Abstract. Among the three trans-Caucasian republics, Azerbaijan is currently the most challenging, due to its socio-economic, ethnic, religious and geo-political features. Its internal problems remain dysfunctional institutions, corruption of the ruling political class, and a growing economic and social gap, which is leaving behind a widespread and grinding poverty over a tumultuous productive development anyhow the country boasts. There is a two-fold aspect of Azerbaijani identity: a Turkic ethnicity; and a membership in the Islamic community. Present Azerbaijan, following a long period of Soviet atheist ideology, is still a strongly secular state. Today’s several mosques are made subject to registration, religion remains excluded from school teaching, and sale of all religious publications takes place under a strict government control. Its secularism, however, did not prevent a growth of Muslim feeling by people.
Azerbaijan is swinging between two strong regional influences, Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran. The Turkish archetype allure evokes that pan-Turkism historically being opposed by Russia over its borders, but today worrying many governments that have achieved independence in the same area. On the other hand, the Azerbaijanis have a common cultural heritage with Iran. Another issue of new relevance worries Bakı rulers: a spillover by Salafist and Wahhābi groups into national boundaries. A thorn hurts the nation heart, as well: the situation of a geographically split territory (the Naxçıvan Autonomous Republic is isolated from the rest of the motherland) and a region, Nagorno-Karabakh, currently occupied by Armenian troops since the early 90’s, although Azerbaijani sovereign rights are recognized by the international community. The related Armenian-Azerbaijani War has also left a legacy of 26,000 deaths and one million refugees. Nagorno-Karabakh is the dominant theme, because Azerbaijani territorial integrity is regarded as crucial to preserve national identity.
Key words: Azerbaijan; Bakı; Nagorno-Karabakh; Artsakh; Naxçıvan; Islam; secularism; Shiism; Salafism; Wahhābism; Turkey; Iran
Architect, independent scholar of Political Islam, writer, director and manager of the website www.islamicworld.it.