Azerbaijan (äˌzĕrbĪjänˈ, ăˌzər–) [key], Iran. Azarbayejan, region, c.34,280 sq mi (88,785 sq km), NW Iran, divided into the provinces of East Azerbaijan (1996 pop. 3,325,540), West Azerbaijan (1996 pop. 2,496,320), and Ardabil (1996 pop. 1,168,011). The chief cities include Tabriz (the capital of East Azerbaijan), Urmia (the capital of West Azerbaijan), Ardebil (the capital of Ardabil), Maragheh, and Khoy (Khvoy). The region is bounded in the N by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan (from which it is separated by the Aras River) and in the W by Turkey and Iraq.
Azerbaijan, which includes Lake Urmia, is mountainous, with deep valleys and fertile lowlands. Grains, fruits, cotton, rice, nuts, and tobacco are grown. Wool, carpets, and metalware are produced. Industries include food processing, cement, textiles, electric equipment, and sugar milling. An oil pipeline runs through the region. The majority of the people of Azerbaijan are Turkic-speaking Azeris, who are Shiite Muslims. There are also Armenians, Kurds, Jews, and Persians.
In ancient times Azerbaijan was dominated by the kings of Van and Urartu (in Armenia). By the 8th cent. B.C. it had been settled by the Medes (see Media), and it later formed the province of Media Minor in the Persian Empire. Azerbaijan is the traditional birthplace (7th cent. B.C.) of Zoroaster, the religious teacher and prophet. After Alexander the Great conquered Persia, he appointed (328 B.C.) as governor the Persian general Atropates, who eventually established an independent dynasty. Later, the region, which came to be called Atropatene or Media Atropatene, was much disputed. In the 2d cent. B.C. it was taken by the Parthian Mithradates I, and c.A.D. 226 it was captured by the Sassanid Ardashir I. Shapur II enlarged Azerbaijan by adding territory in the north.
Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor, briefly held the region in the 7th cent., just before the Arabs conquered it; they converted most of its people to Islam and made it part of the caliphate. The Seljuk Turks dominated the region in the 11th and 12th cent., and the Mongols under Hulagu Khan established (13th cent.) their capital at Maragheh. After being conquered by Timur in the 14th cent., Tabriz became an important provincial capital of the Timurid empire. It was out of Ardebil that the Safavid dynasty arose (c.1500) to renew the state of Persia. There was fierce fighting between the Ottoman Empire and Persia for Azerbaijan. After brief Ottoman control, Abbas I, shah of Persia, regained control of the region in 1603.
Azerbaijan remained entirely in the possession of the shahs until the northern part was ceded to Russia in the treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmanchai (1828). The remainder was organized as a province of Persia; in 1938 the province was divided into two parts. In 1941, Soviet troops occupied Iranian Azerbaijan; they were withdrawn (May, 1946) after a Soviet-supported, autonomous local government had been created. Iranian troops occupied the region in Nov., 1946, and the autonomous movement was suppressed.