Azerbaijan, a country that sits between Asia and Europe, has a rich culture that is a reflection of its unique history, customs, religions, beliefs, and people. This nation has a population size of about 10 million individuals, whose national identity has been evolving for millennia. Throughout history, the area of present-day Azerbaijan was inhabited by Turkic ethnic groups, Caucasian Albanians, Iranian-language speakers, and Kurds.
It became a hotbed for religious movements beginning with Christianity in the 4th century and later Islam during the 7th century. In more recent history, this country has been influenced by its time under the Russian Empire, control by communist governments, and its fight for independence. All of these events have come together to shape the people of modern-day Azerbaijan.
Social Beliefs and Customs
The social beliefs and customs of Azerbaijan are heavily influenced by a strong commitment to hospitable behaviors. Being friendly and welcoming to guests is one of the pillars of the culture here and as hosts, the people of Azerbaijan go out of their way to make sure visitors are comfortable. One of the ways the culture expresses hospitality is by sharing a cup of tea with guests. This custom is rather unique when compared to other tea drinking cultures around the world. In Azerbaijan, tea is served from a large, metal vessel with a pear-like shape. Instead of sweetening the tea directly in the cup, people in this country instead take a bite of a sugar cube followed by a drink of tea.
Religion and Festivals
The government of Azerbaijan has not identified any religion as the official religion of the country. Despite this, the vast majority of the population here identifies as a practicing Muslim. In fact, only around 5% of the population follows Christianity, the Russian Orthodox Church specifically.
One of the biggest festivals celebrated in this country is the Novruz, which marks both the beginning of springtime and the beginning of the new year. Each of the four weeks leading up to the spring equinox are dedicated to one of the elements: water, fire, earth, and wind. People carry out festivities in honor of these elements each Tuesday. These activities could include planting a tree, cleaning the house, or baking pastries. The government has designated an entire week as a public holiday in recognition of Novruz. It is a mostly secular holiday so it has no outright religious affiliation, but it has been linked to Zoroastrianism, a pre-Islamic religion from Iran.
Music and Dance
One of the best examples of the culture of music in Azerbaijan is expressed through mugams, which are traditional folk music songs. This type of music has been recognized by UNESCO as an example of Cultural Heritage. Mugam songs are performed in theater halls as a way to present traditional epic poems, the lyrics of which are sung in a particular style that is often compared to yodeling.
In addition to the mugam music, the people of Azerbaijan also take part in a number of special dances that are used to celebrate history, festivals, and major life events. Some dances are performed only by men, such as the Choban Regsi, the movements of which are meant to symbolize the work of shepherds in the countryside. Another traditional dance performed in this country is the Asma Kasma, which is carried out by female wedding guests as they accompany the newlywed bride to her marital chambers.
Literature and Arts
Azerbaijan also has a rich history of literature that begins with the epic poems of the year 800s. Many of the poems from this classical era went on to influence the literature in neighboring countries as well. During the Soviet era, literature in this country was strongly regulated and anyone believed to speak out against the Soviet regime was punished. One of the most famous modern literary works from here is the Heydar Babaya Salam poem, which talks about the childhood life of its author.
This country is also known for its unique folk art, the majority of which serves as decoration on other items. It can be found on textiles, architectural carvings, jewelry, and embroidery (among other household items). One example of folk art is seen on the rugs made here. Rugs from Azerbaijan are quite well-known, given that the people here have been making them for generations. Each of the four geographical regions of this country incorporates several unique designs in their woven carpets, making it possible to identify the origin of the textile if one has sufficient knowledge of the art. Artists from each region use intricate patterns in their final products, some of which are known for their use of bright colors and others for their choice of specific types of wool.
The food from a particular country or region says a lot about the culture and way of life of the people. The cuisine of Azerbaijan is no exception and has been influenced by its history, with the traditional dishes in this country being similar to those of Iran and Turkey, two countries with significant impact on the development of Azerbaijan. The food here relies heavily on fresh herbs, vegetables, and both saltwater and freshwater fish. The largest meal of the day includes an appetizer, bread, a soup, and a main dish. Rice plays a large role in the main dishes. Additionally, desserts are an important part of the national cuisine here, including dishes like pashmak, a rice candy; shekerbura, a nut-filled pastry; and halva, a wheat-based dessert. Given the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables here, fruit is often served after a meal in place of dessert and tea is always offered at the end of mealtime.
Today, modern clothing is quite common for both men and women in Azerbaijan and visitors to this country will often see jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. In addition, the Islamic religion has influenced the clothing choices of some of its practitioners. Many women who follow Islam here may choose to keep their arms, legs, and face covered. Traditional clothing is still used for certain celebration and events, however. Examples of traditional clothing here include brightly colored dresses with oversized sleeves for women and long jackets over loose pants that are tucked into boots for men.