"Azeri" redirects here. For other uses, see Azeri (disambiguation).
This article is about the Azerbaijani ethnic group. For an analysis of the population of the Republic of Azerbaijan, see Demographics of Azerbaijan.
Azərbaycanlılar, Azərilər
آذربایجانلیلار، آذریلر

Azerbaijani girls in traditional dresses
Total population
c. 28–35 million[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
 Iran more than 15 million (Encyclopædia Britannica)[3]
12.9–18 million (CIA factbook,[4] Knüppel,[5] Izady,[6] Swietochowski[7])
18-27 million (e.g. Elling,[8] Shaffer,[9] Minahan,[10] Gheissari[11])
 Azerbaijan 9,000,000 (2009)
 Russia 603,070–1,500,000[12][13]
 Turkey 530,000–800,000[13][14]
 Georgia 233,178[15]
 Israel 100,000[16]
 Kazakhstan 85,292[17]
 Ukraine 45,176[18]
 Uzbekistan 44,400[19]
 Turkmenistan 33,365[20]
 United States 24,377–400,000[21][22][23]
 Netherlands 18,000[24]
 Kyrgyzstan 17,823[25]
 Germany 15,219[26]
 United Arab Emirates 7,000[27]
 United Kingdom 6,220[28]
 Belarus 5,567[29]
 Canada 4,580[30]
 Sweden 2,935[31]
 Latvia 1,657[32]
 Austria 1,000[33]
 Estonia 923[34]
 Lithuania 648[35]
 Norway 501[36]
 Australia 290[37]
Predominantly Shia Islam; minority Sunni Islam, Judaism,[38][39] Bahá'í Faith,[40][41] Zoroastrianism,[42] Irreligion,[43] Christianity[44][45]
Related ethnic groups
Turkic peoples (Oghuz Turks), Iranian peoples (specifically Persians and Tats), Caucasian peoples

Azerbaijanis (/ˌæzərbˈɑːniz/) or Azeris (Azerbaijani: Azərilər آذریلر, Azərbaycanlılar آذربایجانلیلار), also known as Azerbaijani Turks[46][47][48] (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan Türkləri آذربایجان تورکلری), are a Turkic[49][50][51] ethnic group living mainly in Iranian Azerbaijan and the independent Republic of Azerbaijan. They are the second most numerous ethnic group among the Turkic peoples after Anatolian Turks.[52] They are predominantly Shi'i Muslims,[53] and have a mixed cultural heritage, including Turkic,[54] Iranian,[55] and Caucasian elements. They comprise the largest ethnic group in Republic of Azerbaijan and by far the second-largest ethnic group in neighboring Iran.[56] The world's largest number of ethnic Azerbaijanis live in Iran, followed by Azerbaijan.[57]

Following the Russo-Persian Wars of 1813 and 1828, the territories of the Qajar Empire in the Caucasus were ceded to the Russian Empire and the treaties of Gulistan in 1813 and Turkmenchay in 1828 finalized the borders between Czarist Russia and Qajar Iran.[58][59] The formation of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918 established the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Despite living on two sides of an international border, the Azeris form a single ethnic group.[3] However, northerners and southerners differ due to nearly two centuries of separate social evolution of Iranian Azerbaijanis and Azerbaijanis in Russian/Soviet-influenced Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani language unifies Azeris, and is mutually intelligible with Turkmen, Qashqai, Gagauz, Turkish, and the dialects spoken by the Iraqi Turkmen, all of which belong to the Oghuz, or Western, group of Turkic languages.[60]

Etymology of Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is believed to be named after Atropates, a Persian[61][62][63][64] satrap (governor) who ruled in Atropatene (modern Iranian Azerbaijan) circa 321 B.C.[65][66]:2 The name Atropates is the Hellenistic form of Aturpat which means 'guardian of fire'; itself a compound of ātūr () 'fire' (later garbled into ādur and then into āðar (آذر) in (early) New Persian, and is pronounced āzar today)[67] + -pat () suffix for -guardian, -lord, -master[67] (-pat in early Middle Persian, -bad (بَد) in New Persian). Present-day name Azerbaijan is the Arabicized form of Azarbaigān. The latter is derived from Ādurbādagān, itself ultimately from Āturpātakān[68][69] meaning 'the land associated with (satrap) Aturpat' (-an, here garbled into -kān , is a suffix for association or forming adverbs and plurals;[67] e.g.: Gilan 'land associated with Gil people').[70]


Painting of Atropates, Historical Azerbaijan is believed to be named after him, meeting with Alexander the Great.

The modern ethnonym "Azerbaijani" or "Azeri" refers to the Turkic peoples of Iranian Azerbaijan and Republic of Azerbaijan, who historically called themselves or were referred to by others as Muslims, Turks, Turkmens,[71] Persians, or Ajams (by Kurds),[72] and religious identification prevailed over ethnic identification. When the South Caucasus became part of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century, the Russian authorities, who traditionally referred to all Turkic people as Tatars, defined Tatars living in the Transcaucasus region as Caucasian or Aderbeijanskie (Адербейджанские) Tatars to distinguish them from other Turkic groups.[73] The Russian Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, written in the 1890s, also referred to Tatars in Azerbaijan as Aderbeijans (адербейджаны),[74] but noted that the term had not been adopted widely.[75] This ethnonym was also used by Joseph Deniker:

[The purely linguistic] grouping [does not] coincide with the somatological grouping: thus the Aderbeijani of the Caucasus and Persia, who speak a Turkic language, have the same physical type as the Hadjemi-Persians, who speak an Iranian tongue.[76]

In Azerbaijani language publications, the expression "Azerbaijani nation" referring to those who were known as Tatars of the Caucasus first appeared in the newspaper Kashkul in 1880.[77]

History of Azerbaijan

Ancient residents of the area spoke the Old Azeri, which belonged to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages.[78] In the 11th century A.D. with Seljukid conquests, Oghuz Turkic tribes started moving across the Iranian plateau into the Caucasus and Anatolia. The influx of the Oghuz and other Turkmen tribes was further accentuated by the Mongol invasion.[79] Here, the Oghuz tribes divided into various smaller groups, some of whom – mostly Sunni – moved to Anatolia (i.e., the later Ottomans) and became settled, while others remained in the Caucasus region and later – due to the influence of the Safaviyya – eventually converted to the Shia branch of Islam. The latter were to keep the name "Turkmen" or "Turcoman" for a long time: from the 13th century onwards they gradually Turkified the Iranian-speaking populations of Azerbaijan, both the contemporary Republic and Iranian Azerbaijan, thus creating a new identity based on Shia and the use of Oghuz Turkic. Today, this Turkic-speaking population is known as Azerbaijani.[54]

Ancient period

Caucasian-speaking Albanian tribes are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of the region where the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan is located.[80] Early Iranian settlements included the Scythians (Ishkuza Kingdom) in the ninth century BC.[81] Following the Scythians, the Medes came to dominate the area to the south of the Aras River.[82] Ancient Iranian people of the Medes forged a vast empire between 900 and 700 BC, which the Achaemenids integrated into their own empire around 550 BC. During this period, Zoroastrianism spread in the Caucasus and in Atropatene.

Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenids in 330 BC, but allowed the Median satrap Atropates to remain in power. Following the decline of the Seleucids in Persia in 247 BC, an Armenian Kingdom exercised control over parts of Caucasian Albania.[83] Caucasian Albanians established a kingdom in the first century BC and largely remained independent until the Persian Sassanids made their kingdom a vassal state in 252 AD.[84]:38 Caucasian Albania's ruler, King Urnayr, went to Armenia and then officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century AD, and Albania remained a Christian state until the 8th century.[85][86] Sassanid control ended with their defeat by Muslim Arabs in 642 AD,[87] through the Muslim conquest of Persia.

Medieval period

Shah Ismail I founder of the Safavid dynasty in Iran was of Azeri origin.

Muslim Arabs defeated the Sassanids and Byzantines as they marched into the Caucasus region. The Arabs made Caucasian Albania a vassal state after the Christian resistance, led by Prince Javanshir, surrendered in 667.[84]:71 Between the ninth and tenth centuries, Arab authors began to refer to the region between the Kura and Aras rivers as Arran.[84]:20 During this time, Arabs from Basra and Kufa came to Azerbaijan and seized lands that indigenous peoples had abandoned; the Arabs became a land-owning elite.[88]:48 Conversion to Islam was slow as local resistance persisted for centuries and resentment grew as small groups of Arabs began migrating to cities such as Tabriz and Maraghah. This influx sparked a major rebellion in Iranian Azerbaijan from 816–837, led by a local Zoroastrian commoner named Bābak.[89] However, despite pockets of continued resistance, the majority of the inhabitants of Azerbaijan converted to Islam. Later, in the 10th and 11th centuries, parts of Azerbaijan were ruled by the Kurdish dynasties of Shaddadid and Rawadid.

In the middle of the eleventh century, the Seljuq dynasty overthrew Arab rule and established an empire that encompassed most of Southwest Asia. The Seljuk period marked the influx of Oghuz nomads into the region, who are considered to be the founding stock of modern Azeri people. The emerging Turkic identity was chronicled in epic poems or dastans, the oldest being the Book of Dede Korkut, which relate allegorical tales about the early Turks in the Caucasus and Asia Minor.[84]:45 Turkic dominion was interrupted by the Mongols in 1227, but it returned with the Timurids and then Sunni Qara Qoyunlū (Black Sheep Turkmen) and Aq Qoyunlū (White Sheep Turkmen), who dominated Azerbaijan, large parts of Iran, eastern Anatolia, and other minor parts of West Asia, until the Shi'a Safavids took power in 1501.[84]:113[88]:285

Early modern period

Shirvan Tatar (i.e. Azeri). Engraving from book of Jean Baptiste Benoît Eyriès. Voyage pittoresque en Asie et en Afrique: résumé général des voyages anciens et modernes... T. I, 1839

The Safavids, who rose from around Ardabil in Iranian Azerbaijan and lasted until 1722, established the foundations of the modern Iranian state.[90] The Safavids, alongside their Ottoman archrivals, dominated the entire West Asian region and beyond for centuries. At its peak under Shah Abbas the Great, it surpassed its political and ideological archrival the Ottoman empire in military strength. Noted for achievements in state building, architecture, and the sciences, the Safavid state crumbled due to internal decay (mostly royal intrigues), ethnic minority uprisings and external pressures from the Russians, and the eventually opportunistic Afghans, who would mark the end of the dynasty. The Safavids encouraged and spread Shi'a Islam, as well as the arts and culture, and Shah Abbas the Great created an intellectual atmosphere that according to some scholars was a new "golden age".[91] He reformed the government and the military, and responded to the needs of the common people.[91]

After the Safavid state disintegrated, it was followed by the conquest by Nader Shah Afshar, a Shia chieftain from Khorasan who reduced the power of the ghulat Shi'a and empowered a moderate form of shi'ism,[88]:300 and, exceptionally noted for his military genius, making Iran reach its greatest extent since the Sassanid Empire. The brief reign of Karim Khan came next, followed by the Qajars, who ruled Azerbaijan and Iran from 1779.[84]:106 Russia loomed as a threat to Persian and Turkish holdings in the Caucasus in this period. The Russo-Persian Wars, despite already having had minor military conflicts in the 17th century, officially began in the eighteenth century and ended in the early nineteenth century with the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813 and the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828, which ceded the Caucasian portion of Qajar Iran to the Russian Empire.[66]:17 While Azerbaijanis in Iran integrated into Iranian society, Azerbaijanis who used to live in Aran, were incorporated into the Russian Empire.

Modern period in Azerbaijan

Map of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic presented by the Azerbaijani delegation Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
First flag of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (till November 9, 1918)[92]
Soldiers and officers of the army of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918

After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic was declared, constituting what are the present-day republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. This was followed by March Days massacres[93][94][95] that took place between March 30 and April 2, 1918 in the city of Baku and adjacent areas of the Baku Governorate of the Russian Empire.[96] When the republic dissolved in May 1918, the leading Musavat party adopted the name "Azerbaijan" for the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which was proclaimed on May 27, 1918,[97] for political reasons,[98][99] even though the name of "Azerbaijan" had always been used to refer to the adjacent region of contemporary northwestern Iran.[100][101][102] The ADR was the first modern parliamentary republic in the Turkic world and Muslim world.[93][103][104] Among the important accomplishments of the Parliament was the extension of suffrage to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men.[103] Another important accomplishment of ADR was the establishment of Baku State University, which was the first modern-type university founded in Muslim East.[103]

By March 1920, it was obvious that Soviet Russia would attack the much-needed Baku. Vladimir Lenin said that the invasion was justified as Soviet Russia could not survive without Baku's oil.[105][106] Independent Azerbaijan lasted only 23 months until the Bolshevik 11th Soviet Red Army invaded it, establishing the Azerbaijan SSR on April 28, 1920. Although the bulk of the newly formed Azerbaijani army was engaged in putting down an Armenian revolt that had just broken out in Karabakh, Azeris did not surrender their brief independence of 1918–20 quickly or easily. As many as 20,000 Azerbaijani soldiers died resisting what was effectively a Russian reconquest.[107]

The brief independence gained by the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Repulbic in 1918–1920 was followed by over 70 years of Soviet rule.[60]:91 After the restoration of independence in October 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan became embroiled in a war with neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.[60]:97

Modern period in Iran

Flag of the Azerbaijan People's Government, puppet state of the Soviet Union, was a short-lived government in Iranian Azerbaijan region from November 1945 to November 1946.

In Iran, Azerbaijanis such as Sattar Khan sought constitutional reform.[108] The Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906–11 shook the Qajar dynasty. A parliament (Majlis) was founded on the efforts of the constitutionalists, and pro-democracy newspapers appeared. The last Shah of the Qajar dynasty was soon removed in a military coup led by Reza Khan. In the quest to impose national homogeneity on a country where half of the population were ethnic minorities, Reza Shah banned in quick succession the use of the Azerbaijani language in schools, theatrical performances, religious ceremonies, and books.[109]

Sattar Khan (1868–1914) was a major revolutionary figure in the late Qajar period in Iran.

Upon the dethronement of Reza Shah in September 1941, Soviet forces took control of Iranian Azerbaijan and helped to set up the Azerbaijan People's Government, a client state under the leadership of Sayyid Jafar Pishevari backed by Soviet Azerbaijan. The Soviet military presence in Iranian Azerbaijan was mainly aimed at securing the Allied supply route during World War II. Concerned with the continued Soviet presence after World War II, the United States and Britain pressured the Soviets to withdraw by late 1946. Immediately thereafter, the Iranian government regained control of Iranian Azerbaijan.

According to Professor Gary R. Hess:

On December 11, an Iranian force entered Tabriz and the Peeshavari government quickly collapsed. Indeed the Iranians were enthusiastically welcomed by the people of Azerbaijan, who strongly preferred domination by Tehran rather than Moscow. The Soviet willingness to forego its influence in (Iranian) Azerbaijan probably resulted from several factors, including the realization that the sentiment for autonomy had been exaggerated and that oil concessions remained the more desirable long-term Soviet Objective.[110]

Origins of the Azerbaijani people

In many references, Azerbaijanis are designated as a Turkic people, due to their Turkic language.[111][112] Modern-day Azerbaijanis are believed to be primarily the descendants of the Caucasian Albanian[113][114] and Iranian peoples who lived in the areas of the Caucasus and northern Iran, respectively, prior to Turkification. Historian Vladimir Minorsky writes that largely Iranian and Caucasian populations became Turkic-speaking:

In the beginning of the 5th/11th century the Ghuzz hordes, first in smaller parties, and then in considerable numbers, under the Seljuqids occupied Azerbaijan. In consequence, the Iranian population of Azerbaijan and the adjacent parts of Transcaucasia became Turkophone while the characteristic features of Ādharbāyjānī Turkish, such as Persian intonations and disregard of the vocalic harmony, reflect the non-Turkic origin of the Turkicised population.[115]

Thus, centuries of Turkic migration and turkification of the region helped to formulate the contemporary Azerbaijani ethnic identity.


Main article: Turkification
Portrait of Muhammad Fuzûlî by Azim Azimzade (1914). Fuzûlî is considered one of the greatest Azerbaijani poets.[116]

The earliest major Turkic incursion of the area now known as Azerbaijan began and accelerated during the Seljuk period.[111] The migration of Oghuz Turks from present-day Turkmenistan, which is attested by linguistic similarity, remained high through the Mongol period, as many troops under the Ilkhans were Turkic. By the Safavid period, the Turkification of Azerbaijan continued with the influence of the Qizilbash, a Turkic army that was the backbone of Safavid Empire. The very name Azerbaijan is derived from the pre-Turkic name of the province, Azarbayjan or Adarbayjan, and illustrates a gradual language shift that took place as local place names survived Turkification, albeit in altered form.[78]

Most academics view the linguistic Turkification of predominantly non-Turkic-speaking indigenous peoples and assimilation of small bands of Turkic tribes as the most likely origin for the people of Azerbaijan.[66]:6–7

Iranian origin

The Iranian origins of the Azerbaijanis likely derive from ancient Iranian tribes, such as the Medes in Iranian Azerbaijan, and Scythian invaders who arrived during the eighth century BC. It is believed that the Medes mixed with Mannai.[117] Ancient written accounts, such as one written by Arab historian Al-Masudi, attest to an Iranian presence in the region:

The Persians are a people whose borders are the Mahat Mountains and Azarbaijan up to Armenia and Arran, and Bayleqan and Darband, and Ray and Tabaristan and Masqat and Shabaran and Jorjan and Abarshahr, and that is Nishabur, and Herat and Marv and other places in land of Khorasan, and Sejistan and Kerman and Fars and Ahvaz... All these lands were once one kingdom with one sovereign and one language...although the language differed slightly. The language, however, is one, in that its letters are written the same way and used the same way in composition. There are, then, different languages such as Pahlavi, Dari, Azari, as well as other Persian languages.[118]

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism was prominent throughout the Caucasus before Christianity and Islam.[119][120][121] It has also been hypothesized that the population of Iranian Azerbaijan was predominantly Persian-speaking before the Oghuz arrived. This claim is supported by the many figures of Persian literature, such as Qatran Tabrizi, Shams Tabrizi, Nizami Ganjavi, and Khaghani, who wrote in Persian prior to and during the Oghuz migration, and Nozhat al-Majales anthology, as well as by Strabo, Al-Istakhri, and Al-Masudi, who all describe the language of the region as Persian. The claim is mentioned by other medieval historians, such as Al-Muqaddasi.[78]

Encyclopædia Iranica says "The Turkish speakers of Azerbaijan (q.v.) are mainly descended from the earlier Iranian speakers".[122] The continued presence of pockets of Iranian speakers; Talysh and Caucasian Tats are present in Azerbaijan.

Caucasian origin

Azerbaijani girl from Shusha in silk national garments.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica:

The Azerbaijani are of mixed ethnic origin, the oldest element deriving from the indigenous population of eastern Transcaucasia and possibly from the Medians of northern Persia.[3]

There is evidence that, despite repeated invasions and migrations, aboriginal Caucasians may have been culturally assimilated, first by Ancient Iranian peoples and later by the Oghuz. Considerable information has been learned about the Caucasian Albanians including their language, history, early conversion to Christianity. The Udi language, still spoken in Azerbaijan, may be a remnant of the Albanians' language.[123]

This Caucasian influence extended further south into Iranian Azerbaijan. During the 1st millennium BC, another Caucasian people, the Mannaeans (Mannai) populated much of Iranian Azerbaijan. Weakened by conflicts with the Assyrians, the Mannaeans are believed to have been conquered and assimilated by the Medes by 590 BC.[124]


Iranian Azerbaijanis have stronger genetic affinity with their immediate geographic neighbors than with populations from Central Asia.[125]

Genetic studies demonstrate that northern Azerbaijanis are more closely related to other Caucasian people like Georgians and Armenians than they are to Iranians or Turks.[126] Iranian Azerbaijanis are genetically more similar to northern Azerbaijanis and the neighboring Turkic population than they are to geographically distant Turkmen populations.[127] However, it is also significant that the evidence of genetic admixture derived from Central Asians (specifically Haplogroup H12), notably the Turkmen, is higher for Azerbaijanis than that of their Georgian and Armenian neighbors.[128] Iranian-speaking populations from Azerbaijan (the Talysh and Tats) are genetically closer to Azerbaijanis of the Republic than to other Iranian-speaking populations (Persian people and Kurds from Iran, Ossetians, and Tajiks).[129] Such genetic evidence supports the view that the Azerbaijanis originate from a native population long resident in the area who adopted a Turkic language through a process of "elite dominance", i.e. a limited number of Turkic immigrants had a substantial cultural impact but left only weak patrilineal genetic traces.[125][126][127]

The MtDNA subclade U7a4 peaks among the modern inhabitants of Azerbaijan (26%) and Azerbaijani inhabitants of northwestern Iran (16-22%), while occurring in the rest of Iran at frequencies from 2-16%.

MtDNA analysis indicates that Persians, Anatolians and Caucasians are part of a larger West Eurasian group that is secondary to that of the Caucasus.[130][131] While genetic analysis of mtDNA indicates that Caucasian populations are genetically closer to Europeans than to Near Easterners, Y-chromosome results indicate closer affinity to Near Eastern groups.[126]

Iranians have a relatively diverse range of Y-chromosome haplotypes. A population from central Iran (Isfahan) shows closer similarity in terms of haplogroup distributions to Caucasians and Azerbaijanis than to populations from southern or northern Iran.[132] The range of haplogroups across the region may reflect historical genetic admixture,[133] perhaps as a result of invasive male migrations.[126]

Demographics and society

Azerbaijani populated regions of the Caucasus
Azerbaijani noblemen from Erivan (Yerevan), 1860

The vast majority of Azerbaijanis live in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan. Between 11.2 and 20 million Azerbaijanis live in Iran, mainly in the northwestern provinces. Approximately 8 million Azerbaijanis are found in the Republic of Azerbaijan. A diaspora of over a million is spread throughout the rest of the world. According to Ethnologue, there are over 1 million speakers of the northern Azerbaijani dialect in southern Dagestan, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.[134] No Azerbaijanis were recorded in the 2001 census in Armenia,[135] where the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resulted in population shifts. Other sources, such as national censuses, confirm the presence of Azerbaijanis throughout the other states of the former Soviet Union. Ethnologue reports that 1 million South Azerbaijanis live outside Iran, but these figures include Iraqi Turkmen, a distinct though related Turkic people.[136]

In Azerbaijan

Azerbaijanis are by far the largest ethnic group in Azerbaijan (over 90%), holding the second largest community of ethnic Azerbaijanis after neighbouring Iran. The literacy rate is very high, and is estimated at 99.5%.[137] Azerbaijan began the twentieth century with institutions based upon those of Russia and the Soviet Union, with an official policy of atheism and strict state control over most aspects of society. Since independence, there is a secular democratic system.

Azerbaijani society has been deeply impacted by the war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has displaced nearly 1 million Azerbaijanis and put strain on the economy. Azerbaijan has benefited from the oil industry, but high levels of corruption have prevented greater prosperity for the masses.[138] Despite these problems, there is a renaissance in Azerbaijan as positive economic predictions and an active political opposition appear determined to improve the lives of average Azerbaijanis.[82][139]

In Iran

Main article: Iranian Azerbaijanis
Ashiks performance in Tabriz

While population estimates in Azerbaijan are considered reliable due to regular censuses, the figures for Iran remain questionable. Since the early twentieth century, successive Iranian governments have avoided publishing statistics on ethnic groups.[140] Unofficial population estimates of Azerbaijanis in Iran range from 16% by the CIA and Library of Congress[4][141] up to 40% by Azerbaijani nationalists. An independent poll in 2009 placed the figure at around 20–22%.[142] Nevertheless, regardless of the highest or lowest estimates or publications, Azerbaijanis in Iran comprise by far the second largest ethnic group in the nation as well as by far the largest minority ethnic group.[56] Furthermore, once again regardless of any estimate or publication, the number of Azerbaijanis in Iran by far outnumber the amount of Azerbaijanis in the neighbouring Azerbaijan Republic, and comprise the largest number of ethnic Azerbaijanis in the world.

Azerbaijanis in Iran are mainly found in the northwest provinces: West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, parts of Hamadan, Qazvin, and Markazi.[141] Azerbaijani minorities live in the Qorveh[143] and Bijar[144] counties of Kurdistan, in Gilan,[145][146][147][148][149] as ethnic enclaves in Galugah in Mazandaran, around Lotfabad and Dargaz in Razavi Khorasan,[150] and in the town of Gonbad-e Qabus in Golestan.[151] Large Azerbaijani populations can also be found in central Iran (Tehran # Alborz) due to internal migration. Azerbaijanis make up 25%[152][153] of Tehran's population and 30.3%[154] – 33%[155][156] of the population of the Tehran Province, where Azerbaijanis are found in every city.[157] They are the largest ethnic groups after Persians in Tehran and the Tehran Province.[158][159] Many Azerbaijanis have emigrated and resettled in large numbers in Khorasan, living beside linguistically related Khorasani Turks,[160] especially in Mashhad.[161]

Generally, Azerbaijanis in Iran were regarded as "a well integrated linguistic minority" by academics prior to Iran's Islamic Revolution.[162][163] Despite friction, Azerbaijanis in Iran came to be well represented at all levels of "political, military, and intellectual hierarchies, as well as the religious hierarchy".[140]

Resentment came with Pahlavi policies that suppressed the use of the Azerbaijani language in local government, schools, and the press.[164] However, with the advent of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, emphasis shifted away from nationalism as the new government highlighted religion as the main unifying factor. Within the Islamic Revolutionary government there emerged an Azerbaijani nationalist faction led by Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, who advocated greater regional autonomy and wanted the constitution to be revised to include secularists and opposition parties; this was denied.[165] Islamic theocratic institutions dominate nearly all aspects of society. The Azerbaijani language and its literature are banned in Iranian schools.[166][167] There are signs of civil unrest due to the policies of the Iranian government in Iranian Azerbaijan and increased interaction with fellow Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan and satellite broadcasts from Turkey and other Turkic countries have revived Azerbaijani nationalism.[168] In May 2006, Iranian Azerbaijan witnessed riots over publication of a cartoon depicting a cockroach speaking Azerbaijani[169] that many Azerbaijanis found offensive.[170][171] The cartoon was drawn by Mana Neyestani, an ethnic Azerbaijani, who was fired along with his editor as a result of the controversy.[172][173] One of the major incidents that happened recently was Azeris protests in Iran (2015) started in November 2015, after children's television programme Fitileha aired on 6 November on state TV that ridiculed and mocked the accent and language of Azeris and included offensive jokes.[174] As a result, hundreds of ethnic Azeris have protested a program on state TV that contained what they consider an ethnic slur. Protestors chanted "stop racism against Azeri Turks", "long live Azerbaijan", and "end the Persian racism".[175][176] Demonstrations were held in Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, and Zanjan, as well as Tehran and Karaj. Police in Iran have clashed with protesting people, fired tear gas to disperse crowds, and many demonstrators were arrested. One of the protesters, Ali Akbar Murtaza, reportedly "died of injuries" in Urmia.[177] There were also protests held in front of Iranian embassies in Istanbul and Baku.[178] The head of the country’s state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Mohammad Sarafraz has apologized for airing the program, whose broadcast was later discontinued.[179]

Despite sporadic problems, Azerbaijanis are an intrinsic community within Iran, and living conditions of Azerbaijanis in Iran closely resemble those of Persians:

The life styles of urban Azerbaijanis do not differ from those of Persians, and there is considerable intermarriage among the upper classes in cities of mixed populations. Similarly, customs among Azerbaijani villagers do not appear to differ markedly from those of Persian villagers.[141]
Azeris are famously active in commerce and in bazaars all over Iran their voluble voices can be heard. Older Azeri men wear the traditional wool hat, and their music & dances have become part of the mainstream culture. Azeris are well integrated, and many Azeri-Iranians are prominent in Persian literature, politics, and clerical world.[180]

There is significant cross-border trade between Azerbaijan and Iran, and Azerbaijanis from Azerbaijan go into Iran to buy goods that are cheaper, but the relationship was tense until recently.[166] However, relations have significantly improved since the Rouhani administration took office.

Ethnic groups

There are several Azeri ethnic groups, each of which has particularities in the economy, culture and everyday life. Some Azerbaijani ethnic groups continued in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Major Azerbaijani ethnic groups:



Azeri female from Baku (1900 postcard)

In Azerbaijan, women were granted the right to vote in 1917.[181] Women have attained Western-style equality in major cities such as Baku, although in rural areas more reactionary views remain.[82] Violence against women, including rape, is rarely reported, especially in rural areas, not unlike other parts of the former Soviet Union.[182] In Azerbaijan, the veil was abandoned during the Soviet period.[183] Women are under-represented in elective office but have attained high positions in parliament. An Azerbaijani woman is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Azerbaijan, and two others are Justices of the Constitutional Court. In the 2010 election, women constituted 16% of all MPs (twenty seats in total) in the National Assembly of Azerbaijan.[184] Abortion is available on demand in the Republic of Azerbaijan.[185] The human rights ombudsman since 2002, Elmira Suleymanova, is a woman.

In Iran, a groundswell of grassroots movements have sought gender equality since the 1980s.[141] Protests in defiance of government bans are dispersed through violence, as on 12 June 2006 when female demonstrators in Haft Tir Square in Tehran were beaten.[186] Past Iranian leaders, such as the reformer ex-president Mohammad Khatami promised women greater rights, but the Guardian Council of Iran opposes changes that they interpret as contrary to Islamic doctrine. In the 2004 legislative elections, nine women were elected to parliament (Majlis), eight of whom were conservatives.[187] The social fate of Azerbaijani women largely mirrors that of other women in Iran.


In many respects, Azerbaijanis are Eurasian and bi-cultural, as northern Azerbaijanis have absorbed Russo-Soviet and Eastern European influences, whereas the Azerbaijanis of the south have remained within the Turko-Iranian and Persianate tradition. Modern Azerbaijani culture includes significant achievements in literature, art, music, and film.

Language and literature

The Azerbaijanis speak Azerbaijani, a Turkic language descended from the Western Oghuz Turkic language that became established in Azerbaijan in the 11th and 12th century CE. Early Oghuz was mainly an oral language, and the later compiled epics and heroic stories of Dede Korkut probably derive from an oral tradition. The first accepted Oghuz Turkic text goes back to 15th century. The first written, classical Azerbaijani literature arose after the Mongol invasion.[188] Some of the earliest Azerbaijani writings trace back to the poet Nasimi (died 1417) and then decades later Fuzûlî (1483–1556). Ismail I, Shah of Safavid Persia wrote Azerbaijani poetry under the pen name Khatâ'i.

Today I have come to the world as a Master. Know truly that I am Haydar's son.

I am Fereydun, Khosrow, Jamshid, and Zahak. I am Zal's son (Rostam) and Alexander.
The mystery of I am the truth is hidden in this my heart. I am the Absolute Truth and what I say is Truth.
I belong to the religion of the "Adherent of the Ali" and on the Shah's path I am a guide to every one who says: "I am a Muslim." My sign is the "Crown of Happiness".
I am the signet-ring on Sulayman's finger. Muhammad is made of light, Ali of Mystery.
I am a pearl in the sea of Absolute Reality. I am Khatai, the Shah's slave full of shortcomings. At thy gate I am the smallest and the last [servant].

Modern Azerbaijani literature continued with a traditional emphasis upon humanism, as conveyed in the writings of Samad Vurgun, Shahriar, and many others.[189]

Azerbaijanis are generally bilingual, often fluent in either Russian (in Azerbaijan) or Persian (in Iran). As of 1996, around 38% of Azerbaijan's roughly 8,000,000 population spoke Russian fluently.[190] An independent telephone survey in Iran in 2009 reported that 20% of respondents could understand Azerbaijani, the most spoken minority language in Iran, and all respondents could understand Persian.[142]


The majority of Azerbaijanis are Twelver Shi'a Muslims. Religious minorities include Sunni Muslims (mainly Shafi'i just like other Muslims in the surrounding North Caucasus),[191][192] Christians,[193] Jews,[39] and Bahá'ís.[194] An unknown number of Azerbaijanis in the Republic of Azerbaijan have no religious affiliation. Many describe themselves as cultural Muslims.[82] There is a small number of Naqshbandi Sufis among Muslim Azerbaijanis.[195] Christian Azerbaijanis number around 5,000 people in the Republic of Azerbaijan and consist mostly of recent converts.[44][45] Some Azerbaijanis from rural regions retain pre-Islamic animist or Zoroastrian-influenced[196] beliefs, such as the sanctity of certain sites and the veneration of fire, certain trees and rocks.[197] In Azerbaijan, traditions from other religions are often celebrated in addition to Islamic holidays, including Norouz and Christmas. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijanis have increasingly returned to their Islamic heritage as recent reports indicate that many Azerbaijani youth are being drawn to Islam.[198]

Performing arts

Azerbaijani singers Ell & Nikki won the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest.

Azerbaijanis express themselves in a variety of artistic ways including dance, music, and film. Azerbaijani folk dances are ancient and similar to that of their neighbors in the Caucasus and Iran. The group dance is a common form found from southeastern Europe to the Caspian Sea. In the group dance the performers come together in a semi-circular or circular formation as, "The leader of these dances often executes special figures as well as signaling and changes in the foot patterns, movements, or direction in which the group is moving, often by gesturing with his or her hand, in which a kerchief is held."[199] Solitary dances are performed by both men and women and involve subtle hand motions in addition to sequenced steps. Lezginka, a dance shared by all Caucasus-derived or Caucasus-influenced ethnic groups, is also popular amongst Azerbaijanis.

Azerbaijani musical tradition can be traced back to singing bards called Ashiqs, a vocation that survives. Modern Ashiqs play the saz (lute) and sing dastans (historical ballads).[200] Other musical instruments include the tar (another type of lute), balaban (a wind instrument), kamancha (fiddle), and the dhol (drums). Azerbaijani classical music, called mugham, is often an emotional singing performance. Composers Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Gara Garayev and Fikret Amirov created a hybrid style that combines Western classical music with mugham. Other Azerbaijanis, notably Vagif and Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, mixed jazz with mugham. Some Azerbaijani musicians have received international acclaim, including Rashid Behbudov (who could sing in over eight languages), Muslim Magomayev (a pop star from the Soviet era), Googoosh, and more recently Sami Yusuf.

In Iran, Azerbaijani music has taken a different course. According to Iranian Azerbaijani singer Hossein Alizadeh, "Historically in Iran, music faced strong opposition from the religious establishment, forcing it to go underground."[201] As a result, most Iranian Azerbaijani music is performed outside of Iran amongst exile communities.

Azerbaijani film and television is largely broadcast in Azerbaijan with limited outlets in Iran. Some Azerbaijanis have been prolific film-makers, such as Rustam Ibragimbekov, who wrote Burnt by the Sun, winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1994. Many Iranian Azerbaijanis have been prominent in the cinematic tradition of Iran, which has received critical praise since the 1980s.


Chess player Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Sports have historically been an important part of Azerbaijani life. Horseback competitions were praised in the Book of Dede Korkut and by poets and writers such as Khaqani.[202] Other ancient sports include wrestling, javelin throwing and fencing.

Ali Daei, the world's all-time leading goal scorer in international matches and the former captain of the Iran national soccer team.

The Soviet legacy has in modern times propelled some Azerbaijanis to become accomplished athletes at the Olympic level.[202] The Azerbaijani government supports the country's athletic legacy and encourages youth participation. Football is popular in both Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan. There are many prominent Azerbaijani soccer players such as Ali Daei, the world's all-time leading goal scorer in international matches and the former captain of the Iran national soccer team. Azerbaijani athletes have particularly excelled in weight lifting, gymnastics, shooting, javelin throwing, karate, boxing, and wrestling.[203] Weight lifters, such as Iran's Hossein Reza Zadeh, world super heavyweight lifting record holder and two times Olympic champion in 2000 and 2004, or Hadi Saei is a former Iranian Azerbaijani[204] Taekwondo athlete who became the most successful Iranian athlete in Olympic history and Nizami Pashayev, who won the European heavyweight title in 2006, have excelled at the international level.

Chess is another popular pastime in Azerbaijan.[205] The country has produced many notable players, such as Teimour Radjabov, Vugar Gashimov and Shahriyar Mammadyarov, both highly ranked internationally.

See also


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