Oil-rich Azerbaijan has redefined itself over the past two decades from a newly independent faltering state to a major regional energy player.
Deals with international energy producers allowed Azerbaijan to use its energy revenues to create a government-run investment fund that would participate in international projects. It has also used its resources to rebuild its army, which is seen as a priority for the government as it battles the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Despite its growing wealth and influence in the region, poverty and corruption continue to cast a shadow over the country’s development.
A government crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists has raised concerns that an immature democracy in Azerbaijan is under threat.
The President: Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev took over as president after his father, Haider in 2003.
Aliyev won his most recent term in office in 2018 in an election that Western observers said did not meet democratic standards.
A law preventing the president from holding office for more than two terms was repealed after the change was approved in a referendum in March 2009 – which paved the way for Aliyev’s third five-year term in 2013.
In 2016, voters approved in a referendum constitutional changes to expand the president’s powers – including a controversial proposal to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates. The opposition said the move was aimed at cementing the rule of the Aliyev family, as his son is seen as a potential heir to power.
Under his rule, Azerbaijan cemented its international standing, including by hosting the first edition of the European Games in Baku in 2015. However, human rights groups accused his government of suppressing freedom of expression and arresting human rights activists and journalists.
Dissenting voices are virtually absent from the mainstream media, and critical journalists face the risk of arrest and imprisonment.
Television is the most popular medium in Azerbaijan. All channels in the country follow the government line.
Social media is used as platforms for freedom of expression and human rights activism. Facebook is the leading social network in Azerbaijan.
Major milestones in the history of Azerbaijan:
1828 – Treaty of Turkmenjai between Russia and the Qajar state (Iran) splits Azerbaijan. The lands of present-day Azerbaijan became part of the Russian Empire, while southern Azerbaijan became part of the Qajar state. Twenty years later, the world’s first oil well was drilled, south of Baku.
1918 The independent Republic of Azerbaijan is declared. But the country became a Soviet socialist republic two years later after the invasion of the Red Army.
1988 – Nagorno-Karabakh region seeks to become part of Armenia. The Azerbaijanis began to leave the region and Armenia, while the Armenians began to leave Azerbaijan. By 1992, the ethnic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan had turned into an all-out war.
1991 – Parliament of Azerbaijan votes to restore independence.
1994 Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh have signed a ceasefire agreement. The Armenians still control Nagorno-Karabakh and an area of the surrounding Azerbaijani lands.
Azerbaijan signs what it calls “the decade of the century” with a group of international oil companies to explore and exploit three offshore oil fields.