Baky

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Baky (pron. ba-KEY, formerly Baku, 1991 pop. 1,782,000), is the capital city of Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea in central Asia. The greater metropolitan area occupies almost the whole Apsheron peninsula.

Baky was a leading Soviet industrial and cultural centre and handled one of the greatest volumes of freight (mainly oil and oil products) of any Soviet port. Until World War II Baky was the USSR's chief petroleum centre and oil drilling remains the major economic activity (particularly on the Apsheron peninsula and offshore). Baky also has many oil refineries and factories that produce oil-field equipment. Other important industries include shipbuilding and the processing of food and tobacco.

The dominant ethnic group of Baky is Azeri (46%), but there are large communities of Russians and Armenians. Islam is the dominant religion.

Archaelogical evidence indicates the area has been settled since the sixth century B.C. Early inhabitants worshipped the oil and gas wells, and shrines featuring constantly burning fires were a centre of religious activity. It remained a small independent community for many centuries. Baky began to flourish as a trading centre in the 15th century and came under Persian rule in 1509. It first came under the dominion of Russia when Peter I captured it in 1723, however it was returned to Persia in 1735. Russia again annexed it in 1806. Oil production began in the late 19th century.

Immediately after the Russian Revolution in 1917 Baky was taken by the Bolsheviks, and the city was occupied during the next two years by the White Army and its foreign allies (mainly Britain). From 1918 to 1920, Baky belonged to the independent, anti-Bolshevik Azerbaijan republic. From 1920 to 1990 Baky was the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, a member state of the USSR. In January, 1990, Baky was the scene of fierce fighting as Soviet forces put down Azeri militants who had declared independence.

The Old City, comprising the 13th-century fortress of Bad-Kube, has narrow, winding streets, several mosques, and the 17th-century palace of the khans of Baky, who were vassals of the Persian shahs. In the newer, Soviet-era districts of the city are the university (est. 1920), the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, and many other educational and cultural institutions.