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|Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 8 December 2003
Azerbaijan has a growing and youthful population. The Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanis (Azeris), who make up more than four-fifths of the country's population, are predominantly Shiite Muslims. They combine in themselves the dominant Turkic strain, which flooded Azerbaijan especially during the Oguz Seljuq migrations of the 11th century, with mixtures of older inhabitants-Iranians and others-who had lived in Transcaucasia since ancient times. About 13 million Azerbaijanis live abroad, most of them in Iran.
The Azerbaijani language belongs to the southwestern (Oguz or Turkmen) group of the Turkic languages. There are four main dialect divisions. The literary tradition dates to the 14th century. The Arabic script was used until the 20th century; the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in 1939. In 1992 the Azerbaijani government switched from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet as its official orthography.
Russians and Armenians make up sizable minorities in Azerbaijan, but militant nationalism, political uncertainty, and the growing strength of Islam is forcing many of these minorities to become refugees and return to their homelands.
In detached Nakhichevan almost all the inhabitants are Azerbaijanis, whereas the population of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, lying wholly within Azerbaijan, is predominantly Armenian. The subunits of Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh were established by the Soviet Union to minimize friction between the two nationalities, but Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis each claim both areas.
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