Azerbaijan Culture

Azerbaijan Culture and Mass Media

Newspapers in Azerbaijan

According to EHISTORYLIB.COM, Azerbaijan is a country located in Asia. In Azerbaijan, about 100 newspapers and as many magazines are published in Azerbaijani and Russian. The largest edition is in the Azerbaijani-language newspaper Eni Musavat (‘New Musavat’, 19,000 copies, 1999). Both Ajna (‘The Mirror’, in Russian Zerkalo, 15,000 copies) and Azerbaijan (10,000 copies) are bilingual. Among the Russian-language newspapers are Bakinsky Rabotji (‘Baku Worker’, 7,000 copies), which was founded as early as 1906, and ‘525’ (8,500 copies).

The state radio (founded in 1926) broadcasts in Azerbaijani and Russian. State television (founded in 1956) has two channels that broadcast in Azerbaijani and Russian. Three privately owned companies operate in radio and television. In Azerbaijan there are four news agencies, one of which is a state (AT). There are 22 radio and 259 TV receivers per 1,000 residents (2000).


According to ANIMALERTS, on Azerbaijani land, literary classics in Persian were created between the 11th and 13th centuries, such as Astronomy by Abul Hasan Shirvani and the romantic verse collection Kamseh by Nizami Gəncəvi. The Azeri also became an important literary language for the following centuries, before the language gained competition from the Ottoman Turkish.

In Baghdad, Mehmed bin Süleyman Fuzuli (1494–1556), the most important Turkish writer of the time, lived, although he also wrote in Persian and Arabic. In Azerbaijani, he wrote both poetry and prose, including Laila and Majnun and the satirical work Klagoboken.

Of the Azerbaijani architecture of this time, which combines influence from the east and the west, there are many remains in both Azerbaijan and Iran. Baku’s old town is cultural heritage protected by UNESCO. With the help of oil money, that part of the city has been refurbished, while building the skyscrapers called the Flames, designed by Baghdad-born but London-based architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016).

Following the Russian conquest, Azerbaijan experienced a cultural renaissance during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, partly backed by money from the growing oil industry. One of the foremost figures of the time was the playwright and the philosopher Mirzə Fətəli Axundov (1812-1878). He wrote in Azerbaijani, as did Hüseyn Cavid (1882-1941), playwright with historical motives.

Traditional Azerbaijani music has been passed down through the centuries by special “verse singers”, ashugs, who performed songs for accompaniment by the string instrument kobuz. Üzeyir Hacıbəyov (1885–1948) made himself known by using traditional instruments and themes in his compositions. He wrote, among other things, the first operas in the Islamic world.

When Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Azerbaijani culture was suppressed in accordance with the cultural equality prevailing within the Soviet system. Azerbaijan’s monuments, mosques and archives were destroyed. However, Azerbaijan became a center for popular music that was spread to the Turkish-speaking peoples of Soviet Central Asia. After the liberation from the Soviet empire, cultural life is said to have gained a boost again. However, modern cultural life is highly concentrated in the capital, Baku.

In 2013, author Akram Aylisli was deprived of the honorary title of “The People’s Writer” and his special cultural worker’s pension – which he was awarded by the president – for writing in the novel “Stendrömmar” about violence between Azerbaijani and Armenians in the early 1990s. Aylisli was also excluded from the Azerbaijan Writers’ Union and his books were publicly burned. He faced physical threats and was considering leaving the country.

A cultural event of a lighter kind was the victory in the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 tune-up, with a song by Swedish authors. The victory was described as a success for Azerbaijani culture and meant that the 2012 competition was held in Baku.

In all three Caucasian countries, there are proud textile traditions. The more industrialized manufacturing that occurred during the Soviet era degraded the quality of both the material and the workmanship, but has made older rugs, saddlebags, saltbags and other utensils in very diverse techniques into internationally sought-after collectors and museum objects. In the mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, the production of prayer mats may have helped to preserve the knowledge. In the present, the craft has been identified as an industry with export potential. Half a dozen weaving schools utilize traditions from places like Shirvan, Gendje and Quba. There is a carpet museum in Baku since the 1960s.



Journalist convicted of espionage

Journalist Rauf Mirkadirov (see April 2014, November 2015) is sentenced to six years in prison for spying on Armenia’s behalf. According to prosecutors, he was recruited by human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunus, who are both sentenced to long prison terms but released during the fall for health reasons.

Big race for the value of the currency

The central bank abolishes the local currency’s, mandated, fixed exchange rate against the US dollar and allows the exchange rate to flow freely. This immediately leads to the manate losing one third of his value. The bank explains the measure with the falling oil prices and the devaluations that have taken place in several of the country’s trading partners. During the year, the central bank has used more than half its foreign exchange reserve to support the purchase of manat and does not consider itself able to continue with it.

Height rhetoric after summit

At the end of the month, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan meet in Switzerland to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh. The meeting results in a vaguely worded statement of mutual good will. A few days later, a spokesman for the Armenian Ministry of Defense said that there was no longer a ceasefire. He describes the clashes at the border as “open war.” In Baku, an Azerbaijani spokesman says the crimes against the ceasefire are because Armenian forces are illegally located on occupied Azerbaijani soil.

Tank fire against breaker state

The Ministry of Defense in Nagorno-Karabakh says that Azerbaijan tanks have fired areas inside the breakaway republic for the first time since the ceasefire in 1994. A soldier must have been killed. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan claims that it was Armenian forces that started by shooting villages inside the Azeri territory.

Leyla Yunus free for health reasons

A court orders Leyla Yunus (see November) to be released for health reasons. Her sentence of 8.5 years in prison is conditional on 5 years.


Journalist risks life imprisonment

Journalist Rauf Mirkadirov (see April 2014) faces trial in Baku. He is charged with treason and risks life imprisonment. According to prosecutors, he has provided secret information to the Armenian security service. His lawyer describes the trial as part of the crackdown on critical media.

Arif Yunus is released

Human rights activist Arif Yunus is released from prison on order by an appeals court. He was sentenced in August to 7 years in prison and his wife Leyla Yunus at the same time to 8.5 years, both for fraud and tax evasion. His wife, who is considered the country’s foremost advocate for human rights, is not released.

Elections without democratic conditions

Parliamentary elections will be held on November 1. The election is boycotted by all major opposition parties and the OSCE does not send any observers, as these would not be allowed to operate freely. The organization also criticizes the persecution of “independent and critical voices”. None of the elections that took place in Azerbaijan since Heydar Aliyev came to power in 2003 have been internationally recognized as free and honorable. According to the preliminary results, the New Azerbaijan government gets 71 out of the 125 parliamentary seats. The other mandates go to parties or individuals who generally support the government. While a delegation from the Council of Europe says they have not found any major flaws in the election process itself, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty Internationalharsh criticism of the attacks on oppositionists who preceded the election. According to Amnesty, at least 20 people are in jail for criticizing the government’s policies. HRW accuses the authorities of resorting to sweeping reasons such as drug or arms possession, tax fraud or treason for imprisoning political activists or critical journalists. Almost 56 percent of those entitled to vote are said to have participated in the election.


Ministerial resignation surprises

President Aliyev dismisses Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov. The message surprises everyone, as Mahmudov has had a great influence and is considered extremely loyal to the president. Opposition politicians say that the dismissal shows the total lack of transparency in the regime’s policies. Three days later, seven officials are arrested at the Ministry of Security for alleged abuse of power. They are said to be suspected of “illegal interference with business operations”.

The Council of Europe cancels MR cooperation

The Council of Europe cancels its participation in an Azerbaijani working group on human rights issues. Secretary-General Thorbjörn Jagland says that respect for human rights in Azerbaijan has decreased dramatically despite the group’s activities. The working group has otherwise consisted of Azerbaijani civil servants, members of parliament and human rights activists. One of the members was the journalist Xədicə İsmayılova, who was sentenced to prison in September.


Increasingly border crossings

The conflict with Armenia is escalated again. Armenia and the outbreak state of Nagorno-Karabakh accuse Azerbaijan troops of having killed three Armenian civilians and four soldiers of Nagorno-Karabakh for two days. Armenia threatens artillery fire of Azerbaijani military positions. Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of using civilians as human shields by shielding Azerbaijani territory from civilian settlements. A day later, Azerbaijan says that three of the country’s soldiers were killed in fierce fighting at the border with Nagorno-Karabakh.

OSCE boycotts of choice

The OSCE decides not to send any observers to the parliamentary elections in November. The organization points out that the restrictions that apply make it impossible to do a credible job.

Jail damages the relationship with the EU

Azerbaijan threatens to “review” its relations with the EU, after the European Parliament called on the government to release Xədicə İsmayılova and other human rights activists. The Baku government is stopping a planned visit by a delegation from the European Commission, citing the EU Parliament’s “unsavory” resolution.

Long prison sentence for İsmayılova

On September 1, journalist Xədicə İsmayılova is sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for corruption. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say the verdict is based on false claims and revenge needs against a person who revealed corruption within the country’s top leadership.


Tough punishment for the Yunus couple

Two of the country’s best known human rights activists, the real couple Leyla and Arif Yunus (see August, October 2014), are sentenced to 8.5 and 7 years in prison for fraud and tax evasion, respectively. Their lawyers and other activists claim that the judges are purely politically-based and only aim to stop the couple’s work. Leyla Yunus heads the Institute for Peace and Democracy, one of Azerbaijan’s leading human rights organizations.


The journalist İsmayılova is on trial

The trial begins against journalist Xədicə İsmayılova. She is charged with, among other things, embezzlement and tax evasion, but claims that she is being tried for revealing corruption within the presidential family of Aliyev.

Protest to the UK

The government is handing over a protest to the UK for allowing the leader of Nagorno-Karabach to visit London to speak to invited guests at a think tank. The British ambassador to Baku says that the visit is private and that the British government has not been involved.


Journalist receives diploma card to Switzerland

Journalist Emin Hüseynov is reported to have flown out of Azerbaijan to Switzerland, after staying at the Swiss Embassy since August 2014. He, with good memory of the authorities, flew with Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter’s plan since he participated in the opening ceremony of the European Games sports competition in Baku. Hüseynov, a well-known citizen and media freedom activist, sought protection at the embassy to avoid being arrested for charges of “illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion”.


Prison for opposition leaders

Deputy chairman of the opposition party Müsavat, Fərəc Kərimli, is sentenced to six and a half years in prison for serious drug crime. Kərimli dismisses the verdict as politically motivated and points out that he, as the webmaster of the party, has published a number of revelations about the corruption within the Azerbaijani regime.

Elections in Nagorno-Karabakh are voiced

The Government of Azerbaijan and the EU condemn the parliamentary elections held in the Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway republic. No previous elections in the area have been recognized by the outside world.


Regime-critical lawyer is imprisoned on standard charges

Human rights lawyer Intigam Əliyev is sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for tax evasion, illegal business and abuse of power. These are exactly the same charges that in March gave another activist, Rəsul Cəfərov, six and a half years in prison. Yliyev has spent many years filing complaints against the Azerbaijani state to the European Court of Human Rights. The cases have most often dealt with cheating in the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2010. It is stated in the judgment that the sentence should be served in a prison camp.

Hard border battles

Hard battles erupt at the border of Nagorno-Karabakh, but the two sides give completely different information about the number of killed and wounded and how the fighting began. Neither the Defense Ministry in Baku nor the breakaway republic admit their own losses, but both claim that the opponents lost soldiers.


Prison for MR activist

Human rights activist Rəsul Cəfərov is sentenced to six years and a half in prison. He is convicted of tax evasion, illegal business and abuse of power. He was arrested in August 2014 after announcing plans to organize a campaign to draw attention to human rights violations in Azerbaijan ahead of international sporting competitions in the country in June 2015. He claims the verdict is purely political.

HRW representative expelled

A Human Rights Watch representative is expelled after being detained at Baku Airport for 31 hours. He had come to Azerbaijan to follow the trial of two human rights activists.

EU criticism of MRI crime

The EU is facing harsh criticism for degraded respect for human rights in Azerbaijan in 2014.


İsmayılova is sentenced to a fine

Detained journalist Xədicə İsmayılova is sentenced to fines about SEK 25,000 for defamation. She is accused of describing a former opposition activist as an agent for the Ministry of Security. She denies that she would ever have said so.

Powerful devaluation

The central bank writes down the value of the country’s currency, manat, by about 33.5 percent against the US dollar as a result of the sharp decline in oil prices. Oil and gas account for 95 percent of the country’s exports and 70 percent of the state’s revenue. The bank says the devaluation aims to broaden the country’s economy and strengthen its international competitiveness.

More charges against İsmayılova

New charges are brought against the detained journalist Xədicə İsmayılova. She is now also charged with embezzlement, illegal business, tax evasion and abuse of power. She risks up to 12 years in prison.


Activist imprisoned for “hooliganism”

The journalist and opposition activist Seymur Hezi is sentenced to five years in prison for “hooliganism”. He has already been detained since August 2014. Hezi writes for the magazine Azadlıq and is a member of the People’s Front.

Jopurnalist İsmayılova remains in custody

A court extends the detention period of journalist Xədicə İsmayılova (see December 2014) for another two months to the beginning of April.

Azerbaijan Culture

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