The Safavid period of Iranian history marks one of the most vibrant phases in its past. It is during this phase of history in which Shi’a became the dominant form of Islam in Iran and Azerbaijan, great advances were made in architecture, and textile production during this period flourished. It was the textiles that helped transform Safavid Iran into an important component in the global economy. Being one of the most important Iranian empires of the second millennia, it is interesting that the Safavid dynasty had its roots in Kurdish and Azerbaijani families.
Azerbaijan served as a stronghold for the early Safavids, who made their capital Tabriz. During the many conflicts that existed between the Ottomans and the Safavids, Iraq, the Caucasus, and Western Iran were often changing empires. Much of the conflict was fueled by the desire to control the trade routes that ran through the region. As a result of interspersed wars with the Ottoman Empire, the capital would be moved to Isfahan, where it was less vulnerable to foreign incursions. Despite constant territorial invasions, much of the Caucasus still remained within Safavid control, as well as the trade routes that ran through the region.
Azerbaijan was important because its location was a vital juncture of trade routes going westward as well as northward. Major cities of Azerbaijan were important trade centers for the empire that saw trade with the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and Western Europe. It was Iranian textiles and silk that Europeans and Ottomans sought. Azerbaijan, like many other regions, played an integral role in the Silk Road. One could see spice bazaars, caravans, textile factories, and foreigners from Europe to India in a major Azeri city at this time. Even coin minting in the Caucasus maintained an important role for the empire.
It was this land-based trade that gave the empire economic power. However, Europeans were trading more frequently by sea, rather than relying on centuries-old trade routes. This slowly altered the economic balance of trade, which eventually lead to economic domination by Europe. Through political turmoil, and a changing global economic environment, the empire became weak. The fragile balance of power that Iran commanded with its neighbors began to erode and Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Afghans began taking territories near their empires. The Caucasus would ultimately be colonized by Russia, and the vibrate trade of the region slowed dramatically. It was not be until the Oil Boom that Azerbaijan once again saw the economic prowess it had during the heyday of the Safavid Empire.
Post Written by Andrew Loughery, Karabakh Foundation Intern
Jackson, Peter and Laurence Lockhart, editors. The Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Matthee, Rudi. “Mint Consolidation and the Worsening of Late safavid Coinage: The mint of Huwayza.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. Vol 44 No. 4 (2001). pp. 505-539.