Azerbaijan Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Azerbaijan is in the middle of Eurasia, a location that has greatly influenced the history of the nation. In this lesson, we'll explore the ethnic groups of Azerbaijan and see what this means today.


Eastern Europe is a complicated place. Home to dozens of various ethnic groups, invaded by nations and empires looking to control the crossroads of Eurasia, and eventually solidified into formal nations by treaties across history, borders in Eastern Europe have been fluid at best. That means that many nations of this region contain a mixture of ethnic populations. Some consider themselves to be the national ethnic group of a nation. Some are ethnic minorities in one nation, but majorities in another. Some refuse to recognize national borders at all. This has been an issue across Eastern Europe, and Azerbaijan is no exception. The nation of Azerbaijan, located along the Caspian Sea and bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran, has had a long and complicated history. Ethnic struggles have been a part of Azerbaijan's past, a part that has remained in the nation well into the present.


The Azerbaijani People

Let's start with the majority population. By far, the greatest number of people in Azerbaijan identify as belonging to the Azerbaijani ethnic group. In fact, approximately 92% of the total Azerbaijan population are Azerbaijani. This is a Turkic ethnic group, and in fact one of the largest groups of Turkic people in Eastern Europe. Being located in the center of Eurasia, at the global crossroads of people for millennia, it should be no surprise that the Azerbaijani ethnic group has a complex history. It is part Iranian, part from the Caucasus, and part based in indigenous tribes of Eastern Europe, making their language and culture an intricate mix of Eurasian traditions. Most Azerbaijani do, however, practice the shared religion of Shia Islam. While the Azerbaijani people make up the majority of Azerbaijan's population, this ethnic group is also a major segment of other populations as well. Iran, for example, has a substantial Azerbaijani minority within its borders.

The Azerbaijani are a mixture of various ethnicities and cultures from Eastern Europe and Western Asia

Ethnic Minorities

The other roughly 8% of Azerbaijan's population is composed of various ethnic minority groups, many of them descendants of tribes indigenous to Eastern Europe. Again, many borders in this part of the world were somewhat arbitrarily assigned, so many ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan are ethnic majorities of other countries. Most live within strong ethnic communities that are tied to a specific region. For example, one of Azerbaijan's main ethnic minorities are the Talysh, who make up about 1.3% of the total population and are ethnically Iranian. Due to their ethnic and cultural ties to Iran, many Talysh people are pushing for the Lenkaran district, on the southern border of Azerbaijan, to be separated from the nation and either turned into its own Talysh nation or added to Iran. Russian communities, at around 1.3% of the population as well, have raised similar claims.

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