History of Azerbaijan
History of Azerbaijan ©HistoryMaps

6000 BCE - 2024

History of Azerbaijan

The history of Azerbaijan, a region defined by its geographical boundaries with the Caucasus Mountains, the Caspian Sea, the Armenian Highlands, and the Iranian Plateau, spans several millennia. The earliest significant state in the area was Caucasian Albania, established in ancient times. Its people spoke a language likely ancestral to the modern Udi language.

From the era of the Medes and the Achaemenid Empire to the 19th century, Azerbaijan shared much of its history with what is now Iran, maintaining its Iranian character even after the Arab conquest and the introduction of Islam. The arrival of Oghuz Turkic tribes under the Seljuq dynasty in the 11th century initiated a gradual Turkification of the region. Over time, the indigenous Persian-speaking population was assimilated into the Turkic-speaking majority, which evolved into today's Azerbaijani language.

In the medieval period, the Shirvanshahs emerged as a significant local dynasty. Despite brief subjugation to the Timurid Empire, they regained independence and maintained local control until the region's integration into the Russian Empire following the Russo-Persian wars (1804–1813, 1826–1828). The treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828) ceded Azerbaijani territories from Qajar Iran to Russia and established the modern boundary along the Aras River.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, under Russian rule, a distinct Azerbaijani national identity began to form. Azerbaijan declared itself an independent republic in 1918 after the Russian Empire's collapse but was soon after incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Azerbaijan SSR in 1920. This period solidified the Azerbaijani national identity, which persisted until the USSR's dissolution in 1991, when Azerbaijan again declared independence.

Since independence, Azerbaijan has experienced significant political challenges, notably the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, which has shaped much of its post-Soviet national policy and foreign relations.

Stone Age in Azerbaijan
Stone Age in Azerbaijan ©HistoryMaps
12000 BCE Jan 1

Stone Age in Azerbaijan

Qıraq Kəsəmən, Azerbaijan

The Stone Age in Azerbaijan is categorized into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods, reflecting human development and cultural shifts over millennia. Significant archaeological discoveries across various sites, such as Karabakh, Gazakh, Lerik, Gobustan, and Nakhchivan, have illuminated these eras.

Paleolithic Period

The Paleolithic, which lasted until the 12th millennium BCE, is divided into the Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic phases.

  • Lower Paleolithic: In this earliest phase, the notable Azykhantrop's lower jaw was discovered in the Azikh cave, indicating the presence of early human species. The Guruchay valley was a significant site, with its inhabitants creating tools from locally sourced stones, marking the "Guruchay culture," which shares similarities with the Olduvai culture.
  • Middle Paleolithic: Dating from 100,000 to 35,000 years ago, this period is characterized by the Mousterian culture, noted for its sharp-pointed tools. Key archaeological sites include the Tağlar, Azokh, and Zar caves in Karabakh, and the Damjili and Qazma caves, where extensive tools and animal bones were found.
  • Upper Paleolithic: Lasting until about 12,000 years ago, this period saw humans settling in both cave and outdoor camps. Hunting became more specialized, and social roles began to differentiate more clearly between men and women.

Mesolithic Period

Transitioning from the Upper Paleolithic around 12,000 BCE, the Mesolithic era in Azerbaijan, particularly evidenced in Gobustan and Damjili, featured microlithic tools and continued reliance on hunting, with early signs of animal domestication. Fishing also became a significant activity.

Neolithic Period

The Neolithic period, commencing around the 7th to 6th millennium BCE, marks the advent of agriculture, leading to expanded settlements in areas suitable for farming. Notable sites include the Goytepe archaeological complex in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, where materials such as ceramics and obsidian tools suggest a burgeoning cultural sophistication.

Eneolithic (Chalcolithic) Period

From around the 6th to the 4th millennium BCE, the Eneolithic period bridged the gap between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. The region’s copper-rich mountains facilitated the early development of copper processing. Settlements like Shomutepe and Kultepe highlight advancements in agriculture, architecture, and metallurgy.

Bronze and Iron Age in Azerbaijan
Painted vessel pattern from Kul-Tepe I ©HistoryMaps
3500 BCE Jan 1 - 1500 BCE

Bronze and Iron Age in Azerbaijan


The Bronze Age in Azerbaijan, which spanned from the second half of the 4th millennium BCE to the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE, marked significant developments in pottery, architecture, and metallurgy. It is divided into the early, middle, and late Bronze Ages, with distinct cultural and technological advancements observed in each phase.[1]

Early Bronze Age (3500-2500 BCE)

The Early Bronze Age is characterized by the emergence of the Kur-Araxes culture, which had a wide influence across Transcaucasia, Eastern Anatolia, northwest Iran, and beyond. This period saw the rise of new settlement types, such as those on mountain slopes and river banks, and the development of metallurgical techniques. Significant social changes occurred, including the move from matriarchal to patriarchal systems, and the separation of agriculture from cattle breeding. Key archaeological sites include Kul-tepe I and II in Nakhchivan, Baba-Dervish in Qazakh, and Mentesh-Tepe in Tovuz, where numerous artifacts such as polished dishes, ceramic patterns, and bronze objects have been found.

Middle Bronze Age (End of 3rd millennium BCE to early 2nd millennium BCE)

Transitioning into the Middle Bronze Age, there was an increase in the size of settlements and the complexity of social structures, with noticeable property and social inequalities. This period is noted for its "painted pottery" culture, seen in the remnants found in Nakhchivan, Gobustan, and Karabakh. The period also marks the beginning of grapevine cultivation and winemaking, evident from archaeological findings in Uzerliktepe and Nakhchivan. The construction of fortified settlements using cyclopean masonry was a defensive response to the growing social complexity.

Late Bronze Age to Iron Age (15th-7th centuries BCE)

The Late Bronze Age and the subsequent Iron Age were characterized by the expansion of settlements and fortifications, as evidenced by the cyclopean castles in the Lesser Caucasus region. The burial practices included both collective and individual graves, often accompanied by rich bronze objects, indicating the presence of a military elite. This period also saw the continued importance of horse breeding, a vital aspect of the nomadic lifestyle prevalent in the region. Key cultural remains include the Talish–Mughan culture artifacts, which illustrate advanced metalworking skills.

700 BCE
Median and Achaemenid Era in Azerbaijan
Medes Warrior ©HistoryMaps

Caucasian Albania, an ancient region located in what is today part of Azerbaijan, is believed to have been influenced by or incorporated into larger empires from as early as the 7th or 6th century BCE. According to one hypothesis, this incorporation into the Median empire [2] may have occurred during this period as part of efforts to defend against nomadic invasions threatening Persia’s northern frontiers. The strategic location of Caucasian Albania, particularly in terms of the Caucasian passes, would have been significant for these defensive measures.

In the 6th century BCE, after conquering the Median Empire, Cyrus the Great of Persia incorporated Azerbaijan into the Achaemenid Empire, becoming part of the Achaemenid satrapy of Media. This led to the spread of Zoroastrianism in the region, evidenced by the practice of fire worship among many Caucasian Albanians. This control marks a period of increased Persian influence in the region, which likely involved both military and administrative integration into the Persian imperial framework.

Hellenistic era in Azerbaijan
Seleucid Empire. ©Igor Dzis
330 BCE Jan 1 - 247 BCE

Hellenistic era in Azerbaijan


In 330 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenids, affecting the political landscape of regions like Azerbaijan. Around this time, Caucasian Albania is first mentioned by the Greek historian Arrian at the Battle of Gaugamela, where they, along with the Medes, Cadussi, and Sacae, were commanded by Atropates.[3]

After the fall of the Seleucid Empire in Persia in 247 BCE, portions of what is today Azerbaijan came under the rule of the Kingdom of Armenia,[4] lasting from 190 BCE to 428 CE. During the reign of Tigranes the Great (95-56 BCE), Albania was noted as a vassal state within the Armenian Empire. Eventually, the Kingdom of Albania emerged as a significant entity in the eastern Caucasus during the 2nd or 1st century BCE, forming a triad with Georgians and Armenians as key nations of the Southern Caucasus, and came under considerable Armenian cultural and religious influence.

The original population on the right bank of the Kura River before Armenian conquest included diverse autochthonous groups such as the Utians, Mycians, Caspians, Gargarians, Sakasenians, Gelians, Sodians, Lupenians, Balasakanians, Parsians, and Parrasians. Historian Robert H. Hewsen noted these tribes were not of Armenian origin; while some Iranian peoples might have settled during Persian and Median rule, most of the natives were not Indo-Europeans.[5] Despite this, the influence of prolonged Armenian presence led to significant Armenization of these groups, with many becoming indistinguishably Armenian over time.

Atropatene was an ancient Iranian kingdom founded around 323 BCE by Atropates, a Persian satrap. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
323 BCE Jan 1 - 226 BCE


Leylan, East Azerbaijan Provin

Atropatene was an ancient Iranian kingdom founded around 323 BCE by Atropates, a Persian satrap. This kingdom was situated in what is now northern Iran. Atropates' lineage continued to rule the region until the early 1st century CE, when it was overtaken by the Parthian Arsacid dynasty. In 226 CE, Atropatene was conquered by the Sasanian Empire and transformed into a province overseen by a marzban, or "margrave." Atropatene maintained continuous Zoroastrian religious authority from the time of the Achaemenids through to the Arab conquest, with only a brief interruption during Alexander the Great’s rule from 336 to 323 BCE. The region's name, Atropatene, also contributed to the naming of the historic region of Azerbaijan in Iran.


In 331 BCE, during the Battle of Gaugamela, various ethnic groups including the Medes, Albans, Sakasens, and Cadusians fought under Achaemenid commander Atropates, alongside Darius III against Alexander the Great. After Alexander's victory and the subsequent fall of the Achaemenid Empire, Atropates declared his loyalty to Alexander and was appointed as the governor of Media in 328-327 BCE.

Following Alexander's death in 323 BCE, his empire was divided among his generals at the Partition of Babylon. Media, previously a single Achaemenid satrapy, was split into two: Media Magna, given to Peithon, and the northern region, Media Atropatene, governed by Atropates. Atropates, who had familial ties with Alexander's regent Perdiccas, managed to establish Media Atropatene as an independent kingdom after refusing to pay allegiance to Seleucus, one of Alexander's generals.

By 223 BCE, when Antiochus III rose to power in the Seleucid Empire, he attacked Media Atropatene, leading to its temporary subjugation under Seleucid control. However, Media Atropatene preserved a degree of internal independence. The political landscape of the region changed as the Roman Empire emerged as a significant force in the Mediterranean and Near East. This led to a series of conflicts, including the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE where the Romans defeated the Seleucids.

The strategic alliances shifted again when, in 38 BCE, after a battle between Rome and Parthia, the Roman general Antony failed to capture the Atropatenian city of Fraaspa despite a prolonged siege. This conflict and the continuous threat from Parthia pushed Atropatene closer to Rome, leading Ariobarzan II, the king of Atropatene in 20 BCE, to spend about a decade in Rome, aligning more closely with Roman interests.

As the Parthian Empire began to decline, the nobility and peasantry of Atropatene found a new ally in the Persian Sasanian prince Ardashir I. Supporting his campaigns against the later Parthian rulers, Atropatene played a role in the rise of the Sasanian Empire. In 226 CE, after Ardashir I defeated Artabanus IV at the Battle of Hormozdgan, Atropatene submitted to the Sasanians with minimal resistance, marking the transition from Parthian to Sasanian rule. This alliance was likely driven by the local nobility’s desire for stability and order, as well as the priesthood's preference for the Sasanian's strong association with Zoroastrianism.

Kingdom of Greater Armenia Period
Tigranes and four vassal Kings. ©Fusso
190 BCE Jan 1 - 428

Kingdom of Greater Armenia Period


After the fall of the Seleucid Empire in Persia in 247 BCE, the Kingdom of Armenia gained control over portions of what is today Azerbaijan. [6]

Roman Influence in Caucasian Albania
mperial Roman soldiers in Caucus Mountains. ©Angus McBride
50 BCE Jan 1 - 300

Roman Influence in Caucasian Albania


Caucasian Albania's interaction with the Roman Empire was complex and multifaceted, characterized primarily by its status as a client state rather than a fully integrated province like neighboring Armenia. The relationship began around the 1st century BCE and experienced various phases of engagement until around 250 CE, with a brief resurgence under Emperor Diocletian around 299 CE.


In 65 BCE, the Roman general Pompey, having subdued Armenia, Iberia, and Colchis, entered Caucasian Albania and quickly defeated King Oroezes. Although Albania nearly reached the Caspian Sea under Roman control, the influence of the Parthian Empire soon spurred a rebellion. In 36 BCE, Mark Antony had to suppress this revolt, after which Albania nominally became a Roman protectorate.

Roman influence was consolidated under Emperor Augustus, who received ambassadors from an Albanian king, indicating ongoing diplomatic interactions. By 35 CE, Caucasian Albania, allied with Iberia and Rome, played a role in confronting Parthian power in Armenia. Emperor Nero’s plans in 67 CE to extend Roman influence further into the Caucasus were halted by his death.

Despite these efforts, Albania maintained strong cultural and commercial ties with Persia. Under Emperor Trajan in 114 CE, Roman control was nearly complete, with significant Romanization at the societal upper levels. However, the region faced threats such as the invasion by the Alans during Emperor Hadrian's reign (117-138 CE), which led to a strengthened alliance between Rome and Caucausian Albania.

In 297 CE, the Treaty of Nisibis re-established Roman influence over Caucasian Albania and Iberia, but this control was fleeting. By the mid-4th century, the area had fallen under Sassanian control and remained so until the late 6th century. During the Third Perso-Turkic War in 627, Emperor Heraclius allied with the Khazars (Gokturks), resulting in a Khazar leader declaring sovereignty over Albania and enforcing taxation in line with Persian land assessments.

Ultimately, Caucasian Albania was absorbed into the Sassanian Empire, with its kings managing to retain their rule by paying tribute. The region was finally conquered by Arab forces in 643 during the Muslim conquest of Persia, marking the end of its ancient kingdom status.

Sasanian Empire in Caucasian Albania
Sassanian Empire ©Angus McBride
252 Jan 1 - 636

Sasanian Empire in Caucasian Albania


From 252-253 CE, Caucasian Albania came under the control of the Sassanid Empire, retaining its monarchy but largely acting as a vassal state with limited autonomy. The Albanian king held nominal power while most civil, religious, and military authority was exercised by the Sassanid-appointed marzban (military governor). The significance of this annexation was highlighted in the trilingual inscription of Shapur I at Naqš-e Rostam.

During the reign of Shapur II (309-379 CE), King Urnayr of Albania (343-371 CE) maintained a degree of independence, aligning with Shapur II during military campaigns against the Romans, notably the siege of Amida in 359 CE. Following Shapur II's persecution of Christians post-victory, Urnayr, an ally in the battle, was wounded but played a crucial role in military engagements. In 387 CE, after a series of conflicts, a treaty between Rome and the Sassanids returned several provinces to Albania that had been lost in earlier battles.

In 450 CE, a Christian rebellion against Persian Zoroastrianism led by King Yazdegerd II saw significant victories that temporarily freed Albania from Persian garrisons. However, in 462 CE, after internal strife in the Sassanian dynasty, Peroz I mobilized the Haylandur (Onoqur) Huns against Albania, leading to the abdication of the Albanian King Vache II in 463 CE. This period of instability resulted in 30 years without a ruler, as noted by the Albanian historian Moisey Kalankatlı.

The monarchy was eventually restored in 487 CE when Vachagan III was installed by the Sassanid shah Balash (484-488 CE). Vachagan III, known for his Christian faith, reinstated Christian freedoms and opposed Zoroastrianism, paganism, idolatry, and witchcraft. However, in 510 CE, the Sassanids eliminated independent state institutions in Albania, marking the beginning of a long period of Sassanid dominance until 629 CE.

The late 6th to early 7th centuries saw Albania become a battleground between Sassanid Persia, the Byzantine Empire, and the Khazar Khanate. In 628 CE, during the Third Perso-Turkic War, the Khazars invaded and their leader Ziebel declared himself Lord of Albania, imposing taxes based on Persian land surveys.

The Mihranid dynasty ruled Albania from 630-705 CE, with Partav (now Barda) as its capital. Varaz Grigor (628-642 CE), a notable ruler, initially supported the Sassanids but later aligned with the Byzantine Empire. Despite his efforts to maintain autonomy and diplomatic relations with the Caliphate, Javanshir, Varaz Grigor's son, was assassinated in 681 CE. The rule of the Mihranids ended in 705 CE when the last heir was executed in Damascus by Arab forces, marking the end of Albania's internal independence and the beginning of direct rule by the Caliphate.

Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania
Parthia Empire. ©Angus McBride
300 Jan 1 - 500

Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania


The Arsacid dynasty, originating from Parthia, ruled Caucasian Albania from the 3rd to the 6th century CE. This dynasty was a branch of the Parthian Arsacids and was part of a broader pan-Arsacid family federation that included the rulers of neighboring Armenia and Iberia.


Caucasian Albania became significant in regional politics around the end of the 2nd century BCE, likely due to conflicts between Parthian King Mithridates II (r. 124–91 BCE) and the Armenian King Artavasdes I (r. 159–115 BCE). According to modern historian Murtazali Gadjiev, it was at the end of the 3rd century CE when the Arsacids were installed as kings of Albania by the Romans, aiming for greater control over the Caucasus. Their rise to power led to the dominance of Iranian cultural elements and the Parthian language among the educated class in Albania.

During the 330s CE, Sasanian King Shapur II (r. 309–379) asserted his authority over the Albanian King Vachagan I, who was later succeeded by Vachagan II around 375 CE. In 387 CE, Sasanian manipulation led to the cession of the Armenian provinces of Artsakh, Utik, Shakashen, Gardman, and Kolt to Albania. However, in around 462 CE, Sasanian Shahanshah Peroz I abolished Arsacid rule following a rebellion led by Vache II, although this rule was restored in 485 CE with the ascension of Vachagan III, thanks to Peroz's brother and successor Balash (r. 484–488). Vachagan III was a fervent Christian who mandated the return of apostate Albanian aristocrats to Christianity and waged a campaign against Zoroastrianism, Paganism, idolatry, and witchcraft.

The Arsacid rulers of Albania had deep marital and familial ties with the Sasanian royal family, reinforcing Sasanian influence in the region. These ties included marriages between Arsacid rulers and members of the Sasanian royal family, enhancing the prominence of Middle Persian language and culture in Albania. These connections underscored the complex interplay of political, familial, and cultural relationships between Caucasian Albania and Sasanian Iran, significantly shaping the history and identity of the region.

Christianity in Caucasian Albania
Church in the Caucaus Mountains ©HistoryMaps
400 Jan 1 - 700

Christianity in Caucasian Albania


After Armenia adopted Christianity as its state religion in 301 CE, Caucasian Albania also began to embrace Christianity under King Urnayr. He was baptized by St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Catholicos of Armenia. Following Urnayr's death, the Caucasian Albanians requested that St. Gregory's grandson, St. Gregoris, lead their church. He was instrumental in spreading Christianity throughout Caucasian Albania and Iberia, and was martyred by idol worshipers in northeast Caucasian Albania. His remains were buried near the Amaras Monastery, which his grandfather had built in Artsakh.

In the early 5th century, a local bishop named Jeremy translated the Bible into Old Udi, the language of the Caucasian Albanians, marking a significant cultural development. This translation was based largely on earlier Armenian versions.

During the 5th century, the Sassanid King Yazdegerd II attempted to force Zoroastrianism on the leaders of Caucasian Albania, Armenia, and Georgia. Despite initial acquiescence in Ctesiphon, the nobles resisted upon returning home, culminating in a failed rebellion led by Armenian General Vardan Mamikonyan in 451 CE. Despite losing the battle, the Albanians maintained their Christian faith.

The Christian faith reached a zenith under King Vachagan the Pious in the late 5th century, who strongly opposed idolatry and promoted Christianity throughout his reign. In 488 CE, he convened the Council of Aghuen, which formalized the Church's structure and its relations with the state.

In the 6th century, during Javanshir's rule, Caucasian Albania maintained peaceful relations with the Huns until Javanshir's assassination in 669, which led to Hunnic aggression. Efforts were made to convert the Huns to Christianity, but these were ultimately short-lived.

By the 8th century, following the Arab conquest, the region faced significant pressures that led to the Islamization of the local population. By the 11th century, prominent mosques stood in former centers of Albanian Christianity, and many Albanians were assimilated into various ethnic groups, including Azeris and Iranians.

600 - 1500
Medieval Azerbaijan
Arab Conquests and Rule in Azerbaijan
Arab Conquests ©HistoryMaps

During the Arab invasions of the Caucasus in the mid-7th century CE, Caucasian Albania became a vassal to the Arab forces, but maintained its local monarchy. The initial Arab military campaigns led by Salman ibn Rabiah and Habib b. Maslama in 652 CE resulted in treaties that imposed tribute, jizya (poll tax on non-Muslims), and kharaj (land tax) on the local populations of places like Nakhchevan and Beylagan. The Arabs continued their expansion, securing treaties with the governors of other key regions like Gabala, Sheki, Shakashen, and Shirvan.

By 655 CE, following their victory at Darband (Bāb al-Abwāb), the Arabs faced setbacks from the Khazars, including the death of Salman in battle. The Khazars, taking advantage of the First Muslim Civil War and the Arabs' preoccupation with other fronts, launched raids into Transcaucasia. Although initially repelled, the Khazars successfully captured significant booty in a large-scale raid around 683 or 685 CE. The Arab response came in the early 8th century, notably in 722-723 CE, when al-Jarrah al-Hakami successfully repelled the Khazars, even briefly capturing their capital, Balanjar.

Despite these military engagements, the local population in areas like Caucasian Albania, Armenia, and Georgia often resisted Arab rule, influenced by their predominantly Christian faith. This resistance was particularly evident in 450 CE when King Yazdegerd II of the Sassanid Empire attempted to convert these regions to Zoroastrianism, leading to widespread dissent and secret vows to uphold Christianity.

This complex period of Arab, Persian, and local interactions significantly influenced the administrative, religious, and social structures of the region. Under the Umayyads, and later the Abbasids, the administration evolved from retaining Sassanid systems to introducing the Emirate system, dividing the region into mahals (districts) and mantagas (sub-districts), governed by emirs appointed by the Caliph.

During this time, the economic landscape also transformed. The introduction of crops like rice and cotton, bolstered by improved irrigation techniques, led to significant agricultural developments. Trade expansion facilitated the growth of industries such as camel breeding and weaving, particularly noted in cities like Barda, which was renowned for its silk production.

The Arab rule eventually catalyzed profound cultural and economic changes in Caucasian Albania and the broader South Caucasus, embedding Islamic influences that would shape the region's historical trajectory for centuries.

Feudal States in Azerbaijan
Medieval Baku under the Shirvanshahs. ©HistoryMaps
800 Jan 1 - 1060

Feudal States in Azerbaijan


As the Arab Caliphate's military and political power waned in the ninth and tenth centuries, several provinces began to assert their independence from the central government. This period saw the emergence of feudal states such as the Shirvanshahs, Shaddadids, Sallarids, and Sajids in the territory of Azerbaijan.


The Shirvanshahs, ruling from 861 to 1538, stand out as one of the Islamic world's most enduring dynasties. The title "Shirvanshah" was historically associated with the rulers of Shirvan, reportedly bestowed by the first Sassanid emperor, Ardashir I. Throughout their history, they oscillated between independence and vassalage under neighboring empires.

By the early 11th century, Shirvan faced threats from Derbent and repelled raids from the Rus’ and Alans in the 1030s. The Mazyadid dynasty eventually gave way to the Kasranids in 1027, who ruled independently until the Seljuk invasions of 1066. Despite acknowledging Seljuk suzerainty, Shirvanshah Fariburz I managed to maintain internal autonomy and even expanded his domain to include Arran, appointing a governor in Ganja in the 1080s. The Shirvan court became a cultural nexus, especially during the 12th century, which drew renowned Persian poets like Khaqani, Nizami Ganjavi, and Falaki Shirvani, fostering a rich period of literary flourishing.

The dynasty saw significant developments starting in 1382 with Ibrahim I, initiating the Darbandi line of the Shirvanshahs. The apex of their influence and prosperity was during the 15th century, notably under the reigns of Khalilullah I (1417–1463) and Farrukh Yasar (1463–1500). However, the dynasty's decline began with Farrukh Yasar's defeat and death at the hands of Safavid leader Ismail I in 1500, leading to the Shirvanshahs becoming Safavid vassals.


The Sajid dynasty, ruling from 889 or 890 to 929, was one of the significant dynasties in medieval Azerbaijan. Muhammad ibn Abi'l-Saj Diwdad, appointed as the ruler in 889 or 890 by the Abbasid Caliphate, marked the beginning of the Sajid rule. His father had served under key military figures and the Caliphate, earning the governorship of Azerbaijan as a reward for their military services. The weakening of the Abbasid central authority allowed Muhammad to establish a quasi-independent state in Azerbaijan.

Under Muhammad's rule, the Sajid dynasty minted coins in his name and expanded its territory significantly in the South Caucasus, with Maragha as its first capital, later shifting to Barda. His successor, Yusuf ibn Abi'l-Saj, further moved the capital to Ardabil and demolished the walls of Maragha. His tenure was marked by strained relations with the Abbasid caliphate, leading to military confrontations. By 909, after a peace agreement facilitated by the vizier Abu'l-Hasan Ali ibn al-Furat, Yusuf secured recognition from the caliph and a formal governorship of Azerbaijan, which solidified his rule and expanded Sajid influence.

Yusuf's reign was also notable for his actions to secure and strengthen the northern borders of the Sajid domain against Russian incursions from the Volga in 913–914. He repaired the Derbent wall and rebuilt its sea-facing sections. His military campaigns extended into Georgia, where he captured several territories including Kakheti, Ujarma, and Bochorma.

The Sajid dynasty concluded with the last ruler, Deysam ibn Ibrahim, who was defeated in 941 by Marzban ibn Muhammad from Daylam. This defeat marked the end of the Sajid rule and the rise of the Sallarid dynasty with its capital at Ardabil, signifying a significant shift in the region's political landscape.


The Sallarid dynasty, established in 941 by Marzuban ibn Muhammad, ruled over Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan until 979. Marzuban, a descendant of the Musafirid dynasty, initially overthrew his father in Daylam and then expanded his control to key Azerbaijani cities including Ardabil, Tabriz, Barda, and Derbent. Under his leadership, the Shirvanshahs became vassals to the Sallarids, agreeing to pay tribute.

In 943–944, a severe Russian campaign targeted the Caspian region, significantly impacting Barda and shifting regional prominence to Ganja. The Sallarid forces experienced multiple defeats, and Barda suffered under Russian control with substantial looting and ransom demands. However, the Russian occupation was disrupted by an outbreak of dysentery, allowing Marzuban to retake control after they retreated.

Despite initial successes, Marzuban's capture in 948 by Rukn al-Dawla, the ruler of Hamadan, marked a turning point. His imprisonment led to internal strife among his family and other regional powers like the Rawadids and Shaddadids, who seized opportunities to assert control in areas around Tabriz and Dvin.

Leadership passed to Ibrahim, Marzuban’s youngest son, who ruled Dvin from 957 to 979 and intermittently controlled Azerbaijan until his second term ended in 979. He managed to reaffirm Sallarid authority over Shirvan and Darband. By 971, the Sallarids recognized the ascendancy of the Shaddadids in Ganja, reflecting shifting power dynamics. Ultimately, the Sallarid dynasty's influence waned, and they were assimilated by the Seljuk Turks by the end of the 11th century.


The Shaddadids were a prominent Muslim dynasty that governed the region between the Kura and Araxes rivers from 951 to 1199 CE. Muhammad ibn Shaddad founded the dynasty by capitalizing on the weakening Sallarid dynasty to seize control of Dvin, thereby establishing his rule which expanded to include major cities such as Barda and Ganja.

During the late 960s, the Shaddadids, under Laskari ibn Muhammad and his brother Fadl ibn Muhammad, further fortified their position by capturing Ganja and ending Musafirid influence in Arran in 971. Fadl ibn Muhammad, ruling from 985 to 1031, was instrumental in expanding the Shaddadid territories, notably by constructing the Khodaafarin Bridges over the Aras River to connect the northern and southern banks.

The Shaddadids faced numerous challenges, including a significant attack by Russian forces in 1030. During this period, internal strife also occurred, such as the rebellion by Fadl I's son Askuya in Beylagan, which was quelled with Russian assistance arranged by Fadl I's other son, Musa.

The pinnacle of the Shaddadid era came under Abulaswar Shavur, considered the last independent ruling Shaddadid emir. His rule was noted for stability and strategic alliances, including recognition of the Seljuk sultan Togrul's authority and collaboration with Tbilisi against Byzantine and Alan threats.

However, after Shavur's death in 1067, Shaddadid power waned. Fadl III briefly continued the dynasty's rule until 1073, when Alp Arslan of the Seljuq Empire annexed the remaining Shaddadid territories in 1075, distributing them as fiefs to his followers. This effectively ended the Shaddadids' independent rule, though a branch continued as vassals in the Ani emirate under Seljuq overlordship.

Seljuk Turk Period in Azerbaijan
Seljuk Turks ©HistoryMaps
1037 Jan 1 - 1194

Seljuk Turk Period in Azerbaijan


In the 11th century, the Seljuk dynasty of Oghuz Turkic origin emerged from Central Asia, crossing the Araz River and making significant advances into the territories of Gilan and then Arran. By 1048, in collaboration with Azerbaijani feudal lords, they successfully defeated the Christian coalition of Byzantine and South Caucasus states. Toghrul Beg, the Seljuk ruler, solidified his dominance in Azerbaijan and Arran by 1054, with local leaders such as the Rawwadid ruler Vahsudan in Tebriz, and later Abulasvar Shavur in Ganja, accepting his sovereignty.

Following Toghrul Beg's death, his successors, Alp Arslan and his vizier Nizam ul-Mulk, continued to assert Seljuk authority. Their demands from local rulers included substantial tributes, as evidenced in their interactions with Fazl Muhammad II of the Shaddadids. Although a planned campaign against the Alans was aborted due to winter conditions, by 1075, Alp Arslan had fully annexed the Shaddadid territories. The Shaddadids maintained a nominal presence as vassals in Ani and Tbilisi until 1175.

In the early 12th century, Georgian forces, led by King David IV and his general Demetrius I, made significant incursions into Shirvan, capturing strategic locations and influencing the regional balance of power. However, after King David's death in 1125, Georgian influence receded.

By the mid-12th century, the Shirvanshahs, under Manuchehr III, ceased their tributary payments, leading to conflicts with the Seljuks. Nevertheless, following skirmishes, they managed to maintain a degree of autonomy, as reflected in the absence of the sultan's name on later coinage, signaling a weakening Seljuk influence.

In 1160, following the death of Manuchehr III, a power struggle ensued within Shirvan, with Tamar of Georgia attempting to assert influence through her sons, although this was ultimately unsuccessful. The power dynamics in the region continued to evolve, with the Shirvanshahs asserting more independence as Seljuk power waned.

Throughout the Seljuk period, significant cultural and architectural developments occurred in Azerbaijan, with notable contributions to Persian literature and the distinctive Seljuk architectural style. Figures such as Nizami Ganjavi and architects like Ajami Abubakr oglu Nakhchivani played crucial roles in the cultural flourishing of the region, leaving a lasting legacy in both literature and architecture, evident in the landmarks and literary contributions of the period.

Atabegs of Azerbaijan
Atabegs of Azerbaijan ©HistoryMaps
1137 Jan 1 - 1225

Atabegs of Azerbaijan


The title "Atabeg" originates from the Turkic words "ata" (father) and "bey" (lord or leader), signifying a governorship role where the holder acts as a guardian and mentor to a young crown prince while governing a province or region. This title was notably significant during the period of the Seljuk Empire, particularly between 1160 and 1181, when the Atabegs were sometimes referred to as the "Great Atabaks" of the Sultan of the Iraqi Seljuks, exercising considerable influence over the sultans themselves.

Shams ad-Din Eldiguz (1136-1175)

Shams ad-Din Eldiguz, a Kipchak slave, was granted the Seljuq province of Arran by Sultan Ghiyath ad-Din Mas'ud in 1137 as an iqta (a type of fiefdom). He chose Barda as his residence, gradually gaining the allegiance of local emirs and expanding his influence to become the de facto ruler of what is now modern-day Azerbaijan by 1146. His marriage to the Mumine Khatun and his subsequent involvement in the Seljuk dynasty disputes strengthened his position.

Eldiguz was proclaimed the Great Atabeg of Arslanshah in 1161, and he maintained this position as a protector and a significant power broker in the Sultanate, controlling various local rulers as vassals. His military campaigns included defending against Georgian incursions and maintaining alliances, notably with the Ahmadilis, until his death in Nakhchivan in 1175.

Muhammad Jahan Pahlavan (1175-1186)

Following Eldiguz's death, his son Muhammad Jahan Pahlavan transferred the capital from Nakhchivan to Hamadan in western Iran and expanded his rule, appointing his brother Qizil Arslan Uthman as the ruler of Arran. He managed to maintain peace with neighboring regions, including the Georgians, and established friendly ties with Khwarazm Shah Tekish. His reign was marked by stability and limited foreign aggression, a significant achievement in a period characterized by frequent dynastic and territorial disputes.

Qizil Arslan (1186-1191)

After Muhammad Jahan Pahlavan’s death, his brother Qizil Arslan ascended to power. His tenure saw continued struggles against the weakening central authority of the Seljuq sultans. His assertive expansion included a successful invasion of Shirvan in 1191 and the overthrow of Toghrul III, the last Seljuq ruler. However, his rule was short-lived as he was assassinated by his brother’s widow, Innach Khatun, in September 1191.

Cultural Contributions

The era of the Atabegs in Azerbaijan was marked by significant architectural and literary achievements. Notable architects like Ajami Abubakr oglu Nakhchivani contributed to the region's architectural heritage, designing key structures such as the Yusif ibn Kuseyir Mausoleum and the Momine Khatun Mausoleum. These monuments, recognized for their intricate design and cultural significance, highlight the artistic and architectural advancements during this period.

In literature, poets like Nizami Ganjavi and Mahsati Ganjavi played pivotal roles. Nizami's works, including the famous "Khamsa," were instrumental in shaping Persian literature, often celebrating the patronage of the Atabegs, Seljuk, and Shirvanshah rulers. Mahsati Ganjavi, known for her rubaiyat, celebrated the joys of life and love, contributing richly to the cultural tapestry of the time.

Mongol Invasions of Azerbaijan
Mongol Invasions of Azerbaijan ©HistoryMaps
1220 Jan 1 - 1260

Mongol Invasions of Azerbaijan


The Mongol invasions of Azerbaijan, which occurred during the 13th and 14th centuries, had a profound impact on the region, leading to significant changes in its political landscape and the integration of Azerbaijan into the Hulagu state. This series of invasions can be divided into several key phases, each marked by intense military campaigns and subsequent socio-political transformations.

First Invasion (1220–1223)

The first wave of the Mongol invasion began in 1220, after the defeat of the Khorezmshahs, with the Mongols under generals Jebe and Subutai leading a 20,000-strong expeditionary force into Iran and then into Azerbaijan. Major cities such as Zanjan, Qazvin, Maragha, Ardebil, Bailagan, Barda, and Ganja faced extensive destruction. This period was characterized by political disarray within the state of the Atabegs of Azerbaijan, which the Mongols exploited to establish control swiftly. The Mongols' initial stay in the Mughan steppe during the winter and their relentless military strategy led to significant losses and upheaval in the local populations.

Second Invasion (1230s)

The second invasion, led by Chormagan Noyon in the 1230s on the orders of Ögedei Khan, targeted Jalâl ad-Dîn Khwârazmshâh who had taken control of the region after the Mongols' initial retreat. The Mongol army, now 30,000 strong, easily overwhelmed Jalal ad-Din's forces, leading to further consolidation of Mongol power in northern Iran and the territories of Azerbaijan. Cities like Maragha, Ardabil, and Tabriz were captured, with Tabriz later averting total destruction by agreeing to pay a substantial tribute.

Third Invasion (1250s)

The third major invasion was spearheaded by Hulagu Khan following the directive of his brother Möngke Khan to conquer the Abbasid Caliphate. After initially being tasked with North China, Hulagu's focus shifted to the Middle East. In 1256 and 1258, he not only toppled the Nizari Ismaili state and the Abbasid Caliphate but also proclaimed himself Ilkhan, establishing a Mongol state that included modern-day Iran, Azerbaijan, and parts of Turkey and Iraq. This era was marked by attempts to mend the devastation caused by earlier Mongol invasions.

Later Developments

Post-Hulagu, the Mongol influence persisted with rulers such as Ghazan Khan, who declared himself ruler of Tabriz in 1295 and attempted to restore relations with non-Muslim communities, albeit with varying success. Ghazan's conversion to Sunni Islam marked a significant shift in the Ilkhanate's religious landscape. His reign ended in 1304, succeeded by his brother Öljaitü.

The death of Abu Sa'id in 1335 without an heir led to the fragmentation of the Ilkhanate. The region saw the rise of local dynasties such as the Jalayirids and the Chobanids, who controlled various parts of Azerbaijan and its environs until the mid-14th century. The Mongol legacy in Azerbaijan was characterized by both destruction and the establishment of new administrative frameworks that influenced the region's development in subsequent centuries.

Tamerlane's Invasion of Azerbaijan
Tamerlane's Invasion of Azerbaijan ©HistoryMaps

During the 1380s, Timur, also known as Tamerlane, extended his vast Eurasian empire into Azerbaijan, integrating it as part of his expansive domain. This period marked significant military and political activity, with local rulers such as Ibrahim I of Shirvan becoming vassals to Timur. Ibrahim I notably assisted Timur in his military campaigns against Tokhtamysh of the Golden Horde, further intertwining Azerbaijan's fate with the Timurid conquests.

The era was also characterized by considerable social unrest and religious strife, fueled by the emergence and spread of various religious movements like Hurufism and the Bektashi Order. These movements often led to sectarian conflict, deeply affecting the societal fabric of Azerbaijan.

Following Timur's death in 1405, his empire was inherited by his son Shah Rukh, who ruled until 1447. Shah Rukh's reign saw the stabilization of the Timurid domains to some extent, but upon his death, the region witnessed the rise of two rival Turkic dynasties to the west of the former Timurid territories. The Qara Qoyunlu, based around Lake Van, and the Aq Qoyunlu, centered around Diyarbakır, emerged as significant powers in the region. These dynasties, each with their own territories and ambitions, marked the fragmentation of authority in the area and set the stage for future conflicts and realignments in Azerbaijan and the surrounding regions.

Aq Qoyunlu Period in Azerbaijan
Aq Qoyunlu Period in Azerbaijan ©HistoryMaps
1402 Jan 1 - 1503

Aq Qoyunlu Period in Azerbaijan

Bayburt, Türkiye

The Aq Qoyunlu, also known as the White Sheep Turkomans, were a Sunni Turkoman tribal confederation that rose to prominence in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. They were culturally Persianate and ruled over a vast territory that included parts of present-day eastern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and even extended their influence to Oman by the late 15th century. Their empire reached its zenith under the leadership of Uzun Hasan, who managed to expand their territories significantly and establish the Aq Qoyunlu as a formidable regional power.

Background and Rise to Power

Founded in the Diyarbakir region by Qara Yuluk Uthman Beg, the Aq Qoyunlu initially were part of the district of Bayburt south of the Pontic Mountains and were first attested in the 1340s. They initially served as vassals under the Ilkhan Ghazan and gained prominence in the region through military campaigns, including unsuccessful sieges like that of Trebizond.

Expansion and Conflict

By 1402, Timur had granted the Aq Qoyunlu all of Diyarbakir, but it wasn't until the leadership of Uzun Hasan that they truly began to expand their territory. Uzun Hasan's military prowess was demonstrated in his defeat of the Black Sheep Turkomans (Qara Qoyunlu) in 1467, which was a turning point that allowed the Aq Qoyunlu to dominate much of Iran and the surrounding regions.

Diplomatic Efforts and Conflicts

Uzun Hasan's rule was marked not only by military conquests but also by significant diplomatic efforts, including alliances and conflicts with major powers such as the Ottoman Empire and the Karamanids. Despite receiving promises of military aid from Venice against the Ottomans, the support never materialized, leading to his defeat at the Battle of Otlukbeli in 1473.

Governance and Cultural Flourishing

Under Uzun Hasan, the Aq Qoyunlu not only expanded territorially but also experienced a cultural renaissance. Uzun Hasan adopted Iranian customs for administration, maintaining the bureaucratic structure established by previous dynasties and fostering a court culture that mirrored that of Iranian kingship. This period saw the sponsorship of arts, literature, and architecture, significantly contributing to the cultural landscape of the region.

Decline and Legacy

The death of Uzun Hasan in 1478 led to a succession of less effective rulers, which eventually culminated in internal strife and the weakening of the Aq Qoyunlu state. This internal turmoil allowed for the rise of the Safavids, who capitalized on the decline of the Aq Qoyunlu. By 1503, the Safavid leader Ismail I had decisively defeated the Aq Qoyunlu, marking the end of their rule and the beginning of Safavid dominance in the region.

The Aq Qoyunlu's legacy is notable for their role in shaping the political and cultural dynamics of the Middle East during the 15th century. Their governance model, blending nomadic Turkoman traditions with the sedentary Persian administrative practices, set the stage for future empires in the region, including the Safavids, who would draw on the Aq Qoyunlu's example to establish their own lasting empire.

Qara Qoyunlu Period in Azerbaijan
Qara Qoyunlu Period in Azerbaijan. ©HistoryMaps
1405 Jan 1 - 1468

Qara Qoyunlu Period in Azerbaijan


The Qara Qoyunlu, or Kara Koyunlu, were a Turkoman monarchy that ruled over territories comprising present-day Azerbaijan, parts of the Caucasus, and beyond from about 1375 to 1468. Initially vassals of the Jalairid Sultanate in Baghdad and Tabriz, they rose to prominence and independence under the leadership of Qara Yusuf, who captured Tabriz and ended Jalairid rule.

Rise to Power

Qara Yusuf fled to the Ottoman Empire for safety during Timur's raids but returned after Timur's death in 1405. He then reclaimed territories by defeating Timur's successors in battles such as the significant Battle of Nakhchivan in 1406 and Sardrud in 1408, where he secured a decisive victory and killed Miran Shah, a son of Timur.

Consolidation and Conflicts

Under Qara Yusuf and his successors, the Qara Qoyunlu consolidated power in Azerbaijan and extended their influence into Iraq, Fars, and Kerman. Their rule was characterized by political maneuvering and military engagements to maintain and expand their territory. Jahan Shah, who came to power in 1436, notably expanded the territory and influence of the Kara Koyunlu. He successfully negotiated and fought wars, positioning Kara Koyunlu as a dominant power in the region, even resisting pressures and threats from neighboring states and rival dynasties such as the Ak Koyunlu.

Decline and Fall

The death of Jahan Shah in 1467 during a battle against Uzun Hasan of the Ak Koyunlu marked the beginning of the decline for the Kara Koyunlu. The empire struggled to maintain its coherence and territories amid internal strife and external pressures, eventually leading to its dissolution.


The Qara Qoyunlu governance structure was heavily influenced by their predecessors, the Jalayirids and the Ilkhanids. They maintained a hierarchical administrative system where provinces were governed by military governors or beys, often passed from father to son. The central government included officials known as darugha, who managed financial and administrative affairs and wielded significant political power. Titles such as sultan, khan, and padishah were used, reflecting their sovereignty and rule.

The reign of the Qara Qoyunlu represents a turbulent yet influential period in the history of Azerbaijan and the broader region, marked by military conquests, dynastic struggles, and significant cultural and administrative developments.

Safavid Empire Rule in Azerbaijan
Safavid Persians in Azerbaijan. ©HistoryMaps
1501 Jan 1 - 1734

Safavid Empire Rule in Azerbaijan


The Safavid order, originally a Sufi religious group formed by Safi-ad-din Ardabili in the 1330s in Iran, evolved significantly over time. By the late 15th century, the order had converted to Twelver Shia Islam, which marked a profound transformation in its ideological and political trajectory. This shift laid the foundation for the Safavid dynasty's rise to power and its profound influence on the religious and political landscape of Iran and surrounding regions.

Formation and Religious Shift

Founded by Safi-ad-din Ardabili, the Safavid order initially followed Sufi Islam. The transformation into a Shia order towards the end of the 15th century was pivotal. The Safavids claimed descent from Ali and Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, which helped them establish religious legitimacy and appeal among their followers. This claim resonated deeply with the Qizilbash, a militant group of followers who were pivotal in the Safavid military and political strategies.

Expansion and Consolidation

Under the leadership of Ismail I, who became shah in 1501, the Safavids transitioned from a religious order into a ruling dynasty. Ismail I utilized the zeal of the Qizilbash to conquer Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Dagestan between 1500 and 1502, significantly expanding the Safavid domain. The early years of Safavid rule were marked by aggressive military campaigns that also targeted regions like the Caucasus, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Central Asia, and parts of South Asia.

Religious Imposition and Feudal Theocracy

Ismail I and his successor, Tahmasp I, imposed Shia Islam on the predominantly Sunni population of their territories, particularly harshly in areas like Shirvan. This imposition often led to significant strife and resistance among the local populations but ultimately laid the groundwork for a Shia-majority Iran. The Safavid state evolved into a feudal theocracy, with the Shah as both a divine and political leader, supported by Qizilbash chiefs serving as provincial administrators.

Conflict with the Ottomans

The Safavid Empire was frequently in conflict with the Sunni Ottoman Empire, reflecting the deep sectarian divide between the two powers. This conflict was not only territorial but also religious, influencing the political alignments and military strategies of the region.

Cultural and Social Changes under Abbas the Great

The reign of Abbas the Great (1587–1630) is often seen as the zenith of Safavid power. Abbas implemented significant military and administrative reforms, curtailing the power of the Qizilbash by promoting the ghulams—converted Caucasians who were deeply loyal to the Shah and served in various capacities within the empire. This policy helped consolidate central authority and integrate the diverse regions of the empire more closely into the administrative fold of the Safavid state.

Legacy in Azerbaijan

The impact of the Safavids in Azerbaijan was profound, establishing a lasting Shia presence that continues to influence the region's religious demographics. Azerbaijan remains one of the countries with a significant Shia Muslim population, a legacy of its early 16th-century conversion under Safavid rule.

Overall, the Safavids transformed from a Sufi order into a major political power, instituting Shia Islam as a defining element of Iranian identity and reshaping the cultural and religious landscape of the region. Their legacy is evident in the continuing religious and cultural practices in Iran and regions like Azerbaijan.

Fragmentation into Turkic Khanates in Azerbaijan
Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar ©HistoryMaps

Following the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747, the Afsharid dynasty disintegrated, leading to the emergence of various Turkic khanates in the region, each with differing levels of autonomy. This period marked a fragmentation of authority that set the stage for the rise of Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, who aimed to restore the territories that once belonged to the Safavid and Afsharid empires.

Restoration Efforts by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, after consolidating his power in Tehran in 1795, gathered a significant force and set his sights on re-conquering former Iranian territories in the Caucasus, which had fallen under the influence of the Ottomans and Russian Empire. This region included several important khanates such as Karabakh, Ganja, Shirvan, and Christian Gurjistan (Georgia), all nominally under Persian suzerainty but often engaged in internecine conflicts.

Military Campaigns and Conquests

In his military campaigns, Agha Mohammad Khan was initially successful, recapturing territories that included Shirvan, the Erivan, Nakhchivan, and more. His significant victory came in 1795 with the sack of Tiflis, which marked the brief reintegration of Georgia into Iranian control. His efforts culminated in his coronation as shah in 1796, symbolically tying himself to the legacy of Nader Shah.

The Georgian Campaign and Its Aftermath

Agha Mohammad Khan's demands for the Georgian king, Heraclius II, to renounce the Treaty of Georgievsk with Russia and to reaccept Persian suzerainty exemplify the broader geopolitical struggle in the region. Despite the lack of Russian support, Heraclius II resisted, leading to Agha Mohammad Khan's invasion and the subsequent brutal sack of Tiflis.

Assassination and Legacy

Agha Mohammad Khan was assassinated in 1797, halting further campaigns and leaving the region unstable. His death was quickly followed by the Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801, as Russia continued its expansion into the Caucasus.

Russian Expansion and the End of Persian Influence

The early 19th century saw the formal cession of many Caucasus territories from Iran to Russia through the treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828), following a series of Russo-Persian wars. These treaties not only marked the end of significant Persian territorial claims in the Caucasus but also reshaped the regional dynamics, severing long-standing cultural and political ties between Iran and the Caucasus regions.

Russian Rule in Azerbaijan
Russo-Persian War (1804–1813). ©Franz Roubaud
1813 Jan 1 - 1828

Russian Rule in Azerbaijan


The Russo-Persian Wars (1804-1813 and 1826-1828) were pivotal in reshaping the political boundaries of the Caucasus. The Treaty of Gulistan (1813) and the Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828) resulted in significant territorial losses for Iran. These treaties ceded Dagestan, Georgia, and much of what is now Azerbaijan to the Russian Empire. The treaties also established the modern borders between Azerbaijan and Iran and significantly reduced Iranian influence in the Caucasus.

The Russian annexation transformed the governance of the region. Traditional khanates such as Baku and Ganja were either abolished or brought under Russian patronage. The Russian administration reorganized these territories into new provinces, which later formed most of present-day Azerbaijan. This reorganization included the establishment of new administrative districts, such as Elisavetpol (now Ganja) and the Shamakhi District.

The transition from Iranian to Russian rule also prompted significant cultural and social shifts. Despite the imposition of Russian law and administrative systems, Iranian cultural influence remained strong among the Muslim intellectual circles in cities like Baku, Ganja, and Tbilisi throughout the 19th century. During this period, an Azerbaijani national identity began to coalesce, influenced by both the region's Persianate past and the new Russian political framework.

The discovery of oil in Baku during the late 19th century transformed Azerbaijan into a major industrial and economic zone within the Russian Empire. The oil boom attracted foreign investment and led to rapid economic development. However, it also created stark disparities between the largely European capitalists and the local Muslim workforce. This period saw significant infrastructural development, including the establishment of railways and telecommunication lines that further integrated Azerbaijan into the Russian economic sphere.

Modern History
Armenian–Azerbaijani War
11th Red Army invasion of Azerbaijan ended the Armenian–Azerbaijani War. ©HistoryMaps
1918 Mar 30 - 1920 Nov 28

Armenian–Azerbaijani War


The Armenian-Azerbaijani war of 1918–1920 was a significant conflict that occurred in the tumultuous period following World War I and amidst the broader context of the Russian Civil War and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. This conflict emerged between the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and the Republic of Armenia, fueled by complex historical grievances and competing nationalistic ambitions over territories with mixed populations.

The war was primarily centered around the areas that are now modern-day Armenia and Azerbaijan, specifically over regions like the Erivan Governorate and Karabakh, which both sides claimed based on historical and ethnic grounds. The power vacuum left by the Russian Empire's collapse allowed nationalist movements in Armenia and Azerbaijan to form their respective republics, each with territorial claims that overlapped significantly.

The conflict was marked by intense and brutal fighting, with both Armenian and Azerbaijani forces committing acts of violence and atrocities that included massacres and ethnic cleansing. Notable tragic events during this period included the March Days and September Days massacres, and the Shusha massacre, each contributing to significant civilian suffering and altering the demographic makeup of the region.

The conflict eventually ceased with the advance of the Soviet Red Army into the Caucasus. The Sovietization of Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1920 effectively put an end to the hostilities by imposing a new political framework over the region. The Soviet authorities redrew the boundaries, often with little regard for traditional ethnic settlements, which sowed the seeds for future conflicts.

Azerbaijan Democratic Republic
A founder and Speaker of the Republic, Mammad Amin Rasulzade is widely regarded as the national leader of Azerbaijan. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1918 May 28 - 1920 Apr 28

Azerbaijan Democratic Republic


The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), established on May 28, 1918, in Tiflis, was the first secular democratic republic in the Turkic and Muslim worlds. It was founded following the dissolution of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. The ADR existed until April 28, 1920, when it was overtaken by Soviet forces.

The ADR was bordered by Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south, encompassing a population of around 3 million people. Ganja served as its temporary capital due to Bolshevik control over Baku. Notably, the term "Azerbaijan" was chosen for the republic by the Musavat party for political reasons, a name previously associated only with the adjacent region in contemporary northwestern Iran.

The governance structure of the ADR included a Parliament as the supreme state authority, elected through universal, free, and proportional representation. The Council of Ministers was accountable to this Parliament. Fatali Khan Khoyski was appointed as the first prime minister. The Parliament was diverse, including representatives from the Musavat party, Ahrar, Ittihad, and the Muslim Social Democrats, as well as minority representatives from the Armenian, Russian, Polish, German, and Jewish communities.

Significant achievements of the ADR include extending suffrage to women, making it one of the first countries and the first majority-Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. Additionally, the establishment of Baku State University marked the creation of the first modern-type university in Azerbaijan, contributing to the educational advancement of the region.

Soviet Azerbaijan
A parade on Lenin Square in Baku in honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Soviet Azerbaijan, October 1970 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1920 Apr 28 - 1991 Aug 30

Soviet Azerbaijan


After Azerbaijan's government surrendered to Bolshevik forces, the Azerbaijan SSR was established on April 28, 1920. Despite nominal independence, the republic was heavily controlled by Moscow and was integrated into the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (TSFSR) along with Armenia and Georgia in March 1922. This federation later became one of the original four republics of the Soviet Union in December 1922. The TSFSR dissolved in 1936, transitioning its regions into separate Soviet republics.

During the 1930s, the Stalinist purges significantly impacted Azerbaijan, resulting in the deaths of thousands, including notable figures such as Huseyn Javid and Mikail Mushfig. Throughout World War II, Azerbaijan was crucial to the Soviet Union for its substantial oil and gas production, contributing significantly to the war effort.

In the post-war period, particularly the 1950s, Azerbaijan experienced rapid urbanization and industrialization. However, by the 1960s, Azerbaijan's oil industry began to decline due to shifts in Soviet oil production and the depletion of terrestrial resources, leading to economic challenges. Ethnic tensions, especially between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, escalated but were initially suppressed.

In 1969, Heydar Aliyev was appointed as the first secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, temporarily improving the economic situation by diversifying into industries like cotton. Aliyev ascended to the Politburo in Moscow in 1982, the highest position an Azeri had attained in the Soviet Union. He retired in 1987 during the onset of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms.

The late 1980s saw increasing unrest in the Caucasus, particularly over the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, leading to severe ethnic conflicts and pogroms. Despite Moscow's attempts to control the situation, unrest persisted, culminating in the emergence of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan and violent confrontations in Baku.

Azerbaijan declared its independence from the USSR on August 30, 1991, joining the Commonwealth of Independent States. By the end of the year, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War had begun, leading to the creation of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, marking a prolonged period of conflict and political instability in the region.

Independent Azerbaijan
1988 Feb 20 - 2024 Jan

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict


The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was a prolonged ethnic and territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, and the adjacent areas predominantly inhabited by Azerbaijanis until their expulsion in the 1990s. Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh was claimed and partly controlled by the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh.

During the Soviet era, Armenian residents of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast faced discrimination, including efforts by Soviet Azerbaijani authorities to suppress Armenian culture and encourage Azerbaijani resettlement, although Armenians maintained a majority. In 1988, a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh supported the region's transfer to Soviet Armenia, aligning with Soviet laws on self-determination. This move led to anti-Armenian pogroms across Azerbaijan, escalating to mutual ethnic violence.

Following the Soviet Union's collapse, the conflict intensified into a full-scale war in the early 1990s. This war concluded with a victory for Artsakh and Armenia, resulting in the occupation of surrounding Azerbaijani territories and significant population displacements, including the expulsion of ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis from Armenia and Armenian-controlled areas. In response, the United Nations Security Council in 1993 passed resolutions affirming Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and demanding the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani lands. A ceasefire in 1994 brought relative stability, though tensions simmered.

Renewed conflict in April 2016, known as the Four-Day War, resulted in numerous casualties but minor territorial changes. The situation significantly deteriorated with the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in late 2020, which led to substantial Azerbaijani gains under a ceasefire agreement on November 10, 2020, including the recovery of territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh and part of the region itself. Continued ceasefire violations marked the post-2020 period. In December 2022, Azerbaijan initiated a blockade of Artsakh, and in September 2023, launched a decisive military offensive that led to the capitulation of Artsakh authorities. Following these events, most ethnic Armenians fled the region, and Artsakh was officially dissolved on January 1, 2024, ending its de facto independence and reasserting Azerbaijani control over the territory.

Mutallibov presidency
Ayaz Mutallibov. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1991 Sep 8 - 1992 Mar 6

Mutallibov presidency


In 1991, Ayaz Mutallibov, then president of the Azerbaijan SSR, along with Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, supported the Soviet coup d'état attempt. Mutallibov also proposed constitutional amendments to allow for direct presidential elections in Azerbaijan. He was subsequently elected president on September 8, 1991, in an election that was widely criticized for lacking fairness and freedom. Following his election, Azerbaijan's Supreme Soviet declared independence on October 18, 1991, which led to the dissolution of the Communist Party, although many of its members, including Mutallibov, retained their positions. This declaration was affirmed by a national referendum in December 1991, and Azerbaijan gained international recognition shortly thereafter, with the United States recognizing it on December 25.

The ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict intensified in early 1992 when Karabakh's Armenian leadership declared an independent republic, escalating the conflict into a full-scale war. Armenia, with covert support from the Russian Army, gained a strategic advantage. During this period, significant atrocities occurred, including the Khojaly massacre on February 25, 1992, where Azerbaijani civilians were killed, drawing criticism towards the government for its inaction. Conversely, Azerbaijani forces were responsible for the Maraga massacre involving Armenian civilians.

Under increasing pressure, notably from the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, and facing criticism for his inability to form an effective military, Mutallibov resigned on March 6, 1992. However, after an investigation into the Khojaly massacre, which absolved him of responsibility, his resignation was overturned and he was reinstated on May 14. This reinstatement was short-lived, as Mutallibov was deposed the next day, May 15, by armed forces of the Azerbaijan Popular Front, leading to his flight to Moscow.

Following these events, the National Council was dissolved and replaced by the National Assembly, composed of Popular Front members and former communists. Amid ongoing military setbacks, as Armenian forces captured Lachin, Isa Gambar was elected chair of the National Assembly on May 17 and assumed the duties of president pending further elections scheduled for June 17, 1992. This period was marked by rapid political changes and continued conflict in the region.

Elchibey presidency
Abulfaz Elchibey ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1992 Jan 1 - 1993

Elchibey presidency


In the 1992 Azerbaijani presidential election, the former communists were unable to present a strong candidate, leading to the election of Abulfaz Elchibey, the leader of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan (PFA) and a former political prisoner. Elchibey won with over 60% of the vote. His presidency was marked by a clear stance against Azerbaijan’s membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a push for closer ties with Turkey, and an interest in improving relations with the Azerbaijani population in Iran.

Meanwhile, Heydar Aliyev, a significant political figure and former leader within the Soviet system, faced limitations in his presidential ambitions due to an age restriction. Despite these restrictions, he maintained significant influence in Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave that was under an Armenian blockade. In response to the ongoing conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan severed most of Armenia’s land connections by halting rail traffic, highlighting the economic interdependence within the Transcaucasian region.

Elchibey's presidency quickly encountered severe challenges similar to those faced by his predecessor, Mutallibov. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict increasingly favored Armenia, which managed to seize about one-fifth of Azerbaijan's territory and displace over a million people within Azerbaijan. The worsening situation led to a military rebellion in June 1993, spearheaded by Surat Huseynov in Ganja. With the PFA struggling due to military setbacks, a faltering economy, and rising opposition—including from groups aligned with Aliyev—Elchibey’s position weakened significantly.

In the capital city of Baku, Heydar Aliyev seized the opportunity to take power. After consolidating his position, a referendum in August confirmed Aliyev's leadership, effectively removing Elchibey from the presidency. This marked a pivotal shift in Azerbaijani politics, as Aliyev's ascent represented both a continuation and a modification of the political landscape, steering the country through turbulent times marked by conflict and change.

Ilham Aliyev presidency
Ilham Aliyev ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2003 Oct 31

Ilham Aliyev presidency


Ilham Aliyev, the son of Heydar Aliyev, succeeded his father as President of Azerbaijan in a 2003 election marked by violence and criticized by international observers for electoral malpractices. Opposition to Aliyev's administration has been persistent, with critics calling for a more democratic governance structure. Despite these controversies, Aliyev was re-elected in 2008 with 87% of the vote in an election boycotted by major opposition parties. In 2009, a constitutional referendum effectively removed presidential term limits and imposed restrictions on the freedom of the press.

The parliamentary election in 2010 further consolidated Aliyev's control, resulting in a National Assembly without any representatives from the main opposition parties, the Azerbaijani Popular Front and Musavat. This led to Azerbaijan being characterized as authoritarian by The Economist in its 2010 Democracy Index. In 2011, Azerbaijan faced significant domestic unrest as demonstrations erupted demanding democratic reforms. The government responded with a heavy-handed security crackdown, arresting over 400 people involved in protests that began in March. Despite police suppression, opposition leaders like Musavat's Isa Gambar vowed to continue their demonstrations. Amidst these internal challenges, Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on October 24, 2011. The ongoing conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh flared again with significant clashes in April 2016.Ilham Aliyev further extended his presidency in April 2018, securing a fourth consecutive term in an election boycotted by the opposition, who labeled it fraudulent.


Mirza Fatali Akhundov

Mirza Fatali Akhundov

Azerbaijani author

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov

World Chess Champion

Jalil Mammadguluzadeh

Jalil Mammadguluzadeh

Azerbaijani writer

Heydar Aliyev

Heydar Aliyev

Third president of Azerbaijan

Lev Landau

Lev Landau

Azerbaijani physicist

Nizami Ganjavi

Nizami Ganjavi

Azerbaijan Poet


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