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Located on the Caspian Sea on the edge of the Caucasus mountains, Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas. The country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the early years of which were dominated by a war with Armenia over the sovereignty of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In some respects human rights standards have improved since the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, the death penalty was abolished in 1998, but a number of serious violations of the rights of children continue, including the ill-treatment of children in the justice system and the persisting issues related to children displaced within the country.
Azerbaijan is located on the Caspian Sea, and borders Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran. Nakjichevan, an exclave of the country, borders Turkey and Iran. The terrain is largely flat and dry or semi-arid, but the Great Caucasus Mountains jut into the north of the territory. The capital city, Baku, lies on the Caspian Sea.
Population and Language
Azerbaijan is home to over 9 million people, primarily of Turkic Azeri ethnicity, though there are sizeable Russian and Armenian communities within its borders. The population has been growing consistently for the past three decades, but the growth rate slowed following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 2000 the national population has grown steadily at an annual rate of 1.3 per cent. The vast majority of the population identify themselves as Muslim.
A large majority of the population speak Azeri, but there are a number of Russian and Armenian speakers.
History and Politics
Azerbaijan became part of the USSR in 1922 and continued to be so until it officially declared its independence in October 1991. The early years of the country's independence were dominated by a war with Armenia concerning sovereignty over Nagomo-Karabakh. During the conflict it is estimated that 15,000 people were killed, and around 900,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000 Armenians were displaced. A ceasefire was brokered in 1994 which, with the exception of a small number of minor violations, has held since.
National politics take the form of a multi-party democracy in which the New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) has been dominant in national politics since independence. However, international observers, particularly from the Council of Europe, have been critical of the electoral process. Heydar Aliev was President from 1993 until 2003, when his son, Ilham Aliev, became President following a short term as Prime Minister. In 2009 the Constitution underwent substantial reforms following a referendum, including the repeal of the provisions that limited the terms of the Presidency.
The NAP is currently the largest party in the Parliament, but a number of other parties are also active in the country. Among these smaller parties are the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Musavat, the Umid Party, the Azerbaijan Independence Party and the Azerbaijan Liberal Party.
During the early years of independence, Azerbaijan's economy suffered a number of shocks. The disintegration of the Soviet Union disrupted trade routes and the war in Nagomo-Karabakh was a substantial financial drain on national resources. The success of the oil market has eased financial pressures within the country, however, and in 2011 the World Bank highlighted the country as one of the worlds fastest reforming economies.
Transparency international has been critical of the level of corruption, rating Azerbaijan 134 out of 178 in its 2010 Corruption Perception Index. However, Azerbaijan has been praised recently for its steps towards combating corruption, and in 2005 became the first oil producing country to publish an EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) report that had been examined by an independent audit firm, and the first to involve civil society in the initiative. Though there have been some economic reforms, little has occurred in relation to monopolies and customs.
Civil Society and Media
Media in Azerbaijan operate in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. In 2008, Agil Khali, a journalist with a prominent daily newspaper, was forced into exile following a failed murder attempt, and several journalists are currently in prison. In January 2009 the National Broadcasting Council suspended broadcasts from some foreign media, including the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice America. In addition, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has highlighted a lack of freedom and pluralism in the country's media and rated the country 152 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index. RWB has also reported on a crack down on bloggers and activists since peaceful demonstrations in March and April 2011. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted that some improvements have been made with regards to the operation of civil society in the country, but that there are excessive “administrative burdens” for NGO registration, and insufficient cooperation and coordination between NGOs and government.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
In some respects human rights standards in Azerbaijan have improved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The death penalty was abolished in 1998, and independent observers have noted improvements in the electoral process over the past decade, but human rights organisations generally agree that the State has a relatively poor human rights record. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has highlighted the high number of internally displaced and refugee children, as well as the lack of access to potable water for 40 per cent of the population as among the most widespread problems in relation to children's rights. Ill-treatment of children at the hands of law enforcement officials has also been raised as a serious concern.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, "Parliamentary Elections in Azerbaijan" 7 November 2010
- World Bank, "Doing Business 2011"
- EITI, Azerbaijan Homepage
- Reporters Without Borders, "Newspaper hounded, Editor Jailed" 4 November 2011
- Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, March 2006, paragraphs 22 and 23
- Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, March 2006
- OHCHR, Azerbaijan Homepage
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Country Profile: Azerbaijan
- BBC, Azerbaijan Country Profile
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- UNICEF, Azerbaijan Statistics
- Reporters Without Borders, Press Freedom Index 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan Homepage
- GlobaLex, Ramil Iskandarov Avaz, "A Guide to the Republic of Azerbaijan Law Research"
- Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011: Azerbaijan
- Transparency International, "Corruption Perception Index 2010"