Azerbaijan (toponym)

Historically, the name "Azerbaijan" was used to refer to the region located south of the Aras River- today known as Iranian Azerbaijan, located in northwestern Iran.[1][2] The region in the north of the Aras River, which is today called the Republic of Azerbaijan, had not been included within the geographical boundaries of Azerbaijan until 1918. Historians and geographers usually referred to the region north of the Aras River as Aran.[3][4][5] On May 28, 1918, following the collapse of the Russian Empire, a group of political activists in Aran decided to change the name of their region to Azerbaijan by calling it Azerbaijan People’s Republic. Historians and scholars have argued that the Pan-Turkic agenda drove the name change.[6]

Pre-Islamic evidenceEdit

The name of the region north of the Aras River knows as the Republic of Azerbaijan was called Caucasian Albania by ancient Greek geographers and historians. For example, Strabo (64 or 63 BC – c. AD 24), a Greek geographer, identifies Albania as a separate territory from Atropatene (the ancient name of Azerbaijan) and describes it as “a land extending from the Caspian Sea to the Alazani River and the land of Mede Atropatene to the south.”[7]
Movses Kaghankatvatsi, the author of the book the History of the Country of Albania, which covers the period between 4th century AD and 10th century AD, describes the boundaries of Albania as one that does not go beyond the Aras River.[8]

Islamic periodEdit

In addition to Greek works, there are numerous Muslim geographers and historians that have provided information on the geographical boundaries of Aran and Azerbaijan. For instance, Ibn Hawqal, a 10th-century Muslim geographer, draws a map of Azerbaijan and Aran with the Aras River as the natural boundary between these two regions.[9] Estakhri, Another Muslim geographer from the 10th century identifies Aran and Azerbaijan as two separate regions.[10] In his book, the Mu'jam ul-Buldān (Dictionary of Countries), Yaqut al-Hamawi, a Muslim biographer and geographer of the 14th century, clearly separates the geographical boundaries of Aran and Azerbaijan:
Aran, an Iranian name, is a vast territory with many cities, one of which is Janzeh. This is the same town that people refer to as Ganja and also, Bardha’a, Shamkor, and Bilaqan. Separating Azerbaijan and Aran is a river called Aras. Everything north and west of this river is Aran and everything else located in the south is Azerbaijan.[11]
Abu al-Fida, a historian of the 14th century, specifies that Azerbaijan and Aran are two different regions. In his book, Borhan-e Qati, Borhan Khalaf-e Tabrizi, an author of the 17th century, writes that “Aras is the name of a famous river” that “separates Aran from Azerbaijan.”[12]

Name change in 1918Edit

Following the Russo-Iranian wars of the 19th century, and the consequent Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828, the Aras River was set to be the boundary between Iran and Russia. As a result, the entire Caucasus was incorporated into the Russian Empire. Given the military weakness of Iran, the Turkish-speaking Muslims of the Caucasus, who were unhappy with Russia and had no hope of protection from Iran, turned to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire who claimed to be the champion of the Muslim world increased its support for Muslims in the Caucasus. At the same time, in the late 19th century, ideas on Islamic unity and Turkish unity had gained popularity among Ottoman intellectuals. It resulted in the establishment of the Committee of Union and Progress in 1889 which called for the preservation of all peoples under the Ottoman Empire around the three pillars of Islam, Turkishness, and Caliphate.[13]

In 1911, a group of Muslim Turkish-speaker intellectuals founded the Muslim Democratic Musavat Party, a small and secret underground organization to work for political unity among Muslims and Turkish-speaking peoples. Influenced by the Young Turks ideas, the leaders of Organizations were sympathetic to Pan-Turkism.[14] On June 17, 1917, Musavat merged with the Party of Turkic Federalists, another national-democratic right-wing organization, and adopted a new name, Musavat Party of Turkic Federalists. At this time, the main goal of Musavat leaders was to create a united Muslim state under the protection of the Ottoman Empire. After the October Revolution in 1917, when Musavat leaders failed to reach an agreement with Caucasian Bolsheviks, they decided to establish their own government and declare independence. Thus, on May 28, 1918, Musavat leaders declared independence under the name of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic.[15]

Some scholars argue that the reason behind choosing the name Azerbaijan over Aran was because of the demands of the Turks (Ottomans who had a profound influence on Musavat leaders). Naming Aran as Azerbaijan could provide sufficient justification for the political unity of Turkish-speaking people of South Caucasus and northwest Iran under the name of Azerbaijan. It could facilitate the process of Azerbaijan annexation to the Ottoman Empire (later Turkey).[16]

Reactions in IranEdit

Naming Aran as Azerbaijan caused surprise, confusion, and rage in Iran, especially, among Iranian Azeri intellectuals. Mohammad Khiabani, an Iranian Azeri political activist and some other Iranian Azeri intellectuals recommended changing the name of Iranian Azerbaijan to Azadistan (the Land of freedom) to protest the name change.[17] Ahmad Kasravi, an Iranian Azeri historian, also got surprised when he heard about the name change, although it seems that he was unaware of the motives behind choosing the name Azerbaijan. In his book, Forgotten Rulers, he wrote:

“It is astonishing that Aran is named Azerbaijan now. Azerbaijan or Azerbaigan has always been the name of the territory that is bigger and more famous than its neighbor, Aran, and the two territories have always been distinct from each other. To this day, we have not been able to understand that why our brethren in Aran who strived for a free rule for their country would want to put aside the ancient and historical name of their country and transgresses towards Azerbaijan [‘s name]?”[18]

The decision to use the name "Azerbaijan" drew protests from Iran. According to Tadeusz Swietochowski:[19]

Although the proclamation restricted its claim to the territory north of the Araz River, the use of the name Azerbaijan would soon bring objections from Iran. In Teheran, suspicions were aroused that the Republic of Azerbaijan served as an Ottoman device for detaching the Tabriz province from Iran. Likewise, the national revolutionary Jangali movement in Gilan, while welcoming the independence of every Muslim land as a "source of joy," asked in its newspaper if the choice of the name Azerbaijan implied the new republic's desire to join Iran. If so, they said, it should be stated clearly, otherwise, Iranians would be opposed to calling that republic Azerbaijan. Consequently, to allay Iranian fears, the Azerbaijani government would accommodatingly use the term Caucasian Azerbaijan in its documents for circulation abroad.

"Southern Azerbaijan"Edit

"Southern Azerbaijan" is a Soviet-invented word,[20] originally used to lay the Soviet Union's territorial claim on Iranian historical region of Azerbaijan in line with a propaganda campaign to construct a national narrative.[21][22] Though documents reveal that Moscow was behind instructing such propaganda work, there is also evidence of Soviet internal dissent to this policy, as Sergey Kavtaradze warned Vyacheslav Molotov that "renaming of Iranian Azerbaijan into Southern Azerbaijan... would be inexpedient and fraught with the risk of unwanted consequences".[23] The Soviets continued to promote this word even after demise of Ja'far Pishevari and the puppet state Azerbaijan People's Government.[22]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the "southern" theme was revived again.[22] Utilization of the term has been an integral part of a nation-building attempt by the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan and its government.[22][24] Official history thought at schools and universities tends to rediscover the separation of the nation when Russo-Persian Wars took place in the early 19th century, and a revisionist interpretation of events to show "constant struggle of the Azerbaijanis for their unity".[24] As a result, usage of the term Iranian Azerbaijan would automatically adjust Republic of Azerbaijan to Iran and undermine justification for independence of the former, and is thus.[24] Certain political circles in Baku welcome the so-called Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement.[24]

Statements by historian George BournoutianEdit

According to the historian George Bournoutian in his The 1820 Russian Survey of the Khanate of Shirvan: A Primary Source on the Demography and Economy of an Iranian Province prior to its Annexation by Russia. (2016, Gibb Memorial Trust.);

p. xvi

"As noted, in order to construct an Azerbaijani national history and identity based on the territorial definition of a nation, as well as to reduce the influence of Islam and Iran, the Azeri nationalists, prompted by Moscow devised an "Azeri" alphabet, which replaced the Arabo-Persian script. In the 1930s a number of Soviet historians, including the prominent Russian Orientalist, Ilya Petrushevskii, were instructed by the Kremlin to accept the totally unsubstantiated notion that the territory of the former Iranian khanates (except Yerevan, which had become Soviet Armenia) was part of an Azerbaijani nation. Petrushevskii's two important studies dealing with the South Caucasus, therefore, use the term Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani in his works on the history of the region from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Other Russian academics went even further and claimed that an Azeri nation had existed from ancient times and had continued to the present. Since all the Russian surveys and almost all nineteenth-century Russian primary sources referred to the Muslims who resided in the South Caucasus as "Tatars" and not "Azerbaijanis", Soviet historians simply substituted Azerbaijani for Tatars. Azeri historians and writers, starting in 1937, followed suit and began to view the three-thousand-year history of the region as that of Azerbaijan. The pre-Iranian, Iranian, and Arab eras were expunged. Anyone who lived in the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan was classified as Azeri; hence the great Iranian poet Nezami, who had written only in Persian, became the national poet of Azerbaijan."

p. xvii;

"Although after Stalin's death arguments rose between Azerbaijani historians and Soviet Iranologists dealing with the history of the region in ancient times (specifically the era of the Medes), no Soviet historian dared to question the use of the term Azerbaijan or Azerbaijani in modern times. As late as 1991, the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, published a book by an Azeri historian, in which it not only equated the "Tatars" with the present-day Azeris, but the author, discussing the population numbers in 1842, also included Nakhichevan and Ordubad in "Azerbaijan". The author, just like Petrushevskii, totally ignored the fact that between 1828 and 1921, Nakhichivan and Ordubad were first part of the Armenian Province and then part of the Yerevan guberniia and had only become part of Soviet Azerbaijan, some eight decades later."

p. xv;

"Although the overwhelming number of nineteenth-century Russian and Iranian, as well as present-day European historians view the Iranian province of Azarbayjan and the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan as two separate geographical and political entities, modern Azeri historians and geographers view it as a single state that has been separated into "northern" and "southern" sectors and which will be united in the future."

p. xviii;

"Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the current Azeri historians have not only continued to use the terms "northern" and "southern" Azerbaijan, but also assert that the present-day Armenian Republic was a part of northern Azerbaijan. In their fury over what they view as the "Armenian occupation" of Nagorno-Karabakh [which incidentally was an autonomous Armenian region within Soviet Azerbaijan], Azeri politicians and historians deny any historic Armenian presence in the South Caucasus and add that all Armenian architectural monuments located in the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan are not Armenian but [Caucasian] Albanian."

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ EI. (2011) [1987]. "AZERBAIJAN". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. III, Fasc. 2-3. pp. 205–257. AZERBAIJAN (Āḏarbāy[e]jān), historical region of northwestern Iran, east of Lake Urmia, since the Achaemenid era. The name Azerbaijan was also adopted for Arrān, historically an Iranian region, by anti-Russian separatist forces of the area when, on 26 May 1918, they declared its independence and called it the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. To allay Iranian concerns, the Azerbaijan government used the term “Caucasian Azerbaijan” in the documents for circulation abroad. This new entity consisted of the former Iranian Khanates of Arrān, including Karabagh, Baku, Shirvan, Ganja, Talysh (Ṭāleš), Derbent (Darband), Kuba, and Nakhichevan (Naḵjavān), which had been annexed to Russia by the treaties of Golestān (1813) and Torkamānčāy (1828) under the rubric of Eastern Transcaucasia.
  2. ^ Bournoutian, George (2018). Armenia and Imperial Decline: The Yerevan Province, 1900-1914. Routledge. p. xiv. Prior to 1918, the term “Azerbaijan” applied only to the Iranian province of Azarbayjan.
  3. ^ Reza, Enayatollah (2014). Azerbaijan and Aran : (Caucasian Albania). London: Bennett & Bloom. ISBN 978-1908755186.
  4. ^ Rouben, Galichian (2012). Clash of histories in the South Caucasus : redrawing the map of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran. London: Bennett & Bloom. ISBN 978-1908755018.
  5. ^ Bolukbasi, Suha (2011). Azerbaijan : a Political History. New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1780767598.
  6. ^ Reza, Enayatollah (2014). Azerbaijan and Aran : (Caucasian Albania). London: Bennett & Bloom. pp. 136–143. ISBN 978-1908755186.
  7. ^ Strabo (2014). The Geography of Strabo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1107038257.
  8. ^ Kaghankatvatsi, Movses (1861). Istoriia Agvan [History of Aghvanak (Albania)]. Sankt Petersburg. p. 145-148.
  9. ^ ابن حوقل (1345). صورة الارض. تهران: انتشارات بنیاد فرهنگ ایران. p. 128.
  10. ^ اصطخری, ابواسحاق ابراهیم (1347). مسالک و ممالک (ترجمه فارسی ed.). تهران: بنگاه ترجمه و نشر کتاب. p. 167.
  11. ^ حموی, یاقوت (1906). معجم البلدان. قاهره: مطبعة السعادة. p. 170.
  12. ^ خلف تبریزی, محمد حسین (1335). برهان قاطع. تهران: ابن سینا. p. 41.
  13. ^ Akçam, Taner (2004). From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide. London & New York: Zed Books. p. 132.
  14. ^ Bolukbasi, Suha (2011). Azerbaijan: a Political History. New York: I.B. Tauris. p. 28. ISBN 978-1780767598.
  15. ^ "Müsavat partiyasının Aran üçün Azərbaycan adını seçməsi haqda". Badkubeh.
  16. ^ Reza, Enayatollah (2014). Azerbaijan and Aran : (Caucasian Albania). London: Bennett & Bloom. p. 136-143. ISBN 978-1908755186.
  17. ^ Parvīn, N. (2011). "ĀZĀDĪSTĀN". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. III, Fasc. 2. p. 177. The first issue of the magazine was brought out on 15 Jawzā 1299/5 June 1920, one month after the historic province had been renamed “Āzādīstān” (Land of freedom) by Ḵīābānī and his followers as a gesture of protest against the giving of the name “Azerbaijan” to the part of Caucasia centered on Bākū.
  18. ^ کسروی, احمد (1335). شهریاران گمنام. تهران. p. 265.
  19. ^ Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia, and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). pg 69
  20. ^ Lornejad, Siavash; Doostzadeh, Ali (2012). Arakelova, Victoria; Asatrian, Garnik (eds.). On the modern politicization of the Persian poet Nezami Ganjavi (PDF). Caucasian Centre for Iranian Studies. p. 10.
  21. ^ Yilmaz, Harun (2015). National Identities in Soviet Historiography: The Rise of Nations Under Stalin. Routledge. p. 173. ISBN 978-1317596646.
  22. ^ a b c d Astourian, Stephan H. (2005), "State, Homeland and Diaspora", in Atabaki, Touraj; Mehendale, Sanjyot (eds.), Central Asia and the Caucasus: Transnationalism and Diaspora, Routledge, p. 99, ISBN 978-0-415-33260-6
  23. ^ Fawcett, Louise (2014), "Revisiting the Iranian Crisis of 1946: How Much More Do We Know?", Iranian Studies, 47 (3): 379–399, doi:10.1080/00210862.2014.880630
  24. ^ a b c d Morozova, Irina (2005), "Contemporary Azerbaijani Historiography on the Problem of "Southern Azerbaijan" after World War II", Iran & the Caucasus, 9 (1): 85–120, JSTOR 4030908

Further readingEdit