U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Azerbaijan combines the heritage of two venerable civilizations--the Seljuk Turks of the 11th century and the ancient Persians. Its name is thought to be derived from the Persian phrase "Land of Fire," referring both to its petroleum deposits, known since ancient times, and to its status as a former center of the Zoroastrian faith. The Azerbaijani Republic borders the Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, although they have not been united into a single state in modern times.
Little is known about Azerbaijan's history until its conquest and conversion to Islam by the Arabs in 642 AD. Centuries of prosperity as a province of the Muslim caliphate followed. After the decline of the Arab Empire, Azerbaijan was ravaged during the Mongol invasions but regained prosperity in the 13th-15th centuries under the Mongol II-Khans, the native Shirvan Shahs, and under Persia's Safavid Dynasty.
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, Persia, and the Ottomans for several centuries. Finally, the Russians split Azerbaijan's territory with Persia 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 Federated Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922, Azerbaijan became a union republic of the U.S.S.R. (Soviet Union) in 1936. The late 1980s were characterized by increasing unrest, eventually leading to a violent confrontation when Soviet troops killed 190 nationalist demonstrators in Baku in January 1990. Azerbaijan declared its independence from the U.S.S.R. on August 30, 1991.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Although the Government of Azerbaijan consists of three branches, Azerbaijan has a strong presidential system in which the legislative and judicial branches have only limited independence. The executive branch is made up of a president, his apparat, a prime minister, and the cabinet of ministers. The legislative branch consists of the 125-member parliament (Milli Majlis). Members, all of whom are elected from territorial districts, serve 5-year terms. The judicial branch, headed by a Constitutional Court, is nominally independent.
Azerbaijan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union on August 30, 1991, with Ayaz Mutalibov, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party, becoming the country's first President. Following a March 1992 massacre of Azerbaijanis at Khojali in Nagorno-Karabakh (a predominantly ethnic Armenian region within Azerbaijan), Mutalibov resigned and the country experienced a period of political instability. The old guard returned Mutalibov to power in May 1992, but less than a week later his efforts to suspend scheduled presidential elections and ban all political activity prompted the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) to organize a resistance movement and take power. Among its reforms, the PFP dissolved the predominantly Communist Supreme Soviet and transferred its functions to the 50-member upper house of the legislature, the National Council.
Elections in June 1992 resulted in the selection of PFP leader Abulfez Elchibey as the country's second President. The PFP-dominated government, however, proved incapable of either credibly prosecuting the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or managing the economy, and many PFP officials came to be perceived as corrupt and incompetent. Growing discontent culminated in June 1993 in an armed insurrection in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city. As the rebels advanced virtually unopposed on Baku, President Elchibey fled to his native province, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan. The National Council conferred presidential powers upon its new Speaker, Heydar Aliyev, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party (1969-81) and member of the U.S.S.R. Politburo and U.S.S.R. Deputy Prime Minister (until 1987). Elchibey was formally deposed by a national referendum in August 1993, and Aliyev was elected to a 5-year term as President in October with only token opposition. Aliyev won re-election to another 5-year term in 1998, in an election marred by serious irregularities. Presidential elections that took place on October 15, 2003 resulted in the election of Ilham Aliyev, the son of Heydar Aliyev. The election did not meet international standards. Ilham Aliyev assumed the office of president on October 31, 2003. Heydar Aliyev died December 12, 2003.
Azerbaijan's first parliament was elected in 1995. The present 125-member unicameral parliament was elected in November 2005 in an election that showed improvements in democratic processes, but still did not meet international standards. A majority of parliamentarians are from the President's "New Azerbaijan Party," although the 2005 elections brought in a much more diverse parliament, with up to 10 opposition members and a sizeable number of independents. Many of these independents may have close ties to government, while as many as 20 others are business leaders whose political affiliations are not clear. According to the constitution, the speaker of parliament stands next in line to the president. The parliament, however, is historically a weak body with little real influence. The Speaker is Oktay Asadov.
Principal Government Officials
Azerbaijan's embassy in the United States is at 2741 34th Street NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 337-3500; fax (202) 337-5911; Consular tel. (202) 337-5912; Consular fax (202) 337-5913; www.azembassy.com.
Azerbaijan is an economy in transition in which the state continues to play a dominant role. It has important oil reserves and a significant agronomic potential based on a wide variety of climatic zones. During the late 1990s, in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Azerbaijan pursued a successful economic stabilization program, with annual growth exceeding 10% since 2000. Real GDP grew by 36.2% year-on-year in the first half of 2006 (predominantly driven by the hydrocarbon sector) while non-oil GDP grew by 8.5%. Output expansion has been largely driven by oil-sector foreign direct investment (FDI) and related spillover effects in the construction and transportation sectors, although there have also been substantial gains in agriculture. Inflation, which peaked at 13.7% year on year in April 2005 before easing to 11.9% year on year in September 2005, is a major risk and could accelerate in the context of further increases in fiscal spending, high oil prices, and an inflexible exchange rate. Importantly, the higher inflation also reflects customs restrictions that are in place due to supply constraints that limit import competition and monopolies that continue to control many sectors of the economy. The national currency, the manat, is stable against the dollar, but was allowed to strengthen in 2005 by 5%. The IMF has warned that significantly more appreciation (roughly 10%) will be necessary to prevent inflation from increasing.
The 2006 budget increased spending (in dollar terms) by 84% with the bulk going to the military, wages, infrastructure projects, and social assistance. Part of the increase in expenditures was financed by revenues from the oil fund. The IMF has expressed concern about the impact in inflation and macroeconomic stability as well as governance if the capital budget is not well managed. The State Oil Fund (SOFAZ) was established as an extra-budgetary fund to ensure macroeconomic stability, transparency in the management of oil revenue, and the safeguarding of resources for future generations. All oil revenue profits from the development of new oil fields now flow into SOFAZ, and are held offshore. SOFAZ assets amounted to $1.5 billion as of February 2007. Nevertheless, SOFAZ's sterilization effect is limited since it does not cover SOCAR, the State Oil Company.
Progress on economic reform has generally lagged. The government has undertaken regulatory reforms in some areas, including substantial opening of trade policy, but inefficient public administration, in which commercial and regulatory interests are co-mingled, limits the impact of these reforms. The government has largely completed privatization of agricultural lands and small and medium-sized enterprises. Azerbaijan is still plagued by an arbitrary tax and customs administration, a weak court system, monopolistic regulation of the market, and corruption.
For more than a century the backbone of the Azerbaijani economy has been petroleum. Now that Western oil companies are able to tap deepwater oilfields untouched by the Soviets because of poor technology, Azerbaijan is considered one of the most important spots in the world for oil exploration and development. Proven oil reserves in the Caspian Basin, which Azerbaijan shares with Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are comparable in size to the North Sea, although exploration is still in the early stages.
Azerbaijan has concluded 21 production-sharing agreements with various oil companies. Azerbaijan celebrated first oil for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in May 2005, and the official completion ceremony was held in Turkey in July 2006. The BTC pipeline is now operational and has a maximum capacity of one million barrels per day. A parallel Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas export pipeline opened in September 2006, but, due to technical issues in the offshore Shah Deniz gas field, has operated only intermittently. Eastern Caspian producers in Kazakhstan also have expressed interest in accessing this pipeline to transport a portion of their production
DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES
In July 1992, Azerbaijan ratified the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which establishes comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment and provides for the destruction of weaponry in excess of those limits. Although Azerbaijan did not provide all data required by the treaty on its conventional forces at that time, it has accepted on-site inspections of forces on its territory. Azerbaijan approved the CFE flank agreement in May 1997. It also has acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state. Azerbaijan participates in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace.
Azerbaijan is a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), NATO's Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership, the World Health Organization, GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Council of Europe, the Community of Democracies, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.
More than 30,000 people were killed in the fighting from 1992 to 1994. In May 1992, Armenian and Karabakhi forces seized Susha (the historical, Azerbaijani-populated capital of Nagorno-Karabakh) and Lachin (thereby linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia). By October 1993, Armenian and Karabakhi forces had succeeded in occupying almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh, Lachin, and large areas in southwestern Azerbaijan. As Armenian and Karabakhi forces advanced, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees fled to other parts of Azerbaijan. In 1993, the UN Security Council adopted resolutions calling for the cessation of hostilities, unimpeded access for international humanitarian relief efforts, and the eventual deployment of a peacekeeping force in the region. The UN also called for immediate withdrawal of all ethnic Armenian forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Fighting continued, however, until May 1994 when Russia brokered a cease-fire.
Negotiations to resolve the conflict peacefully have been ongoing since 1992 under the aegis of the Minsk Group of the OSCE. The Minsk Group is currently co-chaired by Russia, France, and the U.S. and has representation from Turkey, the U.S., several European nations, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Despite the 1994 cease-fire, sporadic violations, sniper fire, and landmine incidents continue to claim over 100 lives each year.
Since 1997, the Minsk Group Co-Chairs have presented a number of proposals to serve as a framework for resolving the conflict. One side or the other rejected each of those proposals, but negotiations have continued at an intensified pace since 2004.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 brought an end to the Cold War and created the opportunity to build relations with its successor states as they began a political and economic transformation. The United States opened an Embassy in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, in March 1992.
The United States has been actively engaged in international efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The U.S. has played a leading role in the Minsk Group, which was created in 1992 by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe--now the OSCE--to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In early 1997, the U.S. heightened its role by becoming a Co-Chair of the Minsk Group, along with Russia and France.
The U.S. supports American investment in Azerbaijan. U.S. companies are involved in three offshore oil development projects with Azerbaijan and have been exploring the emerging investment opportunities in Azerbaijan in other fields, such as telecommunication.
The United States is committed to aiding Azerbaijan in its transition to democracy and its formation of an open market economy. The Freedom Support Act, enacted in October 1992, has been the cornerstone of U.S. efforts to help Azerbaijan during this transition. Under the Freedom Support Act, the U.S. was providing approximately $48 million in humanitarian, democracy, and reform assistance to Azerbaijan in FY 2006.
The U.S. and Azerbaijan have signed a bilateral trade agreement, which entered into force in April 1995 and confers to Azerbaijan the status of most favored nation. The United States also has a bilateral investment treaty with Azerbaijan.
U.S. Humanitarian Assistance
[Also see fact sheet on FY 2006 U.S. Assistance to Azerbaijan.]
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan is at 83 Azadliq Prospect; tel. 994-12-98-03-35; fax 994-12-65-66-71.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007