Azerbaijan has not adopted a new constitution to replace its 1978 Soviet-era constitution, although this document has been revised or superseded by the 1991 Act of Independence and by presidential and parliamentary decree. The head of state is a directly elected president, whose authority was expanded in 1993.
The 450-member Supreme Soviet was abolished in 1992 and replaced with a 50-member National Assembly (Milli Majlis). Azerbaijan experienced political instability after independence: its first two elected presidents were deposed, partly as a result of popular protests over Azerbaijan's military failures in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Major political parties include the pro-Turkish, nationalist Azerbaijan Popular Front, the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party of Azerbaijan (banned in 1991 but relegalised in 1993), the Muslim Democratic Party, and the Azerbaijani Movement for Democratic Reforms.
In 1992 Azerbaijan joined the United Nations, and in 1993 it formally became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Armed forces and security
Azerbaijan formed a national military in 1991, including an army (consisting partly of personnel and materiel from the Soviet 4th Army), navy, and air force. Russian forces completed their withdrawal from Azerbaijan in 1993. Azerbaijan's navy serves under the command of the CIS. A conscription law requires at least 17 months of service from adult males. The conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh dominated Azerbaijani military planning during the 1990s.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for internal security and general police work, was reorganized in 1993. Crime rates in Azerbaijan rose during the 1990s, exacerbated by the social dislocation that accompanied the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Education at all levels is supported by taxes levied upon working people and firms and is available without tuition charge. The country has had obligatory eight-year education since 1959. In the Soviet period illiteracy was virtually eradicated, and a network of institutes of higher education, research centres, and similar bodies was established.
The Azerbaijan State University (founded 1919), located in Baku, has 12 faculties; it offers evening and correspondence courses. The Azerbaijan Polytechnic Institute (founded 1950) is also in Baku. The Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences (founded 1945) coordinates the activities of research centres, including institutes of cybernetics, physics, theoretical problems of chemical technology, petrochemical processes, and genetics.
Health and welfare
Azerbaijan has a well-established health service with some specialized clinics and medical research institutes. Medical services, provided free to patients, are supported by general taxation on individual workers and by taxes on income of factories and other firms. Even so, levels of social and cultural benefits are comparatively low.
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