Ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan

Ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan

This article focuses on ethnic minorities in the Republic of Azerbaijan.


According to the 1999 census, ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan represent 10% of the population, including Lezgins (the largest minority group, making up 2.2% of the population), Russians (1.8%), Armenians (1.5%), and others, such as Talysh, Tats (Muslims and Judeo-Tats), Avars, Georgians, and Ashkenazi Jews, which comprise the remaining 3.9% [ European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), Second Report on Azerbajan, CRI(2007)22, May 24, 2007] ] [ [ CIA World Factbook - Azerbaijan] ] .

However according to Prof. Svante, Cornell:cquote| In Azerbaijan, the Azeri presently make up over 90 per cent; Dagestani peoples form over 3 per cent, and Russians 2.5 per cent. 6 These figures approximate the official position; however, in reality the size of the Dagestani Lezgin community in Azerbaijan is unknown, officially put at 200,000 but according to Lezgin sources substantially larger. The Kurdish population is also substantial, according to some sources over 10 per cent of the population; in the south there is a substantial community of the Iranian ethnic group, of Talysh, possibly some 200,000 –400,000 people. [ Cornell, Svante E. Small Nations and Great Powers : A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus . Richmond, Surrey, , GBR: Curzon Press Limited, 2000. p 308.]


According to Professor Douglass Blum:

Freedom House has reported, in July 2005, that some ethnic minorities have encountered discrimination in such areas as housing, education, and employment. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted that, although Azerbaijan had demonstrated improvements by enacting legislation with provisions for racial discrimination, there had been no discrimination related cases prosecuted. In its summary record, the CERD questioned how such legislation would stem the reportedly discriminatory practices of public officials and law enforcement personnel. The CERD also recommended that Azerbaijan broaden its hitherto narrow understanding of discrimination by not only addressing its "most severe and extreme manifestations" but its commonplace occurrence. Concern over the lack of programs to support minority languages or those fostering inter-cultural education was also expressed by the Committee. Azerbaijan has attempted to curb discrimination by enacting laws. [ Immigration and refugee board of Canada] ] , although the

Linguistic rights

Article 21 ("State Language") of Section II of the Constitution of Azerbaijan states [ Constitution of Azerbaijan] ] :cquote
*I. The Azerbaijani language shall be the State language of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
*II. The Republic of Azerbaijan shall ensure the development of the Azerbaijani language.
*III. The Republic of Azerbaijan shall guarantee the free use and development of other languages spoken by the population.

Furthermore, Article 45 ("The Right to Use Native Language") of Section III of the Constitution of Azerbaijan states :cquote
*I. Every Person shall have the right to use Native language. Everyone shall have the right to be raised and get an education, be engaged in creative activities in Native Language.
*II. No one can be deprived of the right to use Native Language.

According to the 2007 report by the Council of Europe's Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) :

According to other reports, there have been several complaints of ethnic unrest in Azerbaijan due to the assimilation politic of the government and its treatment of minorities. Among others the Avars, Talysh, Kurds and Tats. [ Today.Az - Forces, willing to incite ethnic conflict in Azerbaijan, attempt to use representatives of the Avarian people ] ]

General representation in public and political life

According to the Resolution on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities issued by the Council of Europe in 2004: cquote| Azerbaijan has made particularly commendable efforts in opening up the personal scope of application of the Framework Convention to a wide range of minorities. In Azerbaijan, the importance of the protection and promotion of cultures of national minorities is recognised and the long history of cultural diversity of the country is largely valued; - The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and its consequences have considerably hampered efforts to implement the Framework Convention. Despite the general spirit of tolerance in Azerbaijan, the continued occupation of large parts of Azerbaijani territory and the displacement of a high number of people have caused tensions which have resulted in disconcerting manifestations of intolerance. It is to be hoped that a lasting and peaceful solution to the existing conflict will be found and that efforts to that effect will be accelerated. The eventual solution should protect the rights of all persons concerned, in conformity with the territorial integrity of the country and other principles of international law;
- Certain general human rights issues - including concerns as regards freedom of expression and the process of registration of non-governmental organisations - have an impact also on the protection of national minorities and need to be addressed by the authorities as a matter of priority;
- Despite certain positive legislative initiatives, there are a number of shortcomings in the legislation pertaining to the implementation of the Framework Convention. The 2002 Law on the State Language contains regrettable reductions in the legal guarantees relating to the protection of national minorities. These put at risk, for example, certain commendable practices in the field of electronic media. The process of amending the said law should be pursued further with a view to making it compatible with the Framework Convention;
- There is a need to couple the Law on the State Language with improved legal guarantees for the protection of national minorities in such fields as minority language education and use of minority languages in relations with administrative authorities, with a view to consolidating and expanding the positive practices that exist. Priority should be given to the adoption of a new law on the protection of national minorities, providing the necessary guarantees for the implementation of the relevant minority language standards;
- Azerbaijan should consider developing further the consultation structures for representatives of national minorities in order to improve their participation in decision-making. [ [ Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, Resolution ResCMN-2004-8] , on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Azerbaijan, Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 13 July 2004 at the 893rd meeting of the Ministers Deputies.]

According to the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the human right's body of the Council of Europe :


According to the 1998 book “Linguistic Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe” [Christina Bratt (EDT) Paulston, Donald Peckham (eds.), Linguistic Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, Multilingual Matters publisher, 1998, ISBN 1853594164, p. 106] :

The Russian expert on the nationalities issue, Valery Tishkov, stated that Azerbaijan is one of the biggest assimilators of the former Soviet republics, the other two being Georgia and Uzbekistan Thomas de Waal. "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. ", New York: New York University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8147-1945-7, p. 133] .

According to Radio Free Europe organization's analyst Liz Fuller, several Azerbaijan's ethnic representatives (such as Magomed Guseinov from the Avar National Council) have voiced public concern about forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing in order to ensure the predominance of Azeri Turks in the country over Lezghins, Avars, Talysh, Tats, Kurds and other minorities.Liz Fuller. "Analysis: Do Azerbaijan's Ethnic Minorities Face Forced Assimilation?", RFE/RL [] ] .


Most of the Armenians in Azerbaijan currently live in break-away region Nagorno-Karabakh; however according to University of Maryland, College Park, there are still some 30,000 Armenians residing in the rest of Azerbaijan, primarily in Baku. Armenians in Azerbaijan are at a high risk as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unsettled [ University of Maryland Center for International Development and Conflict Management. Minorities at Risk: Assessment of Armenians in Azerbaijan, Online Report, 2004] ] .

Azerbaijan SSR

During Soviet rule, the question of Karabakh festered for Armenians. The Armenians of Karabakh made claims of economic neglect, charging that Azeri authorities with under-investment in the region in an attempt to keep it impoverished. In addition, Baku placed restrictions on cultural ties with Armenia. Tensions rose in the early 1960s, and in 1968 clashes erupted between Armenians and Azeris in Stepanakert (the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh). The Armenians feared that the Armenian character of Karabakh would disappear as it had in Nakhichevan over the decades, where the Armenian population had disappeared and all of the Armenian monuments were systematically removed and reportedly destroyed by the Azerbaijani authorities. In 1979, Nagorno-Karabakh had a 74% Armenian majority but received no Armenian television broadcasts and had no Armenian institution of higher learning

According to Thomas De Wall de Waal, Thomas (2003). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-1945-7. pg 133] :

However, other evidence suggests that the Armenians lived in better conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh than Azerbaijanis. According to Yamskov, [ A.Yamskov. Ethnic Conflict in Transcaucasus: The Case of Nagorno-Karabakh. In Theory and Society, Vol. 20, No. 5, 1991, pp. 631-660]

The Soviet laws ensured that in Nagorno-Karabakh "party and state organs were staffed primarily by Armenians who not only ensured Armenian cultural autonomy with Armenian-language newspapers, schools, and arts but strengthened it" [ Audrey Alstatd. The Azerbaijani Turks : Power and Identity Under Russian Rule (Studies of Nationalities). Hoover Institution Press, 1992, p.126 ]

1991 to present

War soon broke out over Nagorno Karabakh and ended in 1994 with the Armenian separatists gaining control over the territory. Turkic nationalism is the leading force in Baku and has undoubtedly contributed to the conflict with the Armenians given the historical enmity between Armenians and Turkey. All the major human rights monitors agreed that the status of Armenians, those married to or those who associate with Armenians, and those who are perceived to be sympathetic to Armenians, is extremely grave. There has also been numerous acts of vandalism against the Armenian Apostolic Church throughout Azerbaijan. Armenians within Azerbaijan at the time complained that they were subject to human rights violations, harassment, and terrorization. Armenians and part Armenians living in Azerbaijan were reported as being refused permission to leave the country. They have also reported that the Department of Visas and Registrations took them off of the list of residents [ Azerbaijan: The Status of Armenians, Russians, Jews and other Minorities] ] .

A 1993 report from the American Embassy in Baku noted:

According to a 1993 Department of Justice report:

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of embarking on a campaign beginning in 1998 to December 2005 to completely demolish the cemetery of finely carved Armenian khachkars in the town of Julfa, Nakhchivan, an exclave of Azerbaijan. Claims by the Armenians that Azerbaijan had undertaken a systematic campaign to destroy and remove the monuments first arose in late 1998 and those charges were renewed in 2002 and 2005.

Numerous appeals were filed by both Armenians and international organizations, condemning the Azerbaijani government and calling it to desist from such activity. In 2006, Azerbaijan barred European Parliament members from investigating the claims, charging them with a "biased and hysterical approach" to the issue and stating that it would only accept a delegation if it visited Armenian-controlled territory as well.Castle, Stephen. [ Azerbaijan 'flattened' sacred Armenian site] . "The Independent". April 16, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2007.]


There were some 41,000 Kurds residing in Azerbaijan during the Soviet era [ Rauf Orujev. "Azerbaijan: Kurds Targeted Again", "Institute for War and Peace Reporting", Caucasus Service, CRS No. 174, April 11, 2003] ] . Local Kurds had always been on good terms with the Azerbaijani majority, a Kurdish radio station, newspaper and numerous schools attempt to keep Kurdish culture alive, but fewer families bother to teach their mother tongue .

According to Thomas de Waal:

The geographical areas of concentration of Kurds (Muslim) in Azerbaijan were Kelbajar, Lachin, Qubadli and Zangilan districts, sandwiched between Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. In the course of Nagorno-Karabakh War, these regions came under occupation by the Armenian forces [ "1993 UN Security Council Resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh #822, #853, #874, and #884", Online Publication, U.S. Department of State website] ] . As a result, Kurds along with the entire Azerbaijani population of these regions were forcefully displaced to other parts of Azerbaijan .


According to a 1926 census, there were 77,039 in Azerbaijan SSR. From 1959 to 1989, the Talysh were not included as a separate ethnic group in any census, but rather they were included as part of the Turkic-speaking Azerbaijani's, although the Talysh speak an Iranian language. In 1999, the Azerbaijani government claimed there were only 76,800 Talysh in Azerbaijan, but this is believed to be an under-representation given the problems with registering as a Talysh. Some claim that the population of the Talysh inhabiting the southern regions of Azerbaijan is 500,000.

According to the Talysh Cultural Center in Lenkoran, 60% of Masalli is Talysh, only two villages in Lenkoran are Turkic, Astara is entirely Talysh, and in Lerik only two villages are Turkic.

Obtaining accurate statistics is difficult, due to the unavailability of reliable sources, intermarriage, and the decline of the Talysh language. Although oppressed by poverty, unemployment, lack of basic infrastructures such as electricity, the Talysh have a high birth rate and thus their proportion of the Azerbaijani population will grow. These issues, combined with the fear of repression and associations of colluding with Armenia, many Talysh assert their ethnic identity or nationalism. Hema Kotecha, Islamic and Ethnic Identities in Azerbaijan: Emerging trends and tensions, OSCE, Baku, July 2006 [] ]

International organizations such as Washington Profile, UNPO [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Allegation of Minority Rights Violations in Azerbaijan | work = | publisher =| date = | url = | format =| doi = | accessdate = 2007-12-29] [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Talysh: Editor Arrested | work = | publisher =| date = | url = | format =| doi = | accessdate = 2007-12-29] and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES ACCUSED OF DISCRIMINATING AGAINST ETHNIC MINORITIES | work = | publisher =| date = | url = | format =| doi = | accessdate = 2007-12-29] have voiced their concerns about the arrest of Novruzali Mamedov, Chairman of the Talysh Cultural Centre and editor-in-chief of the "Tolyshi Sado" newspaper. He was arrested and tried in the court of grave crimes, after the newspaper published articles showing well known Persian poet Nezami, whose mother, named Ra'isa, was of a Kurdish background, and Iranian historical hero Babak Khoramdin as Talysh. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Editors of "Tolishi sedo" newspaper took stand of betrayal of country | work = | publisher =| date = | url = | format =| doi = | accessdate = 2007-12-30]

In Azerbaijan SSR

The Talysh identity was strongly suppressed during Soviet times. In the early Soviet period, there were Talysh medium schools, a newspaper called "Red Talysh", and several Talysh language books published, but by end of the 1930's these schools were closed and the Talysh identity was not acknowledged in official statistics, with the Talysh being classified as "Azerbaijani".

From 1991 to present

Historical repression of identity and the inability to practice their culture and language has led the Talysh to an internalized self repression. This makes it hard to gauge support for any type of Talysh movement. According to Hema Kotecha, many Talysh fear being associated with the separatist Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic, with Russia, or with Armenia if they acknowledged or attempted to talk about their beliefs in the public sphere. One instance of current repression was when a school in Lerik wanted to invite a poet from Lenkoran to have a party in his honor and for him to speak to Children; the headmaster was told that he would be dismessed if the event went ahead. The fear of the police is also another factor to this silence, although support for a secular democracy and shared Azerbaijani-Talysh feelings towards Nagorno-Karabakh contribute as well.


The UNHCR states that Lezgins make up 40% of the populations of the Qusar and Khachmaz regions and that Greater Baku is 1.8% Lezgin. Official Azerbaijani government statistics state that the Lezgin population is only 2% of the total population of the country, bringing the number to 178,00, however, this figure could be up to double. Arif Yunus suggests that the figure is closer to 250,000-260,000, while some Lezgin nationalists claim that they number more than 700,000. Qusar town is approximately 90 to 95% Lezgin according to the local NGO Helsinki Committee office.

According to the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland [ University of Maryland Center for International Development and Conflict Management. Minorities at Risk: Assessment for Lezgins in Azerbaijan, Online Report, 2004] ] :

According to Thomas de Waal [de Waal, Thomas (2003). Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-1945-7. pg 122] :

According to Svante E. Cornell [Cornell, Svante E. Small Nations and Great Powers : A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus. Richmond, Surrey,, GBR: Curzon Press Limited, 2000. p 262.] :

cquote|Where as officially the number of Lezgins registered as such in Azerbaijan is around 180,000 the Lezgins claim that the number of Lezgins registerd in Azerbaijan is much higher than this figure, some accounts showing over 700,000 Lezgins in Azerbaijan. These figures are denied by the Azerbaijani government, but in private many Azeris acknowledge the fact that the Lezgins – for that matter the Talysh or the Kurdish-population of Azerbaijan is far higher than the official figures...

For the Lezgins in Azerbaijan, the existence of ethnic kin in Dagestan is of highimportance. Nariman Ramazanov, one of the Lezgin political leaders, has arguedthat whereas the Talysh, Tats, and Kurds of Azerbaijan lost much of theirlanguage and ethnic identity, the Lezgins have been able to preserve theirs bytheir contacts with Dagestan, where there was naturally no policy of Azeriassimilation. ….The Lezgin problem remains one of the most acute and unpredictable ofthe contemporary Caucasus. This said, the conditions for a peaceful resolution ofthe conflict are present. No past conflict nor heavy mutual prejudices makemanagement of the conflict impossible; nor has ethnic mobilization taken place toa significant extent. Hence there are no actual obstacles to a de-escalation of theconflict at the popular level. At the political level, however, the militancy ofSadval and the strict position of the Azeri government give cause for worry, andmay prevent the settlement of the conflict through a compromise such as a freetradingzone. The Lezgin problem needs to be monitored and followed in closerdetail, and its continued volatility is proven by the tension surrounding a recentLezgin congress in Dagestan.


A representative of the Molokan (ethnic Russian) community, in an interview on July 21, 2005, reported that there is no conflict between ethnic Russians and Azeris in Azerbaijan and that "there is no intolerance to the Russian language, culture or people" according to a parliamentary official. Similarly, Interfax News Service, on July 6, 2004, reported that a Russian Foreign Ministry representative stated, "We, Russians, have no particular problems in Azerbaijan".


Foreign Interference

Neighboring countries, Armenia, Iran, and, to a lesser extent, Russia were reported to support separatist sentiments in Azerbaijan.


In May 2005, Armenia organized the "First International Conference on Talysh Studies". The event was hosted by the Yerevan State University's Iranian Studies Department and the Yerevan-based Center for Iranian Studies in Armenian resort town of Tsaghkadzor. According to Valdimir Socor [ [ Vladimir Socor. "Talysh issue, dormant in Azerbaijan, reopened in Armenia", The Jamestown Foundation, May 27, 2005] ] :

In April 1996, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry claimed that Armenian intelligence recruited and trained Armenian members of the Daghestan-based Lezgin separatist organization "Sadval" who subsequently perpetrated a bomb attack on the Baku metro in March 1994 that killed 14 people [ [ Liz Fuller. "Azerbaijan: Baku Implicates Armenian Intelligence In Alleged Coup Bid", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 5, 2005] ] .


According to Hema Kotecha:


In the northern regions of Azerbaijan, Russia was reported to have linkage with Lezgin separatist movement:


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