• Population (January, 2005):   8.3 million
  • Urban-Rural (2001):  
    Urban 4130,1 50.7%
    Rural 4011,3 49.3%
  • Gender Politics (2001):  
    Males 3988,8 49.0%
    Females 4152,6 51.0%
  • Major Ethnic Groups (2001):  
    Azerbaijanis 7,205,500 99.7%
    Lezgins 178,000 2.2%
    Russians 141,700 1.8%
    Armenians 120,700 1.5%
    Talysh 76,800 1.0%
    Avars 50,900 0.6%
    Turks 43,400 0.5%
    Tartars 30,000 0.4%
    Ukrainians 29,000 0.4%
    Tsakhurs 15,900 0.2%
    Georgians 14,900 0.2%
    Tats 10,900 0.13%
    Jews 8,900 0.1%
    Udins 4,200 0.05%
    Others 9,500 0.12%
  • People:
    Marriage (2001) 5,2 per 1,000  population
    Divorce (2001) 0,7 per 1,000  population
    Birth (2001) 13,8 per 1,000  population
    Death (2001) 5,7 per 1,000  population
    Natural Increase (2000) 8,1 per 1,000  population
  • Life Expectancy at Birth (2000):
    Males 68,6
    Females 75,2
  • Migration (2000):
    Immigration 2574
    Emigration 7288

People and Traditions

Among the Southern Caucasian republics, Azerbaijan is the most densely populated. More than 8 million people live in the country, of which over 300,000 live in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Azerbaijanis belong to the Caspian branch of the southern Caucasian race. They are distinguished by a sturdy build, with prevailing dark pigmentation, of medium height and a partially round shaped head, narrow face, rather a narrow nose and, in the majority of cases, large brown eyes. The language spoken by Azerbaijanis belongs to south-western group of Turkic languages.

Another comparatively numerous ethnic group is formed by Russians. They appeared in Azerbaijan at the beginning of the 19th century when the tsarist government started the deportation of dukhobors, molokans and other sectarians from remote parts of Russia and the Ukraine. By the beginning of the 20th century they had settlements in several different regions of Baku and in Yelizavetpol (Ganja, Azerbaijan). Among other ethnicities living in Azerbaijan are Lezgins, Avars, Udins, Tsakhurs, Tats, Kurds, Talysh, Tatars and Georgians. The percentage of these national minorities in the population is shown in Table 1.4.

Some 80 percent of the population is concentrated in valleys and low lands, which are more convenient for farming and is where large industrial centers are located and irrigation more developed. This belt covers Kura-Araz, Samur-Devechi and the Lankaran lowlands, and also the Ganja-Gazakh and Pri-Araz valleys as well as the Absheron Peninsula.

The Absheron Peninsula is more densely populated (800 persons per 1 sq. km). But even in the valleys and lowlands the populated settlements are not evenly distributed. On average, there are 6 settlements per 100 sq. km, but their number increases to 20-25 along the river valleys, irrigation canals, highways and railroads. On the territories of salt-marshes and semi-deserts the number of settlements falls to 1.5 per 100 sq. km.

Around 20 percent of the population lives in mountainous areas. Here the average density is 42 persons per 1 sq. km. and the number of settlements is much less. Urban dwellers in these areas constitute 42 percent.

Some 7 percent of the population lives at higher altitudes, between 1000-2000 m. above sea level. An average population density here constitutes 22 persons per 1 sq. km. In districts situated over 2000 m above sea level the density is less than 1 person per 1 sq. km.

The signs of urban settlements in the present territory of Azerbaijan can be traced back to very early man. However formation and development of present day urban life relates more to a long period of feudal history. The towns that appeared early on were either the centers of feudal states, such as Barda, Shemakha, Sheki, and Ganja in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., or fortress towns like Gardiman and Baylakan in the 5th century. Later, trade and handicraft developed in these places and trade routes across the territory of Azerbaijan also helped prompt the emergence of small towns like Guba and Shusha. Wars and division of Azerbaijan into small states prevented growth of these cities, but development of trading relations in the middle of 19th century, especially the Baku-Tiflis railroad, as well as highways linking Azerbaijan with Central Russia, favorably influenced progress of the economy. The cities of Baku and Ganja began to expand along the railroads and into nearby regions. The extraction of mineral resources, construction of power stations, the metallurgy and chemical industries and others, were linked to the emergence of cities like Sumgayit, Mingechevir and Dashkesan as industrial centers. A number of cities grew up at key logistic points, at the crossing of railroads and highways. To this group belongs: Yevlakh, Salyan, Julfa and others. Some towns, such as Shusha, Naftalan, Istisu, Bilgah and Mardakyan developed as leisure resorts.

As a whole, Azerbaijan has 20 settlements per 10 sq. km. At present, the urban population makes up 54 percent. Along with the Baku agglomeration (2.5 million) the largest towns are Ganja (291,000 inhabitants) Sumgayit (268,000), Mingechevir (96,000), Nakhchivan (76,000), Ali-Bayramli (65,000), Khankendi (57,000), Sheki (56,000), Lankaran, Yevlakh, Shusha, Guba, Kurdamir.

The diversity of natural conditions in Azerbaijan long ago prompted the development of agriculture and a merging of rural settlements. In the past the villages with their landowners' (beys) estates and peasant houses prevailed as the typical settlement. Very often such villages appeared on the banks of rivers and beside irrigation canals, on mountain slopes or along the roads leading to main population centers. The construction of irrigation canals in the Kura-Araz low-lands resulted in agricultural economic activity moving beyond former borders into less populated areas, especially to the Mughan, Mil and Salyan Valleys.

The majority of the rural population is involved in agriculture. However, some rural points emerged with the growth of handicraft and the mining industry: Goradiz, Ramani, Zaklik, Gushchu, Badamli and others. There are some recreation centers like Hajikend, Azad, Chaykend and Aghsu, as well as resort settlements like Goygol and Chukhuryurd. A number of rural settlements arose to provide services to railroad transport and oil pipelines - Leki, Hajigabul, Dalap and others. There are also villages such as Dashbulag, Basgal, Gimil, Jasal, Urva, Pirebedil and Mashkhan in which the inhabitants tend to combine agriculture with carpet weaving and copper craft.

Azerbaijan is a country where national traditions are well preserved. The religious holidays Qurban bayramı (Thanks-Offering Day) and Ramazan bayramı (End of Fasting) are celebrated as before. The "Novruz" holiday (the word "novruz" is translated as "a new day") is the most ancient and cherished holiday of a New Year and the coming of spring. It is celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox - March 21-22. Novruz is the symbol of nature's renewal and fertility. Agrarian peoples of the Middle East have been celebrating Novruz since ancient times. Preparations for the holiday start long before the day. People clean their houses, plant trees, make new dresses, paint eggs, make national pastries such as shakarbura, pakhlava and a great variety of other national dishes. Wheat is fried with kishmish (raisins) and nuts (govurga). Also, it is essential for every house to have "semeni" - sprouts of wheat. As a tribute to fire-worshiping, every Tuesday for four weeks before the holiday children jump over small bonfires in the streets and fields, and candles are lit. On the eve of the holiday the graves of relatives are visited and tended. Novruz is a family holiday. In the evening before the holiday the whole family gathers around a festive table laid with various dishes to help bring riches in the New Year. The holiday goes on for several days and ends with festive public dancing and other entertainment by folk bands and local contests of national sports. In rural areas crop holidays are also marked.

The diversity and richness of natural resources in Azerbaijan stimulated the development of handicrafts and home-industry, pottery, copperware, saddle-making, cotton, wool, silk manufacturing, carpet weaving, jewelry, wood, stone and metal carving.

The carpet industry is a traditional trade in Azerbaijan. It was well developed in Guba, Shirvan, Ganja, Kazakh, Karabakh, in the villages of Baku and in the traditional areas of sheep herding. Azerbaijan carpet weavers derive their patterns from modern life and classic works of Azerbaijani literature. Wood and stone carving is widely spread in Azerbaijan, often producing decorative designs for houses. Special bars are made for windows called "shabaka". They are either cut from wood, or assembled without nails or glue from thin wooden plates. In stone carving and other types of applied art, geometrical ornament and stylized inscription of plants are dominant. The interior of the house is decorated with carvings in alabaster.

The national costume of Azerbaijan changed greatly during the 19th and 20th centuries. Men's clothes of that period were similar to that of all Caucasian nations, but with some distinctions in cut and decoration. Wide trousers of hand-made cloth, a simple tunic shaped shirt made of coarse calico, a cotton or satin caftan called arkhaluk - are the main elements of peasant attire. The costume was completed with a papakh (a kind of cap), woolen socks and home made shoes. Not everyone could own a "chukha" and sheepskin coat for winter wear, a "kyurk".

At the end of the 19th and during the 20th centuries urban dwellers used to wear European style trousers, but the rest of the costume remained traditional. The shoes of urban dwellers in the 19th century were either of ancient style, like "bashmaks" without a back, with turned-up toes and thick heels, or of more European fashion with some local design elements.

The clothing of Azerbaijani women of that period was more unique and distinguished according to social level and ethnic grouping. In the color range of women's clothing, bright colors prevailed. The main elements of women's clothes were a short tunic shaped (belt-length) shirt made from calico, cotton, satin, or silk and worn with a long, wide, pleated skirt. The hair was done in a sack-shaped hairdress covered by silken hand made kerchief. Shoes like men's "bashmaks" were worn with home made woolen or silk socks. The woman's costume was decorated with jewelry worn on the head, neck, chest, hands. In the city a woman did not appear in the street without wearing a "chadra" and very often the face was covered with a special veil - "rubend". In villages a woman covered the lower part of her face with a kerchief. An important item of a woman's costume was a wide, leather belt embroidered with coins and with a silver buckle.

Cuisine is something very traditional in the life of Azerbaijanis. The bread of white wheat flour baked in tandirs is still prefered in villages. Churek and lavash - thin pancakes - are also baked. Butter, cheese and katig are made from milk. The traditional Azerbaijani dish is 'ash' (dish of rice) - there are over hundred variations of it. It is made of rice and goes with different meat, fish, vegetable or fruit seasoning. Meat dishes are flavored with chestnuts, dried apricots, raisins, and green herbs. In the northern-western region khingal is a favorite dish - a flour dish with meat, fried onion and kurut (a dried cottage cheese). Dolma is also a generally widespread dish: ground lamb meat with rice and different spices is wrapped into grape leaves (or occasionally in cabbage). Eggplants, potatoes, pepper, apples are also stuffed with lamb meat. The cuisine of some regions has its peculiarities. In Lankaran chicken is stuffed with nuts, onion and jelly and then fried on a spit. Fish is also stuffed and baked in a tendir. Apsheron is famous for its dushpara - small meat dumplings and kutabs - meat patties made in very thin dough. Favorite dishes for the first course are pity, kyufta-bosbash - a clear soup with meat balls, rice peas and potatoes. Khamrachi - noodle soup, dovga - soup of sour milk and greens. On holidays and on special occasions various cookies are baked: shakarbura - a pie of thin dough with nuts and sugar, pakhlava - (a diamond shaped layered sweet pastry with nuts). Doshab is made of vine and tut (mulberry) - a thick syrup.


  • Islam:  
    Islam was introduced into Azerbaijan in the 7th century by the Arabs, who were ruling Azerbaijan at that time. At present about 93 percent of the more than 8 million Azerbaijanis have a Muslim background, and from this majority, 65 to 75 percent are connected with Shiite tradition. Azerbaijanis form by far the largest Muslim ethnic group in Azerbaijan and belong mostly to the Twelver Shiite branch of Islam (about 75 percent). According to a recent survey, 4 to 6 percent of the population may be called "active" believers, meaning that they obey the various Islamic customs; 87 to 92 percent consider themselves Muslims but comply with only a few religious rules and customs. Only about 3 percent call themselves atheists. Whereas in 1976 there were only 16 registered mosques and one mədrəsə (Islamic school) in Azerbaijan, by the end of the Soviet period the figure had risen to about 200 mosques, and today this figure has increased dramatically to more than 1,300 mosques, innumerable Islamic schools, a working Islamic university, "Ilahiyyat Department" under Baku State University. This phenomenon of "religious renaissance" is taking place in parallel with a strong "national birth" or "rebirth".

  • Christianity:  
    Christianity started to be introduced in Caucasus and Azerbaijan at the beginning of Common Era. Christianity in Albania covered two stages, Apostolic (1st to 3rd century) and Greekophil (4th to 6th century). After that the Albanian Church started to follow the Albanian national development, which resulted in organization of the Albanian written language and development of the Albanian literature. Nowadays there is no doubt that the Albanian Apostolic Church is the most ancient in the Caucasus, and one of the earliest in Christianity. The way of this development to some extend differs from the Armenian Church. Roots of the Albanian Church (as well as the Georgian Church) are related directly to the Jerusalimian Church and Jerusalimian Patriarchate, whereas the Armenian Church stems from the churches of Hellenic Ospoene and Kappadokia. The origin of the early Christian community in Albania was related to Apostles Thaddeus, Bartholomew, Eliseus. Albanian Catholicosate (patriarchate) was autocephalous in contrast to the Armenian and Georgian Catholicosates. The Albanians residing in the mountainous Karabakh region retained their Christianity until 1836, when the Russian authorities, on the instigation by the Armenian Church, abolished the Albanian patriarchate.

  • Zoroastrism:  
    The first religion in Azerbaijan was Zoroastrianism. The people of Manna believed in natural phenomena; the Sun and the Moon. The official religion, Zoroastrianism, was based on fire worship, the spread of which was propagated by the spontaneous ignition of shallow oil deposits and escaping gas. The object of worship was Ahura Mazda, or Ohrmazd. Ahura Mazda is goodness, holy, supreme, and the creator of all things. The opposite of Ohrmazd was Ahriman - an evil soul. Zarathushtra, the creator of the religion, was born somewhere along the Oxus river, in present-day Iran and close to South Azerbaijan's Tabriz. As for Azerbaijan, the center of Zoroastrizm, a place called Atashkag (wish still exists as Ateshgah in Surakhani, just outside Baku) was in Gazaka town in Midia.