Roots deeper than oil - a visit to Azerbaijan

23 January 2009
Roots deeper than oil - a visit to Azerbaijan

The land that has unique natural beauty and wealth of climatic features; the space where European modernity and Asian wisdom merge and where ancient trade routes had crossed; the land that defied the Romans and Alexander the Great, Mongol and Arab invasions; the birthplace of Zoroastrianism where currently Islam, Christianity and Judaism harmoniously co-exist; the land that gave birth to such geniuses as Nizami Ganjavi, Nasimi, Fuzuli and where unique style of music known as Mugham was born and where jazz-mugham and symphonic mugham were invented; country where the first-ever Democratic Republic in the Orient almost a century ago was established; the land of peace, tolerance and conscience, from where rich culture, traditions, history and civilization derive; the "Land of Fire", the land that is called Azerbaijan.

Covering a relatively small territory and hugging the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan has unique natural features, with nine of eleven existing climatic zones from subtropics to Alpine mountains. Part of the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan is known as a mountain country: the peaks of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, and the Talish Mountains surrounds the Kur-Araz plains, with the highest peak at Bazarduzu of 4,466 meters.

Mud volcanoes, erupting a mixture of mud, water and gas, is another peculiar phenomenon in the territory of Azerbaijan with nearly 400 among 800 world mud volcanoes located in the country, some of which are in the list of UNESCO sites as specially protected monuments of nature.

The Caspian Sea washing besides Azerbaijan the coasts of four other littoral states-the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran, softens the climate, serves as the important transport channel, is rich with oil and fish and supports health resorts and recreational facilities on the coast. The territory of Azerbaijan is rich with underwater, thermal and mineral springs, like well-known Sirab, Istisu and Badamli. Sea subtropics of Lankaran, alpine meadows of the woody mountains of and canyons of Garabagh, Shaki, Zagatala and Gakh, spacious steppes of Mil and Shirvan, opulent fruit gardens of Shamakhi and Ordubad, foothills of Guba and Alpine meadows of Gusar -all of this is Azerbaijan.

The historical heritage of the country is strewn with thousand-year monuments. A vivid example: rock figures of the prehistoric epoch of neolithic cave paintings in Gobustan (50 km south of the capital Baku, spelled Baki in Azerbaijani), brought in lists of protected monuments of UNESCO. Among numerous monuments of culture, it is possible to see Roman fortresses and numerous remains of medieval fortresses, caravanserais, mausoleums of the Islamic epoch and early Christian monuments of the Caucasian Albania period. The architectural monuments of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital are also worth visiting-with a population of 2.5 million people. Baku was connected to the medieval East, and boasts an architectural eclecticism beginning in the end of 19th century.

Beginning of civilization in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan’s rich and long history dates back to the third millennium BC. The ancient states of Azerbaijan, which maintained political, economic and cultural ties with Sumer and Akkad and formed part of the wider civilization of Mesopotamia, were governed at times by dynasties of Turkic descent. The Turkic-speaking peoples who have inhabited the area of Azerbaijan since ancient times were fire-worshippers and adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions-Zoroastrianism. A vital role was played in Azerbaijani history by the kingdom of Atropaten, which came into existence in the southern part of the country in the 520s BC and which was heavily influenced by Hellenism.

The Caucasian Albanian state was created in the northern region of Azerbaijan during the early years of the 3rdmillennium BC, with the river Araz as its southern frontier. The people of Caucasian Albania (not to be confused with present day Albania located in the Balkans) included a number of different nationalities, most of which spoke Turkic languages. Christianity was adopted in Caucasian Albania since 313 AD. The territory of Albania also included the mountainous part of Garabagh, known at that time as Artsakh.

Over the period from the first to the fourth centuries when the entire Caucasus area was under the yoke of the Roman empire, Caucasian Albania remained the only independent state and with its political independence came a flowering of Albanian culture, language and literature. This same period saw the growing strength and influence of the autocephalous Albanian Catholicos and of the Albanian Church, in general, which was independent of other Christian churches and even propagated Christianity among the north Caucasian and Turkic-speaking peoples.

Following the invasion by the Arabs, the dominant religion from the early 8th century in Azerbaijan became Islam. Most of the Albanians also converted to Islam and only a minority remained Christian.

The cohabitation of the populations of Albania and Atropatene within the confines of a single state, and their profession of one and the same religion, helped to ensure the consolidation of the people of Azerbaijan. The notions of freedom, independence and universal equality nurtured the Hurramite movement, led by Babak, which flourished in Azerbaijan in the early 9th century.

Following the anti-Caliphate rising by the local population, several new states arose in the territory of Azerbaijan in the 9th century, the most powerful of which was the State of Shirvan, with its capital at Shamakhi. This endured until the 16th century and played an enormous role in the history of medieval Azerbaijan. The independent states of the Sajids, Salarids, Ravvadids (with their capitals at Maraghi, Ardabil and Tabriz) and Shaddadids (with their capital at Ganja) arose from the 9th to the 11th centuries in the territory of Azerbaijan. Between the period 1136-1225, the Atabey Eldegiz state held sway in Azerbaijan.

The sharing by the country’s indigenous population of a common Turkic language and Turkic provenance and their adherence to the same Islamic faith made possible a process of consolidation of the Azerbaijani nation that reached its culmination in the 11th and 12th centuries. This same period saw the greatest flowering of the culture of Azerbaijan, which bequeathed to the world an array of illustrious philosophers, architects, poets and scholars. The crowning achievement of Azerbaijani social and cultural thought of that period were the works of Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209), poet and philosopher, now one of the treasures of the world’s cultural heritage.

The 12th and 13th centuries saw the rise to prominence in the mountainous regions of Garabagh, of the Khachen principality ruled by the Albanian kings. The rule of Hasan Jalal (1215-1262) ushered in an Albanian renaissance and saw the completion of the construction of Gandzasar monastery complex, whose cathedral was to become the center of the early church and whose consecration was presided over by the Catholicos of Albania.

In the mid-14th century, following an uprising by the local population to cast off the yoke of the Mongol invaders, the local Jalairid feudal lords took up the reins of power in Azerbaijan and, with the support of the Azerbaijani nobility, established the Jalairid state (1359-1410).

The Azerbaijani dynasties of Qara-Qoyunlu and Aq-Qoyunlu ruled over Azerbaijan in 1410-1468 and 1468-1501, and under them Azerbaijan grew significantly in power. In 1501, the Safavid state was formed in Azerbaijan, which was named after the ruling Azerbaijani dynasty with its capital in Tabriz. Under this dynasty, all the lands of Azerbaijan were united for the first time in their history into a single Azerbaijani state. The territory of the Safavid state stretched from the Amu Darya River to the Euphrates and from Derbent to the shores of the Persian Gulf. This polity was created and developed as an essentially Azerbaijani state and all political power remained in the hands of the Azerbaijani feudal nobility. Azerbaijani was the official language of the Safavid state.

In the mid 18th century with the weakening of the power exercised by the Persian shahs over the territory of Azerbaijan, the country disintegrated into some 20 khanates, namely, Ardabil, Ganja, Derbent, Eravan, Javad, Qarabagh (Karabakh in Russian), Baku, Shirvan, Tabriz, etc. In addition to these khanates, the country was further subdivided into the sultanates of Gazakh-Samshaddil, Ilisu, Arash, Gutgashen and Daghligh (Mountainous) Qarabagh, which was inhabited by Azerbaijani Muslims and Azerbaijani (Albanian) Christians, formed an integral part of the Azerbaijani khanate of Qarabagh, which covered the territories lying between the Kur and Araz rivers. The local duchies-or "malikdoms"-of Dizak, Varanda, Khachin, and Gulistan, all of which lay within the mountainous regions of Garabagh, also formed part of this khanate, to which their inhabitants owed allegiance as vassals.

At the end of the XVIII and in the first third of the XIX centuries, Azerbaijan was fought over by the Persian, Russian and Ottoman empires, each eager to secure hegemony over this country whose geopolitical situation lent its significant strategic advantages. A number of the khanates rose up in arms to defend their sovereignty, while others were forced, in an effort to defend their own interests, to conclude agreements reducing them to the status of vassaldom.

Thus, on May 14, 1805, a treaty was signed on the banks of the river Kur with the Azerbaijani Khan Ibrahim Khalil, under which the independent Azerbaijani khanate of Garabagh was placed under Russian rule.

The first Perso-Russian War of 1804-1813, was fought to establish dominance over the Azerbaijani khanates, and resulted in the first division of Azerbaijani territories between Russia and Persia. The peace treaty of Gulistan, signed on October 12, 1813, annexedthe khanates of northern Azerbaijan to Russia, with the exception of Nakhchivan and Eravan. The second Perso-Russian War of 1826-1828 led, to the signing of the Turkmanchai Treaty on February 10, 1828,, under which Persia officially renounced its claims to northern Azerbaijan and finally recognized its annexation, with the inclusion of the Nakhchivan and Eravan khanates as belonging to Russia.

On May 28, 1918, the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic was proclaimed in the territory of the eastern part of the southern Caucasus. It was the first parliamentary democracy in the Muslim World and entire Orient. This was to play a historic role in the renaissance and formation of ethnic identity and statehood of the Azerbaijani nation. In late 1919 and early 1920, the political situation of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic worsened as the country found itself caught up in a ferocious tug-of-war between the countries of the Entente, Russia and Persia, each pursuing its own geopolitical goals in this strategically important and oil-rich area.

Meanwhile, for a very short period the establishment and development of the democratic institutions, of the society based on equality, non-discrimination, transparency, rule of law, promotion and protection of human rights of all, including the minorities were amongst the most important achievements of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic of 1918-1920, rooted in the good practices and traditions of the Azerbaijani people. It was very remarkable that all ethnic groups felt equally protected by the State whereas the provision of the widest possibilities for free development of all ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan was declared by the National Council (Parliament) of Azerbaijan, issued from a nation-wide election, in the Declaration of Independence.

The political decision by the Bolshevist Government of the Russian Socialist Federative Republic (RSFSR) not to recognize the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic, the deployment of the 11th Red Army on the frontiers of the Azerbaijani Republic in the spring of 1920 led to the occupation of its capital Baku, and thereafter, the 114,000 sq km territory. The following 70 years, being part of the Soviet Union, marked a new, important stage in the development of the Azerbaijani statehood, during which the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic forged ahead in its social, economic and cultural development. At the same time, however, the Soviet period also saw negative trends in Azerbaijan, as elsewhere throughout the USSR.

At the economic level, the country became a reservoir of fuel, raw materials and agricultural produce for the Soviet economy. At the cultural level, the imposition of the Cyrillic alphabet in place of the Latin alphabet severed the country’s ties with the sources of Azerbaijani literature and culture. During this period, the territories of Zangazur, Goycha, part of Nakhchivan and other districts were cut off from Azerbaijan. As a result, the country’s area, which in the period of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic in 1920 accounted for 114,000 sq km, was reduced in 1920-1921 to 86,600 sq km.

In 1988-1990, the national democratic movement in Azerbaijan campaigned vigorously for the restoration of the country’s independence. On September 23, 1989, Azerbaijan was among the first Soviet republics to adopt its own decision on Sovereignty. With the view to prevent the process of looming disintegration of the Soviet Union, on January 20, 1990, Soviet tanks were sent to Baku and cracked down on the freedom movement leaving hundreds of innocent Azerbaijani citizens dead and wounded.

A state of emergency was declared in the country that remained in force until mid-1991. Notwithstanding these setbacks, the untiring struggle for independence by patriotic forces of the Azerbaijani people culminated in the adoption of a declaration of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Azerbaijan on August 31, 1991, on the restoration of the State independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The act reestablishing the State independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated on October 18, 1991, set out the foundations for the statehood of an independent Azerbaijan and determined the principles of its political and economic structure. With that act the Republic of Azerbaijan once again, after an interval of 71 years, became an independent subject of international law.

A new chapter in the contemporary history of Azerbaijan was ushered in full of its own ups and downs and challenges, the most important of which has become Azerbaijan’s struggle to restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty over the internationally recognized territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The land of arts

One of the indicators of a nation’s cultural level is the degree of development of its applied decorative arts, a component part of material culture closely associated with the economic, intellectual and socio-political aspects of life.

Carpet making is a very old and highly developed craft in Azerbaijan. Archaeological finds bear evidence that it was already in existence back in the 9th century B.C. Written sources of later periods, for instance, writings by such antique Greek, Roman and Arab authors as Herodotus, Xenophon, Al-Mugaddasi, also indicate that carpet making is indeed a very old craft. Numerous archaeological evidences, relics of archaic carpet-weaving devices testify that carpet weaving has developed in Azerbaijan since ancient times and Azerbaijan has always been in the forefront of the Caucasus weaving. Vivid descriptions of carpets can be found in the works of the Azerbaijani world famous poets Gatran Tabrizi (11th century), Nizami Ganjavi (12th century), Khagani Shirvani (12th century).

Colorful Azerbaijani carpets were admired by the Flemish traveller, missionary Guillaume de Rubrouk (13th century) and the Venetian explorer Marco Polo. Azerbaijan craftsmen produced magnificent specimens-from simple pileless Sumakh type carpets to exquisite khalcha variety. The overwhelming majority of carpet compositions famed as Caucasian carpets are the compositions of Azerbaijani artists.

Latif Karimov (1906-1991), Azerbaijani famous scholar and carpet-maker who meticulously researched the history of Azerbaijani carpets systematized 144 styles based on geographical regions. He identified four major types of Azerbaijani carpets based on geographical origin - namely, the Guba-Shirvan, Ganja-Gazakh, Garabagh and Tabriz "schools", each of which possesses its own distinct characteristics and coloring.

Azerbaijani carpets are mainly distinguished by the ornament, manufacturing technique and the kind of article in question. They are noted for a vast variety of ornamental compositions, which now exceed 600. Despite the religious taboo to depict human images the distinctive feature of Azerbaijani carpets is that their decorative scheme comprises phytomorphos, zoomorphos, anthropomorphos and geometrical elements, highly conventionalised when conveyed onto a carpet. The greater part of carpet decorative motifs is common to other Azerbaijani crafts too. The similarity of ornament in metal, fabrics, ceramics, etc. is traceable among the specimens of the ethnographic fund. Flowers and branches often elaborate colorful displays.

Having mastered manufacturing techniques to perfection, Azerbaijani carpet makers, namely Garabagh carpet school, began producing sets (dast) consisting of a large central carpet, two side rugs and one head piece, all united in a single composition; prayer rugs (namazlig); pictorial and other types of carpets. Carpets were to meet both aesthetic and utilitarian requirements. As an object of household use, which was its main purpose, the carpet served to keep the house warm. Other types of carpets included pileless mafrash, khurdjun and kheiba (travelling bags), chuval (sacks for holding loose products), chul (all kinds of coverlets), yakhar ustu (saddle cover).. Presently, magnificent carpets and carpet articles from Azerbaijan are in the collections at the Hermitage in St.- Petersburg, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Textile Museum in Washington, Le Louvre in Paris, and the Topkapi in Istanbul.

The land of Azerbaijan is not only famous for its carpets and handicrafts but also with its beautiful and particular architecture styles and rich musical heritage.


Azerbaijani architecture typically combines elements of East and West. Many ancient architectural treasures survive in modern Azerbaijan. These sites include the so-called Maiden’s Tower in Baku, a rampart that has been dated variously from the pre-Christian era to the XII century, and from the top of which, legend says, a distraught medieval maiden flung herself. Among other medieval architectural treasures reflecting the influence of several schools are the Shirvan Shahs’ palace in Baku, the palace of the Shaki khans in the town of Shaki in north-central Azerbaijan, the Surakhani Temple on the Absheron Peninsula, a number of bridges spanning the Araz River, and several mausoleums. In the XIX and early XX 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.

There are more than six thousand architectural monuments of historical importance preserved in the territory of Azerbaijan such as unique historical open-sky site "Gobustan", the fire-worshippers’ temple "Atashgah", the Palace of Shirvan Shahs, Baku’s unique Maiden’s Tower, the Nizami Ganjavi mausoleum tower, Shah Abbas Mosque, Javad Khan’s tomb, Momine Khatun mausoleum tower just to name a few. Furthermore, ancient cities, fortresses, palaces, mausoleums, mosques, "caravanserais" (guest houses) represent interest from both scientific and tourist point of view.

Baku is perhaps the "city of God" or the "place of fire". But the most popular derivation is from Bad-kube meaning "blustering wind". Narrow alleys, dozen of small mosques, some barely distinguishable from the houses that surround them, a handful of old caravanserais and many overhanging balconies characterize Old Baku. One may use many metaphors about Baku, but maybe one of the most tender, succinct and heartfelt depictions of Azerbaijani capital is the one voiced many years ago by one of the greatest Azerbaijani composers Gara Garayev: "To me, Baku is the most beautiful city in the world. Every morning, when the city wakes whether it be to the sun or the rain and fog, every morning my city sings. Baku is meant for art. It gives me so much pleasure to write about this city no matter if you write music, verse or paint images."

It is worth mentioning that Baku’s walled Old City area has been included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The surrounding central area is delightfully cosmopolitan with attractive turn of the 20th century buildings and century-old "oil boom" architecture with a good balance of local and Western-oriented business.

In opinion of a number of researchers, Maiden’s Tower is an ancient defensive tower. But this construction strongly differs from all medieval defensive facilities of Absheron. Its architectural features are much more similar to some specific archaic constructions and for this reason many other specialists consider it to be a temple of seven gods of the pre-Zoroastrian period. Seid Yahya Bakuvi in his chronicles confirms that after acceptance of Islam in Azerbaijan, the Maiden’s Tower continued to be used as an observatory for watching over celestial heavenly objects.

Center of the modern Baku is the famous Ichari Shahar - large medieval fortress with high-power walls, which enclose constructed in different centuries palaces, towers, mosques, caravanserais, bath houses and residences. Narrow, endlessly turning aside broken streets come in as mysterious labyrinth of an Oriental City from fairy tales of "The 1001 Nights". At the highest point of the fortified city is the Shirvanshahs’ Palace.

On the Absheron Peninsula there were many Temples of Fire as well. From their variety we notice the well-preserved temple Atashgah ("the Fire Place") in Surakhani, founded in the end of 18th century by the fire-worshippers-people from Northern India who had established in Baku their settlement. The majority of the researchers suppose that Atashgah is a Zoroastrian temple.

Any architecture starts with dwelling erecting and the Garabagh architecture is not exclusion. But only here the remains of first human-built dwellings had lasted until our days. Over 600 millenniums had passed since these dwellings had been constructed in the Azikh cave. Ancient inhabitants of Azikh were not satisfied with the cave’s natural facilities for living, and tried to improve their living conditions inside it. The so-called "qaradam" was the basic dwelling type for the Qarabagh population since ancient times up to the middle of 20th century. Most often the name is translated as "a black (smoked) house". Many remarkable architectural monuments can be seen in Qarabagh. So, there are numerous constructions from the medieval Barda and Aghdam, such as the mausoleum built in 1322, and the Imamzade Mosque. In the northeast part of Shusha there is a Palace of Qarabagh Khans where the unique technique of windows "shabaka" (made of intricate pieces of wood fitting together without the use of nails). Shusha had also many mosques, including the mosque of Govhar-agha - one of the daughters of the khan. It had been erected in 1760-1768, in the center of the town and now is a symbol of Shusha. It is a very beautiful architectural construction with two well-proportioned minarets, covered with patterns of colored tiled bricks. Several Albanian chapels of 5th-8th centuries still remain today in the mountains of Qarabagh. The most impressive among them are monastery complexes of Cicernavak (in Lachin district), Khotavank and Qandzasar (Kalbajar


Azerbaijanis have a long and robust musical heritage from the wandering minstrels "ashugs" who traveled from village to village singing and playing the saz and the tar, national music instruments, to the modern-day jazz artists. Azerbaijanis and music seem, indeed, to be inextricably tied.

Azerbaijan prides itself with having produced the first opera in the Muslim Orient-"Leyli and Majnun" in 1908 by the great Azerbaijani and world famous composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov who originates from Garabagh. He was 22 at the time and admits that he really didn’t have the formal preparation to tackle an opera-music and libretto. Nevertheless, it was Hajibeyov who opened the first page of Azerbaijan’s national opera history and classical music in general. He set the tone and direction of many works that followed. Hajibeyov was a genius, who synthesized oriental traditional elements (melody, mode and instruments) with western style and genre, specifically opera, which was followed later on by other composers who wrote works of symphonic, ballet, concerto and chamber music.

Hajibeyov was also the founder of the genre of musical comedy in Azerbaijan. He splendidly captured the way of life of the 19th century Azerbaijan in his musical comedies such as "Husband and Wife", "If Not This One, Then That One" ("Mashadi Ibad") and "Arshin Mal Alan" (Cloth Peddler), which became immortal classics of the Azerbaijani music. "Arshin Mal Alan" achieved world-wide fame, was translated into many languages and staged in theaters in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Istanbul, Warsaw, Sofia, Tehran, Cairo and Beijing.

Hajibeyov wrote his prominent opera "Koroghlu" based on an Azerbaijani heroic epic of 16th century. As in all his works, Hajibeyov widely relied upon Azerbaijani folk music when composing his opera.

Hajibeyov has also significantly contributed to the development of modern musical education in Azerbaijan. He founded the first music school in Azerbaijan, which later served as a basis for creating the Azerbaijan State Conservatory (now Academy). He also carried out significant research on Azerbaijani folk music and along with other famous Azerbaijani composer Muslim Magomayev published the first collection of national folk songs.

Opera in Azerbaijan is basically a 20th century phenomenon, which has incorporated elements of Azerbaijani traditional music. The first opera performances in Baku were staged in a first decade of last century when Azerbaijani State Theater of Opera and Ballet was built in 1910. Mugham (pronounced moo-gham) is the quintessential form of Azerbaijani folk music included by UNESCO in the 2003 list of masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of the World. Totally improvisational, it is performed in one of seven basic scales or modes, each one meant to elicit a certain emotion, according to some music critics. In the early 20th century, Hajibeyov identified seven main mughams (Rast, Shur-Shahnaz, Seygah, Bayati-Shiraz, Humayun, Herat and Chahargah).

The mugham in Azerbaijan has reached the highest and most mature level of its development. The reason is that for the performance of mugham a very high timber of voice is needed. This voice timber is the characteristic feature of Azerbaijani people. There is no country in the world where the voice timber of mugham performers is as high and strong as in Azerbaijan. Nowadays the khanandas (mugham performers) from Garabagh fascinate and astonish the whole world by their singing. Khananda’s singing is usually supported by a group of accompanying musicians. This band playing traditional Azerbaijani musical instruments as a rule consists of a trio of tar, kamancha and gaval.

There are number of recognized mugham performer’s schools in Azerbaijan. Although this genre is widespread in all regions of Azerbaijan, Garabagh Mugham School formed mainly in Shusha city of Azerbaijan remains a main center of Mugham with its famous mugham singers including Bulbul, Khan Shushinski, Seyid Shushinski, Abulfat Aliyev and Jabbar Garyaghdi ogly..

Mugham is not easy to understand, especially for a non-Azerbaijani. For those who are new to mugham, a famous mugham performer and winner of the prestigious UNESCO Music Prize in 1999 Alim Gasimov while listening to mugham suggests to pay, first of all, attention to the timbre and quality of the singer’s voice, emotions it produces as well as to the improvisation and the range of the voice.

In Azerbaijan, some of the young generation are reluctant to listen to mugham in its traditional form given its deep and complex musical genre. To lure younger Azerbaijanis back to their national heritage, today, yet another fresh version of mugham has appeared: "industrial mugham". The name itself conjures up images of East vs. West, tradition vs. modernity. This innovation combines the elements of mugham with the rhythms of modern "techno-house" music. Azerbaijan was also native land for such world famous composers as Gara Garayev and Fikrat Amirov.

The musical legacy of Gara Garayev (1918-1982), "one of the greatest columns in the museum of Azerbaijani music" is immense. Garayev was born in Baku. He was a student of Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1978, he was awarded with the title of Hero of Socialist Labour-the highest recognition of the Soviet Government. Garayevleft us with nearly 110 pieces, including ballets, operas, symphonic and chamber pieces, piano solos, cantatas, songs and marches. His imprint on Azerbaijan’s music and role in making Azerbaijan’s music known world-wide is enormous.

Fikrat Amirov (1922-1985) was a student of Uzeyir Hajibeyov. He is is the composer of symphonic mugham-a new unique genre of Azerbaijani classical music. Amirov’s creativity covers the diversified genres of musical art. He is the author of numerous operas, operettas, ballets music and symphonic mugams such as "Shur" and "Kurd Afshari", songs.

His role in development of Azerbaijan and other oriental peoples music is enormous. He was also awarded with the title of Hero of Socialist Labor and many other state awards. Amirov’s symphonic mughams were based on the classical folk pieces and performed by many renowned symphony orchestras throughout the world.

Another prominent Azerbaijani musician was Maestro Niyazi (1912-1984). He is Azerbaijan’s most famous musical conductor. In addition he was a composer of the famous "Rast" symphonic mugham. Niyazi was born into a family of prominent Shusha musicians. Niyazi played an important role in making the Azeri classical music known to the world. American writer Philip Bonosky characterized him as "one of the most prominent conductors in the world". Well-known Italian conductor Carlo Chekki said: "The art of Niyazi deserves the highest praise. He has extraordinary hands, great will and strong character". His symphonic mugham "Rast" achieved worldwide popularity and was included to the repertoire of many symphonic orchestras around the world. Maestro Niyazi also headed the Azerbaijan symphonic orchestra for 46 years, from 1938 to the end of his life.

Each year, another proud and grateful son of the bountiful Azerbaijani land, internationally acclaimed musician, world’s greatest living cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, comes to Baku. Rostropovich was born in Baku in 1927 and each year he comes to conduct Master classes at the Azerbaijani Musical Academy for young Azerbaijani talents. In 1991, together with his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, for many years the leading soprano at the Bolshoy Opera in Moscow, he established a charitable fund known as the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Fund. Since 2002 this Fund has been facilitated a nationwide children’s vaccination program to protect over 750,000 Azerbaijani children against measles, mumps, and rubella.

One of the nation’s most celebrated sons was Vagif Mustafazade (1940-1979), creator of the "mugham jazz" movement in Azerbaijan in the 1960s. By merging two musical genres- Western jazz and Eastern mugham, he created a completely new sound that was uniquely Azerbaijani. Familiar Eastern melodies found new expression in Musatafazade’s free-spirited piano stylings. His brilliant jazz renditions are well-known well beyond Azerbaijan. His daughter Aziza Mustafa Zadeh is today an accomplished jazz piano player and singer of international repute.

Towards human gold

Today, Azerbaijan is on the rise, exemplifying one of the most successful stories among the newly independent states in terms of political and economic stability. Azerbaijan considers integrative efforts to world economy as an inevitable process, however, cementing opportunities to enhance its national competitiveness, along with ensuring the access to diverse products and services for the society at large, is the core of the economic policy of the Government.

Now, when the country has regained its independence and the sovereign right to exploit its natural resources and build its own economy, it seems ever more convincing that the target is to expand entrepreneurial activities and promote the development of sectors on market-based approach and with modern investment strategies for investors to find niches not only in traditional oil & gas sector, but also in metals mining (ferrous and non-ferrous minerals), chemical and petrochemical, light and food industries, agriculture (cotton, tea, tobacco, silk worms, vine-growing, vegetables, fruits), and tourism.

In simpler terms, addressing development challenges in the context of globalization Azerbaijan intends to develop non-oil sector in order to diversify economic production and enhance its competitiveness in international trade and investment. However, alongside with improving investment climate, the Government has set a goal to maximize national assets formation, so as to improve general socio-economic living conditions of people. Besides, the Government pursues administrative reforms, enhances efficiency of public administration, and ensures good governance to manage all of these challenges.

Having studied the evolution of other nations rich in mineral resources, perhaps, one of the most crucial steps in ensuring long-term sustainable socio-economic development in the country was the establishment of the State Oil Fund, whose cause is to help the nation find specific and most urgent of all uses of accumulated oil revenues, so as to invest into the future, into the younger generations-that is, into what will make up the society well ahead of years to come, the human capital of Azerbaijan. It is many people both in the public and in the private who concur in their intentions about borrowing from UNDP Resident Representative in BakuMarco Borsotti turning a "black gold"into a "human gold".

The Government of Azerbaijan was, indeed, among the first to embark on delivering upon the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, launched by the British Government in pursuit of seeing how minerals-rich countries can become more transparent and more focused on delivering the revenues of the mining activities to their peoples. Joining this initiative was an important endeavor undertaken by the Government in order to ensure transparency in growing oil revenues collection and spending, among other things, to ensure the implementation by the country of United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Over the past two years, as much as half billion USD, or 32 percent of the State Oil Fund’s income, was directed to different investment and social projects, the most important of which was funding of housing and improvement of socio-economic conditions for refugees and internally displaced persons forced to flee their native lands due to ethnic cleansing as a result of armed aggression against Azerbaijan.

In addition to the Oil Fund, the society draws substantial support also from philanthropic activities of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation headed by Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, First Lady of Azerbaijan and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. The main goals of the Foundation are directed towards rendering support in realization of the large-scale programs aimed at the study of rich heritage of the nationwide leader of Azeri nation Heydar Aliyev and its use in the name of welfare of the Azerbaijani nation and progress of the nation, promoting achievements in the spheres including science, education, culture, sport, public health, ecology and economy. Moreover, Heydar Aliyev Foundation cooperates with education enterprises of Azerbaijan and abroad, grants scholarships to especially talented pupils, students, assists in developing children’s homes, culture, health and education centres as well as medical institutions, holds purposeful seminars and conferences, helps in assuring of ecological security for health of future generation.

As the country emerged rich in oil, a unique history of development of petroleum industry was quickly and strongly kept in memories and books. It is a well-known fact that oil has been produced by industrial methods in Azerbaijan for about 150 years. By 1901, more than 50 percent of the world’s oil had been produced in Azerbaijan. At those times, a critical factor that accelerated the dynamic development of the petroleum industry was an active involvement of local and foreign manufactures and investors in phases of exploration, recovery, transportation, refinery and marketing of oil and oil products-the segments of oil market so desperately promoting competition nowadays. During World War II, Azerbaijan single-handedly contributed more than 70 percent of total oil supplies to the USSR. Today, there are nearly 100 countries which extract oil. Azerbaijan was one of the major pioneers in this field.

It is worth recollecting the names of oil producers and oil companies that operated in Azerbaijan, such as the Nobel Brothers and their famous "The Nobel Brother’s Company", Shell Transport which became Royal Dutch Shell, the Rothschilds’ Bank House and several others. It comes as no surprise as why at those times, the oil-rich Azerbaijan attracted such tycoons who brought their industrial and banking know-how to Azerbaijan in pursuit of ensuring an access to Caspian oil reserves. The remarkable contributions of local oil-producers such as Taghiyev, Assadullayev, Naghiyev, Mukhtarov and a few others boosted the development of the petroleum industry in Azerbaijan, prompted competition for additional acreages, additional explorations and even some marketing instruments, which set the tone for the world petroleum market later on. The natural course of historical development was broken of by the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 that almost three years later led to the establishment of the Soviet regime in Azerbaijan and continued until the state independence was regained in 1991.

Since 1994, Azerbaijan has concluded 24 agreements on development of hydrocarbon resources of the country with participation of 36 companies from 17 states; in 30 years to come, foreign investments in the oil and gas sector will total approximately $60 billion. Today, annual oil production equals about 20 million tons, whereas in 2009-2010 it will reach 50-60 million tons per year. By 2013, Azerbaijan will be annually producing at least 30 billion cbm of natural gas. In the coming five years only, some $10 billion will be invested in oil and gas sector. Total proven oil and natural gas reserves of Azerbaijan are tantamount to 21-35 billion barrels and 5 trillion cubic meters, respectively.

The BTC Pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) Main Export Pipeline, connecting Azerbaijan, through Georgia to Turkey, was conceived by and realized under the direct guidance of the national leader of Azerbaijan former President Heydar Aliyev. It is an integral part and the most important pillar of the larger Transportation network - also known as the new Silk Road-running all the way from Western China and Central Asia, through the Caspian and Caucasus, across the Black Sea, and then on to ports in Ukraine, and the Mediterranean.

This transportation super highway is designed to complement existing transport routes from Asia to Europe, including the traditional and often heavily overloaded outlets via Russia. Eventually, the goal is to create a fully integrated transportation network-including upgraded highways, pipelines, railroads, ports, ferries, fiber-optic lines, electricity transmission lines-that will make it easier for the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus to trade not only with each other but also with Europe, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. This system has a potential to become a very important element of the network of international economic security. It represents in itself an additional opportunity for international consuming societies to develop and bring about 50 million tons of the Caspian crude oil annually to their markets in a way that shares their concerns about energy supply security. Azerbaijan also exports crude oil through other three channels-namely, the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline (Northern Export Route via Russia), the Baku-Supsa pipeline (Western Export Route via Georgia), and the Baku-Batumi railway (via Georgia).

The envisaged construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum South Caucasian (natural gas) Pipeline is another mega-project which aims at securing the alternative supplies of natural gas to the European market via Turkey and some of the Balkan and Eastern European countries. All in one would constitute an inclusive regional energy infrastructure, which will propel the regional economic development and prompt the region’s integration with international economy.

Currently, the economic policy of Azerbaijan is based on liberalization of economic activity, de-monopolization and private sector development. As a result of reforms since 1996, the economic decline has been stopped and an upward trend of the GDP growth is currently under way. According to IMF’s World Economic Outlook 2005 survey, Azerbaijan saw its real GDP growth among the highest in 2005 when it rose to 26.6 percent and the highest ever in the history of its development, and even still the highest in the world in 2006 when it is expected to rise to as high as 35.8 percent. In general, over the past 10 years, the average annual GDP growth equals to 11.4 percent and the share of private sector in GDP has reached 77 percent. More than $22 billion has been invested in the economy since 1994. These figures suggest a good economic performance of a country with a relatively small population.

With the aim to develop non-oil sector and to stimulate further economic growth Azerbaijani Government has been implementing several state programs aimed to social-economic development of the regions of Azerbaijan throughout the country, as well as development of sectors of economy where country has potential comparative advantages such as agriculture, tourism, various fields of industry, transport, information and communication technologies.

In the non-oil sector, agricultural constitutes an important part of the country’s economy and accounts approximately more than 20 percent of the GDP. It is the second to oil and gas sector and Azerbaijan has long lasting traditions in agriculture. Azerbaijan is specialized in the cultivation of vegetables, fruit, cotton, tobacco, subtropical cultures, silkworm and sheep breeding. Livestock, dairy products, and wine and spirits are also important farm production. The country territory is regarded as one of the most ancient spots of human agricultural activities. Over 80 percent of Azerbaijan’s arable lands, which total over 1 million hectares, are irrigated by more than 40,000 km of canals and pipelines. The varied climate allows cultivation of a wide variety of crops, ranging from peaches to almonds, from rice to cotton, and tea leaves to hazelnuts.

Agricultural sector is the main employer in Azerbaijan and this sector accounts approximately 40 percent of active labor force of the country and more than 50 percent of population lives in rural areas. In the meantime, rural areas have also preserved their rich heritage of tourism.

Creating an auspicious outlet for Europe towards Asian markets and vice versa, geo-strategic location of Azerbaijan has also predetermined its role as a reliable transit country between Europe and Asia. In this regard, Azerbaijan attaches great significance to the development of cross-regional transport networks, such as Europe-Caucasus-Asia international transport corridor (TRACECA), that offer high potential for expansion of regional cooperation towards reaching the goals of sustainable development. A number of initiatives have been undertaken in this direction, with the EU-sponsored TRACECA program being one of them.

Building on the rich heritage going back to the old days of the Great Silk Road, today Azerbaijan can once again boast of its instrumental role in spreading the networks of trade in the whole Eurasia, thus bringing the entire regional and inter-regional transportation networks development to serve the goal of sustainable and equitable development of nations.