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Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus and variously considered part of Europe or Asia. It borders Russia and Georgia to the north, Armenia to the west, and Iran in the south.
Minorities in Azerbaijan include Lezghins, Russians, Avars, Turks, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Georgians.
Most inhabitants are Shia Muslim, although a long history of Russian colonialism has left many with very liberal, laisez-faire attitudes towards Islam and the country is staunchly secular.
The government is a kleptocracy of the benevolent Aliyev family and their allies.
While the opposition is often sacked or imprisoned, it is not as severely authoritarian compared to Turkmenistan, Iran or the Russian Caucasus.
Following independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has allowed western companies to develop its neglected, but extensive, oil fields, especially since the mid-2000s.
Despite this and related investments, corruption is pervasive, and the government, which eliminated presidential term limits in a 2009 referendum, has been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses.
Although the poverty rate has been reduced and infrastructure investment has increased substantially in recent years, reforms have not adequately addressed weaknesses in most government institutions, particularly in the education and health sectors, as well as the the local judicial system.
The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which is part of Azerbaijan, has been the subject of a war with Armenia that has left it a de facto independent republic, which is not internationally recognized by any UN member including, ironically, Armenia which "supports" it.
Azerbaijan has lost control of 20% of its territory and must support some 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of the conflict.