was reported to have given Ibrahim I of Shirvan the yarlik (khan's decree) to rule in Shirvan.

New Turkic Dynasties

The six Turkic dynasties that came in the following centuries (Qara-Qoyonlu, Aq-Qoyonlu, Safavid, Afshar, Zandi, and Qajar), as well as the existing Shirvanshah Turks in the northern part of Azerbaijan, further developed the country and its national culture. These Turkic dynasties ruled over much of western Asia (Armenia, Dagestan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Eastern Turkey); they had a great influence on Persian language and culture until the early 20th century.

The Safavids, natives of Ardebil in modern South Azerbaijan within Iran, established their regime in Tabriz in 1501 and based their power on the ideology of Shia Islam. Thus, Shia Islam was imposed on the formerly Sunni population in Iran and Azerbaijan. The Shiaism that was subsequently bestowed on the Azerbaijanis separated them from the Turkic peoples in that era such as the Ottomans and Uzbeks, who were mostly Sunni Muslim.

Shah Abbas, the powerful Safavid King was forced to move his capital from Tabriz to another city Isfahan after attacks by the Ottoman Turks became a series of wars between the Ottoman Turks and the Azerbaijani Turks Safavids based on religious reasons.

The Safavids divided the territory of Azerbaijan into four Beklerbekliks, or administrative areas: Tabriz, Shukhursada (Nakhchivan), Shirvan and Qarabaq.

After the collapse of the Safavid empire, Nadir Shah Afshar (Nadir Guli Bey) was crowned as king of Azerbaijan in 1737. The coronation of Nadir Shah took place in Mugan, in the area of South Azerbaijan (Iran). Nadir Shah had formerly been a commander in the Safavid state, and was from the Afshar tribe of the Turkmen Turks who lived in Khurasan.

After his assassination 10 years later, Azerbaijan was divided into several principalities known as Khanates.

Division of Azerbaijan

Thus, the land of Azerbaijan was divided into a federal system, with the Khanates of: Tabriz, Baku, Quba, Urmiya, Ardebil, Khoy, Sheki, Shamakhi, Qarabaq, Qaradaq, Maku, Maraga and Nakhchivan. Due to its location astride the trade routes connecting Europe to Central Asia and the Near East, and on the shore of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan was fought over by Russia, Qajar Turks, and the Ottoman Turks for several centuries. Finally, the Russians split Azerbaijan's territory with the Qajar Empire in 1828 by the Treaty of Turkmenchay, establishing the present frontiers and extinguishing the last native dynasties of local Azerbaijani khans.

The beginning of modern exploitation of the oil fields in the 1870s led to a period of unprecedented prosperity and growth in the years before World War I.

At the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, an independent republic was proclaimed in 1918 following an abortive attempt to establish a Transcaucasian Republic with Armenia and Georgia. Azerbaijan received de facto recognition by the Allies as an independent nation in January 1920 - an independence terminated by the arrival of the Red Army in April. Incorporated into the Transcaucasian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922, Azerbaijan became a union republic of the USSR in 1936. The late 1980s were characterized by increasing unrest, eventually leading to violent confrontation when Soviet troops killed 190 nationalist demonstrators in Baku in January 1990. Azerbaijan declared its independence from the USSR on August 30, 1991.

de:Geschichte Aserbaidschans ru:История Азербайджана


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