Education and science
Education and learning is woven into the fabric of Azerbaijani culture and history. By the 19th century, European-style educational institutions were founded throughout the country. In 1919, Baku State University was established, one of the first institutions of its type in the East, which introduced further education to the country. During the Soviet era, the national educational policy was substituted for that of the Soviet system.
Following the regaining of Azerbaijani independence in 1991, the Educational Reform Programme was launched. An educational methodology conforming to world standards was developed by the government and implemented in 1999. The current system comprises pre-school establishments, comprehensive schools, vocational schools, junior colleges and universities.
New educational legislation, adopted in 2009, established a legal basis for a renewed education system. In addition to state schools, a network of private educational organisations has been created. The higher education institutions of Azerbaijan actively participate in the Bologna Process. Thousands of youths from countries across the world currently study in the country’s higher education institutions. The Azerbaijani educational system also makes provision for top students to study in the world’s leading universities.
Azerbaijani scientific discovery has a long history. Scientific research is currently undertaken by the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences (ANAS), founded in 1945, together with a range of other universities. There are specialist schools for sciences, covering mathematics, physics, oil chemistry, geology, biology and other disciplines. The Azerbaijan State Oil Academy is renowned for its scientific research and innovations in the oil extraction industry. Furthermore, research undertaken in the humanities and social sciences has enriched the understanding and appreciation of Azerbaijani literature, history, philosophy and other subject areas.
Literature has a special place in Azerbaijani culture, with folklore at its heart. The Azerbaijani epic The Book of Dede-Qorqud is a significant literary piece that is more than 1,300 years old. In the Middle Ages, Azerbaijani poet Nizami created his world-famous Khamsa, and prominent poet Fuzuli was recognised across national and regional borders. His Leyli and Majnun is renowned as a literary gem. Another great exponent of Azerbaijani literature was Mirza Fatali Akhundov, who refined dramatic form for the Azerbaijani theatre in the 19th century.
During the Soviet period, such brilliant Azerbaijani literary figures as Huseyn Javid, Ahmad Javad and Mikail Mushfiq fell victim to repression by the Soviet regime. Samad Vurgun, Suleyman Rustam, Ilyas Efendiyev
and Mammad Said were particularly renowned. The Azerbaijani poet Shahriyar was of great importance to Azerbaijani and Iranian literature. Ali and Nino, by Azerbaijani émigré writer Gurban Said, is famous across the world. Modern-day literary figures are Bakhtiyar Vahabzada, Anar and others. Chingiz Abdullayev has become internationally recognised for his gripping detective novels and short stories.
Azerbaijani ‘mugham’ has been recognised since 2003 by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Listen to Alim Qasimov – Bagishlamani:
This highly complex art form, performed in a passionate manner, combines classical poetry and musical improvisation, utilising specialist local modes. An International Mugham Centre has opened in Baku, and the International Mugham Festival is organised on a regular basis.
A modern development from mugham is ‘jazz-mugham’, developed by pianist and composer Vagif Mustafazadeh. Some of the world’s leading musicians perform at the Baku International Jazz Festival.
Listen to Vagif Mustafazadeh – Dushunce:
Another indigenous form is ashiq music, performed by travelling bards who accompany themselves on the saz, a traditional stringed instrument.
Uzeyir Hajibeyov founded Azerbaijani classical music. His Leyli and Majnun (1908) was the first opera in the Orient. The first Eastern ballets and symphony orchestras also emerged in Azerbaijan. The appreciation of classical music is promoted, and the annual Gabala International Music Festival recently attracted audiences from across the world. The resident orchestra for the fourth edition will be the London-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as was the case in 2010, and conductors will include Farhard Badalbeyli, Dmitri Yablonsky and Rauf Abdullayev.
Art and architecture
Prominent Azerbaijani artists include Sattar Bahlulzade (1909–74), who founded contemporary Azerbaijani landscape painting. He represented the countryside of his homeland in an impressionistic style, combining pastel colours and broad strokes. Exhibitions of his work have been held across the world.
Tahir Salahov (b.1928) was the main exponent of the ‘severe style’, being renowned for his portraits of workers and celebrities, such as composer Gara Garayev. On the other side of the spectrum, Togrul Narimanbekov (b.1930) depicted aspects of Azerbaijani folk life in rich, vibrant colours.
Art is exhibited across the country, via a broad network of museums and galleries, and in Baku there are institutions dedicated to literature, fine arts, carpets, decorative arts and modern art.
Azerbaijani architecture combines influences from many styles and periods. Hundreds of historical and modern structures are in existence, representing various aesthetic styles and architectural schools. The Caucasian Albanian legacy is particularly important, being represented by both civil buildings and Christian temples. One of these is located in Kish village, Sheki, and is regarded as the ‘mother of Albanian churches’. This is the most ancient Christian monument in the Caucasus and was recently renovated by the Azerbaijani government as part of an architectural renovation programme.
Islam's spread across the country during the 7th century, resulted in the adoption of Islamic styles. The quality of Azerbaijani architecture reached a new zenith during the 10th–12th centuries, and the Momina Khatun Mausoleum (1186), constructed in Nakhchivan under the leadership of Ajami Abubekr’s son, Nakhchivani, is a pearl of both Azerbaijani and world architecture.
The jewels of Azerbaijani architecture include Icheri Sheher, Baku's walled inner city, which contains over 50 historical and architectural monuments, such as the Shirvanshahs’ Palace and Maiden’s Tower. These are included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.
In the late 19th–early 20th centuries, rapid development of the Baku oil industry stimulated the development of civil and industrial architecture. Following the re-establishment of independence, Soviet official architecture was replaced by a new, contemporary approach.
Azerbaijani cinema emerged in 1898, just three years after the Lumiere brothers showed their first motion picture. Since then, cinematography has evolved as an art form. Azerbaijani director, screenwriter and cinematographer, Rustam Ibragimbekov won an Oscar for his script for Burnt by the Sun (1994), and Ayaz Salayev’s The Bat (1995) was awarded the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Angers, France. Azerbaijani producer Vaqif Mustafayev has been elected as a member of the European Cinema and Television Academy.
Azerbaijani food is renowned for being amongst the most delicious in the Caucasus. The richly fertile agricultural land and Caspian Sea provide a wide variety of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Caspian Sea caviar is an internationally sought-after delicacy. Azerbaijani cuisine incorporates more than 30 kinds of soup, and the most celebrated meal is plov. A wide variety of kebabs, using lamb, beef, chicken, and fish are prepared for special occasions. Dried fruits and walnuts are used in abundance. Azerbaijani cuisine is famous for its widespread use of seasonal vegetables and a range of herbs.