Azerbaijan (i/ˌæzərbaɪˈdʒɑːn/ az-ər-by-jahn; Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan [ɑzærbɑjdʒɑn]), officially the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan Respublikası), is a transcontinental country in the Caucasus region, situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. The exclave of Nakhchivan is bounded by Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, while having a short border with Turkey in the northwest.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic proclaimed its independence in 1918 and became the first Muslim-majority democratic and secular republic. It was also the first Muslim-majority country to have operas, theaters and modern universities. The country was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence in October 1991, before the official dissolution of the USSR. Earlier, in September 1991, the disputed Armenian-majority Nagorno-Karabakh region re-affirmed its willingness to create a separate state as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The region, effectively independent since the beginning of the Nagorno Karabakh War in 1991, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan until a final solution to its status is found through negotiations facilitated by the OSCE.
Azerbaijan is a unitary constitutional presidential republic. The country is a member state of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. It is one of the six independent Turkic-speaking states, being an active member of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community. Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 158 countries and holds membership in 38 international organizations. It is one of the founding members of GUAM, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. A member of the United Nations since 1992, Azerbaijan was elected to membership in the newly established Human Rights Council by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 May 2006 (the term of office began on 19 June 2006). Azerbaijan is also a member state of the Non-Aligned Movement, holds observer status in World Trade Organization and is a correspondent at the International Telecommunication Union.
The Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion, and all major political forces in the country are secularist, but the majority of people and some opposition movements adhere to Shia Islam. Azerbaijan has a high level of human development which ranks on par with most Eastern European countries. It has a high rate of economic development and literacy, as well as a low rate of unemployment. However, corruption in Azerbaijan is widespread, especially in the public service. The National Assembly abolished the presidential term limits in the controversial 2009 referendum. The ruling party, New Azerbaijan Party, has been accused of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.
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