Azerbaijan, which has been a Soviet republic
since 1920, proclaimed independence shortly before the
dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. After two
years, former Communist leader Heydar Aliyev (Heydər
Əliyev) took power and ruled until 2003, when he was
replaced by his son Ilham Aliyev. Their rule has been
authoritarian and the opposition has been suppressed.
The conflict with neighboring Armenia over the
Nagorno-Karabakh region has been ongoing since the early
After World War II, new industrial cities such as Ali
Bayramlı (now Şirvan) and Sumqayıt were built, but the
standard of living in Azerbaijan was among the lower in
the Soviet Union. The Communist Party still had all the
power and regime critics lived dangerously. The tops of
the local Communist Party could also end up in turmoil
before the Soviet Party in Moscow. In 1959, for example,
communist leaders in Azerbaijan were punished for
corruption and nationalism.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Azerbaijan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
From 1960 and twenty years onwards, the industry
continued to expand, agriculture was reformed and
infrastructure (roads, railways, bridges, etc.)
developed. More and more people moved into the cities
and Baku became a cosmopolitan city.
Heydar Aliyev was a young colonel who was a local KGB
commander and became communist leader of Azerbaijan in
1969. More than ten years later he became a member of
the Soviet Communist Party's powerful Politburo.
However, Aliyev's deep involvement in corruption led him
to be deposed in 1987 by Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev, who had then begun his reform policy under
three keywords: glasnost (openness in the press and
political debate), perestroika (transformation of mainly
economic life), and democratization (democratization).
of political life).
At this time, the political environment in Azerbaijan
had begun to change. As elsewhere in the USSR, a new
group of younger intellectuals began to hold on to
nationalist values and come up with ideas of
Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh
In 1988, new life was revived in the old conflict
over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, located in Azerbaijan
but largely populated by Armenians (see Conflicts:
Nagorno-Karabakh). The Karabakh Armenians' request that
the area be connected to Armenia was rejected in both
Baku and Moscow. In 1989, Nagorno-Karabach was put under
direct control from Moscow, but Armenia's leadership
explained Nagorno-Karabach to part of Armenia.
In Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan People's Front was
formed in 1989, led by Abulfaz Eltjibej (übülfəz Elçibey).
The public front emerged as a broad nationalist
democracy movement with independence as the ultimate
goal, and it opposed Armenian demands on
In January 1990, severe unrest occurred in Baku.
Radical members of the Popular Front attacked the
Communist Party's buildings. Later, Armenians were also
attacked, of whom at least 60 were killed. Along the
border with Iran, protesters demanded freedom of
movement across the border. On January 19, Soviet troops
entered Baku. The public front is temporarily injured.
Former Communist Party leader Heydar Aliyev had
established himself as the leader figure in his home
province of Nachichevan (Naxçıvan). From there, he
supported the opposition to Azerbaijan's new communist
leader, Ayaz Mutalibov (Mütəllibov).
In August 1991, some old communists tried to stop
Gorbachev's reform policy and seize power in Moscow, but
they failed. Instead, the coup attempt strengthened
precisely the processes that the coup makers wanted to
stop, that is, the collapse of the Soviet Union and a
dissolution of the communist system.
After the coup, Azerbaijan's highest sovereign voted
for independence. Mutalibov was elected president, but
the election was boycotted by the opposition.
Independence gained legal force on October 18, 1991, two
months before the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.
Already in 1990 there had been an armed conflict in
Nagorno-Karabakh. The violence continued in 1991 with
sabotage, murder and terrorism by semi-military groups
from both sides. In a December referendum, which
Azerbaijan labeled illegal, the Armenians voted in the
enclave for full independence.
Azerbaijan artillery attacked Nagorno-Karabakh's
"capital" Stepanakert, the enclave's autonomy was
revoked and placed under direct presidential control. In
1992, however, troops from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh
together opened a land corridor between Armenia and
Nagorno-Karabakh. The fighting caused almost all Azeris
to flee from Armenian-occupied areas both in
Nagorno-Karabakh and around.
Aliyev takes power
National Front candidate Abulfaz Eltjibej won
Azerbaijan's first free presidential election in June
The transition from the Soviet era's centralized
plan-driven economic system to market economy became
painful. Trade in the Eastern Bloc broke down and the
industry as a result of age-old equipment and lack of
know-how and capital could not compete on the world
market. Production collapsed, both in agriculture and
industry, and the standard of living fell. In addition,
there were costs for the war on Nagorno-Karabakh and the
huge streams of refugees caused by the war.
However, the economy had deteriorated, while the
country would provide for hundreds of thousands of
refugees. The Armenian successes on the battlefield
created friction within the People's Front. Russia,
which had first supported Azerbaijan, switched to
assisting the Armenians with weapons. In the summer of
1993, Colonel Surət Hüseynov, dismissed by Eltjibej,
with his troops began marching towards Baku to oust the
president. As Eltjibej fled, the old communist leader
Aliyev took the opportunity to proclaim himself
president. After Hüseynov took Baku, he and Aliyev
agreed to share power, with Hüseynov as prime minister.
Later in the year, Aliyev won the presidential election,
boycotted by the People's Front.
The coup in Baku further weakened the Azerbaijani
resistance in the war. In May 1994, the parties agreed
on an armistice. The war had then taken at least 25,000
lives and caused large streams of refugees on both sides
(see Population and Languages).
The alliance between Aliyev and Hüseynov broke after
just over a year. Hüseynov was dismissed and fled to
Moscow while Aliyev took over as head of government.
Alongside high-level mutiny and political
assassinations, in 1994 and 1995, clashes occurred
between forces loyal to Aliyev and the Ministry of the
Interior's elite police force Opon. The end was that
Opon disbanded after a bloody storm of its headquarters.
New Azerbaijan wins elections
Before the November 1995 parliamentary elections, 38
parties registered, but 30 were ratified, accused of
falsifying names on their member lists. Among the
remaining were the Popular Front and the Independence
Party. Aliyev's party New Azerbaijan won an overwhelming
victory. The election result was dismissed by the
opposition as manipulated.
The 1994 ceasefire in the war on Nagorno-Karabakh and
increased political stability under President Aliyev
created better conditions for the economy. A
stabilization and reform program started in 1995 in
cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
had favorable effects. From 1996, GDP began to rise
again slowly and the previously soaring inflation fell.
Before the 1998 presidential election, New Azerbaijan
led an informal alliance in support of the president,
and Aliyev won by more than 75 percent of the vote. The
main opponent Etibar Mammadov (Məmmədov) from the
Independence Party got 12 percent. Foreign observers
New Azerbaijan won, as expected, the November 2000
parliamentary elections, but with "only" 62 percent of
the vote. At the top of the party's candidate list was
the president's son, Ilham Aliyev. The election was
severely criticized by the opposition, since only two
opposition parties have entered parliament - the
People's Front and the Muslim Mussavat. The election was
also criticized by observers from the OSCE and the
Council of Europe.
Son Ilham Aliyev becomes president
In August 2001, Heydar Aliyev revealed that he
intends to run again in the next presidential election.
This was done even though the Constitution did not allow
a third term of office. 79-year-old Aliyev was
unanimously nominated as his party's candidate. For
safety, son Ilham was also placed on the candidate list.
A series of constitutional changes in 2002 further
strengthened Heydar Aliyev's position. The most
contentious change meant that the prime minister would
automatically step down as president, should the
incumbent president die or retire prematurely.
In August 2003, Parliament approved Ilham Aliyev as
new Prime Minister. A few weeks before the October
presidential election, Heydar Aliyev suddenly announced
that he was refraining from running for health reasons.
The election was won by Ilham Aliyev, who is said to
have received close to 80 percent of the vote, against
12 percent for Isa Gambar (İsa Qəmbər) from Müsavat. The
opposition complained that voters and candidates had
been subjected to threats and pressures, and foreign
observers again reported on election fraud. Awesome
demonstrations erupted on Baku's streets when the
election results were announced.
Ilham Aliyev continued to rule in the same
authoritarian style as his father. However, suspicions
that the authorities could have something to do with the
March 2005 assassination of a popular regime-critical
journalist managed the new president to allow increased
freedom of opposition during the important time leading
up to the November parliamentary elections. Far more
were allowed to register than in previous elections,
including voluntary opposition politicians, but the
election was nevertheless won by New Azerbaijan. Along
with independent candidates who were expected to support
Aliyev, New Azerbaijan gained a large majority of seats
in Parliament. Both international observers and the
opposition claimed that there had been electoral fraud.
The result triggered fierce protests that lasted for
weeks on the streets of the capital Baku.
The authoritarian regime continued, while
Azerbaijan's growing oil revenues slowly began to
trickle down to broad population stocks. Within the
country, support for the opposition seemed to decline as
soon as possible, and the harsh media climate meant that
even leading opposition politicians remained virtually
unknown to many citizens.
Aliyev was re-elected president in 2008 with just
over 87 percent of the vote, even then in elections
heavily criticized by the opposition. After the
election, he announced a referendum on constitutional
amendments, which meant that he could be elected an
unlimited number of times. The opposition boycotted the
vote, which was held in March 2009. According to
official figures, over 90 percent of voters had voted
for the changes, but there were accusations of
In the November 2010 parliamentary elections, the New
Azerbaijan power party went ahead and received 72 of
Parliament's 125 seats. Other mandates also went to
parties and candidates loyal to the regime. No real
opposition party came into parliament. According to the
opposition, there were large-scale cheats, with ballot
boxes that were packed full, voters who voted multiple
times, police who prevented voting and election
observers, voters who were threatened.
In 2011, members of the opposition party Müsavat,
inspired by the revolts in Arab countries, tried to
conduct protests against the regime. Each time the
police struck quickly and seized several hundred people
A large number of opposites faced trial and were
sentenced to prison for two or three years. At the same
time, the Parliament greatly increased the fines for
people arrested during illegal demonstrations -
regime-critical demonstrations are rarely approved.
In 2012, the outside world turned its attention to
Azerbaijan for an unexpected reason. When the Eurovision
finals, the European Melody Festival, was held in Baku,
some foreign media took advantage of the opportunity to
highlight the human rights deficiencies in the country.
Opponents managed to conduct a non-sanctioned
demonstration, but many participants were reported to
have been arrested. In 2013, more than 40 people were
also sentenced to long prison sentences for planning
attacks in connection with the tune festival. The
convicted were accused of having contact with Iran.
In 2013, it became a criminal offense to "abuse" the
internet and spread "slander" over the internet. At the
same time, Parliament extended the maximum period of
"administrative detention" from 15 days to three months.
"Administrative detention" is often used to keep
opposition activists locked in without trial or
Alijev fell over
Before the 2013 presidential election, the government
was accused by international human rights organizations
of further intensifying the persecution of
oppositionists. Alijev won as expected - with almost 85
percent of the vote, against 5.5 percent for opposition
alliance National Council (Milli Şuras) candidate Jamil
Hasanli (Cəmil Həsənlı).
Aliyev described the outcome as a "triumph for
democracy" and promised to spend the next term in
fighting corruption (see Political system). As usual,
the choice of cheating accusations from the opposition
and international observers was surrounded.
It was considered a bitter irony that Azerbaijan took
up the post of President of the Council of Europe's
Council of Ministers in May 2014, just two weeks after
the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commission severely
criticized the country for its constantly deteriorating
freedom of expression, assembly and association.
In 2015, the sharp fall in oil prices began to affect
the economy. The central bank wrote down the value of
the country's currency, urged, with prices rising during
the year, which triggered nationwide protests in 2016.
In several cities, the police turned down protests with
tear gas and seized participants.