During the late 1980s, many Azerbaijanis were hopeful that independence would return as a result of the Soviet Union’s decline. On September 23, 1989, Azerbaijan was among the first Soviet republics to adopt its own Constitutional Law on Sovereignty.
Yet, Azerbaijan’s independence did not come easily. On January 20, 1990, with the approval of the then-Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet troops marched into Bakı to suppress the efforts for independence. Their actions, conducted with unusual ferocity, left hundreds of Azerbaijanis dead and injured. The day has gone down in Azerbaijani history as “Black January.”
In the end, however, Azerbaijan’s pro-Moscow regime grew weaker and by 1991, popular pressure led the country to break away from Soviet rule and declare its independence.
On August 30, 1991, Azerbaijan’s Parliament adopted the Declaration on the Restoration of the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and on October 18, 1991, the Constitutional Act on the State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan was approved. November 1991 marked the beginning of international recognition of Azerbaijan’s independence. In 1992, the country became a member of
the United Nations and Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), now known as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In 1988, that is, still during the time of the Soviet Union, Armenia began to assert illegal territorial claims against Azerbaijan. By 1989, as a result of “ethnic cleansing,” about 250,000 Azerbaijanis - indigenous population of Armenia - were deported from that country. By 1993, receiving strong external military assistance, Armenia occupied around 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. The cruelest outcome of this occupation was the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Azerbaijanis – about 50,000 from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and about 700,000 from the seven surrounding regions. As a result, around 1 million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons. Since 1994 a ceasefire has been in force between the two countries. Peace negotiations have been underway under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group, but to date without any success.
In October 1993, Heydar Aliyev, the Speaker of the Parliament, was elected President. Under Aliyev the government was able to prevent an impending civil war, reestablish stability, strengthen the civil legal order, institute positive economic reforms, as well as establish foreign policy directed toward strengthening Azerbaijan’s positions in the region and its full-fledged integration into the international community.
In January 2001, the Republic of Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe.
On October 15, 2003 Ilham Aliyev was elected the President of Azerbaijan. Former President Heydar Aliyev passed away on December 12, 2003. President Ilham Aliyev spared no effort to continue the policy of his predecessor to modernize and enrich the country, to transform it into a modern, economically, and politically strong state. Political and economic reforms energetically carried out under his leadership made Azerbaijan the island of stability and prosperity in the region.