Azerbaijan is situated on the southeastern part of the Caucasus, which stretches for more than 800 km from the Black to the Caspian sea. Lying at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the country has a unique geographical position, and retains its significance for world economic and cultural links.
Azerbaijan is surrounded by mountains, occupying more than half of its territory:
to the north is the Greater Caucasus with the highest peak of the country Bazar-dyuzy – 4,466m (its southeastern part reaches Azerbaijan), to the southwest is the massive Transcaucasian upland extending to Armenia and Georgia, bordered by the Lesser Caucasus, and to the south the Talysh Mountains. In the west, beyond the boundary of Azerbaijan, the Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus are bound by the Likh (Suram) range to the east beyond the vast Kur-Araz lowland. It is edged with sloping valleys and lowlands. Thus, the surface of Azerbaijan resembles a gigantic tray with sharp mountainous edges, sloping to the Caspian Sea.
In addition to this are the four isolated valleys: one is to the north of the Greater Caucasus (Gusar valley and the Samur-Davachi lowlands), another is inside the Transcaucasian highland, (the Arazyani valley of Nakhchivan), the third is on the Apsheron Peninsula descending to the sea and the fourth is the Lankaran lowland at the foot of the Talysh mountains. These most striking features of the surface, along with peculiarities of geographical position, profoundly determine the diversity and bounties of its unique nature, comprising the features of the Caucasus and Middle Asia.
Summer in the plains, for the most part, is long, dry and hot; the landscape is semi-desert, but in the salt marshes it can be categorized as desert. It rains only during colder months and agriculture without irrigation is impossible. In the mountains, steppes and thin forests go along with dense deciduous broad-leaf forests. On the Greater and Lesser Caucasus many rivers flow from mountains to the plains. Larger rivers cross them while smaller rivers dry out, falling into a range of springs and creating “dry deltas”. River valleys and deltas are very convenient for settling and farming.
The main contrasts in the nature of Azerbaijan come from the difference between humid mountains and dry plains. The landscape varies from dry, hot semi-deserts, to snow-capped highlands and glaciers. The unique diversity of Azerbaijan’s nature is a result of its geographical position and diverse relief. The present-day panoramic view of Azerbaijan, with its high mountains, volcanic highlands, deep canyons, plains, valleys and coastlines has been forming over millions of years.
The northern border of Azerbaijan with the Russian Federation (Dagestan) stretches along the ridges of the divide ranges of the Greater Caucasus. In the northwest of the country, the divide ranges sharply descend into the Qanix (Alazan)-Agrichay valley. To the east of Bazar-dyuzu – the highest peak of the Eastern Caucasus – both slopes of the divide ranges belong to Azerbaijan.
On the Main Divide range, between Bazar-dyuzy (4,466m) and Babadag (3,629 m), high mountainous relief prevails.
The Divide range goes along with the ruggedness of the Lateral range with highest peak Shahdag (4,243 m). To the east and south-east of Babaduz, the Greater Caucasus range rapidly descends and transforms into fan shaped branches of mountains of medium height called Dyubrar. To the southeast they are attached by the hills and low mountains of Gobustan, and to the east, valleys of the low plateau of Apsheron Peninsula. Both of these regions are home to active mud volcanoes.
within Azerbaijan, except for its northwestern part, which stretches to Georgia. Middle Kur highland separates the northwestern part of the Kur valley into two smaller valleys – Qanix (Alazan)-Agrichay in the north and Ganja-Kazakh in the southwest. The Kur-Araz lowland, which, like the Caspian, lies entirely below ocean level, is bounded by hills and inclined plains. The Kur-Araz lowland is surrounded by Karabakh and Mil plains on the west, at the foot of the Lesser Caucasus, and by the Shirvan plain at the foot of the Great Caucasus. The banks of the Araz and Kur rivers are the Mil and Mugan plains extending to Iran. The Salyan plain and Southeastern Shirvan stretch to the mouth of Kur.
Not far from the Caspian coastline, two archipelagoes of mud volcano isles emerge from the sea: the Apsheron archipelago, near the Apsheron Peninsula, and the Baky archipelago near the coasts of Gobustan and the Kur-Araz lowland.
The southeast of the Lesser Caucasus is within the bounds of Azerbaijan. It is a system of several highlands exceeding 2,000-3,000 m in height and a range of medium and low plateaus.
The Terter river valley divides the Azerbaijan part of the Lesser Caucasus into two parts – northwest and southeast. The first is surrounded by two ranges – Shahdag with Ginaldag peak (3,367 m) and Murov dag with Gyamish peak (3,725 m). Both slopes of Murovdag belong to Azerbaijan and the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia pass along the divide of the Shahdag range. On the southeast of the Lesser Caucasus rises the Karabakh range, with Boyuk Kir peak (2,725 m). It towers above the Karabakh plain and the surroundings of Khankandi. In the south the mountains change from the Geyan steppe to the hilly valleys of Araz. The interiors of Transcaucasian highlands extend far into the territories of Georgia and Armenia and stretch with two small areas into Azerbaijan. To the east of this jut is the Karabakh volcanic highland covered with drift and a series of young but extinct volcanoes. Some high points are over 3,000 m (Ishikhli mount is 3,552 m), though 1,500-2,500 m are more usual. On the territory of Nakhchivan the bordering highland ranges – Zangazur and Daralayaz are rising. The top of the Zangazur range – Kaputjukh mountain (3,904 m) is the highest non-volcanic point of the Transcaucasus highlands. The southern foot of the Zangazur ranges is washed by the Araz. The Talysh mountains are of medium height. Their highest point Kyumyurkey mount is 2,477 m. The most northeastern slopes of these mountains are in Azerbaijan. They are divided into three parallel chains by valleys and hollows. The main watershed creates the boundary of Azerbaijan and Iran so the Talysh slopes entirely lie in Iran
Some of the rivers of Azerbaijan pour into the Kur river, others flow at first into the Araz, the Kur’s largest tributary, and still others run straight to the Caspian Sea. The annual flow of these rivers is estimated at 7.78 billion cubic meters. The distribution of the river net over the territory is uneven. On lowlands, with soft soil permeable to water, they are rare but in the mountains the number of rivers increases due to abundant rainfalls and the relief. The river net is well developed on 1,000-2,500 m heights. Generally, there is 90,000 cu meters of drain per 1 sq.km.
The biggest river in Azerbaijan is the Kur. It is 1,515 km long (900 km within Azerbaijan). The Araz flows into the Kur 236 km from its mouth. The Kur forms a delta at its mouth which is 15 km long. It drains into the Caspian Sea through two branches: northeast, now shoaled, and southeast. A navigable route was dug in 1964 in the southeastern direction. The Kur is the only river in Azerbaijan important for transportation. The part of the Kur from Yevlakh to its mouth is navigable for small passenger and cargo vessels.
The second river in size is the Araz, 1,072 km long. Like the Kur, the headwater of the Araz is in Turkey. Araz makes a natural boundary between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran along a length of 580 km. On the territory of Nakhchivan the river has several tributaries: the East Arpachay, the Nakhchivan, the Alindjachay and the Gilanchay. After the Acer ( Hakeri) river flows into, Araz reaches the Kur-Araz lowland.
In the mountains there are several thousand small rivers less than 10 km long. About 800 rivers in the Republic are from 10 to 100 km long. 23 rivers are over 100 km long. The annual volume of water in Azerbaijan’s rivers, including the drains of transit rivers carrying waters from neighboring territories, constitutes 30 cubic km per year. Mountain rivers carry to the valleys large quantities of soil and stones, often in catastrophic streams, which causes great damage to agriculture. The rivers in Azerbaijan are valued for their fish resources. In the Kur, salmon and sturgeon are caught. In the rivers of the Lesser Caucasus trout is found.
Potential hydropower resources of Azerbaijan’s rivers make 16 billions kw/hour in a year. The main proportion of this is accounted for by the Kur and Araz rivers. The rivers of the Greater Caucasus have large hydro-energy capacity due to their high fall of streams and steep stream gradients. The main hydropower stations – Mingechevir (the biggest in Transcaucasus) and Varvarin are working on the Kur.
The number of small lakes in Azerbaijan is about 250. The lakes in mountains are of tectonic and glacial origin, such as Goy-gol (at 1,556 m) and Big and Small Alagel (at 2,730 m). Along the Caspian coast there are the lakes – Devechi, Gemushovan, Gil, Kildag. Binagadi bitumen lake on the Apsheron is unique as place of mass burial of extinct ancient animals.
The natural hydro network and Azerbaijan’s irrigation system is regulated by water reservoirs. The largest is in Mingechevir, built in 1953. The dam, with a height of 88m, forms a water reservoir with an area of 605 sq. km and a volume of 16.1 million cubic meters of water. Other water reservoirs are Araz (volume of 1.35 million cubic meters) and Shamkhor (Shamkhir) (2.67 million cubic meters).
The irrigating canal network begins from the Mingechevir reservoir – through the Upper Karabakh and the Upper-Shirvan canals. They carry their waters to the cotton fields of the Kur-Araz lowlands. The highest density of irrigation canals is in the Mughan plain. The total length of all the country’s canals exceeds 3,000 km. On the Samur-Devechi lowland the Samur-Devechi irrigation canal stretches for 191 km, from the Samur river on the north to the Jeyranbatan water reservoir on the Apsheron Peninsula. The waters of this canal not only irrigate dry lands of northwest of Azerbaijan and Apsheron but meet the needs of the population and industry of Baky and Sumgayit.
The length of the canals in the Reublic is 47,058 km, and 1.4 million hectares of irrigated area.
Underground waters used in agriculture of Azerbaijan are of importance in water supply of some districts. These are slightly salty in Apsheron and Kur-Araz lowland.
The Caspian Sea is the largest salt water lake on the planet. But its size and hydrological characteristics and origin give ground to call it a sea. In its geological past the Caspian had been connected with Earth Oceans in the west and in the north. Some facts of paleontology as well as the species of fauna preserved in Caspian (15 types of shellfish and fish) indicate the links of the Caspian Sea with the northern seas.
The soil surface of Azerbaijan has a spectrum of types from mountain-meadow soil found in the alpine meadows to dry soil of semi-deserts and yellow earths of the Lankaran subtropics. This variety was provided by complex geological structures, relief, hydro-climatic conditions and vegetation. Agriculture has also influenced the formation of the soils of Azerbaijan. The soil of the plains bears the hallmarks of land farming. It is subjected to intensified washing under conditions of artificial irrigation, significantly enriched with fertilizers, and affected by double irrigation (as a result, second salinity often occur in the soil). Beneath mountainous forests and steppes is highly fertile black earth. A peculiar type of soil, yellowish, is distinguishable in the Talysh and Lankaran regions. This soil forms in a warm and humid climate and the red and yellow color in this soil comes from iron and aluminum dioxides left behind after rains have washed away other dissolved materials.
The relief of Azerbaijan creates quite favorable conditions for the formation of a warm mild climate on the most part of the country: the Greater Caucasus range serves as natural barrier preventing cold masses of air from the North, and the Lesser Caucasus is preventing hot tropical air from the South. However, in winter cold masses of air flowing into the territory of Azerbaijan from the north can cause storms, snowfalls and hard frosts.
The highest average annual temperature of the air is generally recorded on the lowlands – Kur-Araz and Lankaran where it exceeds 14°C. Average January temperature in the lowlands exceeds 0°C, but sometimes the temperature falls to – 20°C. Dry, hot winds – fens – that blow from the Talysh mountains in spring and tropical air in winter often cause sharp rises of temperature.
July and August are the hottest months in Azerbaijan. Average temperature during July in the Kur-Araz lowlands, the west of Apsheron Peninsula and Priaraz (Arazyani) plains of Nakhchivan is 25 to 27 °C. On some days when tropical air penetrates from the south temperatures on these plains can rise to between 40 and 43 °C.
In Julfa (Nakhchivan) the highest recorded temperature is 44 °C. Being situated far from the Caspian Sea and surrounded with high mountains ridges , Nakhchivan is characterized with a continental climate. Not only the highest, but also the lowest national temperature was recorded in Nakhchivan. The lowest air temperature on the plains in Azerbaijan (-31 °C) was recorded in the Dervishlar meteorological station.
In spite of having such a large neighboring water reservoir as the Caspian Sea, only the coastal line is influenced by the sea and the main source of moisture is not the Caspian but the western Atlantic air masses. The distribution of rainfall is so uneven across the country that along with regions having 200 mm per year (south of Apsheron Peninsula) there are the other regions with 1600 mm per year (south of Lankaran lowland). It sometimes hails, which is harmful for agriculture.
The winds blowing in Azerbaijan are various. The prevailing winds of Apsheron Peninsula are Khazri (Baky nord) – a strong north wind from the sea – and Gilavar – a strong southwestern wind.
On the lowlands, winds blow generally in northwestern and southeastern directions. The wind does not reach high speeds on the main part of the territory, except for on Apsheron Peninsula, where the occurrence of strong stormy winds is frequent. The speed of Khazri reaches a maximum point on coastal zones, slowing down while blowing out in different directions over the sea.
In the summer hot and dry winds, harmful for agriculture, blow in the Kur-Araz lowlands.
Changes and durations of the seasons in Azerbaijan are not clearly defined. Spring begins at the beginning of March in lowlands and the Apsheron Peninsula. Summer is the most long lasting season, from the end of May and lasts till mid- or even the end of October when the weather is dry and hot in the lowlands.
Fall starts in October, when the heat abates and it rains at times. The usual weather is warm and dry, therefore fall in Azerbaijan is considered a “velvet” season. In mountain regions fall is quite often a rainy period.
Winter in Azerbaijan is mild. The incidence of temperatures below zero on the plains is rare. Only in an unusual cold winter are there hard frosts. The coldest months are January and February.
There are nine types of climate in the country, varying from dry and humid subtropical to the climate of upland tundra, with extremes of temperature from – 45 °C in highland to +44 °C in lowlands.
The Kur-Araz lowland, with the attaching foothills of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, the Samur-Devechi lowland and the Apsheron Peninsula with Gobustan, have the climate of semi-deserts and dry steppes with hot dry summer and mild winter , close to that of subtropical. The same type of climate but with cold winters is typical for the Priaraz (Arazyani) zone of Nakhchivan.
The foothills of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus have moderate warm climate with dry winters. The moderate humidity is typical for such a climate. Land farming is very successful when irrigation is used. A moderate warm climate with even rainfalls during the year dominates mainly in the forested zone of south and northeast slopes of the Greater Caucasus. A moderate warm climate with dry summer, but abundant rainfalls in other seasons, is characteristic for the humid subtropics of the Lankaran lowland and surrounding foothills of the Talysh mountains. A cold climate with dry winter is notable for northeast slopes of the Greater Caucasus (1,000-2,700m) and a considerable part of the Lesser Caucasus (1,400-2,700m). A cold climate with dry summer is characteristic for Nakhchivan.
Above 2,700-3,000 m the cold and wet climate of upland tundra prevails. This type of climate is notable for highlands of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus and partly for the Zangezur range of Nakhchivan.
In general, the climate of mountains varies from climate of upland tundra to the climate of semi-deserts and dry steppes. At the same time, summer heat and dryness, warm rainfalls in autumn, cool and humid winter, and changeable springs are typical for lowlands. All plains are divided into the zones of dry subtropics (embracing the main parts of plains) and humid subtropics (Alazan/Qanix -Agrichay valley and Lankaran lowlands). It allows cultivation of both dry and humid subtropical plants in Azerbaijan.
All these features of the climate in Azerbaijan are determined not only by relief, but also by the peculiar geographical position, the circulating processes and variety of rocks and groundwater.
The territory of Azerbaijan is home to over 4,100 species of vegetation. Over 200 are relict (indigenous) – they are found nowhere except for Azerbaijan and neighboring territories. For example, the Elder pine, the Caspian Lotus, famous for its beauty, can be seen in the Kur delta area and near Astrakhan. In the Talysh forests there are several relict species of plants that can be found also only in the north of Iran.
The diversity of vegetation of Azerbaijan not only imprints the history of nature but also its location on the juncture of several floristic provinces and a present variety of natural conditions. The “tugay” forests along the banks of the Kur, the Araz and the Alazan rivers are unique: they cross dry semi-desert valleys and feed by river water during the floods and underground water. These forests include oak, poplar, ash, willow, nut-trees, occupied large area in Gazaoglan, Jirdahan, Babanlar, Varvara and are soil protecting.
Mountainous forests cover some 10% of the whole territory of Azerbaijan and grow on the heights from 600-700 to 1,800 m. These forests are broad-leafed and the main trees species are oak, hornbeam, beech, maple, and ash. Mountain forests are of vital water-preserving and soil-protecting importance. They are attractive as hunting, recreation and tourism sites. The broad-leafed forests of Lankaran are peculiar with ancient relict varieties of trees such as silk acacia, iron tree, sinking in water, grow here.
The flora of Azerbaijan is a source of valuable raw materials, food products and construction materials. It includes medical, tannery, vitamin rich wild fruit and forage plants. In the forest reserve of Zakatala, ginseng has been cultivated since 1953. In the Talysh-Lankaran region there are plantations of tunga, feijoa, laurel, and on the Kur-Araz lowlands sudangrass – mogar – is cultivated.
Over 12,000 species of animals inhabit Azerbaijan, of which 92 are mammals, 350 – birds, 49 – creepers, only 9 are amphibians, 88 – fish and 10,000 – insects. Like vegetation, the animal world of Azerbaijan is also influenced by the history of nature. Several zoogeographical provinces can be defined, each being characterized by its own set of fauna.
The fauna of dry lowlands is characterized by the abundance of rodents, creepers and reptiles. One can see the Middle Asian gazelle or jeyran in the plains. Their beauty was described by Azerbaijani classics (Nizami Ganjavi) and contemporaries (Samed Vurghun).
The world of birds is also diverse. In the Kizilagadj reserve, in damp forests and marshes of the Lankaran lowlands, over 200 species of birds come to winter , what is more, over one million birds gather at migration time including: pelicans, flamingo, swan, heron, and sultanka.
The fauna of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus is quite distinguished. In the foothills, bats are very common; besides partridge, bluish dove, pheasant. Among reptiles, the gekkon, catty-snake, gyurza – snake and rock lizards are noticeable. In the forests deer is also not rare.
On the grass-lands of the Greater Caucasus, indigenous aurochs and herds of chamois graze. On the Lesser Caucasus, moufflons and goats can be found. Alpine highlands are inhabited by the bearded-vulture, blackjack and Caucasian Ulan. In Talysh, leopard, emerging from Iran, and porcupine add to the peculiarity of the forests.
The Caspian Sea is rich with marine life. The fish catch includes herring, Caspian salmon, sturgeon, white sturgeon, sevruga, Caspian loach, kutum, djerikh. In the Kur river there are 50 species of fish of which 23 are of commercial importance. A very rare fish – the pike perch – inhabits areas near the coastline. Seals appear in the Azerbaijan shore in March, April when they migrate to the south and in October, November, when they return back to the north. To preserve rare and valuable species of plants, fish and animals, reserves have been created. The most well-known are: Zagatala, Qizilaghaj, Girkan, Turianchay, Karayazi – Agstafa, Guba-Gusar, Goy-Gol, Lachin, Bandovan reservations. Over 100 species of animals were included in the Azerbaijan “Red Book”.
Azerbaijan is rich in mineral resources, the most important of which is oil. The main oil fields are on Apsheron Peninsula and the Caspian Shelf. The richest deposits of oil have been discovered in the aquatics to the south of Apsheron. Oil fields situated to the north of Apsheron Peninsula in Siyazan and to the west and southwest of Apsheron in Gobustan, Shirvan and Salyan have the most prospective structure. Not far from Ganja (in Naftalan) are the fields of unique modification of medicinal oil. Of great importance is the associated natural gas.
Azerbaijan is one of the world’s oldest oil-producing countries. The country’s oil industry experienced a boom at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. During World War II, the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan produced approximately 500,000 barrels per day (bbl/d). However, oil production in Azerbaijan dropped off dramatically in the post-war years as the Soviet Union directed resources for energy development to other regions. In addition, due to extensive oil development combined with a lack of environmental protection measures, Azerbaijan’s coastline and the Caspian Sea suffered heavy environmental damage during the Soviet era. The years of independence marked a new era of oil exploration and production.
Azerbaijan has in some 11 to 30 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves (depending on the source consulted). However, there is insufficient infrastructure to move associated gas from many of the Caspian offshore oil fields and some of it is being flared.
In 1999, Azerbaijan passed a law requiring planning for associated gas exploitation to go with each oil project. In October 1999, SOCAR and TDA signed a $425,000 agreement to help fund a comprehensive natural gas study.
The Shah Deniz natural gas field, which was discovered in 1999, is estimated to contain between 25 Tcf and 39 Tcf, making it the largest find of the last 20 years. The estimated cost for development and infrastructure at Shah Deniz is $4.5 billion and the first production is expected by 2006. The annual production rate is expected to be 286 billion cubic feet (Bcf).
Of the other natural gas fields in Azerbaijan, the Nakhchivan field is estimated to contain 900 Bcf in reserves. There is also a natural gas reserve at Gunashli field.
Over 95% of Azerbaijan’s gas production comes from offshore fields, rather than onshore. The Bakhar natural gas field currently accounts for more than 40% of Azerbaijan’s natural gas production but the production of that field is declining because of a lack of new drilling. It is expected that increased future production will come from the Nakhchivan, Gunashli, and Shah Deniz fields. Currently, SOCAR produces some 85% of Azerbaijan’s natural gas, and AIOC produces a small amount of associated gas (i.e. natural gas found with crude oil deposits).
Other Natural Resources
Azerbaijan has no significant coal deposits, nor any domestic coal production. Azerbaijan consumes only a small amount of coal and consumption has declined from over 26,400 tons in 1992 to just 1,100 tons in 2000.
Azerbaijan is, however, rich in iron and aluminum ore, pyrite, molybdenum, arsenic. The deposits of polymetalic ores on Filizchay (Greater Caucasus) in the upper part of Belokanchay valley are of commercial importance. The richest deposits of iron ore (Dashkesan) and alunite (Zaglic) are in the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus.
Nearby, in the Dashkesan-Ganja district are considerable deposits of cobalt ore and pyrite.
Nakhchivan is rich in salt and poly-metal. The salt deposits in the Negram field are estimated at 2-2.5 billion tons. Molybdenum is extracted in Paragachay and arsenic ore in Negram.
Azerbaijan also has mineral deposits for use as building materials. On the slopes of the Lesser Caucasus marble is extracted, though its quality is inferior to Carr marble. Deposits of gravel, sand, lime, fire-proof and brick-red clay and loam are being worked on the Apsheron Peninsula. The deposits of construction stone in the Republic are estimated to 300 billion tons (Gyuzdeck, Mardakyan, Dovletyari, Dilagarda, Shahbulag, Naftalan, Dash Salakhly) and some 24 millions tons of facing stone (Gyulbakht, Dashkesan,Shakhtakhty,Kilably).
The number of hot and mineral springs of Azerbaijan runs into the many thousands. The best known springs are at Istisu, Turshsy, Badamli, Galalty, Shikhburnu, Surakhany.