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Note: The cities under the direct authority of the republic in italics.

Military

The history of the modern Azerbaijan army dates back to Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, when the National Army of the newly formed Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was created on June 26, 1918. When Azerbaijan gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan were created according to the Law on the Armed Forces of October 9, 1991. The original date of the establishment of the short-lived National Army is celebrated as Army Day (26 June) in today’s Azerbaijan.As of 2002, Azerbaijan had 95,000 active personnel in its armed forces. There are also 17,000 paramilitary troops. The armed forces have three branches: the Land Forces, the Air Forces and the Navy. Additionally the armed forces embrace several military sub-groups that can be involved in state defense when needed. These are the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Border Service, which includes the Coast Guard as well. The Azerbaijan National Guard is a further paramilitary force. It operates as a semi-independent entity of the Special State Protection Service, an agency subordinate to the President.

Azerbaijan adheres to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and has signed all major international arms and weapons treaties. Azerbaijan closely cooperates with NATO in programs such as Partnership for Peace and Individual Partnership Action Plan. Azerbaijan has deployed 151 of its Peacekeeping Forces in Iraq and another 184 in Afghanistan.

The military expenditures of Azerbaijan for 2011 are set at US$4,46 billion. Azerbaijani defense industry manufactures small arms, artillery systems, tanks, armors and noctovision devices, aviation bombs, pilotless vehicles, various military vehicles and military planes and helicopters.

Economy

After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan became a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The banking system of Azerbaijan consists of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan, commercial banks and non-banking credit organizations. The National (now Central) Bank was created in 1992 based on the Azerbaijan State Savings Bank, an affiliate of the former State Savings Bank of the USSR. The Central Bank serves as Azerbaijan’s central bank, empowered to issue the national currency, the Azerbaijani manat, and to supervise all commercial banks. Two major commercial banks are the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan, which is run by Dr. Jahangir Hajiyev, and the UniBank.

Pushed up by spending and demand growth, the 2007 Q1 inflation rate reached 16.6%. Nominal incomes and monthly wages climbed 29% and 25% respectively against this figure, but price increases in non-oil industry encouraged inflation in the country. Azerbaijan shows some signs of the so-called “Dutch disease” because of the fast growing energy sector, which causes inflation and makes non-energy exports more expensive.

In the early years of this century the chronically high inflation was brought under control and this led to the launch of a new currency, the new Azerbaijani manat, on January 1, 2006, to cement the acquisition of the economic reforms and erase the vestiges of an unstable economy.

In 2008, Azerbaijan was cited as one of the top 10 reformers by the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

Azerbaijan is also ranked 57th in the Global Competitiveness Report for 2010–2011, which is above other CIS countries.

Energy

Two thirds of Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas. The region of the Lesser Caucasus accounts for most of the country’s gold, silver, iron, copper, titanium, chromium, manganese, cobalt, molybdenum, complex ore and antimony. In September 1994, a 30-year contract was signed between the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and 13 oil companies, among them Amoco, BP, ExxonMobil, Lukoil and Statoil. As Western oil companies are able to tap deepwater oilfields untouched by the Soviet exploitation, Azerbaijan is considered one of the most important spots in the world for oil exploration and development. Meanwhile the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan was established as an extra-budgetary fund to ensure the macroeconomic stability, transparency in the management of oil revenue, and the safeguarding of resources for future generations.

Azeriqaz, a sub-company of SOCAR, intends to ensure full gasification of the country by 2021.

Banking

The GDP growth rates observed in Azerbaijan during last years made the country one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But the banking sector of Azerbaijan has yet to tap the vast growth potential that should be achievable due to the continuation of the high economic growth. For this reason the banking sector remains small in relation to the size of the Azerbaijani economy. Although in the more advanced countries banking sectors made further visible progress in the catch-up process, the Azerbaijani banking market being in an earlier stage of development, also successes in pushing forward market-oriented reform and the privatization process.

Still the banking system is considered an important element of financial system of Azerbaijan. An advanced two-stepped banking system, which is based on market principles, (the Central Bank of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the first step, in the second one commercial banks and other non-bank credit organizations) functions in the republic.

Since 2002 important stage of restructuring of banking system started to be carried out. Taking into consideration entry of big oil revenues in the country, as a logical result of successful oil strategy, and in this base, as the banks were ready to an effective transfer of their financial resources to the strategic goals, development strategy was made for 2002–2005. Far-reaching reforms of the banking sector are conducted in the country. The main challenges are due to the slow privatization rate of the state banks, a weak financial market and a lack of bank transparency. However, the reforms have started showing positive resu lts and competition among the leading banks is increasing.

By April 1, 2010, 47 banks, 631 bank branches function in Azerbaijan. One of banks was founded with participation of state capital, 23 of foreign capital. To the same date, 98 non-bank credit organizations operate in the republic along with banks. Growth of real money incomes of population, development of trust in bank system, improving the legal bases of protection of interests of creditors and depositors, in particular launch of ‘Deposits Insurance Fund’ were the criteria characterizing rapid growth of deposits of population. As of April 1, 2010, bank deposits of population were equal to 2,4 billion AZN. 33,3% of them were long-term deposits (higher than a year). Along with population, bank deposits of corporative customers increase dynamically. By April 1, 2010, bank deposits of corporative customers is 2,1 bn AZN. Dynamic development of volume of special and involved funds of the banks has created effective conditions for enlargement of active operations. As of April 1, 2010, the volume of bank assets is 12 bn AZN. Crediting plays special role in structure of bank assets. As of April 1, 2010, bank credits to customers is 8.5 bn AZN, which makes 70.5% of bank assets. Special weight of private sector in structure of credit investments is higher than 82% (7 bn AZN).

Agriculture

Azerbaijan has the largest agricultural basin in the region. About 54,9 percent of Azerbaijan is agricultural lands. At the beginning of 2007 there were 4,755,100 hectares of utilized agricultural area. In the same year the total wood resources counted 136 million m³. Azerbaijan’s agricultural scientific research institutes are focused on meadows and pastures, horticulture and subtropical crops, green vegetables, viticulture and wine-making, cotton growing and medicinal plants. In some lands it is profitable to grow grain, potatoes, sugar beets, cotton and tobacco. Livestock, dairy products, and wine and spirits are also important farm products. The Caspian fishing industry is concentrated on the dwindling stocks of sturgeon and beluga. In 2002 the Azerbaijani merchant marine had 54 ships.

Some portions of most products that were previously imported from abroad have begun to be produced locally (among them are Coca Cola by Coca Cola Bottlers LTD, beer by Baki-Kastel, parquet by Nehir and oil pipes by EUPEC Pipe Coating Azerbaijan).

Tourism

Tourism is an important part of the economy of Azerbaijan. The country was a well-known tourist spot in the 1980s, yet, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Nagorno-Karabakh War during the 1990s, damaged the tourist industry and the image of Azerbaijan as a tourist destination.

It was not until the 2000s that the tourism industry began to recover, and the country has since experienced a high rate of growth in the number of tourist visits and overnight stays. In the recent years, Azerbaijan has also becoming a popular destination for religious, spa, and health care tourism.

The Government of Azerbaijan has set the development of Azerbaijan as an elite tourist destination a top priority. It is a national strategy to make tourism a major, if not the single largest, contributor to the Azerbaijani economy. These activities are regulated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan.

Transportation

The convenient location of Azerbaijan on the crossroad of major international traffic arteries, such as the Silk Road and the South-North corridor, highlights the strategic importance of transportation sector for the country’s economy. The transport sector in the country includes roads, railways, aviation, and maritime transport.

Azerbaijan is also an important economic hub in the transportation of raw materials. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) became operational in May 2006 and extends more than 1,774 kilometers through the territories of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The BTC is designed to transport up to 50 million tons of crude oil annually and carries oil from the Caspian Sea oilfields to global markets. The South Caucasus Pipeline, also stretching through the territory of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, became operational at the end of 2006 and offers additional gas supplies to the European market from the Shah Deniz gas field. Shah Deniz is expected to produce up to 296 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. Azerbaijan also plays a major role in the EU-sponsored Silk Road Project.

In 2002, the Azerbaijani government established the Ministry of Transport with a broad range of policy and regulatory functions. In the same year, the country became a member of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. The highest priority being; upgrading the transport network and transforming transportation services into one of the key comparative advantages of the country, as this would be highly conducive to the development of other sectors of the economy.

In 2012, the construction of Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway expected to provide transportation between Asia and Europe through connecting the railways of China and Kazakhstan in the east with Turkey’s Marmaray to the European railway system in the west. Broad gauge railways in 2010 stretched for and electrified railways numbered . By 2010, there were 35 airports and one heliport.

Science and technology

In the 21st century, a new oil and gas boom helped to improve the situation in the Azerbaijan’s science and technology sectors, and the government launched a campaign aimed at modernization and innovation. The government estimates that profits from the information technology and communication industry will grow and become comparable with those from oil production.

The country has also been making progress in developing its telecoms sector. Nonetheless, it still faces problems. These include poor infrastructure and an immature telecom regulatory regime. The Ministry of Communications & Information Technologies (MCIT), as well as being an operator through its role in Aztelekom, is both a policy-maker and regulator. Public pay phones are available for local calls and require the purchase of a token from the telephone exchange or some shops and kiosks. Tokens allow a call of indefinite duration. As of 2009, there were 1,397,000 main telephone lines and 1,485,000 internet users. There are five GSM providers: Azercell, Bakcell, Azerfon (Nar Mobile), Aztrank, Catel mobile network operators and one CDMA.

In the 21st century a number of prominent Azerbaijani geodynamics and geotectonics scientists, inspired by the fundamental works of Elchin Khalilov and others, designed hundreds of earthquake prediction stations and earthquake-resistant buildings that now constitute the bulk of The Republican Center of Seismic Service.

The Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency is planning to launch its first satellite AzerSat 1 into orbit in July or August 2012 from Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana at orbital positions 46° East. The satellite will cover Europe and significant part of Asian countries and Africa and will have transmission for TV, radio broadcasting and the internet. The launch of its own satellite on orbit will be Azerbaijan’s first action in realizing prospective projects to turn itself into a country with a space industry.

Demographics

From the total population of 9,165,000 people as of July 2011, nearly 52% was urban population, the remaining 48% was the rural population. 51% of the total population were female. The sex ratio for total population in that year was therefore 0.97 males per female.

The 2011 population growth rate was 0.85%, compared to 1.09% worldwide. A significant factor restricting the population growth is rather a high level of migration. An estimated 3 million Azerbaijanis, many of them guest workers, live in Russia. In 2011 Azerbaijan saw migration of −1.14/1,000 persons. With 800,000 ethnic Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs, Azerbaijan has the largest internally displaced population in the region, and, as of 2006, had the highest per capita IDP population in the world.

The highest morbidity in 2005 was from respiratory diseases (806.9 diseases per 10,000 of total population). In 2005, the highest morbidity for infectious and parasitic diseases was noted among influenza and acute respiratory infections (4168,2 per 100,000 population). 2007 estimate for total life expectancy is 66 years, 70.7 years for women and 61.9 for men.

The Azerbaijani diaspora is found in 42 countries and in turn there are many centers for ethnic minorities inside Azerbaijan, including the German cultural society “Karelhaus”, Slavic cultural center, Azerbaijani-Israeli community, Kurdish cultural center, International Talysh Association, Lezgin national center “Samur”, Azerbaijani-Tatar community, Crimean Tatars society, etc.

The ethnic composition of the population according to the 2009 population census: 91.60% Azerbaijanis, 2.02% Lezgians, 1.35% Armenians (almost all Armenians live in the break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh), 1.34% Russians, 1.26% Talysh, 0.56% Avars, 0.43% Turks, 0.29% Tatars, 0.28% Tats, 0.24% Ukrainians, 0.14% Tsakhurs, 0.11% Georgians, 0.10% Jews, 0.07% Kurds, other 0.21%.

Iranian Azerbaijanis are the largest minority in Iran. The CIA World Factbook estimates Iranian Azerbaijanis as comprising nearly 16 million, or 24% of Iran’s population.

Religion

Around 95 percent of the population are Muslims. 85% of the Muslims are Shia Muslims and 15% Sunni Muslims, and the Republic of Azerbaijan has the Second highest Shia population percentage after Iran. In Baku there is the Hindu Fire Temple of Baku (“ateshgah”) with an “old” structure which, according to travellers, has been a place of visit for Hindu priests for more than a millennium The place is often “misrepresented as a Zoroastrian fire-temple” due to frequent association of “fire temple” with the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism. There are some other faiths practiced among the different ethnic groups within the country. By article 48 of its Constitution, Azerbaijan is a secular state and ensures religious freedom. Of the nation’s religious minorites, Christians are mostly Russian and Georgian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic (almost all Armenians live in the break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh).

In 2003 there were 250 Roman Catholics. Other Christian denominations as of 2002 include Lutherans, Baptists and Molokans. There are also Jewish, Bahá’í, Hare Krishna and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, as well as adherents of the Nehemiah Church, Star in the East Church and the Cathedral of Praise Church.

Language

The official language is Azerbaijani, which belongs to the Turkic language family, spoken in southwestern Asia, primarily in Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani is member of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic languages and is closely related to Turkish, Qashqa’i and Turkmen. The Azerbaijani language is divided into two varieties, North Azerbaijani and South Azerbaijani, and a large number of dialects. Turkic Khalaj, Qashqa’i, and Salchuq are considered by some to be separate languages in the Azerbaijani language group. Azerbaijani served as a lingua franca throughout most parts of Transcaucasia (except the Black Sea coast), in Southern Dagestan, eastern Turkey, and Iranian Azerbaijan from the 16th century to the early 20th century.

Although Azerbaijani (also called Azeri) is the most widely spoken language in the country and is spoken by about a quarter of the population of Iran, there are 13 other languages spoken natively in the country. Some of these languages are very small communities, others are more vital. Azerbaijani is mutually intelligible with Turkish and Gagauz. The northern variety of the language is written with a modified Latin alphabet today, but was earlier written in the Perso-Arabic alphabet (until 1929), in the Uniform Turkic Alphabet (1929–1939), and in the Cyrillic alphabet (1939–1991). The changes in alphabet have been largely molded by religious and political forces.

Education

A relatively high percentage of Azerbaijanis have obtained some form of higher education, most notably in scientific and technical subjects. In the Soviet era, literacy and average education levels rose dramatically from their very low starting point, despite two changes in the standard alphabet, from Perso-Arabic script to Latin in the 1920s and from Roman to Cyrillic in the 1930s. According to Soviet data, 100 percent of males and females (ages nine to forty-nine) were literate in 1970. According to the United Nations Development Program Report 2009, the literacy rate in Azerbaijan is 99.5 percent.

Since independence, one of the first laws that Azerbaijan’s Parliament passed to disassociate itself from the Soviet Union was to adopt a modified-Latin alphabet to replace Cyrillic. Other than that the Azerbaijani system has undergone little structural change. Initial alterations have included the reestablishment of religious education (banned during the Soviet period) and curriculum changes that have reemphasized the use of the Azerbaijani language and have eliminated ideological content. In addition to elementary schools, the education institutions include thousands of preschools, general secondary schools, and vocational schools, including specialized secondary schools and technical schools. Education through the eighth grade is compulsory.

Culture

The culture of Azerbaijan has developed as a result of many influences. Today, Western influences, including globalized consumer culture, are strong. National traditions are well preserved in the country. Some of the main elements of the Azerbaijani culture are: music, literature, folk dances and art, cuisine, architecture, cinematography and Novruz Bayram. The latter is the traditional celebration of the ancient New Year. Novruz is a family holiday.

Azerbaijan folk consists of Azerbaijanis, the representative part of society, as well as of nations and ethnic groups, compactly living in various areas of the country. Azerbaijani national and traditional dresses are the Chokha and Papakhi. There are radio broadcasts in Russian, Armenian, Georgian, Kurdish, Lezgian and Talysh languages, which are financed from the state budget. Some local radio stations in Balakan and Khachmaz organize broadcasts in Avar and Tat. In Baku several newspapers are published in Russian, Kurdish (Dengi Kurd), Lezgian (Samur) and Talysh languages. Jewish society “Sokhnut” publishes the newspaper Aziz.

Music and folk dances

Music of Azerbaijan builds on folk traditions that reach back nearly a thousand years. For centuries Azerbaijani music has evolved under the badge of monody, producing rhythmically diverse melodies. Azerbaijani music has a branchy mode system, where chromatization of major and minor scales is of great importance. Among national musical instruments there are 14 string instruments, eight percussion instruments and six wind instruments. According to The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, “in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion the Azeri are musically much closer to Iran than Turkey.”

Mugham, meykhana and ashiq art are one of the many musical traditions of Azerbaijan. Mugham is usually a suite with poetry and instrumental interludes. When performing Mugham, the singers have to transform their emotions into singing and music. Mugham singer Alim Qasimov is revered as one of the five best singers of all time. In contrast to the mugham traditions of Central Asian countries, Azeri mugham is more free-form and less rigid; it is often compared to the improvised field of jazz. UNESCO proclaimed the Azerbaijani mugham tradition a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003.

Meykhana is a kind of traditional Azeri distinctive folk unaccompanied song, usually performed by several people improvising on a particular subject.

Ashiq combines poetry, storytelling, dance and vocal and instrumental music into a traditional performance art that stands as a symbol of Azerbaijani culture. It is a mystic troubadour or traveling bard who sings and plays the saz. This tradition has its origin in the Shamanistic beliefs of ancient Turkic peoples. Ashiqs’ songs are semi-improvised around common bases. Azerbaijan’s ashiq art was included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO on September 30, 2009.

Azerbaijan made its debut appearance at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. The country’s entry gained the third place in 2009 and fifth the following year. Ell and Nikki won the first place at the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 with the song “Running Scared“, entitling Azerbaijan to host the contest in 2012, in Baku.

There are dozens of Azerbaijani folk dances. They are performed at formal celebrations and the dancers wear national clothes like the Chokha, which is well preserved within the national dances. Most dances have a very fast rhythm. The national dance shows the characteristics of the Azerbaijani nation.

Architecture

Azerbaijani architecture typically combines elements of East and West. Many ancient architectural treasures such as the Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs in the Walled City of Baku survive in modern Azerbaijan. Entries submitted on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list include the Ateshgah of Baku, Momine Khatun Mausoleum, Hirkan National Park, Binegadi National Park, Lok-Batan Mud Volcano, Baku Stage Mountain, Caspian Shore Defensive Constructions, Susha National Reserve, Ordubad National Reserve and the Palace of Shaki Khans.

Among other architectural treasures are Quadrangular Castle in Mardakan, Parigala in Yukhary Chardaglar, a number of bridges spanning the Aras River, and several mausoleums. In the 19th and early 20th 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.

Plans have recently been revealed for the building of the Azerbaijan Tower. It will reportedly replace the Burj Khalifa as the tallest building in the world with a planned height of .

Cinematography

The film industry in Azerbaijan dates back to 1898. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography. Therefore It’s not surprising that this apparatus soon showed up in Baku – at the start of the 20th century, this bay town on the Caspian was producing more than 50 percent of the world’s supply of oil. Just like today, the oil industry attracted foreigners eager to invest and to work. In 1919, during the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a documentary The Celebration of the Anniversary of Azerbaijani Independence was filmed on Azerbaijan’s independence day, May 28, and premiered in June 1919 at several theatres in Baku. After the Soviet power was established in 1920, Nariman Narimanov, Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, signed a decree nationalizing Azerbaijan’s cinema. This also influenced the creation of Azerbaijani animation.

In 1991, after Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union, the first Baku International Film Festival East-West was held in Baku. In December 2000, the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, signed a decree proclaiming August 2 professional holiday of filmmakers of Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijani filmmakers are again dealing with issues similar to those faced by cinematographers prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1920. Once again, both choice of content and sponsorship of films are largely left up to the initiative of the filmmaker.

There are 3 state-owned television channels: AzTV, Idman TV and Medeniyyet TV. One public channel, Ictimai TV and 7 private channels: ANS TV, Space TV, Lider TV, Azad Azerbaijan TV, Xazar TV and Azerbaijan International.

Folk art

Azerbaijanis have a rich and distinctive culture, a major part of which is decorative and applied art. This form of art is represented by a wide range of handicrafts, such as chasing, jeweler, engraving in metal, carving in wood, stone and bone, carpet-making, lasing, pattern weaving and printing, knitting and embroidery. Each of these types of decorative art, evidence of the and endowments of the Azerbaijan nation, is very much in favor here. Many interesting facts pertaining to the development of arts and crafts in Azerbaijan were reported by numerous merchants, travelers and diplomats who had visited these places at different times.

The Azerbaijani carpet is a traditional handmade textile of various sizes, with dense texture and a pile or pile-less surface, whose patterns are characteristic of Azerbaijan’s many carpet-making regions. In November 2010 the Azerbaijani carpet was proclaimed a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage by UNESCO. Azerbaijan has been since the ancient times known as a center of a large variety of crafts. The archeological dig on the territory of Azerbaijan testifies to the well developed agriculture, stock raising, metal working, pottery and ceramics, and last but not least carpet-weaving that date as far back as to the 2nd millennium BC. Azerbaijani carpets can be categorized under several large groups and a multitude of subgroups. The true scientific research of the Azerbaijani carpet is connected with the name of Latif Kerimov, a prominent scientist and artist. It was his classification that related the four large groups of carpets with the four geographical zones of Azerbaijan, Guba-Shirvan, Ganja-Kazakh, Karabakh and Tabriz.

Cuisine

The traditional cuisine is famous for an abundance of vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes. Fresh herbs, including mint, cilantro (coriander), dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leeks, chives, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress, are very popular and often accompany main dishes on the table. Climatic diversity and fertility of the land are reflected in the national dishes, which are based on fish from the Caspian Sea, local meat (mainly mutton and beef), and an abundance of seasonal vegetables and greens. Saffron-rice plov is the flagship food in Azerbaijan and black tea is the national beverage.

Literature

The earliest known figure in Azerbaijani literature was Hasanoghlu or Pur Hasan Asfaraini, who composed a divan consisting of Persian and Turkic ghazals. In Persian ghazals he used his pen-name, while his Turkic ghazals were composed under his own name of Hasanoghlu.

Classical literature in Azerbaijani was formed in 14th century based on the various dialect Early Middle Ages dialects of Tabriz and Shirvan. Among the poets of this period were Gazi Burhanaddin, Haqiqi (pen-name of Jahan-shah Qara Qoyunlu), and Habibi. The end of 14th century was also the period of starting literary activity of Imadaddin Nesimi, one of the greatest Turkic Hurufi mystical poets of the late 14th and early 15th centuries and one of the most prominent early Divan masters in Turkic literary history, who also composed poetry in Persian and Arabic. The Divan and Ghazal styles were further developed by poets Qasim al-Anvar, Fuzuli and Khatai (pen-name of Safavid Shah Ismail I). The acclaimed Book of Dede Korkut consists of two manuscripts copied in the 16th century, was not written earlier than the 15th century. It is a collection of 12 stories reflecting the oral tradition of Oghuz nomads. The 16th century poet, Muhammed Fuzuli produced his timeless philosophical and lyrical Qazals in Arabic, Persian, and Azeri. Benefiting immensely from the fine literary traditions of his environment, and building upon the legacy of his predecessors, Fizuli was destined to become the leading literary figure of his society. His major works include The Divan of Ghazals and The Qasidas. In the same century, Azerbaijani literature further flourished with the development of Ashik () poetic genre of bards. During the same period, under the pen-name of Khatāī ( for sinner) Shah Ismail I wrote about 1400 verses in Azeri, which were later published as his Divan. A unique literary style known as qoshma ( for improvization) was introduced in this period, and developed by Shah Ismail and later by his son and successor, Shah Tahmasp I.

In the span of the 17th and 18th centuries, Fizuli’s unique genres as well Ashik poetry were taken up by prominent poets and writers such as Qovsi of Tabriz, Shah Abbas Sani, Agha Mesih Shirvani, Nishat, Molla Vali Vidadi, Molla Panah Vagif, Amani, Zafar and others. Along with Turks, Turkmens and Uzbeks, Azeris also celebrate the Epic of Koroglu (from for blind man’s son), a legendary folk hero. Several documented versions of Koroglu epic remain at the Institute for Manuscripts of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan.

Modern literature in Azerbaijan is based on the Shirvani dialect mainly, while in Iran it is based on the Tabrizi one. The first newspaper in Azerbaijani, Akinchi was published in 1875. In mid-19th century, it was taught in the schools of Baku, Ganja, Shaki, Tbilisi, and Yerevan. Since 1845, it has also been taught in the University of Saint Petersburg in Russia.

Sports

Sport in Azerbaijan has ancient roots, and even now, both traditional and modern sports are still practiced. Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally regarded as Azerbaijan’s national sport, in which Azerbaijan won up to 14 medals, including 4 golds since joining the National Olympic Committee. Even though today, the most popular sports in Azerbaijan are football and chess.

The national football team of Azerbaijan demonstrates relatively low performance in the international arena compared to the nation football clubs. It is mainly because of the foreign footballers playing in the clubs. However, the newly opened Azerbaijan Football Academy in February 2009 is a huge step in the development of the youth football. The most successful Azerbaijani football clubs are Neftchi Baku, FC Baku, Inter Baku, FK Qarabağ and Khazar Lankaran. In 2012, Neftchi Baku became the first Azerbaijani team to advance to the group stage of a European competition, beating APOEL of Cyprus 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off round of the 2012-13 UEFA Europa League. In 2012, country also hosted the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. Futsal is another popular sport in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan national futsal team reached the fourth place in 2010 UEFA Futsal Championship, while domestic club Araz Naxçivan clinched bronze medals at 2009–10 UEFA Futsal Cup.

Backgammon plays a major role in Azerbaijani culture. This game is very popular in Azerbaijan and is widely played among the local public. There are also different variations of backgammon developed and analyzed by Azerbaijani experts. Azerbaijan is known as one of the chess superpowers; despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, chess is still extremely popular. Notable Azerbaijani chess players include Teimour Radjabov, Shahriyar Mammadyarov, Vladimir Makogonov, Garry Kasparov, Vugar Gashimov and Zeinab Mamedyarova. Azerbaijan has also hosted many international chess tournaments and competitions and became European Team Chess Championship winners in 2009.

Other well-known Azerbaijani athletes are Namig Abdullayev, Toghrul Asgarov, Rovshan Bayramov, Sharif Sharifov, Mariya Stadnik and Farid Mansurov in wrestling, Ramil Guliyev and Hayle Ibrahimov in athletics, Elnur Mammadli and Movlud Miraliyev in judo, Rafael Aghayev in karate, Valeriya Korotenko and Natalya Mammadova in volleyball and K-1 fighter Zabit Samedov.

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