The Azerbaijanis are a Oghuz Turkic language people of the South Caucasus. Their ethnogenesis dates to the High Middle Ages, notably by assimilation of the Iranian inhabitants of the area.The modern Azerbaijani people are descendants of various ethnic groups that contributed to their ethnogesis.
This Caucasian influence extended further south into Iranian Azarbaijan. During the 1st millennium BCE, another Caucasian people, the Mannaeans (Mannai) populated much of Iranian Azarbaijan. Weakened by conflicts with the Assyrians, the Mannaeans are believed to have been conquered and assimilated by the Medes by 590 BCE.
Ancient historians, including Herodotus, Polybius and Strabo, mention the Caucasus region as a mixed one, with Iranian and non-Iranian groups, such as the Utii, a Caucasian group that still exists in Azerbaijan.
At the present time, indeed, one king rules all the tribes, but formerly the several tribes were ruled separately by kings of their own according to their several languages. They have twenty-six languages, because they have no easy means of intercourse with one another
Whether originally Iranian or Caucasian, it is relatively certain and accepted by most scholars that Azeris are not descendants of Turkic tribes, although they have certainly been affected by them.
According to Vladimir Minorsky, around the 9th-10th century:
”The original sedentary population of Azarbayjan consisted of a mass of peasants and at the time of the Arab conquest was compromised under the semi-contemptuous term of Uluj (“non-Arab”)-somewhat similar to the raya (*ri’aya) of the Ottomon empire. The only arms of this peaceful rustic population were slings, see Tabari, II, 1379-89. They spoke a number of dialects (Adhari(Azari), Talishi) of which even now there remains some islets surviving amidst the Turkish speaking population. It was this basic population on which Babak leaned in his revolt against the caliphate.
Professor. Ighrar Aliyev also mentions that the Arab historians Baladhuri, Masudi, Ibn Hawqal and Yaqut have mentioned this language by name. Medieval historians and scholars also record that the language of the region of Azerbaijan, as well as its people there, as Iranians who spoke Iranian languages. Among these writes are Al-Istakhri, Al-Masudi, Ibn al-Nadim, Hamzeh Esfahani, Ibn Hawqal, Al-Baladhuri, Moqaddasi, Yaghubi, Hamdallah Mostowfi, and Al-Khwarizmi.
Ebn al-Moqaffa’ (d. 142/759) is quoted by ibn Al-Nadim in his famous Al-Fihrist as stating that Azerbaijan, Nahavand, Rayy, Hamadan and Esfahan speak Pahlavi (Fahlavi) and collectively constitute the region of Fahlah.
A very similar statement is given by the medieval historian Hamzeh Isfahani when talking about Sassanid Iran. Hamzeh Isfahani writes in the book Al-Tanbih ‘ala Hoduth alTashif that five “tongues” or dialects, were common in Sassanian Iran: Pahlavi (Fahlavi), Dari, Parsi (Farsi), Khuzi and Soryani. Hamzeh (893-961 A.D.) explains these dialects in the following way:
Pahlavi (Fahlavi) was a dialect which kings spoke in their assemblies and it is related to Fahleh. This name is used to designate five cities of Iran, Esfahan, Rey, Hamadan, Man Nahavand, and Azerbaijan. Parsi (Farsi) is a dialect which was spoken by the clergy (Zoroastrian) and those who associated with them and is the language of the cities of Pars (Fars). Dari is the dialect of the cities of Ctesiphon and was spoken in the kings' /dabariyan/ 'courts'. The root of its name is related to its use; /darbar/ 'court* is implied in /dar/. The vocabulary of the natives of Balkh was dominant in this language, which includes the dialects of the eastern peoples. Khuzi is associated with the cities of Khuzistan where kings and dignitaries used it in private conversation and during leisure time, in the bath houses for instance.
Ibn Hawqal states:
the language of the people of Azerbaijan and most of the people of Armenia (sic; he probably means the Iranian Armenia) is Iranian (al-farssya), which binds them together, while Arabic is also used among them; among those who speak al-faressya (here he seemingly means Persian, spoken by the elite of the urban population), there are few who do not understand Arabic; and some merchants and landowners are even adept in it”.
It should be noted that Ibn Hawqal mentions that some areas of Armenia are controlled by Muslims and others by Christians.
The Persians are a people whose borders are the Mahat Mountains and Azarbaijan up to Armenia and Aran, and Bayleqan and Darband, and Ray and Tabaristan and Masqat and Shabaran and Jorjan and Abarshahr, and that is Nishabur, and Herat and Marv and other places in land of Khorasan, and Sejistan and Kerman and Fars and Ahvaz...All these lands were once one kingdom with one sovereign and one language...although the language differed slightly. The language, however, is one, in that its letters are written the same way and used the same way in composition. There are, then, different languages such as Pahlavi, Dari, Azari, as well as other Persian languages.
Al-Moqaddasi (d. late 4th/10th cent.) considers Azerbaijan as part of the 8th division of lands. He states: “The languages of the 8th division is Iranian (al-‘ajamyya). It is partly partly Dari and partly convoluted (monqaleq) and all of them are named Persian”.
Al-Moqaddasi also writes on the general region of Armenia, Arran and Azerbaijan and states:
They have big beards, their speech is not attractive. In Arminya they speak Armenian, in al-Ran, Ranian (Aranian). Their Persian is understandable, and is close to Khurasanian (Dari Persian) in sound.
Ahmad ibn Yaqubi mentions that the “People of Azerbaijan are a mixture of ‘Ajam-i Azari (Ajam is a term that developed to mean Iranian) of Azaris and old Javedanis (followers of Javidan the son of Shahrak who was the leader of Khurramites and successed by Babak Khorramdin).“
Zakarrya b. Moháammad Qazvini's report in Athar al-Bilad, composed in 674/1275, that “no town has escaped being taken over by the Turks except Tabriz” (Beirut ed., 1960, p. 339) one may infer that at least Tabriz had remained aloof from the influence of Turkish until the time.
From the time of the Mongol invasion, most of whose armies were composed of Turkic tribes, the influence of Turkish increased in the region. On ther hand, the old Iranian dialects remained prevalent in major cities. Hamdallah Mostawafi writing in the 1340s calls the language of Maraqa as “modified Pahlavi”(Pahlavi-ye Mughayyar). Mostowafi calls the language of Zanjan (Pahlavi-ye Raast). The language of Gushtaspi covering the Caspian border region between Gilan to Shirvan is called a Pahlavi language close to the language of Gilan.
Even after the Turkic invasions and subsequent Turkification of the area, which lasted several centuries, travelers and scholars cited Persian being used up to the 17th century in Tabriz. Even the Ottoman Turkish explorer Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682) mentions this in his Seyahatname. He also reports that the elite and learned people of Nakhichevan and Maragheh spoke Pahlavi, during his tours of the region. Additionally, the old Pahlavi based language of Azerbaijan is now extinct.
Also, the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, published in 1890, writes that Azeri's are only linguistically Turkic and Iranians by race:
some scholars (Yadrintsev, Kharuzin, Shantr) suggested to change the terminology of some Turko-Tatar people, who somatically don’t have much in common with Turks, for instance, to call Aderbaijani Tatars (Iranians by race) Aderbaijans.
The book Man, published in 1901, comes to the same conclusion:
It does not, of course, follow that such tribes may not be mainly Iranian in blood, as the Turkish-speaking Azerbaijani Tatars have been shown to be, but the persistence of foreign languages among tribal communities is not a factor to be neglected.
The Turkish speakers of Azerbaijan (q.v.) are mainly descended from the earlier Iranian speakers, several pockets of whom still exist in the region. A massive migration of Oghuz Turks in the 11th and 12th centuries not only Turkified Azerbaijan but also Anatolia.
Moreover, according to Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopedique Larousse:
Azeris are descendants of older Iranophone inhabitants of the Eastern Transcaucasia, turkicized since 11th century.
According to Professor Vladimir Minorsky:
In the beginning of the 5th/11th century the G̲h̲uzz hordes, first in smaller parties, and then in considerable numbers, under the Seljuqids occupied Azarbaijan. In consequence, the Iranian population of Azarbaijan and the adjacent parts of Transcaucasia became Turkophone.
According to Professor Xavier De Planhol:
Azeri material culture, a result of this multi-secular symbiosis, is thus a subtle combination of indigenous elements and nomadic contributions, but the ratio between them is remains to be determined. The few researches undertaken (Planhol, 1960) demonstrate the indisputable predominance of Iranian tradition in agricultural techniques (irrigation, rotation systems, terraced cultivation) and in several settlement traits (winter troglodytism of people and livestock, evident in the widespread underground stables). The large villages of Iranian peasants in the irrigated valleys have worked as points for crystallization of the newcomers even in the course of linguistic transformation; these places have preserved their sites and transmitted their knowledge. The toponymy, with more than half of the place names of Iranian origin in some areas, such as the Sahand, a huge volcanic massif south of Tabriz , or the Qara Dagh, near the border (Planhol, 1966, p. 305; Bazin, 1982, p. 28) bears witness to this continuity. The language itself provides eloquent proof. Azeri, not unlike Uzbek (see above), lost the vocal harmony typical of Turkish languages. It is a Turkish language learned and spoken by Iranian peasants.and
Thus Turkish nomads, in spite of their deep penetration throughout Iranian lands, only slightly influenced the local culture. Elements borrowed by the Iranians from their invaders were negligibleThus Turkish nomads, in spite of their deep penetration throughout Iranian lands, only slightly influenced the local culture. Elements borrowed by the Iranians from their invaders were negligible
Prof. Gernot Windfuhr states:
:One may add that the overlay of a strong superstrate by a dialect from the eastern parts of Iran does not imply the conclusion that ethnically all Kurdish speakers are from the east, just as one would hesitate to identify the majority of Azarbayjani speakers as ethnic Turks. The majority of those who now speak Kurdish most likely were formerly speakers of Median dialect.
According to Professor. Tadeusz Swietochowski:
According to the most widely accepted etymology, the name "Azerbaijan" is derived from Atropates, the name of a Persian satrap of the late fourth century b.c. Another theory traces the origin of the name to the Persian word azar ("fire"') - hence Azerbaijan, "the Land of Fire", because of Zoroastrian temples, with their fires fueled by plentiful supplies of oil. Azerbaijan maintained its national character after its conquest by the Arabs in the mid-seventh century a.d. and its subsequent conversion to Islam. At this time it became a province in the early Muslim empire. Only in the 11th century, when Oghuz Turkic tribes under the Seljuk dynasty entered the country, did Azerbaijan acquire a significant number of Turkic inhabitants. The original Persian population became fused with the Turks, and gradually the Persian language was supplanted by a Turkic dialect that evolved into the distinct Azerbaijani language. The process of Turkification was long and complex, sustained by successive waves of incoming nomads from Central Asia.The Encyclopedia Britannica States:
According to Encyclopedia Britannica:' 'The Azerbaijani are of mixed ethnic origin, the oldest element deriving from the indigenous population of eastern Transcaucasia and possibly from the Medians of northern Persia . This population was Persianized during the period of the Sasanian dynasty of Iran (3rd–7th century AD), but, after the region's conquest by the Seljuq Turks in the 11th century, the inhabitants were Turkicized, and further Turkicization of the population occurred in the ensuing centuries.
Many place names in present day Azerbaijan and Iranian Azarbaijan have Persian roots. Tabriz, Baku, Absheron, Ganja, and the country (as well as people) name itself Azerbaijan, are just a few examples. It should also be noted that many of the cities in these regions were founded before Turkic tribes ever reached the area. The first mention of Baku was in 885, before the Turkic invasions of the 10th and 11th centuries.
Archaeological evidence discovered in these regions show a large Zoroastrian, a monotheistic Iranian religion, influence along with an Iranian presence of more than 3000 years, starting with the settlement of the Medes in the area, both of which shaped the Iranian identity of the region that lasted until the Turkic invasions. However, no evidence has been discovered that the Huns ever created permanent settlements in the area, as some Turkish historians claim.
Scholars see cultural similarities between modern Persians and Azeris as evidence of an ancient Iranian influence. Azeri's celebrate a number of Iranian holidays, most notably Norouz. Researchers also describe the lives of Azeri villagers and Persian villagers to be very similar in terms of tradition and culture. The literature of the region was also written in Persian, with writers such as Qatran Tabrizi, Shams Tabrizi, Nezami, and Khaghani, writing in Persian prior to and during the Oghuz invasions.
Also, remnants of former Iranian tribes that survived Turkification also provides evidence of the Iranian character of Azeri's. The Talyshs and Tats are both an Iranian people who speak Iranian languages, with Tats speaking a dialect of Persian.
A recent study of the genetic landscape of Iran was completed by a team of Cambridge geneticists led by Dr. Maziar Ashrafian Bonab (an Iranian Azarbaijani). Bonab remarked that his group had done extensive DNA testing on different language groups, including Indo-European and non Indo-European speakers, in Iran. The study found that the Azerbaijanis of Iran do not have a similar FSt and other genetic markers found in Anatolian and European Turks. However, the genetic Fst and other genetic traits like MRca and mtDNA of Iranian Azeris were identical to Persians in Iran. Some new genetic studies suggest that recent erosion of human population structure might not be as important as previously thought, and overall genetic structure of human populations may not change with the immigration events and thus in the Azerbaijanis case ; the Azeris of Azerbaijan republic most of all genetically resemble to other Caucasian people like Armenians, and people the Azarbaijan region of Iran to other Iranians.
...the Azerbaijani Turks of Caucasia were separated from the majority of their linguistic and religious compatriots, who remained in Iran.
the genetic structure of the populations examined with the other Iranian-speaking populations (Persians and Kurds from Iran, Ossetins, and Tajiks) and Azerbaijanis showed that Iranian-speaking populations from Azerbaijan were more close to Azerbaijanis, than to Iranian-speaking populations inhabiting other world regions.
Oghuz dominance in Southwestern Asia begins in the 11th century, with the Seljuk Empire. The Southwestern Turkic dialects gradually supplanted the Tat, Azari, and Middle Persian dialects in northern Iran, and a variety of Caucasian languages in the Caucasus, particularly Udi, and had became the dominant during the High to Late Medieval period, under the rule of the White Sheep Turkomans and Black Sheep Turkomans (14th to 15th century), the process of Turkification being mostly complete by the Safavid period (16th century).