More than half of the country’s population lives in urban areas. The most densely populated region is the Abşeron Peninsula, on the western coast of the Caspian Sea. Baku, Azerbaijan’s largest city and the most important industrial city in Transcaucasia, is located on this peninsula, as are other industrial towns, including Sumqayıt.
Baku is a large and attractive city situated on natural terraces running down to a gulf of the Caspian Sea. The city has a 2-mile- (3.2-kilometre-) long picturesque boulevard and many historic sites.
Other areas of dense population occur in certain lowland and foothill regions. Gäncä is the second largest town and the main urban centre of the interior.
The highest density of rural population is found in Länkäran and Masallı in the southeast. The Talysh, or Talishi—Iranian people who form the bulk of the local population—have preserved many of their old customs and traditions.
Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanis (Azeris) make up some nine-tenths of the country’s population; the remaining population comprises only small concentrations of minorities—among them, Lezgians (who speak a Caucasian language), Russians, and Armenians. Ethnic Azerbaijanis combine in themselves the dominant Turkic strain, which arrived in Azerbaijan especially during the Oghuz Seljuq migrations of the 11th century, with mixtures of older inhabitants—Iranians and others—who had lived in Transcaucasia since ancient times. At the end of the 20th century, about 13 million Azerbaijanis lived abroad, most of them in Iran.
The Azerbaijani language is a member of the West Oghuz group of the southwestern (Oghuz) branch of the Turkic languages. The literary tradition dates to the 15th century. The Arabic script was used until the 20th century; the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in 1939. In 1992 the Azerbaijani government switched from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet as its official orthography.