The Republic of Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan Respublikası), is a country in the Transcaucasian region, situated at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and Southeastern Europe. The earliest evidence of human settlement in the area dates back to the late Stone Age and is related to the Guruchay culture of the Azykh Cave. The Upper Paleolithic and late Bronze Age cultures are attested in the caves of Tağılar, Damcılı, Zar, Yataq-yeri and in the necropolises of Leylatepe and Saraytepe. Early settlements included the Scythians in the 9th century BC. A vast empire was formed by the Medes between 900–700 BC, which was integrated into the Achaemenid Empire around 550 BC. Later it became part of Alexander the Great’s Empire and its successor, the Seleucid Empire.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the subsequent October Revolution, the provinces of the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) seceded from the Empire and formed their own federal state called the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR). Due to bitter infighting between the regions, the union only lasted for 6 months. Massacres took place between 30 March and 2 April 1918 in the city of Baku and adjacent areas. On 26 May 1918, Georgia declared independence followed two days later by Armenia and Azerbaijan on the 28th, thus dissolving the federation. This day is still commemorated by both countries as Republic Day.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was formed, becoming the first modern parliamentary republic in the Muslim world. Among the important accomplishments of the Parliament was the extension of suffrage to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. Another important accomplishment of the ADR was the establishment of Baku State University, which was the first modern-type university founded in the Muslim East. But its short history was mainly one of conflict rather than consolidation. Numerous territorial disputes with its neighbors, the highly prized oil fields which existed within the country and the ongoing battle between the Red and White Armies never gave the fledgling Republic a chance.
Beginning in the summer of 1918, the Armenians, supported by the British, and the Turkish Army fought the Battle of Baku, which didn’t allow the ADR to actually have a capital until September 1918. Baku was occupied by the British until mid-1919, where things began to stabilize. British forces left on 19 August 1919. Azerbaijan tried to remain neutral with regards to the Russian Civil War, even signing a defensive treaty with Georgia on 16 June 1919 against the White troops of General Anton Denikin’s Volunteer Army who were threatening to start an offensive on their borders. Denikin, allied with the Armenians, were trying to drag the rest of the area into the Russian conflict. Denikin’s army was completely defeated by the Red Army in January 1920.
By March 1920, it was obvious that Soviet Russia would attack Baku. Vladimir Lenin said that the invasion was justified as Soviet Russia could not survive without Baku’s oil. Independent Azerbaijan lasted only 23 months until the Bolshevik 11th Soviet Red Army invaded it, establishing the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic on 28 April 1920. Although the bulk of the newly formed Azerbaijani army was engaged in putting down an Armenian revolt that had just broken out in Karabakh, Azerbaijanis did not surrender their brief independence of 1918–20 quickly or easily. As many as 20,000 Azerbaijani soldiers died resisting what was effectively a Russian reconquest.
On 13 October 1921, the Soviet republics of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia signed an agreement with Turkey known as the Treaty of Kars. Initially, the Bolsheviks formed three separate states: Armenia SSR, Azerbaijan SSR and Georgia SSR, but at the insistence of Stalin, on 12 March 1922, the three states were again joined to form the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The “independence” of TSFSR was also short lived, for on 29 December 1922, the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR joined to form the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR).
The modern Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence on 30 August 1991, prior to the official dissolution of the USSR in December 1991. In September 1991, the Armenian majority of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region seceded to form the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The region and seven adjacent districts outside it became de facto independent with the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994. These regions are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan pending a solution to the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh.
The modern postal service in Azerbaijan began in the early 19th century, when Azerbaijan became a part of the Russian Empire. The first post office was opened in 1818 in Yelizavetpol (now Ganja). The first mail forwarding service was established in 1826 in Baku, followed by the second mail forwarding service which was established in 1828 in Nakhichevan. Post offices were opened at Quba, Shusha, Shamakhi, Lankaran, Nukha (now Shaki) and Salyan. Russian Empire postmarks and postage stamps were in used in the territory of Azerbaijan from 1858. The early postmarks were composed of dots in different shapes. Dated postmarks with city names soon followed.
The first stamps of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic were issued in October 1919 and consisted of a set of ten pictorial designs including a solder with a flag, a farmer at sunset, the city of Baku and the Temple of Eternal Fires. The issues were issued in thin, white paper with whitish gum and is known as the Moussavat Issue, named after the ruling political party. Between 1919 and 1921 the stamps of Azerbaijan were all printed in Baku by lithography. The paper used was in very large format — most often, a full sheet of newspaper — with two or three hundred stamps fitted on to the sheet. It seems that the difficult to handle big sheets were cut in two before being sent to post offices. A 1920 printing on buff paper with yellow gum or no gum was also released. The first printing is scarcer and forgeries of it exist. The Scott catalogue does not distinguish between the different paper colors.
On 27 April 1920 the Soviet army entered the capital Baku and the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was created, which became a part of the Soviet Union (USSR). The first stamps of the ASSR were issued in 1921 and consisted of a set of 15 stamps showing local and political scenes including an oil well and a mosque. Further stamps were issued in 1921 for famine relief and overprints with local control inscriptions in 1922. However the 1923 famine relief stamps of Azerbaijan are bogus, and these were subsequently forged.
On 12 March 1922, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia were federated as the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (TSFSR). Azerbaijani stamps were overprinted first in Azeri currency, then Transcaucasian rubles. Overprinted country-wide Soviet stamps were issued in 1923. From 1 October 1923 ASSR stamps were replaced completely by stamps of the TSFSR which were used until the dissolution of the TSFSR and the second refounding of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in 1936. The stamps of the ASSR were issued again along with the country-wide Soviet stamps which were used until the dissolution of the ASSR and the Soviet Union in 1991.
On 19 November 1990, the ASSR was renamed the Republic of Azerbaijan. It became an independent country on 18 August 1991 and its first stamp was issued on 26 March 1992 to mark its independence. Unlike most other ex-Soviet republics, Azerbaijan did not overprint Soviet stamps to meet their postal needs after independence. The national postal service Azərpoçt was founded in 1992, which was restructured in 1999 and became the national postal operator in 2004. The national postage stamp company Azermarka began functioning in 1992 and is responsible for the production and sale of all Azerbaijani postage stamps.
The first stamps to be issued in the new Azerbaijani currency, the manat, that was introduced to replace the Soviet ruble used for the previous issues since independence, appeared in October 1992, after the introduction of the new currency on 15 August 1992. The currency value of the stamps (in manats or in its monetary unit the qapiks) varies depending on the year of issue. Azerbaijan became a member of the Universal Postal Union on 1 April 1993.
Scott #39 was released by the Azerbaijan SSR in 1922, applying a 5000 ruble surcharge onto the 2000 ruble blue and black stamp (Scott #27) issued earlier in the year. The imperforate stamp was surcharged by use of a handstamp from metal dies in a numbering machine. The cancellation is from Baku and is dated 28 March 1923, by which time it was part of the USSR. The stamp portrays part of the palace of the Baku Khanate, an autonomous Muslim principality under Iranian suzerainty, which existed between 1747 and 1806. Upon occupation of Baku by the Russian Empire in 1806 a military garrison was positioned in the palace. Today, the palace complex is in ruins and is used as warehouse by workers. The entrance portal and a small restored mosque have survived and an underground bathhouse in the low part of the fortress walls remains unexcavated.
The early stamps of Azerbaijan may look rather primitive to the modern eye. However, the printing process was actually complex and sophisticated. Very large lithographic plates were created using complex transfers and infilling to deal with single rows or columns left over after the regular transfer process was completed. Though minor color shifts and offsets are frequently found, major varieties such as dramatic color shifts, missing colors or inverted backgrounds are rare. So, too, are proofs and printer’s waste.