Country Listing

Azerbaijan Table of Contents


The Arts

Azerbaijanis have sought to protect their cultural identity from long-standing outside influences by fostering indigenous forms of artistic and intellectual expression. They proudly point to a number of scientists, philosophers, and literary figures who have built their centuries-old cultural tradition.

Literature and Music


Man and woman in traditional costume
Courtesy Embassy of Azerbaijan, Washington

Before the eleventh century, literary influences included the Zoroastrian sacred text Avesta, Turkish prose-poetry, and oral history recitations (called dastans), such as The Book of Dede Korkut and Koroglu, which contain preIslamic elements. Among the classics of medieval times are the Astronomy of Abul Hasan Shirvani (written in the eleventh or twelfth century) and Khamseh, a collection of five long romantic poems written in Persian by the twelfth-century poet Nezami Ganjavi. Fuzuli (1494-1556) wrote poetry and prose in Turkish, most notably the poem Laila and Majnun, the satire A Book of Complaints, and the treatise To the Heights of Conviction. Fuzuli's works influenced dramatic and operatic productions in the early twentieth century. Shah Ismail I, who was also the first Safavid shah, wrote court poems in Turkish. Fuzuli and Ismail are still read in their original Turkish dialects, which are very similar to the modern literary Azerbaijani.

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.

Data as of March 1994