Azerbaijani people

Hot Grid girls at Baku F1 – Azerbaijan, 2016 F1 European GP

The Azerbaijanis form a Turkic ethnic community primarily concentrated in the Republic of Azerbaijan and the northwestern part of Iran. They are also present in neighboring countries. Known by other names such as Azerbaijani Turks or simply Azeris, their geographic range extends from the Caucasus Mountains to the Iranian plateau. The cultural identity of Azerbaijanis is an amalgamation of diverse influences, including Persian, Turkic, Iranian, and Caucasian heritages. The predominant religious belief among this group is Shi’a Islam.

Table: Basic Information about Azerbaijanis
Ethnic OriginTurkic
Primary LocationsRepublic of Azerbaijan, Northwestern Iran
Alternate NamesAzerbaijani Turks, Azeris
Geographic SpreadCaucasus to Iranian plateau
Predominant ReligionTwelver Shi'a Islam
Cultural InfluencesPersian, Turkic, Iranian, Caucasian

Language and Linguistic Background

Azerbaijanis primarily communicate in Azerbaijani, a language that belongs to the Turkic family. Originating from Western Oghuz Turkic, this language gained prominence in the Azerbaijani region between the 11th and 12th centuries CE. Initially, Western Oghuz was largely a spoken language, and it's believed that later written accounts like the epic tales of Dede Korkut have roots in this oral tradition. Contemporary Azerbaijani literature upholds a focus on humanistic values, a tradition preserved in the works of authors such as Samad Vurgun and Shahriar. In terms of language proficiency, Azerbaijanis are typically bilingual. In the Republic of Azerbaijan, many are fluent in Russian, while those in Iran usually speak Persian alongside Azerbaijani. According to 1996 statistics, approximately 38% of Azerbaijan's estimated 8 million population were proficient in Russian. A 2009 telephone survey in Iran indicated that Azerbaijani was understood by 20% of the respondents, making it the most widely understood minority language in the country.

Table: Language Proficiency among Azerbaijanis
Primary LanguageAzerbaijani
Language FamilyTurkic
Historical RootsWestern Oghuz Turkic
BilingualismRussian in Azerbaijan, Persian in Iran
Statistical Data38% in Azerbaijan speak Russian; 20% in Iran understand Azerbaijani

Religious Landscape in Azerbaijan

The predominant religious adherence among Azerbaijanis is to Twelver Shi’a Islam. However, there are also pockets of Sunni Muslims, primarily following the Shafi'i school, much like other Muslim communities in the adjacent North Caucasus region. Apart from Muslims, there are religious minorities such as Christians, Jews, and Bahá'ís. A segment of the Azerbaijani population in the Republic of Azerbaijan identifies as non-religious. Among the Shi’a Muslim Azerbaijanis, a small subset follows the Naqshbandi Sufi tradition. Approximately 5,000 Christian Azerbaijanis reside in the Republic of Azerbaijan, most of whom are recent converts. In some rural areas, Azerbaijanis still hold onto animistic or Zoroastrian-influenced spiritual beliefs. These include the reverence for specific natural sites and elements like fire, trees, and rocks. Despite the Islamic majority, Azerbaijani society often partakes in celebrations of other religious traditions, such as Norouz and Christmas. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there has been a resurgence of Islamic beliefs among Azerbaijanis, particularly among the younger generation.

Table: Religious Demographics among Azerbaijanis
Major ReligionTwelver Shi’a Islam
MinoritiesSunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahá'ís
UnaffiliatedPresent but unknown number
Sufi InfluenceNaqshbandi Sufis
ChristiansAround 5,000 in Republic of Azerbaijan
Traditional BeliefsAnimist or Zoroastrian-influenced in rural areas
Religious PluralismCelebration of Norouz, Christmas

Christianity in Azerbaijan

Christianity holds minority status within the religious landscape of Azerbaijan. Estimates suggest that the Christian population ranges from 280,000 to 450,000 individuals, accounting for approximately 3.1% to 4.8% of the total population. The majority of this Christian demographic belongs to Russian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic denominations. There is also a smaller Protestant community, most of whom have converted from a Muslim background.

Historical Background

Christianity was introduced to the region that is modern-day Azerbaijan in the early years of the Common Era. The initial phase of Christian spread is attributed to Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, the same figures responsible for the Christianization of Armenia. They disseminated Christian teachings under the sanction of the first patriarch of Jerusalem, Yegub.

Table: Christian Denominations in Azerbaijan
Russian OrthodoxPrimarily composed of ethnic Russians
Georgian OrthodoxPrimarily composed of ethnic Georgians
Armenian ApostolicCurrently limited to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
ProtestantMainly converts from Muslim backgrounds
OtherIncludes Catholic, Molokan, and Albanian-Udi communities

Eastern Orthodoxy in Azerbaijan

Eastern Orthodox Christians in Azerbaijan primarily consist of ethnic Russians and Georgians. These communities fall under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Eparchy of Baku and Azerbaijan, which has its center in the Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral in Baku. As of 1998, about 2.5% of the Azerbaijani population belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church. Important Russian Orthodox landmarks include the Church of Michael Archangel and the Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral. Another historically significant church, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, was demolished by the communists in 1937.

Oriental Orthodoxy in Azerbaijan

The primary adherents of Oriental Orthodox Christianity in Azerbaijan are ethnic Armenians associated with the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, this community has no official presence outside the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Due to the ongoing conflicts and tensions, Armenian churches within Azerbaijan remain closed, and their members have largely emigrated. During the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Armenian Apostolic Church faced several instances of vandalism across Azerbaijan. The Armenian Church of St. Gregory Illuminator was set ablaze during the Baku pogrom in 1990 but was restored in 2004 and now functions as a library.

Other Christian Denominations

Apart from the major Orthodox communities, there are also other Christian denominations present in Azerbaijan:

  • The Catholic Church has a single congregation with a church in Baku that opened in 2007.
  • The Molokans represent a Protestant sect, largely focusing on the Bible and rejecting traditional church hierarchy. They have eleven communities in Azerbaijan.
  • There is also a German Lutheran community, though it is likely quite small, numbering fewer than 7,000 adherents.
  • The Albanian-Udi Church, established in 2003, represents the Udi ethnic minority in Azerbaijan.
  • There is also a Georgian Orthodox community with its own churches.

According to Rev. Elnur Jabiyev, former general secretary of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan, there were eight or nine evangelical churches in Baku up to the year 2010. However, these congregations have since faced difficulties in openly convening due to government restrictions.

Table: Other Christian Denominations and Their Status
CatholicOne church in Baku, opened in 2007
MolokanEleven communities, Protestant background
LutheranGerman community, fewer than 7,000 members
Albanian-UdiRepresents Udi ethnic minority, established in 2003
Georgian OrthodoxHas its own churches
EvangelicalEight or nine churches existed in Baku up to 1998 (e.g. GGWO)


The Azerbaijanis are a Turkic ethnic group with a diverse cultural and religious background. Predominantly found in the Republic of Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran, they have also spread to neighboring regions. Their language, Azerbaijani, has Turkic roots and is primarily based on Western Oghuz Turkic dialects. In terms of religion, while most Azerbaijanis adhere to Twelver Shi’a Islam, there are also various religious minorities within the community. Over the years, the community has shown linguistic adaptability, often becoming

bilingual depending on their country of residence. This adaptability also extends to their religious practices, with increasing numbers returning to Islamic traditions, especially among the youth, while also celebrating other religious and cultural traditions. Overall, the Azerbaijanis are a diverse and complex community with a rich tapestry of cultural, linguistic, and religious influences.

Table: Summary Overview of Azerbaijanis
Ethnic OriginTurkic
Primary LocationsRepublic of Azerbaijan, Northwestern Iran
Major ReligionTwelver Shi’a Islam
Cultural InfluencesPersian, Turkic, Iranian, Caucasian
Language ProficiencyBilingual: Russian in Azerbaijan, Persian in Iran
Religious MinoritiesSunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahá'ís
Recent TrendsResurgence in Islamic beliefs among the younger generation

The ethnic group presents an exemplary case of how different cultural, linguistic, and religious elements can coalesce into a unique identity. Future studies may delve further into the rapidly changing dynamics of this group, particularly in the realm of language and religion.

Leave a Reply