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Assessment for Russians in Azerbaijan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Russians in Azerbaijan, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Azerbaijan Facts
Area:    86,600 sq. km.
Capital:    Baku
Total Population:    7,856,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Russians in Azerbaijan are very unlikely to take collective political action against the Baku government. Their group identity is weak, and they have few collective grievances, little political organization, and no history of collective political action. However, the political and economic influence of the Russian minority has declined over the past 15 years and this could lead to increased tensions. While the group has not experienced any direct government repression, some forms of political discrimination have been noted; it is also possible that such discrimination may increase in the future, as indicated by recent laws passed to augment Azeri at the expense of Russian. In addition, during the 1990s Azeri elite and public opinion was often hostile to Russia for seeming to take Armenia's side in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which nominally remains part of Azerbaijan.

If warfare breaks out again over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which remains a distinct possibility, the status of ethnic Russians may be adversely affected. Significantly, Baku seems to be losing interest in Russia's diplomacy after Moscow weakened its support for the peace process at the "Denver Summit" where the leaders of Russia, the United States, and France discussed the issue. Azerbaijan has begun to look for new allies. In 1999 Azeri officials supported U.S. proposals for constructing pipelines for the transport of Caspian oil through Georgia and Turkey instead of Russia, a position that infuriated Moscow. In the same year the Baku government also offered to host the first American military base on former Soviet territory. In general, however, Russia's diplomacy in the Southern Caucasus has been effective in Baku over the last decade. The ultimate guarantor of the safety of the Russians in Azerbaijan, as well as in other post-Soviet states, is that Russian military presence just hours away. Moscow's concern for its kindred minorities in the "near abroad" has been high, and as long as it remains so, there is little chance of serious mistreatment by the new Aliyev government of its Russian minority.

Analytic Summary

The presence of Russians in Azerbaijan dates back to the Treaty of Turkmenchai in the early 19th century. Russian immigration came mainly in two distinct waves. The first came in the wake of the Treaty in 1828 when tsarist bureaucrats and religious minorities moved there. The second wave of immigration came in response to the discovery and subsequent development of large oil fields in Azerbaijan during the latter half of the 19th century and throughout the Soviet period. The development of these oil fields and the general industrialization of Azerbaijan brought Slavic peoples and other non-Azeris from throughout the empire.

During the Soviet period, Russians (as well as Jews, Armenians and other Slavs) enjoyed an advantaged position in Azerbaijan. Armenians and Russians occupied the key industrial and financial positions in Azerbaijan and considerable resentment was generated towards both groups as a result. Ethnic Azeris in Azerbaijan quickly became an economically disadvantaged majority group. Azeris have resented the policies of russification and imperial control which they claim have damaged Azeri culture. This russification was especially destructive during the Stalinist period, when the Azeri intelligentsia was decimated and the Russian language came to dominate Azeri politics and society. These issues contributed to general frustration with Russia and Russians, as well as resentment for Russia's role in their crisis with the Armenians.

Today, the Russians in Azerbaijan share many traits with Russian minorities in other post-Soviet states: they are clustered predominantly in urban areas (GROUPCON = 1); they are not highly organized around their ethnicity (COHSEX0 = 4); and they have not experienced communal conflict (COMCO98X = 0). There is some degree of political discrimination that has arisen in recent years (POLDIS01-03 = 2), which has manifested itself in few positions of political influence for Russians and legislation that provides preferential treatment to Azeri language; in addition, Russian children face restrictions on schooling in their native language (CULP0300-03 = 2). While Russians spent most of the 1990s as an economically, and to some extent a socially, advantaged group, they now find themselves in a disadvantaged position (ECDIFXX = 2).


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Lexis-Nexis reference 1990-2003

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