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Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Known for its wealth of crude oil and natural gas reserves, Azerbaijan 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 borderline with Turkey to the northwest.
At 86.6 thousand square kilometers (33.436 thousand sq mi) in total and a population of around 9.4 million, Azerbaijan, with its strategic geopolitical location, has been at the crossroads of several major civilizations over the centuries. Known to have the majority of the climate zones, the country is home to rich and diverse fauna and flora, which are also reflected in the richness of the national cuisine.
The location of human and pre-human habitation that dates back two million years, remnants of Azerbaijan's history include Bronze Age petroglyphs and medieval structures. In modern times, it was the first Muslim-majority country to have operas, theater, and plays. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) also established on May 28, 1918, was the first secular Muslim-majority country built on the principles of a western style democracy with a constitution that granted equal rights to all citizens, including voting right for women. That entity, however, existed only for 23 months as it was invaded and incorporated into the Soviet Union by the Red Army under the name Azerbaijan SSR. At the verge of the Soviet Union's collapse, ethnic strife in Nagorno-Karabakh and Moscow's indifference to the conflict resulted in calls for independence and secession, which culminated in Black January. Subsequently, the ADR's flag was restored as the state flag and, following that, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan emerged as a successor to Azerbaijan SSR on October 18, 1991.
The early years of independence were overshadowed by the Nagorno-Karabakh War with Armenia. By the time of the ceasefire agreement in 1994, Armenia occupied and expelled over half million people from up to 14 percent of the Azerbaijani territory, which included Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories and the enclaves of Karki, Yukhary Askipara, Barkhudarly, and Sofulu. Concerning that, four UNSC resolutions calling on Armenian forces to withdraw from the occupied territories, yet to be implemented. As such, Azerbaijan remains to have one of the highest number of refugee and internally displaced people per capita in the world. Despite that, relative to the other Eastern European and CIS states, it has reached high levels of human development, economic development, literacy rate, as well as a low rate of unemployment, and intentional homicide. With diverse musical traditions, the country also won the 56th annual Eurovision Song Contest and recently launched its first telecommunication satellite. Azerbaijan has increasing global significance in counter-terrorism efforts and as a provider of energy security for Europe, as well as its recent non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.
Today, being one of the six independent Turkic states and a unitary constitutional republic, Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 176 countries and holds permanent memberships in 48 international organizations. The constitution of the country does not identify an official religion, and all major political forces are secular nationalist, but the majority of people and some opposition movements adhere to Shia Islam. The Constitution recognizes the language rights of diverse ethnic minorities of the country, which include the State's responsibility to ensure the development of the minority languages, their rights to be used, as well as the rights of ethnic minorities to be raised in their distinct culture, to get an education, and to engage in creative activities in their native languages. It further states that no one can be deprived of the right to use his native language. By joining the European Convention on Human Rights Azerbaijan also abolished capital punishment in 1998 replacing it with life imprisonment in 2001, and legalized the same-sex sexual activity in 2000. The households headed by such couples, however, are not yet eligible for the same legal protections available to heterosexual couples.