Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


The early inhabitants of the present-day Azerbaydzhan Republic were a mix of different people, as the country had endured many invasions since the sixth century B.C. Until the ninth century A.D., however, the Iranians were dominant. The large migration of Turkic tribes into the area between the tenth and twelfth centuries, and their subsequent mixing with the indigenous population, led to the creation of the Azerbaydzhan people. With time, the Turkic element became culturally dominant except in religion. Unlike most Turkic Muslims, who were Sunni, most Azerbaydzhanis became Shia Muslims akin to the Muslims of Iran. From the eleventh to the early nineteenth century, Azerbaydzhan was almost continuously under Iranian control. In 1724 Peter the Great annexed the Baku and Derbent regions of Azerbaydzhan, but Iran regained them a dozen years later. Russian presence became permanent in the first half of the nineteenth century, when Azerbaydzhan was divided between Iran and Russia.

At first, Russian control of Azerbaydzhan had little effect on the life of the people. In fact, the rise of Azerbaydzhan national consciousness in the late nineteenth century was influenced more by the changes within Turkey and Iran than by the political and social events in imperial Russia. Rapid development of the oil industry, the growth of such industrial centers as Baku, and the influx of Slavs into Azerbaydzhan at the turn of the century, however, drew Azerbaydzhanis closer to Russia. A secularized elite, modeled on the Young Turks, came into being. It soon split between a relatively urban Marxist faction and an Islamic faction closely tied to the rural areas of Azerbaydzhan. In 1918 the more rightist, Islamic faction formed an independent republic with the help of the Turkish army. The short-lived independence of the Azerbaydzhanis came to an end in 1920 when the Red Army invaded and established a communist regime, which helped turn Azerbaydzhan into a Soviet republic.

Although Soviet rule was accompanied by repressive measures, tight political control, and collectivization, the Azerbaydzhan Republic grew industrially and economically. Another result of Soviet rule was the dramatic rise in literacy. In 1927 only 31.9 percent of the deputies in the Baku soviet were literate. By 1959 some 97 percent of the entire population of the Azerbaydzhan Republic was literate, according to Soviet statistics.

The most populous of the three major nationalities in the Caucasus region, the Azerbaydzhanis have important characteristics that distinguish them from the other two nationalities. Being Muslim and of Turkic origin, they differ ethnically and culturally from the Armenians and Georgians. Also, they are separated by a long international border from fellow Azerbaydzhanis in Iran with whom they share their origins, culture, language, and religion. Occupying the southernmost part of the European Soviet Union, the Azerbaydzhan Republic includes the Nakhichevan' Autonomous Republic, which is separated from the rest of the Azerbaydzhan Republic by the Armenian Republic, and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, which is populated mostly by Armenians.

Like other Muslim groups in the Soviet Union, the Azerbaydzhanis have demonstrated a remarkable population growth since the 1950s. In 1989 the Azerbaydzhanis numbered almost 6.8 million. Some 5.8 million of them lived in the Azerbaydzhan Republic, where they made up 83 percent of the population. The largest national minorities within the borders of the Azerbaydzhan Republic were Russians and Armenians, who together made up about 11 percent of the population. About 37 percent of the Armenians in Azerbaydzhan resided in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, where they constituted 77 percent of the population. The number of Russians living in the Azerbaydzhan Republic in 1989 was slightly larger than the number of Armenians.

Azerbaydzhanis speak a Turkic language that belongs to the southern branch of Altaic languages. Originally the language developed from a mixture of languages spoken by the Iranian and Turkic tribes living there. It became a literary language late in the nineteenth century when the Azerbaydzhan intelligentsia popularized literature written in their native language. In 1922 Soviet officials replaced the original Arabic alphabet, first with the Latin alphabet and then in 1937 with the Cyrillic alphabet. According to the 1989 census, about 97.6 percent of the Azerbaydzhanis in the Soviet Union regarded the Azerbaydzhan language as their native tongue.

In 1987 the Azerbaydzhan Republic was among the least urbanized republics, with only 54 percent of its population living in urban areas. Large cities included the capital, Baku, with a population of over 1.1 million, Kirovabad with 270,000, and Sumgait with 234,000.

The level of Azerbaydzhan education was high. Azerbaydzhanis ranked fifth among the nationalities in the number of students in institutions of higher education per thousand people, but they ranked eighth in their share of scientific workers. In 1979 Azerbaydzhanis were seventh in CPSU membership.

Data as of May 1989

Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents