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Babak castle of Azerbaijan
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Babak castle of Azerbaijan.

Area in northwestern Iran, comprising the 2 provinces of West Azerbaijan with 2,5 million inhabitants and East Azerbaijan with 3,3 million inhabitants, and covering an area of about 100,000 km². Hence Iranian Azerbaijan makes up 10% of the population and 6% of the area of Iran. To the north lies the independent republic of Azerbaijan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union.
About 60% of the 19 million Azerbaijanis (also called Azeri or Azeri-Turks) of the region live in Iran, and about 7 million in the independent republic. This means that nearly half of Iran's Azerbaijanis live outside the Azerbaijan provinces. In both of the Iranian Azerbaijan provinces Azerbaijanis dominate, while Kurds and Armenians are important minorities.
The Azerbaijanis are a Turkic people, speaking Azeri, a language akin to modern Turkish. But ethnically their origin is mixed, believed to have come from Transcaucasian peoples and the Medes. Their Turkicizing was one mainly of culture and language, and little of race. Most Azerbaijanis belong to Shi'i Islam, similar to the majority of Iran.
The largest city is Tabriz with 1,2 million inhabitants (Iran's 4th largest city), being the capital of East Azerbaijan. Orumiyeh is the capital of West Azerbaijan and has 435,000 inhabitants (10th largest Iranian city) (all of the 1996 census).
Azerbaijan is a mountainous land, and part of the Zagros Mountains, but with fertile lowlands. More than 90% of the total territory has an altitude above 1000 metre, and there are many mountain tops (sometimes volcanic cones) higher than 3000 metres, of which Hamam Dagh (also called Kuh-e Sahand) with 3710 metres is the highest. Another central element of the landscape of Azerbaijan is Lake Orumiyeh (see aerophoto), the largest lake of Iran besides the Caspian Sea. The size of this highly saline lake varies with the seasons, between 4,500 km² and 6,000 km².
Azerbaijan has one of the best climates of Iran for agriculture, as there are good supplies of water and little need for irrigation. The climate has cold winders with much snow, while summers are mild and pleasant due to the altitude.
The agriculture produces barley, wheat, rice, indigo plants and potatoes. The livestock includes mainly sheep and goats. The industry of the region is dominated by the Tabriz region, where tractors, factory machinery, cement, textiles, electrical equipment and tools, animal fodder, turbines, motorcycles, clocks and watches, processed foods and agricultural implements are produced. In other parts of Azerbaijan sugar mills, textile mills and food-processing plants are found. Handicrafts include carpets, rugs and metalware. Mining brings copper, arsenic, kaolin, coal, salt, lead and building stone into the economy.

8th century BCE: Settled by the Medes.
330: Conquered by Alexander the Great, and named Atropatene.
3rd century CE: Becomes part of the Persian empire.
637: Falls to the Muslim Caliphate, whereupon a process of conversion into Islam starts.
11th century: Comes under control of the Seljuq Turks.
1231: Tabriz is sacked by Djengis Khan, and becomes part of the Khoresm Kingdom.
Early 17th century: Azerbaijan (the areas of both today's Iranian provinces and the independent republic) comes under the Persian shah.
1828: After losing in war, Persia cedes the part of Azerbaijan north of the Aras river to Russia. This corresponds to the present division of larger Azerbaijan.
1938: Iranian Azerbaijan is divided into an eastern and a western province.
1945 December: Following World War 2, the Azeri provinces become a republic of the Soviet Union.
1946: Iran reconquers its Azeri provinces.

By Tore Kjeilen