State and politics
Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union on
August 30, 1991, and independence gained legal force October
18, the same year. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of AZ and its meanings of Azerbaijan.
Through its geographical location at the intersection of
Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan balances between the three
expansive neighboring countries Turkey, the Russian
Federation and Iran, which dominated the area for various
periods. Ethnically and linguistically, the country is
mainly part of the Turkish sphere, while there are more
Azeris in popular Iran than in Azerbaijan. As in Iran, the
majority of the population is Shi'ite Muslims, while the
legacy of the Soviet Union period has given Azerbaijan the
character of a secular state with modern institutions.
The economy is dependent on the large oil and gas
resources, which provided relatively prosperity early on.
However, income has been distributed unevenly and society
has been eroded by growing corruption, at the same time as
power has developed in an autocratic direction and
increasingly concentrated with the ruling clan Alijev.
Since the 1990s, a conflict has been going on with
neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. This,
despite mediation efforts by, among others, the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has remained
A new constitution was adopted after a referendum in
November 1995. The constitution gave the president a
particularly strong position as head of state and
commander-in-chief with the right to appoint the prime
minister and other members of government. This position has
since been further strengthened by constitutional changes in
2009 and 2016.
The President also appoints the Chairman and Deputy
Chairman of the Constitutional Court. Other judges in the
Constitutional Court and all judges in the Supreme Court are
nominated by the President but must then be approved by
The term of office of the President is seven years. Since
2009, a president can be re-elected an unlimited number of
times. The nine judges in the Constitutional Court are
appointed for 15 years, the highest 25 members of the
Supreme Court for 10 years.
Parliament, milli majlis, has a chamber of 125
members, elected for five years by majority vote in one-man
constituencies. Parliament does not form a government, but
the cabinet appointed by the president must be approved by
Parliament. The President may veto Parliament's decisions.
To abolish such a veto requires 95 votes.
In the last parliamentary elections on February 9, 2020,
21 women were elected, corresponding to just under 17
percent. Female suffrage was introduced after independence
in 1918, when Azerbaijan became the world's first
During the first 18 months after independence in 1991,
two presidents, Ayaz Mutalibov and Abulfaz Eltjibej, were
forced to resign following military losses in the war on
Nagorno-Karabakh. Subsequently, Gejdar Alijev (Head of State
1993-2003) took office, who had acquired a unique influence
already when he was promoted to secretary of the Soviet
Communist Party Central Committee in 1969. After being head
of the Soviet security service KGB in Azerbaijan, Alijev was
assigned to deal with corruption in the republic.
The executives who were dismissed and in some cases
sentenced were replaced by Alijev's confidants. With this
base he had a strong grip on the country already when he was
called in the parliament in 1993 and then was elected
president. Despite his background in the Soviet Communist
Party, Alijev developed a nationalist policy, which at the
same time sought good relations with the regional powers of
Turkey, Iran and the Russian Federation.
After his death in 2003, Gejdar Alijev was succeeded in
the presidential post by his son Ilham Alijev (born 1961),
despite protests from the political forces that wanted to
avoid Azerbaijan's reign in dynastic rule. After the
Constitution's statute that a president may sit for a
maximum of two terms of office was voted off in 2009, Ilham
Alijev was re-elected in 2013 for a third presidential term.
He received just under 85 percent of the vote in an election
that had been preceded by an increasingly intense campaign
to silence independent media and opposition political
Through another constitutional referendum in 2016, the
president's powers were further expanded; the mandate was
extended from five to seven years and the age limit for
presidential candidates was abolished. According to the
opposition, the latter was a measure to enable Ilham
Alijev's son to take over power at a later stage. In the
same referendum, another constitutional change was approved,
which means that two vice presidents are appointed by the
president. Thereby, a president who becomes ill or dies
during the term of office is no longer succeeded by the
prime minister but by a vice president. In 2017, Alijev
appointed his wife Mehriban Alijeva (born 1964) as the first
In the 2018 presidential election, Aliyev was re-elected
for a fourth term, this time with 86 percent of the vote.
The opposition boycotted the election, but participation was
still high. Western observers have judged that the 2013 and
2018 presidential elections violated democratic standards on
a number of points.
Is dominated by the loyal New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) and
other forces loyal to the President; In the 2020 elections,
YAP received 69 of the 125 seats in Parliament.
The unresolved conflict with Armenia over
Nagorno-Karabakh has continued to characterize the country's
politics. A series of summits between Ilham Aliyev and the
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (born 1975) after
his entry in the spring of 2018 led to a period of tensions,
but, in addition to establishing a communication line
between the two armies, has not led to any concrete
progress. Since the second half of the 1990s, Azerbaijan's
army has undergone extensive renovation; in 2013, an
agreement was signed for the purchase of military equipment
from the Russian Federation for 4 billion US dollars.
Azerbaijan's foreign policy is characterized by a
balancing act between the expansive neighboring countries
Turkey, Iran and the Russian Federation. The country was one
of the initiators of the formation of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) in December 1991, but left the
organization in October 1992 to re-join in September 1993.
Since the late 1990s, relations with the Russian
Federation have once again become colder, partly as a result
of Russian support for Armenia. Another factor in this
picture is that Azerbaijan strives for good relations with
the western countries, which are dependent on the extensive
exploitation of oil resources in the Caspian Sea and the
export of oil and gas.
Azerbaijan has been cooperating with NATO since 2005 in
the framework of a so-called Individual Partnership Action
Plan (IPAP). The EU is negotiating with Azerbaijan under the
Eastern Partnership. A partnership and cooperation agreement
was signed in 1996, which was followed in 2006 by a
strategic partnership agreement in the energy area. Since
President Alijev's visit to Brussels in 2017, negotiations
have been underway for a more in-depth agreement, which,
however, presupposes that Azerbaijan lives up to the
partnership's principles of in-depth democracy.
As a Soviet republic, Azerbaijan had a judiciary where
the courts were independent. The rule of law was inadequate,
and the courts were also an instrument of political
leadership. Local party and state agencies intervened in the
courts' work. In the Soviet debate, this was called
"telephone law". The situation did not change immediately
after independence after 1991. The legislative power is to
be exercised by Milli Madzjlis instead of the
previously elected Supreme Soviet, whose activities have
been suspended. A new constitution was adopted in November
1995. The change process is assumed to be slow before any
decisive change is expected. Azerbaijan is still far from
any rule of law. The death penalty was abolished in 1998;
the last execution took place in 1993.
Respect for human rights in Azerbaijan has deteriorated
during the 2010s. Several peaceful protests against the
regime have been broken up with violence by police and
government representatives in order to keep the political
opposition in check. Reports show that excessive violence,
water cannons and tear gas have been used against the
protesters on numerous occasions.
Deficiencies have also been identified in the
government's mission to investigate credible allegations of
abuse, threats and other abuses against oppositionists, who
are said to have been executed in the detention center.
Impunity is widespread for police and security services who
are accused of abuse.
Political demonstrations are essentially prohibited.
Foreign press must not operate in the country and domestic
journalism is tightly controlled. In Reporters Without
Borders Press Freedom Index, the country was ranked 166 out
of 180 in 2019, a slightly worse position than the previous
years. The fact that critical scrutiny and opposition have
been silenced has made it easier for corruption to gain a
foothold in society. In 2019, Azerbaijan was ranked 126 out
of 180 on Transparency International's corruption index.
A ban from 2010 on the use of Islamic headscarves at
schools and universities affects many girls and women who
are absent from education as a result. Violence and sexual
violence against women, especially women in rural areas, are
reported to be widespread but are rarely reported due to low
confidence in law enforcement agencies.
Childcare is permitted within the walls of the home for
educational purposes but prohibited in schools and other
public contexts. According to UN reports, human trafficking
in children for sexual exploitation occurs.
Heads of State