Azerbaijan - a nation with a majority-Turkic and majority-Muslim population - was briefly independent from 1918 to 1920; it regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh enclave (largely Armenian populated). Azerbaijan has lost 16% of its territory and must support some 600,000 internally displaced persons as a result of the conflict. Corruption is ubiquitous, and the government has been accused of authoritarianism. Although the poverty rate has been reduced in recent years, the promise of widespread wealth from development of Azerbaijan's energy sector remains largely unfulfilled.
Climate: dry, semiarid steppe. Terrain: large, flat Kur-Araz Ovaligi (Kura-Araks Lowland) (much of it below sea level) with Great Caucasus Mountains to the north, Qarabag Yaylasi (Karabakh Upland) in west; Baku lies on Abseron Yasaqligi (Apsheron Peninsula) that juts into Caspian Sea.
Azerbaijan's high economic growth in 2006 and 2007 is attributable to large and growing oil exports. Azerbaijan's oil production declined through 1997, but has registered an increase every year since. Negotiation of production-sharing arrangements (PSAs) with foreign firms, which have committed $60 billion to long-term oilfield development, should generate the funds needed to spur future industrial development. Oil production under the first of these PSAs, with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, began in November 1997. A consortium of Western oil companies began pumping 1 million barrels a day from a large offshore field in early 2006, through a $4 billion pipeline it built from Baku to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. By 2010 revenues from this project will double the country's current GDP. Azerbaijan shares all the formidable problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its considerable energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. Baku has only recently begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced. Several other obstacles impede Azerbaijan's economic progress: the need for stepped up foreign investment in the non-energy sector, the continuing conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, pervasive corruption, and elevated inflation. Trade with Russia and the other former Soviet republics is declining in importance, while trade is building with Turkey and the nations of Europe. Long-term prospects will depend on world oil prices, the location of new oil and gas pipelines in the region, and Azerbaijan's ability to manage its energy wealth.