AZERBAIJAN (Āḏarbāy[e]jān), historical region of northwestern Iran, east of Lake Urmia, since the Achaemenid era.

The name Azerbaijan was also adopted for Arrān, historically an Iranian region, by anti-Russian separatist forces of the area when, on 26 May 1918, they declared its independence and called it the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. To allay Iranian concerns, the Azerbaijan government used the term “Caucasian Azerbaijan” in the documents for circulation abroad. This new entity consisted of the former Iranian Khanates of Arrān, including Karabagh, Baku, Shirvan, Ganja, Talysh (Ṭāleš), Derbent (Darband), Kuba, and Nakhichevan (Naḵjavān), which had been annexed to Russia by the treaties of Golestān (1813) and Torkamānčāy (1828) under the rubric of Eastern Transcaucasia.

After the Russian Bolsheviks re-conquered the region in 1920-21, the newly formed Caucasian states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) were annexed to the Soviet Union and renamed, on 12 March 1922, The Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. Later they were granted separate political status among the Soviet Republics. Then, by the order of Joseph Stalin, the name of the formal language of Azerbaijan was changed from Turkish to Azeri. Both the adoption of Azerbaijan for the region and Azeri for the language of the new entity are historically and linguistically questionable (for detail discussion of these developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries, see Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russian and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition, New York, 1995; Idem, Russian Azerbaijan 1905-1920: The Shaping of National Identity in a Muslim Community, Cambridge, 1985, Repr. 2005). This entry will be divided into the following sub-entries:

i. Geography.

ii. Archeology.

iii. Pre-Islamic History.

iv. Islamic History to 1941.

v. History from 1941-1947.

vi. Population and its Occupations and Culture.

vii. The Iranian Language of Azerbaijan.

viii. Azeri Turkish.

ix. Iranian Elements in Azeri Turkish.

x. Azeri Literature.

xi. Music of Azerbaijan.

The opening statement of the Azerbaijan entries is an expanded version of the following Addenda and Corrigenda published in vol. XIV, p. viii: 

Azerbaijan, p. 205b, ll. 12-15, for region of northwestern Iran, divided between the present-day territories of Iran and the Soviet Union since the treaties of Golestān (1813) and Torkamān⋲āy (1828) read: The historical region of northwestern Iran. The name Azerbaijan was also adopted by the anti-Russian separatist forces of the area for Arrān and Shirvan when in 1918 they declared its independence and called it for the first time Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. Arrān and Shirvan had been annexed to Russia by the treaties of Golestān (1813) and Torkamānčāy (1828).

(Multiple Authors)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 2-3, pp. 205-257