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In addition to its variegated and often strikingly beautiful terrain, Azerbaijan offers a blend of traditions and modern development.
The proud and ancient people of its remoter areas retain many distinctive folk traditions, but the lives of its inhabitants have been much influenced by accelerating modernization characterized by industrialization, the development of power resources and the growth of the cities, in which more than half the people now live.
Fine horses and caviar continue as some of the more distinctive traditional exports of the republic.
The region was overrun by the Mongols in the 13th century, and, under the ruler Hleg, Azerbaijan became the centre of a Mongol empire extending from Syria on the west to the Oxus River (now Amu Darya) on the east.
Tabriz, the region's largest city, was the capital of this empire and became a centre of cultural and commercial life.
Iranian Azerbaijan was a centre of several ancient civilizations. In the 4th century BC it was conquered by Alexander the Great and was named Atropatene after one of Alexander's generals, Atropates, who established a small kingdom there.
The area returned to Persian (Iranian) rule under the Sasanians in the 3rd century AD.