NI Global Issues for Learners of English > Country profiles > Azerbaijan



Country profile




Area of country: 86,000 square kilometers

Azerbaijan used to be part of the Soviet Union. For many years, there has been ethnic tension and conflict between the Azerbaijanis (Muslim) , Armenians (Christian), often relating to the region of Nagorno-Karabagh (90% Armenian). This conflict became worse in the late 1980's, as the Soviet Union became unstable and then broke up. During the 1990's there was war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabagh. There was a ceasefire in 1994, but the matter has not really been settled.

Information at a Glance


Population: 7.7 million
About 1 million refugees from the recent war with Armenia - the highest per capita refugee population in the world.
Azeris: 83%; Russians: 6%; Armenians:6%; other minorities include: Georgians, Kurds.
Religion: Shi'ite Islam


Currency: Manat
GDP per capita: $480
Main source of revenue: oil - this attracts a lot of foreign investment.
Other exports include: cotton, plastics, cement. Almost all exports go to Russia, Europe or the Middle East.
External debt per capita: $15



Life expectancy: 71 years
Infant mortality: 34 per 1000
Safe water: Only about 50% of the population has sewerage facilities;
only about 25% of water is treated to make it safe


Oil should bring a lot more wealth and self-reliance to Azerbaijan.
However, foreign oil companies have insisted that their costs must be covered in the first years of oil production, so it will be some time before Azerbaijan can really benefit.


Literacy rate: Very high school attendance and literacy rates (a good education system was inherited from the Soviet Union).
Languages: Official language: Azeri; Russian is also used.

Income Distribution

Wealth is confined to Baku and people involved in the oil business. (See self-reliance, above.)
The president is accused of putting his own family in positions of power & wealth (e.g.. his son is head of the state oil company).



Regions: half of the country is mountainous - the mountains are covered by forest. The rest of the country is made up of valleys and plains. The climate is moderate and subtropical: dry in the mountains & humid in the plains.
Natural resources: oil, copper, iron
Farming: the majority of the population are in farming; main crops: citrus fruit, grapes, cotton, some tobacco.
Soil pollution - from heavy use of toxic chemicals for the cotton crops.
Water pollution is also a problem.


Azerbaijan became independent from the USSR in 1991. Democracy is limited; the last presidential election in 1998 was called a "sham" by international monitors.

Freedom & human rights

Freedom: Although there is no real democracy, the opposition was allowed to criticise the president on TV before the last election.

Position of women: In Baku, young women from the middle-class are getting jobs with foreign countries. However, in rural areas society remains very traditional.


Sources: World Guide 1999-2000; The State of the World's Children 1999; Europe Review 1998; NI issue 315, and special thanks to Thomas Goltz & Laurent Ruseckaas

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Last modified 18 June 2000

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