Meet the Gateway People to the Muslim World

Chris Jones | February 16, 2017

A few years ago at a conference, I held a large banner that read: “Azerbaijanis: God’s gateway people to the Muslim world.” One quizzical individual pondered a few minutes before asking me whether this was a real place.

Azerbaijanis get that a lot.

They are one of the few peoples that span numerous countries with different linguistic and cultural contexts. The Republic of Azerbaijan is home to 9 million Azerbaijanis, but its low profile on the world stage leads many to underestimate its significance. While the exact number of Azerbaijanis worldwide is unknown, it ranges from 30 million to 50 million. Their largest concentration is found in Iran, where estimates range from 18 million to 30 million.

From the mountains of Ararat and the Azeri region of Naxchevan (named from the old Azeri words Nuh chixan, “where Noah came out,” based on Genesis 8:4), to the highest echelon of power in Iran (the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini, is an Azeri), Azerbaijanis are a people who shouldn’t be ignored.

Dispersed Among the Nations

Until the beginning of the 19th century, Azerbaijani homelands were part of the Persian Empire. Following war and treaties with Russia, the Persian Empire ceded to Russia what is now Azerbaijan and, along with it, significant…

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