April 1993. Armenian soldier, aiming at his position at a frontline with Azerbaijan troops not far from the town of Hadrut, Nagorny Karabakh. AFP
Azerbaijan, has a long history of invasions, migration, cultural and political influences. After almost two centuries under Russian rule, Azerbaijani nationalists in 1917 fell out with the new Bolshevik government in Moscow. The nationalists proclaimed Azerbaijan's independence in 1918, but the country was taken over by the Red Army in 1920. During its 71 years in the Soviet Union, the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic was strictly controlled, especially under the rule of J. Stalin (1926-53) and Azerbaijan Communist Party leader M. J. Baghirov, who oversaw forced collectivization and Stalinist purges. In the shadow of urbanization and industrialization, extensive repressions continued during 1940s. In parallel with deportations in Baltic states, West Ukraine and Moldova, the Caucasus suffered from „cleansing" of Soviet borders and population transfer. During 1949, more than 100 000 people of various ethnic backgrounds were deported from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia to Kazakhstan and Siberia. In all, some 120 000 were deported from Azerbaijan during first decades of the Soviet era. In late 1980s and early 1990s, the Soviet Union continued its bloody interference in Azerbaijan's affairs and in January 1990 crushed pro-independence protests in Baku, killing 133 civilians. Today's Azerbaijan remains a weak democracy with some authoritarian tendencies and, despite abundant natural resources, has failed to fully overcome its Communist past.