Azerbaijan, Land and Resources
Azerbaijan covers an area of about 86,600 sq km (about 33,400 sq mi). The borders of Azerbaijan generally correspond to natural geographic features. The western coast of the Caspian Sea forms the country’s entire eastern border, which extends about 800 km (about 500 mi). The main stretch of the Caucasus Mountains, known as the Greater Caucasus, forms part of Azerbaijan’s northern border with Russia and contains the country’s highest peak, Mount Bazarduzu (4,466 m/14,652 ft). The Greater Caucasus extend into northeastern Azerbaijan and run southeast as far as the Abseron Peninsula, which juts into the Caspian Sea. In western Azerbaijan, the Lesser Caucasus (Malyy Kavkaz) mountains attain heights of about 3,500 m (about 11,500 ft) and form part of the border with Armenia. The Talish Mountains border Azerbaijan in the extreme southeast.
Lower elevations are found along the Caspian coast and in the river basins of the country’s two main waterways, the Kura and Aras (Araks or Arax) rivers. These rivers, which form a continuous lowland through central Azerbaijan, both originate in the mountains of northeastern Turkey. The Kura flows into northwestern Azerbaijan from neighboring Georgia and then follows a southeasterly course to the Caspian Sea. The Aras forms part of Azerbaijan’s southern border with Iran and eventually turns northeast to enter south central Azerbaijan; it then joins with the Kura and also empties into the Caspian. The Kura and Aras are also linked farther upriver by the Upper Karabakh Canal, which channels water from the Mingacev?r Reservoir on the upper Kura in northwestern Azerbaijan, providing irrigation water to farms in the central lowland and supplying the Aras during the dry summer months. The reservoir, which was formed by a dam built in 1953, covers an area of about 605 sq km (234 sq mi). Another canal in the east, the Samur-Abseron Canal, redirects water from the Samur River on Azerbaijan’s northeastern border to the Abseron Peninsula, an arid area where Baku, the capital, is located.
Forests of beech, oak, and pine cover 13 percent of the country, with most tree cover on the mountain slopes and in the southeastern Lankaran Lowland. The subalpine forests support a number of mammal species, including bear, deer, lynx, and wild boar. Leopards also inhabit the forests but are rare. Reptiles, such as lizards and poisonous snakes, thrive in the arid and semiarid lowlands, which constitute the majority of the country’s territory. Gazelles, jackals, and hyenas populate the lowlands as well. The Caspian Sea coast provides a mild winter home to populations of pelicans, herons, flamingos, swans, and other migratory birds.
Azerbaijan contains many natural resources, the most important being crude oil. Azerbaijan’s oil reserves are located offshore, beneath the Caspian Sea, with most developed oil fields near the Abseron Peninsula. Mineral resources include iron ore, aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, limestone, and salt.
The lowlands of central and eastern Azerbaijan have a dry subtropical climate, with relatively mild winters and long hot summers. The average temperature in the lowlands in July is 27° C (80° F), although summer temperatures can enter the upper 30°s C (lower 100°s F); the average temperature in January is 1° C (34° F). Summers are typically dry, with most precipitation falling during the winter months. Humidity is high in the Lankaran Lowland, which receives significantly more precipitation than other areas of the country. Temperatures are colder in the mountains, and snowfall is heavy at elevations of more than 3,000 m (10,000 ft) during winter.
Severe pollution from heavy industries and agriculture has damaged the environment of Azerbaijan. The contamination of the Caspian Sea from oil drilling in Baku has been a problem since the 19th century, when the Russian Empire took control of the region and began to rapidly exploit its oil reserves. Although oil production waned during the Soviet period, petroleum waste was routinely dumped into the Caspian, and dilapidated and leaky pumps added to the problem. With the prospect of increased oil drilling in coming years, the industry may continue to pose an environmental hazard. The Caspian also suffers from the discharge of untreated sewage, and pollution has depleted the sea’s stocks of sturgeon. Severe air pollution is a problem in the major cities due to unregulated emissions from petroleum and chemical industries. During the Soviet period, dangerously high concentrations of pesticides and fertilizers were used to increase Azerbaijan’s agricultural output. In the late 1980s, when environmental awareness began to surface in the USSR, Azerbaijan’s high infant mortality rate and high rates of infectious diseases were linked to the chemicals used in cotton growing. Although the people of Azerbaijan are generally aware of the need to protect their environment, the republic’s environmental issues have not yet received significant attention from the government.