Azerbaijan, officially the Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it 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. Azerbaijan has an ancient and historic cultural heritage. The country was among the birthplaces of mankind and is located at the heart of ancient civilizations. Furthermore the country is known to be among the most progressive and secular Islamic societies. Aside from having been the first Muslim country to have operas, theater plays, and a democratic republic, Azerbaijan today is among the Muslim countries where support for secularism and tolerance is the highest. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the first democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world, was established in 1918, but was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920. Azerbaijan regained independence in 1991. The Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion but the majority of people adhere to the Shia branch of Islam, although Muslim identity tends to be based more on culture and ethnicity rather than religion and Azerbaijan remains as one of the most liberal majority-Muslim nations. The pre-Turkic Azerbaijani population spoke an Iranian language called the Old Azeri language, which was gradually replaced by a Turkic language, now known as the Azerbaijani language from the 11th century onward until it became completely extinct in the 16th century. To distinguish it from the Turkic Azerbaijani or Azeri language, this Iranian language, is designated as the Azeri language (or Old Azeri language), because the Turkic language and people are also designated as "Azeri" in the Persian language. Azerbaijan is in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, straddling Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It lies between latitudes 38° and 42° N, and longitudes 44° and 51° E. The total length of Azerbaijan's land borders is 2,648 km (1,645 mi), of which 1007 kilometers are with Armenia, 756 kilometers with Iran, 480 kilometers with Georgia, 390 kilometers with Russia and 15 kilometers with Turkey. The coastline stretches for 800 km (497 mi), and the length of the widest area of the Azerbaijani section of the Caspian Sea is 456 km (283 mi). The territory of Azerbaijan extends 400 km (249 mi) from north to south, and 500 km (311 mi) from west to east. Three physical features dominate Azerbaijan: the Caspian Sea, whose shoreline forms a natural boundary to the east; the Greater Caucasus mountain range to the north; and the extensive flatlands at the country's center. There are also three mountain ranges, the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, and the Talysh Mountains, together covering approximately 40 percent of the country. The main water sources are the surface waters. However, only 24 of the 8,350 rivers are greater than 100 km (62 mi) in length. All the rivers drain into the Caspian Sea in the east of the country. Since the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, the Azerbaijani government has taken drastic measures to preserve the environment of Azerbaijan. But national protection of the environment started to truly improve after 2001 when the state budget increased due to new revenues provided by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Within four years protected areas doubled and now make up eight percent of the country's territory. Since 2001 the government has set up seven large reserves and almost doubled the sector of the budget earmarked for environmental protection.
Azerbaijan's diverse landscape affects the ways air masses enter the country. The Greater Caucasus protects the country from direct influences of cold air masses coming from the north. That leads to the formation of subtropical climate...
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