Population and Ethnic Composition

Azerbaijan Table of Contents

The majority of Azerbaijan's population consists of a single ethnic group whose problems with ethnic minorities have been dominated by the Armenian uprisings in Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan includes several other significant ethnic groups. The population of the country is concentrated in a few urban centers and in the most fertile agricultural regions.

Population Characteristics

In mid-1993 the population of Azerbaijan was estimated at 7.6 million. With eighty-three people per square kilometer, Azerbaijan is the second most densely populated of the Transcaucasian states; major portions of the populace live in and around the capital of Baku and in the Kura-Aras agricultural areas. Baku's population exceeded 1.1 million in the late 1980s, but an influx of war refugees increased that figure to an estimated 1.7 million in 1993. In 1993 the estimated population growth rate of Azerbaijan was 1.5 percent per year. Gyandzha (formerly Kirovabad), in western Azerbaijan, is the second most populous city, with a population of more than 270,000, followed by Sumgait, just north of Baku, with a population of 235,000; figures for both cities are official 1987 estimates. Since that time, Gyandzha and Sumgait, like Baku, have been swollen by war refugees. With 54 percent of Azerbaijanis living in urban areas by 1989, Azerbaijan was one of the most urbanized of the Muslim former Soviet republics. According to the 1989 census, the population of Nagorno-Karabakh was 200,000, of which over 75 percent was ethnically Armenian.

In 1989 life expectancy was sixty-seven years for males and seventy-four years for females. According to legend and to Soviet-era statistics, unusually large numbers of centenarians and other long-lived people live in Nagorno-Karabakh and other areas of Azerbaijan. In 1990 the birth rate was twenty-five per 1,000 population. The fertility rate has declined significantly since 1970, when the average number of births per woman was 4.6. According to Western estimates, the figure was 2.8 in 1990.

In 1987 Azerbaijan's crude death rate was about twelve per 1,000. As in other former Soviet republics, the rate was somewhat higher than in 1970. In Azerbaijan, however, the death rate continued rising through 1992 because of the escalating number of accidents, suicides, and murders; fatalities caused by the conflict with Armenia were also a factor.

According to the 1989 census, about 85 percent of the population was Azerbaijani (5.8 million), 5.8 percent was Russian (392,300), and 5.8 percent was Armenian (390,500). The percentage of Azerbaijanis has increased in recent decades because of a high birth rate and the emigration of Russians and other minorities. Between 1959 and 1989, the Azerbaijani share of the population rose by 16 percent. Since that time, however, growth of the Azerbaijani share of the population has accelerated with the addition of an estimated 200,000 Azerbaijani deportees and refugees from Armenia and the quickening rate of Armenian emigration. About 13 million Azerbaijanis reside in the northern provinces of neighboring Iran. Smaller groups live in Georgia, the Dagestan Autonomous Republic of Russia to Azerbaijan's north, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

The Role of Women

Although religious practice in Azerbaijan is less restrictive of women's activities than in most of the other Muslim countries, vestiges of the traditional female role remain. Particularly in rural communities, women who appear in public unaccompanied, smoke in public, drive automobiles, or visit certain theaters and restaurants are subject to disapproval. Nevertheless, the majority of Azerbaijani women have jobs outside the home, and a few have attained leadership positions. In July 1993, Aliyev appointed surgeon Lala-Shovket Gajiyeva as his state secretary (a position equivalent at that time to vice president), largely because of her outspoken views on Azerbaijani political problems. Gajiyeva was a champion of women's rights and in late 1993 founded a political party critical of Aliyev's policies. In January 1994, she was moved from state secretary to permanent representative to the UN, presumably because of her controversial positions.

Smaller Ethnic Minorities

After the Azerbaijanis, Russians, and Armenians, the next largest group is the Lezgins (Daghestanis), the majority of whom live across the Russian border in Dagestan, but 171,000 of whom resided in northern Azerbaijan in 1989. The Lezgins, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims and speak a separate Caucasian language, have called for greater rights, including the right to maintain contacts with Lezgins in Russia. In October 1992, President Elchibey promised informally that border regulations would be interpreted loosely to assuage these Lezgin concerns.

In 1989 another 262,000 people belonging to ninety other nationalities lived in Azerbaijan. These groups include Avars, Kurds, Talysh, and Tats. The Talysh in Azerbaijan, estimates of whose numbers varied from the official 1989 census figure of 21,000 to their own estimates of 200,000 to 300,000, are an Iranian people living in southeastern Azerbaijan and contiguous areas of Iran. Like the Lezgins, the Talysh have called for greater rights since Azerbaijan became independent.

In 1992 Elchibey attempted to reassure ethnic minorities by issuing an order that the government defend the political, economic, social, and cultural rights and freedoms of nonAzerbaijanis , and by setting up the Consultative Council on Interethnic Relations as part of the presidential apparatus. At no point were Armenians mentioned, however, among the protected ethnic minorities.

For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Azerbaijan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress