The official language is Azerbaijani, a
Turkic tongue belonging to the southern branch of the Altaic languages.
In 1994 it was estimated that some 82 percent of Azerbaijan's citizens
speak Azerbaijani as their first language. In addition, 38 percent of
Azerbaijanis speak Russian fluently to accommodate Russian domination
of the economy and politics. Although official Soviet figures showed
that about 32 percent of Russians living in Azerbaijan spoke Azerbaijani,
the Russian population generally was reluctant to learn the local language.
The prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who
was born in the seventh century B.C. in what is now Azerbaijan, established
a religion focused on the cosmic struggle between a supreme god and
an evil spirit. Islam arrived in Azerbaijan with Arab invaders in the
seventh century A.D., gradually supplanting Zoroastrianism and Azerbaijani
pagan cults. In the seventh and eighth centuries, many Zoroastrians
fled Muslim persecution and moved to India, where they became known
as Parsis. Until Soviet Bolsheviks ended the practice, Zoroastrian pilgrims
from India and Iran traveled to Azerbaijan to worship at sacred sites,
including the Surakhany Temple on the Apsheron Peninsula near Baku.
THE CULTURAL RENAISSANCE
In the second half of the nineteenth century
and in the early twentieth century, Azerbaijan underwent a cultural
renaissance that drew on the golden age of the eleventh to the thirteenth
centuries and other influences. The patronage of the arts and education
that characterized this movement was fueled in part by increasing oil
wealth. Azerbaijan's new industrial and commercial elites contributed
funds for the establishment of many libraries, schools, hospitals, and
charitable organizations. In the 1880s, philanthropist Haji Zeinal Adibin
Taghiyev built and endowed Baku's first theater.
In the pre-Soviet period, Azerbaijani education
included intensive Islamic religious training that commenced in early
childhood. Beginning at roughly age five and sometimes continuing until
age twenty, children attended madrasahs, education institutions affiliated
with mosques. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, madrasahs
were established as separate education institutions in major cities,
but the religious component of education remained significant. In 1865
the first technical high school and the first women's high school were
opened in Baku. In the late nineteenth century, secular elementary schools
for Azerbaijanis began to appear (schools for ethnic Russians had been
established earlier), but institutions of higher education and the use
of the Azerbaijani language in secondary schools were forbidden in Transcaucasia
throughout the tsarist period. The majority of ethnic Azerbaijani children
received no education in this period, and the Azerbaijani literacy rate
remained very low, especially among women. Few women were allowed to
of architecture and art of Azerbaijan reflect the history of the country
located on the junction of world trade ways linking up East and West.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, little monumental architecture was created, but distinctive residences were built in Baku and elsewhere. Among the most recent architectural monuments, the Baku subways are noted for their lavish decor.
It is astonishing that rock drawings report on the earliest stages of the development of musical art on the territory of Azerbaijan in the 5-3 millenniums B.C. There is a peculiar percussion musical instrument of the Stone Age - "gaval-dash" (stone-tambourine) in Gobustan. Musical instruments, which came as a result of excavations, as well as ancient folk legends, narrate about the musical culture of the past epoch.
Throughout centimes, the Azerbaijani music dominated in the folk art. Classic melodies with refined fret and intonation structure, vocal and instrumental form, polyphony were nursed in the entrails of the Azerbaijani music. Handicraftsmen created musical instruments - forefathers of modern tar, saz, canon, kamancha, tutek, balaman or balaban, zurna, nagara, gosha-nagara, daf, tambounne, etc. In music an ancient tradition was carried into modern times by ashugs, poet-singers who presented ancient songs or verses or improvised new ones, accompanied by a stringed instrument called the kobuz. Another early musical form was the mugam, a composition of alternating vocal and instrumental segments most strongly associated with the ancient town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh.
An independent area of the Azerbaijan musical folklore is a dancing music distinguished by its diversity and relief of rhythmic figures.
Note that it was the development of urban culture that gave impetus to the emergence of mugams in the Middle Ages - these vocal and instrumental plays with contrast combination of improvisation and recitative sections and strict, well-rounded song and dancing melodies (tesnif - song in mugam, reng - instrumental episode).
In the early 20 century, great Uzeir Hadjibekov laid the foundations of modern musical culture. His opera "Leyli and Majnun" by Fuzuli's poem was based on folk tunes and thus gave impetus to the development of mugam opera. The same is true of other works by U.Hadjibekov ("Ash and Karim", 1912), M.Magomayev ("Shah Ismail", staged in 1919), Z.Hadjibekov ("Ashyg Garib", staged-in 1916).
DANCE AND BALLET
The history of Azerbaijani folk dance goes back to the ancient tunes. Ritual and hunting dances were the first steps on this track. And again, rock drawings of Gobustan tell us about them, especially, the so called "Hunting Scene", "Silhouettes of Dancing People" resembling the ancient round dance "Yally". Ritual dances survived from the time immemorial. It should be noted that dancing ensembles, famous for their skills, performed at the palaces of nobility.
Professional dancing art is related to the development of national
opera and operetta with their traditional choreographic turns. In 1940, Afrasiab Badalbayli staged the first national ballet "Maiden's Tower", in 1950, Soltan Hadjibekov staged "Gulshan", in 1952 and 1960, Gara Garayev staged "Seven Beauties" and "Thunder Path" respectively.
Theatralized scenes were typical for folk holidays and dancing. Components of theatricality were present in calendar holidays - "Novruz" (coming of spring), etc.
Creative work of ashugs was also theatralized; the same was true of collective men's dancing "Yally", performance of rope-walkers, conjurers, dervishes, etc. The Azerbaijani folk theater "Oyun Tamasha" enjoyed great popularity among people. Audience of puppet theater "Kilim Arasy" (beyond the carpet) was also great. Actors made fun of ugly rituals, exposed social inequality and unfair. The Azerbaijani religious mysterial theatre was widely spread in the Middle Ages and later as well.
In the end of the 19 century, the plays in Azeri were staged in Gyandja, Shusha, Nakhchivan. The repertoire included plays written both by local and foreign playwrights.
The 20 century was notable for marked development of theatrical art. The Russian dramatic theater was founded in Baku, 1923; theatres of young spectators and puppets; the theatre of Azerbaijan drama named after Jafar Jabbarly in Gyandja, musical dramatic theatre named after Mamedkulizadeh in Nakhchivan.
The first feature Azerbaijani film "In the Kingdom of Oil and Millions" by I. Musabekov with the participation of prominent actor H.Arablinsky was staged in 1916. In 1923, the Azerbaijan photo-cinema department was established.
The Azerbaijani films are noted by their national color, oriental profundity, completion of topics.
"On Far Seashore" (producer T.Tagizade, 1959), "If Not This, Then That" (producer H.Seidzade, 1959), "Arshin Mal Alan" (producer T.Tagizade, 1966), "Interrogation" (producer R.0djagov, 1972), "Nizami" (producer E.Guhyev, 1982), "Seven Days After Murder" (producer R.0djagov, 1990), "Murder At Night Town" (producer A.Makhmudov, 1990) are among the best films of the Orient.
Works of Azerbaijani cinematographers have repeatedly been awarded, announced winners of competitions and festivals.
Success of the Azerbaijani cinema is due to the names of remarkable actors Fakhraddin Manafov, Rasun Balayev, Hamida Omarova, Amaha Panakhova, Shafiga Mamedova.
Different artistic crafts and industries have been popular in Azerbaijan since ancient times. Among them is copper chasing used for the production of articles of diverse form and purpose.
Copper wares were produced with great mastership from local ores in Azerbaijani ancient and medieval towns, including Baku, Nakhchivan, Lankaran, Shamakha, Gyandja, Shusha, Shaki and Guba. The most famous Caucasian center for the production of chased copper ware was Lagich located near the ancient cultural center of Ismailly, widely known for its art achievements. It has been established that in late 19 and early 20 centuries Lagich disposed of about 180 copper shops.
Copper items produced by Azerbaijani masters were noted for their variety of form, lavish ornamentation and unique design.
The ornament is usually based on a rather complex composition, which includes different themes and is executed in the form of straight and broken lines with a multitude of dots, triangles and rhombic figures. Apart from geometrical figures the ornaments incorporated floral subjects, depiction of birds and animals, and later the sun and people.
Most of the ornamented articles bear their master's mark, date of completion and, sometimes, owner's name. The diverse inscriptions, including verses, were usually engraved in Arabic. Ornaments were often intertwined with inscriptions executed in different types of Arabic alphabet which contributed to the beauty of the ornament.
Copper wares, which were highly popular among the population, fell into several groups: vessels, cauldrons (gazan) for cooking meals, tableware, different objects of every-day use and bathing attributes.
A comparative analysis of forms and ornamentation employed in working with copper and in other applied arts shows an original and widespread character of the Azerbaijani national ornament.
Carpet-weaving is a very old and highly developed craft. Archaeological finds bear evidence that it was already in existence back in the 9 century B.C. Written sources of later periods, for instance, writings by antique Greek, Roman and Arab authors (Herodotus, Xenophon, Al- Mugaddasi), also indicate that carpet-weaving is indeed a very old craft in Azerbaijan. It has developed over centuries to reach its perfection. Azerbaijan craftsmen have produced magnificent specimens - from simple pileless carpets to the exquisite khalcha variety.
It is accepted to divide Azerbaijan carpets into four types:
1.Guba-Shirvan (with manufacturing centres in Guba, Shirvan and Baku);
2.Gyandja-Gazakh (with manufacturing centers in Gyandja and Gazakh);
3.Karabakh (with manufacturing centers in Karabakh, Shusha and Jabrail),
4.Tebriz (with manufacturing centers in Tebriz and Ardebil)
They are distinguished mainly by 3 following features: ornament, manufacturing technique and the kind of article in question.
Azerbaijan carpets are manufactured in various techniques. Basically, they are divided into piled and pileless.
Pileless ones include palas, kilim, sumakh, zili, shadde and vemi. Palas and kilim are simply woven, while sumakh, zili, shadde and vemi have an intricate weave.
Azerbaijan carpet makers use yarn dyes of basic seven colors of varying shades. Over centuries they have developed compositions of dyes obtained from local plants. Unlike chemical dyestuffs, natural colorants do not erode the structure of wool fibbers, but lend them sheen and succulence. Having mastered manufacturing techniques to perfection, Azerbaijan carpet makers began producing sets (dast) consisting of a large central carpet, two-sided rugs and one-headed piece, all united in a single composition; prayer rugs (namazlyg); pictorial and other types of carpets.
Carpets were to meet both aesthetic and utilitarian requirements. As an object of household use, which was its main purpose, the carpet served to keep the house warm. Carpet bags and coverlets of different types were widely spread. These included pileless mafrash, khurdjun and kheiba (travelling bags); chuval (sacks for holding loose products); chul (all kinds of coverlets); yakhar ustu (saddle cover) and other objects.
ARCHEOLOGICAL FINDS ON THE CASPIAN COAST
The underwater and coastal archaeological excavations on the Azerbaijani coast of Caspian have brought to light and localised the historical region of Shirvan-Gushtasfi which occupied an extensive area in the Kura delta. Archeological monuments - ancient settlements Byandovan I and Byandovan II - have been discovered along the ancient riverbeds and the Caspian coast.
The first monument (Byandovan I) dating to the 11-13 centuries pinpoints the site of the medieval town Gushtasfi, the second (Byandovan II) dating to the 9-12 centimes - the medieval town Mugan. These were centers of large-scale ceramics production. Several kilns have been discovered and a large number of plain and glazed ceramics (9-13 centuries) collected.
Plain ceramics is presented by all types of daily and kitchen utensils: different-purpose pitchers, household vessels, pots and lamps. They were made chiefly on the potter's wheel from well-kneaded greyish and reddish clay and show precise workmanship. Many of the objects, especially lids of vessels, are decorated with imposed, incised or stamped ornaments.
The discovered fragments of pottery, kilns, other related materials testify to the local production of plain ceramics in Byandovan I and Byandovan II though it is similar to pottery-production in other centres of this kind in medieval Azerbaijan (Bailakan, Shamakha, Kabala, Shabran) and has identical traditions.
The most ancient find off the Azerbaijan coast was a hilt of a bronze sword with a saddle-like knob and the remains of an iron blade (rhombic shaped cross-section) discovered at Mount Zayachya. The sword is related to the Astrakhanbazar type, Talysh-Mugan culture, and dates back to the 8-7 centunes B.C.
The excavation work earned out off the Azerbaijan coast helped specify information on the legends-covered "Caspian Atlantis".