Azer Allakhveranov, Information Program Director, Migration Resource Center (Baku, Azerbaijan)

General Dynamics

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of the new independent states are the main reasons for the so-called migration phenomenon in the post-Soviet space. The change in political system, the establishment of market relations, the multitude of ethnic conflicts, and several other factors have taken their toll on the sociopolitical and socioeconomic situation in these countries. Problems which could not and are perhaps impossible to resolve rapidly have placed an extremely heavy burden on these states. This has caused many thousands of unemployed, refugees, forced migrants, and migrants looking for jobs to join the ranks of those moving around the country and beyond.

At the end of the 1980s, Azerbaijan encountered migration movement that was beyond its wildest imaginings. At the end of 1987, the Karabakh conflict, instigated by separatist groups, led to Armenia deporting Azeris who had been residing in this republic since Soviet times. In response to this, Armenians began leaving Azerbaijanmainly to Armenia and Russia. Within the space of 3-4 years, 224,000 refugees arrived in Azerbaijan, and approximately the same number of Armenians left our republic. Unfortunately, the Karabakh conflict did not end with these events. Active military operations by Armenia led to 20% of Azerbaijani territoryNagorny Karabakh and the regions contiguous to itfalling under the control of the occupation troops. As a result of these events, more than 600,000 ethnic Azeris were expelled from Karabakh and its neighboring regions, and a 600,000-strong army of forced migrants joined the ranks of the 200,000 refugees from Armenia.

Nor should we forget that Meskhetian Turks have been seeking refuge in Azerbaijan in their effort to escape the ethnic conflicts in Central Asia. By the end of 1989, 39,239 were registered in the republic. Most of them came straight from Uzbekistan, whereas others moved to our republic after living for a while in Russia. According to the data of the Azerbaijan State Statistics Board, by mid-1992, the number of Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan and Russia has risen to 51,649. On the whole, according to the data of the State Statistics Board, in 1997, there were 43,175 Meskhetian Turks in the republic who had left Uzbekistan. Apart from this, the military action in Karabakh instigated a flow of refugees from Turkey.

Table 1

Migration of the Population from 1989 to 2000 (thou people)





















































Source: State Statistics Board of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

At the beginning of the 1990s, refugees and forced migrants became the driving force behind all the migration movement observed during the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the peak coming between 1989 and 1995. The ceasing of military action in Karabakh, the beginning of relative stabilization, as well as several factors accompanying these processes helped to reduce migration. As can be seen from Table 1, between 1995 and 2000, 174,600 people left the republic, almost half as many as between 1989 and 1994 (during this period 307,400 people left). If we presume that the socioeconomic and sociopolitical situation in the country will remain the same for at least the next five years, in 2005, the general migration balance will constitute approximately 2, and this is a good index of stability.

Migration Flows from Azerbaijan

The question of how many residents have left the country is a constant topic of discussion in the local press and among migration circles. At times, attempts are even made to give this topic an ethnic flavor. In order to shed light on this subtle question, we must gather all the official data and analyze them.

Let us first take a look at the large ethnic groups. As we can see from Table 2, the first place among them is occupied by Azeris, followed by Russians. Between 1997 and 1999, 16,172 people left Russia. Recently, articles have been appearing in the Russian press which claim that ethnic Russians are being expelled from Azerbaijan. But it is not mentioned anywhere that during this same period, 1,929 Russians arrived in Azerbaijan, that is, almost 12% of those departing (see Table 2).

Table 2

Dynamics of Migration Flows (according to ethnic groups)


Migration flow to Russia

Migration flow to Azerbaijan































































































Source: Migration Statistics of the Russian Federation Population. Prepared on the basis of statistical bulletins, Russian Federation State Statistics Board, Moscow. Editions for 1998, 1999, and 2000; Motives for Migrating from Azerbaijan, Routes, and Methods, IOM-Azerbaijan, Baku: 2001.

We have already mentioned that most migrants from Azerbaijan went to Russia. But some of them went to the West. The multitudinous data supplied by the republics Migration Resource Center indicate that most people strive for Germany, Holland, Turkey, the U.S., Canada, and Israel (see Table 3). This is not due to the high standard of living in these countries, but because there is greater chance of obtaining permanent residency and refugee status. Most of the migrants in this category are ethnic Jews who find it easiest to obtain permission to move to another country permanently, which cannot be said of Azeris.

Table 3

People Obtaining Permission to Leave the CIS and Baltic States Permanently, According to Country between 1991 and 1996 (people)





























Other countries














Source: For 1991-1996Population and Standard of Living in the CIS, Statistical Collection, CIS Statistics Board, 1998, p. 28.

It can be seen from this table that the emigration peak was in 1991, and between 1992 and 1996, the process became relatively stable. But it should be noted that in 1996, the number of emigrants leaving for Germany dramatically increased. At this time, the German government made it much easier for Jews to obtain refugee status. Beginning in 2000, this procedure gradually became more complicated again, which naturally made an impact on the emigration indices. At the beginning of 2001, most of those wishing to leave Azerbaijan went to Holland, where it was possible to obtain refugee status if a person could prove his/her affiliation to a national or sex minority, or convince the Dutch authorities of his/her political motivation for emigrating. As data provided by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) show, during the past three years, more than 5,000 residents of Azerbaijan requested refugee status in this country. Unfortunately, there is no precise data on how many of them actually obtained this status. The same source reports that in 2000 alone, 3,900 Azerbaijan citizens made a similar request in other European countries. At the top of this list is Germany, where 1,558 people requested refugee status. At the beginning of 2001, some emigrants went to Canada, where anyone who so desired could obtain permanent residency without any special reason as long as they knew English and their professional skills were demanded on the local labor market.

Table 4

Migration of the Population According to Country Beyond the CIS and Baltic States in 1996-1998

















Source: State Statistics Board of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

But this does not mean that everyone who received permission to live permanently abroad left Azerbaijan. According to other data (see Table 4), 4,339 people left the CIS and Baltic States between 1996 and 1998, and the number of arrivals (compared with 1996) decreased four-fold. This confirms once more that most of those who wanted to come and live permanently in Azerbaijan did so in the mid-1990s.

Azeris Abroad

The number of Azeris abroad was an important topic of the debates held during the presidential election in 1998, the parliamentary election in 2000, and the municipal elections in 2001. At that time, many representatives of the opposition declared that the elections could not be considered legitimate since more than two million of the republics citizens (almost half of its electorate) were living abroad. But the republics authorities claimed that only 650-700,000 of their voters were outside the country. Who is right?

As noted above, people mainly leave for Russia and Turkey to earn a living. We will try to show the situation with respect to our northern neighbor, with which Azerbaijan does not have a visa regime. This is the first factor which reduces our efforts to find statistical data to naught. It is a well-known fact that in the large cities of the European part of Russia, arrivals from the near abroad should obtain a residency permit, which cannot be said of the cities beyond the Urals. But neither in Moscow, nor in St. Petersburg, nor in any other cities is there a precise register of arrivals, including Azeris. Occasionally, some data appear in the Russian press. For example, the newspaper Argumenty i fakty (No. 20, May 1998) wrote that approximately 500,000 citizens of Azerbaijan who have come to earn a living resided in Moscow alone, whereas throughout the Russian Federation as a whole, there were about 1.5 million people from this country. According to the data of an independent expert from St. Petersburg, Alexander Arseniev (Nezavisimaia gazeta, 1 December, 1999), 1.2 million Azeris live in Moscow and its neighboring regions, and throughout Russia, this figure reaches approximately 2-2.5 million.

The Russian, just like the Azeri, official structures present other data. For example, the Russian Interior Ministry reported in March 2001 that the number of Azeris living temporarily in the country amounts to 78,000, and those living permanently constitute about 67,000 people1 (see Table 5).

Table 5

Migration Between Azerbaijan and Russia (thou people)



















Source: Migration Statistics of the Russian Federation Population; Motives for Migrating from Azerbaijan, Routes, and Methods, p. 37.

A similar analysis of the situation relating to the temporary residence of Azeris cannot even be conducted for Turkey, although some elements of a visa system have been introduced between Ankara and Baku. For example, Azerbaijan citizens arriving in Turkey must purchase a monthly visa on the border, which costs $10. After this term expires, the person must leave the country, obtain a residency permit, or remain as a tourist illegally. If we keep in mind that the person came to earn a living and has no intention of leaving (providing he earns $500-600 a month, of which approximately $300 is required to purchase a residency permit), he usually opts for the third alternative. Of course, we could keep an account of those who obtained a visa for a month. But these are temporary statistical data since a certain number of such migrants return home after a while. The situation with residents of the Azerbaijan regions located on the border with Iran and Turkey is even more complicated. According to an agreement between the power structures of our republic and the corresponding structures of these countries, the residents of Azerbaijans border regions can travel freely into Iran and Turkey, although not further than 45 km from the border, whereby the length of stay is not restricted. It is understandable that not everyone is guided by these rules, some guests travel further, that is, become illegal migrants. Naturally, no one knows how many there are, which makes the question of the total number of Azeris who leave the republic to find temporary work beyond the country problematic.

Table 6

Number of Migrants Arriving in Turkey in 2000



Great Britain













Source: Report of the Interior Ministry, Turkey, 2001, p. 27; Motives for Migrating from Azerbaijan, Routes, and Methods.

But despite all these difficulties, Turkey is keeping a certain statistical account of the foreigners who arrive. As can be seen from Table 6, in 2000, 182,000 people came to this country from Azerbaijan, and 153,000 left, that is, approximately 30,000 people remained in Turkey. It is presumed that more than half of them settled there illegally.

As a result of selective studies conducted in 1998 by the Azerbaijani nongovernmental organization Society of Legal Aid to Migrants in 40 settlements in 11 regions of the republic, it was revealed that more than 25,000 people (11% of their residents) moved to Russia. It should be noted that not one of them gave up their registration and Azeri citizenship.

Labor Migration

Migration in search of a job has been a well-known phenomenon in Azerbaijan from time immemorial. For the past 100 years, people have come to our republic to work at the oil fields, while thousands of Azeri youths have gone to Russia to work in different branches of the national economy.

As already mentioned, the transition period from one system to another and the collapse of a single centralized system made it impossible to quickly organize production in many branches of industry which would not depend on the Russian markets or those of other former Soviet republics. As a result of this, thousands of unemployed have appeared who see the only solution to the current situation as seeking a job primarily in Russia and in Turkey. Parallel to these processes, western investors began to show an interest in the economy of our republic. Within a very short time, a huge number of joint and foreign companies appeared in the country, which employ their own fellow countrymen. Some independent experts believe that approximately 30,000 foreigners of this sort arrive in Azerbaijan each year. But due to several objective and subjective reasons, the migration policy in the country is not as regulated as it should be and a reliable statistical account of this category of migrants is not kept.

Foreigners arriving to work should be registered at the corresponding structures of the tax department, customs services, the Migration Department of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population, as well as the Foreign Ministry. But, unfortunately, these regulations are not always observed, since proper control over the number of arrivals has not been established and legislative norms in this sphere are not adhered to. For example, foreigners who open an enterprise in the republic are registered as legal entities. Along with them, specialists arrive from abroad. But most of them are not registered anywhere and naturally do not pay taxes, as a result of which the republics budget does not receive its due revenue. It can be presumed that after migration processes are streamlined, the number of these foreigners will decrease, and only potential investors interested in raising the republics economy will come to our country.

As for the citizens of our country who leave in search of work, their numbers have significantly increased during the past ten years. There are varying data on this account, fluctuating between 700,000 and 2 million people, the authenticity of which official statistics cannot confirm.

There is the opinion in our society that the high percentage of our most able-bodied citizens who leave to find a job is having a negative effect on the development of the republics economy. We will not argue with this assumption, but we will note that this process also has several positive aspects. First, our fellow citizens (and there are several hundred thousands of them) working abroadmainly in Russia and Turkeyare supporting their families this way. As former Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Alexander Blokhin emphasized in an interview on local television, these labor migrants send about $1.5 billion to Azerbaijan every year. Second, with the high unemployment level in the country, the employment of our fellow citizens beyond its borders is helping to retain stability in the republic. Of course, there are negative sides to migration: trading in people, smuggling, illegal entry into the country, and so on. We will take a look at the negative aspects of labor migration.

The drainage of able-bodied citizens is not yet having an impact on the demographic situation in the republic, but in the next 3-5 years, their migration will also make itself known in this sphere. The thing is that it is mainly 18-35-year-old men who are leaving the country, and many of them start families abroad and stay there. This happens most frequently in Russia, whereby the number of those leaving is increasing each year. And this is leading to the appearance of anti-Azeri slogans and at times provokes various types of action aimed against the representatives of this nationality. According to the information of Chairman of the Azeri Veten Society Mais Seferli, in 2000 alone, 600 No. 200 shipments (zinc coffins with bodies) were delivered to Baku, and according to this same source, with reference to the Russian Interior Ministry, half of those delivered were the victims of acts of violence committed on ethnic grounds. Despite the fact that many of our fellow citizens leave for Russia on their own initiative, without signing a work contract in advance, the governments of both countries should do all they can to eliminate such negative ethnic phenomena.

Environmental Migrants

No one is insured against natural disasters. History shows that earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and other natural cataclysms give rise to thousands of victims who are forced to leave the homes they have lived in for years and move to other locations, that is, they become environmental migrants. There have not been any serious natural disasters in Azerbaijan during the past ten years. But it can be presumed that the number of environmental migrants in the republic is as high as five thousand. Approximately 3,000 people were forced to leave the Kuba, Saliany, and Neftechala districts, and 1,500 left the Ismailly and Divichi districts. These environmental migrants appeared after the level of the Caspian Sea rose, as a result of which several villages in the Saliany and Neftechala districts were flooded and mountain rivers in the Kuba-Divichi region broke their banks. Residents of the villages who fell victim to the disaster were moved to safe places.

According to international standards, the government should compensate all the losses these people incurred, regardless of whether their property was insured or not. According to the same norms, appropriate living conditions must be created for those forced to migrate.

In Azerbaijan, matters are different in this respect. It can even be said that nothing is being done at the operative level. An analysis of events relating to natural disasters shows that all measures are undertaken with great tardiness and after the event, although there are some improvements at the institutional and legislative levels. The government should create funds from which losses to environmental migrants can be reimbursed. In addition, a constant check should be kept of the natural balance, which will allow some disasters to be predicted. Today, there are certain worries that in some districts environmental phenomena are making themselves known which do not fall into the active category. For example, the residents of several districts located on the Aran lowlands are leaving their place of residence due to increased salinity of the soil and the impossibility of farming on such land. Another vivid example is related to the Gabalin radar station, which is causing great damage to the surrounding regions. Radiation and pollution of the air during the discharge of toxic substances is not only having a detrimental effect on the local flora and fauna, but also a serious impact on the health of the population in the districts contiguous to the station, the residents of which see moving as the only solution to the problem. In this respect, it can be presumed that the number of environmental migrants is much higher than 5,000 people. This problem requires immediate intervention by the state.

The States Contribution to Resolving Migration Problems

In 1996, an international conference was held in Geneva on the problems of refugees and migration in the CIS countries, after which the Azerbaijan government began to work on creating a legislative and institutional base for regulating the processes observed in this sphere. A well-developed network of government organizations responsible for this matter was created in the republic: the State Committee for Refugee and Forced Migrant Affairs; the Commission on International Humanitarian and Technical Aid under the Cabinet of Ministers, which coordinates the work of international humanitarian organizations in the country; and the Department of Foreign Labor Migration under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population. In addition, on 21 April, 1997, the Cabinet of Ministers created a commission for developing an integrated migration program in the republic in order to join and coordinate the efforts of various departments, in which the main government structures related to migration of the population are represented. Then a preliminary work group was created consisting of representatives of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, which set about formulating the main aspects of migration policy, developing a corresponding legislative base, preparing programs for helping refugees and migrants, and so on, as well as creating corresponding information systems.

In the same 1997, the Agency to Restore and Reconstruct Abandoned Territories formed in July 1996 began functioning. The main emphasis was on restorative work in 22 villages of the Fizuli District. Within a relatively short time, a significant number of the intended measures to reconstruct private homes, and restore water supply, irrigation, and transportation systems had been carried out.

Migration Legislation

It should be noted that one of the first legal bases in population migration is the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, adopted on 12 November, 1995. For example, in Art 69 (Section 3) of the countrys Basic Law, the rights of foreigners and stateless persons on the territory of our country are set forth. And Art 28.3 of this same section says that everyone who wishes may move freely around the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, choose a place to live, and leave the Republic of Azerbaijan in accordance with the law, pursuant to Art 28.4 citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan may return unhindered to their own country.

On the whole, forming migration legislation has gone smoothly. Among the migration laws adopted by parliament, a particular place is occupied by the following: On Arrival in the Country, Departure from the Country and Passports (adopted on 14 June, 1994), On the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons (13 March, 1996), On Registration at the Place of Stay and Residence (4 April, 1996), On Citizenship in the Republic of Azerbaijan (30 September, 1998), On Immigration (22 December, 1998), On the Status of Refugees and Forced Migrants (21 May, 1999), On Social Protection of Forced Migrants and Persons of Equal Status (21 May, 1999), On Labor Migration (28 October, 1999), On Approving the Provisions on Application of the Azerbaijan Law on Registration at the Place of Stay and Residence (8 December, 1999), and so on.

Despite this long list, it can be maintained that the laws adopted do not always work properly. For example, a set of regulatory enactments must be prepared for each law which will provide a legal basis for its execution. If there is no such legal foundation, the law is ineffective. For example, the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons regulates social relations relating to the legal status of such people. Art 5 states that people in this category who come to the republic to live permanently or work temporarily as set forth by the legislation shall be issued the relevant documents. Despite the fact that samples of them have been drawn up, such documents still do not exist, and foreigners and stateless persons receive temporary identification permits. For example, from 1997 to August 2001, 803 foreigners and stateless persons registered in the country applied for documents, and 794 were issued the relevant identification permits, that is, for unknown reasons, nine people were denied such documents. In addition, Art 6 of this law grants political asylum, but to this day, the procedure for this has not been stipulated. What is more, a decree issued by the republics president on 25 June, 1996 entrusted the Cabinet of Ministers with preparing proposals within two months on the procedure for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain a permanent residency permit in the country, as well as with drawing up a procedure within a month for deporting people of this category from the country who violate the countrys laws. Then these documents were to be presented to the republics president, but they are still not ready.

Nevertheless, there are also some positive aspects in the migration legislation. This applies to the laws On Immigration and On Labor Migration. As mentioned above, the Law on Immigration is one of the first documents called upon to regulate questions regarding the immigration of foreigners and stateless persons into the Republic of Azerbaijan. Pursuant to this document, those arriving with the intention of finding a job, permanent or temporary residence, or who have close relatives among Azerbaijan citizens and have received an invitation from them to reside permanently in the republic, as well as foreigners or stateless persons who marry Azerbaijan citizens, or who are under the guardianship of Azerbaijan citizens or who act as guardians themselves, highly qualified specialists, members of the art community, and athletes can obtain an immigrant status. The immigration law also applies to repatriates, that is, Azeris who left at one time to live in Germany, the U.S., and other countries and wish to return to Azerbaijan. Repatriates may not only obtain an immigrant status, but also, pursuant to the Law on Citizenship, can become citizens of the republic. The Law on Immigration applies primarily to labor immigrants. According to the law, foreigners coming to work for no less than a year can obtain an immigrant status. Otherwise, they are given a temporary visa. According to the same law, if a company employs foreigners for an extended period, an immigration quota applies to them which should be set forth annually by the corresponding executive power structures. Immigrants arriving in accordance with the quota or without such have equal rights set forth by the Constitution and laws On Immigration and On the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons.

The Law on Labor Migration is divided into two parts: the first determines the activity of foreigners in the republic, and the second applies to the work of Azerbaijan citizens abroad. In order to regulate relations which apply to the first part, there are several legislative acts in the country, which we mentioned above. As for the second part of this law, the labor activity of Azerbaijan citizens abroad is still not controlled by the state. After this law was adopted, the obligations of the state and corresponding foreign employers to the republics citizens working abroad were defined. This made it possible to organize the employment of Azerbaijan citizens in other countries. But despite this, the laws regulating migration processes have many flaws. We can only hope that during the current judicial and legal reform, they will all be eliminated.

The Role of International and Local Organizations

Migration processes throughout the world are gaining momentum. At times, they assume such proportions that the efforts of several states are needed to resolve the problems they entail. But there are also international organizations which are preventing or eradicating these problems at the roots before they become aggravated. Such structures operating in Azerbaijan include the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council, and so on. Whereby IOM works with all categories of migrants, and the rest are mainly engaged in the problems of refugees and forced migrants. On 8 December, 1999, Azerbaijan and the International Organization for Migration signed an agreement which created the legal foundations for continuing cooperation in migration management. And on 8 February, 2000, this agreement was ratified by the republics parliament. IOM is one of the organizers of the Geneva Conference of 1996. After approval by its participants of a program of action, several obligations were placed on this structure, as well as on the other conference organizersUNHCR, DRC, and so onwhich in particular focused on creating a mechanism for assisting the efficient management of migration processes. During the past five years, IOM has been implementing programs in Azerbaijan which are helping to achieve the set goals. These programs can be divided into three areas. The first focuses on cooperation between this structure and the government to create a migration service in the republic, as well as improve its migration legislation. The second is aimed at strengthening the migration sector by raising the potential of nongovernmental organizations working in this field. And finally, the third renders services to potential migrants, from providing them with the necessary consultation to issuing credit for the development of small businesses.

System of Urgent Measures for Regulating Migration Processes

As the economy of the region develops, future migration problems will begin to acquire international features. This is an important aspect of migration development at the subregional level, as a result of which Azerbaijan will become a transit country between Europe and Asia, and migrants will even be able to choose our republic as a destination country. With each passing day, overall migration problems are growing, in particular, its illegal form and smuggling. A corresponding long-term program of action must be drawn up in the Caucasus in order to resolve them, which will regulate the migration processes at three levels: institutional, legislative, and operative.

Some progress can be expected after the republics Migration Service is created, some of the functions of which have been assumed by several government structures, but their activity is not coordinated. For example, some departments are engaged in the affairs of refugees and forced migrants, and others with labor migrants. But both categories of migrants have many common problems, in particular, the unemployment level, which forces them to leave their comfortable perches in pursuit of a source of income. It can be said with certainty today that the fate of a migrant from Azerbaijan is in the hands of several government structures which, of course, try to help him, but due to administrative and command hitches and without specific cooperation with international structures and nongovernmental organizations, this activity is not productive. In order to coordinate, gather, store, and use information, as well as exchange data obtained between various ministries and the corresponding structures, a central national base of statistical information on people arriving and leaving the country must be created. This will make it possible not only to reveal the problems, but also draw up specific proposals to resolve them.

A decent legal base has been created which regulates migration relations. But, as we mentioned above, on the one hand, some of the migration laws must be improved, which should place the emphasis on resolving the problems of illegal migration, and on the other, regulatory enactments should be drawn up and adopted which assist their implementation. What is more, all the legislative acts adopted by the republic in this field should correspond to the international conventions and protocols to which we are party. Particular attention should be given to non-regulated migration, in particular, trading in people and smuggling should be strictly persecuted and punished by the law. This requires introducing several addenda into the republics Criminal Code, applying laws more efficiently which make it possible to control the registration and licensing of agencies engaged in the employment and marriage of citizens living abroad, and so on.

It is encouraging that the prospects for cooperation between nongovernmental and international organizations with respect to regulating migration processes are expanding with each passing day. To some extent, this trend is also observed at the level of cooperation between the government and international structures, although here the tempo is much slower. The situation with cooperation between government structures and nongovernmental organizations is still complicated. Cooperation at the operative level is limping along. It is this aspect that requires closer attention, since nongovernmental organizations have many lucrative ideas and rich practical experience with respect to resolving migration problems.

1 See: Motives for Migrating from Azerbaijan, Routes, and Methods, p. 37.

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