Azerbaijan’s unique geographic situation between the high mountains of the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea has in many respects determined the distinctive aspects of its historical development. From time immemorial the crossroads for caravan routes for trade between Orient and Occident, the region has been the meeting place for different civilizations, nations and cultures.
Azerbaijan’s unique geographic location determined the distinctive aspects of its historical development
Its favorable nature and mild climate enabled Azerbaijan to become one of the birthplaces of mankind. It was here that the Azikh Cave (Azıx Mağarası) was found. Discovered in 1960s, the cave is an impressive six-cave complex known as a living site of stone-age man. It lies about 3 km northeast of the village of Tuğ in the Füzuli district of Azerbaijan. Extensively examined by archaeologists, the cave is considered to be the site of one of the most ancient proto-human habitations in Eurasia. A Neanderthal-style jawbone found here by Mammadali Huseynov in 1968 and now kept at the Academy of Sciences in Bakı, is thought to be over 300,000 years old and thus one of the oldest proto-human remains found in this part of the world.
Over the course of history many cultures and communities have developed in the region inhabited by the Azerbaijanis, and evidence of their former glory can be found in many of the country’s great cities.
Each one of these cities represents a different chapter in the history of the country. For example, almost 40,000 year-old petroglyphs in Qobustan, about 60 km south of the capital Bakı, show goats, wild bulls caught in traps, pigs, sheep, stallions and domesticated dogs, not to mention images of dances like the Yalli, which to this day is still alive all over the Orient. The most important link in this chain of evidence is the representation of boats constructed according to a very specific method. The world-famous Norwegian scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl did a comparative study of this style of boat and came to the astonishing conclusion that this similarity in construction was evidence of a connection between Azerbaijan and Scandinavia. He believed that the west coast of the Caspian Sea was the cradle of civilization.
In 2007, Qobustan, protected as a historic landmark since 1967, was included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.
The first states in the area of historical Azerbaijan (which in those days included not only the territory of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan, but also the northwest provinces of what is now Iran) included Aratta (28th century BCE), the Lullubite Kingdom (23rd century BCE) and the Guti Kingdom (22nd century BCE) – all established in the Lake Urmiya region. Peoples of these ancient states spoke Turkic languages and were fire worshipers and followers of one of the oldest religions in the world – Zoroastrianism.
The name “Azerbaijan” in its current form is derived from a Turkic collocation, the “Land of noble people, keepers of the fire.” One of the few Zarathustrian places of worship is located in Azerbaijan. Only barely 20 km northeast from Bakı on the Abşeron Peninsula is the town of Suraxanı (Red House) with the ancient fire temple Ateshgah.
In the second half of the 9th century BCE, Manna, a new central state in the Lake Urmiya region, arose in opposition to the two powerful empires, Assyria and Urartu. In the 4th century BCE two Azerbaijani states arose – Caucasian Albania (unrelated to the present-day state of Albania) in the north and Atropatene in the south. The people of the Kingdom of Albania belonged to various nationalities, but the majority of them spoke Turkic languages. In 313 CE the Caucasian Albania accepted Christianity as its state religion, becoming one of the world’s first Christian states. It was an autocephalous catholic state, that is, the Albanian church was independent from other Christian churches. It propagated Christianity among the north Caucasian and Turkic-speaking peoples. The Kingdom of Albania also included the region now known as Nagorno-Karabakh (Dağlıq Qarabağ).