Cultural diversity and pluralism represent one of the most important factors of culture. Azerbaijan has since ancient times been known as the homeland of diverse peoples and cultures. This land served as some kind of bridge between Eastern culture, on the one hand, and the world, European culture – on the other hand. For the multinational, poly-confessional, multilingual Azerbaijan, this ideology is put forward by the historical reality itself. Indeed, Azerbaijan is a unique geographical, geopolitical and cultural space where the representatives of numerous national-ethnic groups live.
In Azerbaijan, during all periods of history with a diverse national and ethnic structure there are real sources of this diversity. Relationship of tens of religious and ethnic communities living in Azerbaijan has caused unity of a variety of their cultures – their folklore, dialects, customs, life, system of religion, etc.
In Azerbaijan it has historically been developed identical, that is, normal relation to all peoples, ethnic minorities and ethnic groups. The Azerbaijani state, pursuing consistent and correct national policy, has gained important achievements in the sphere of providing the rights of ethnic minorities.
The expedient steps taken by the state contributed to further strengthening of traditions of the Azerbaijani people at all times to live as a close-knit family, in the conditions of brotherhood and friendship, irrespective of national identity and religion.
The Azerbaijani state guarantees to all ethnic minorities living in the territory of the country the opportunity to create any organizations provided by the law. The Constitution and laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan regulate the legal status of similar organizations. Diversity of the organizations of ethnic minorities is connected with their traditions. The most part of ethnic associations is created on the basis of religious belonging.
After Azerbaijan gained its state independence, unlike many countries of the region, the culture of the ethnic minorities and ethnic groups living here is protected and develops as a component of culture of the country. For Azerbaijan, as the most developed country of the region, it should be regarded as the fact deserving approval. After collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan started to create their own cultural centers to preserve their historical and cultural customs and traditions. As a result, today tens of national cultural centers function in Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Azerbaijan Republic takes active part in the programs to promote “cultural diversity” realized under the auspices of UNESCO, the Council of Europe and OSCE. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism realizes a project titled “Cultural Diversity of Azerbaijan”.
Annually, May 21 is marked as the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. In 2001, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002, the UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/249, declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. For the first time the World Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development has been celebrated on May 21, 2003. The UNESCO member states, joining the Declaration of this organization, have undertaken liabilities on recognition of the values connected with cultural diversity, their protection and active promotion at the local, national and international levels.
The unity of diversity does not mean elimination of ethnic, national or religious differences at all. At present, representatives of tens of ethnic minorities live in Azerbaijan: Russians, Ukrainians, Tats, Kurds, Belarusians, Talyshes, Jews, Turks, Germans, Lezgins, Tatars, Avars, Georgians, Tsakhurs, Udis and others.
The government of Azerbaijan has repeatedly provided financial aid to the structures of ethnic minorities. Besides, they do not pay for rent of the occupied buildings and premises. The state in various forms renders protection to them.
At the state level, meetings are held with the national and cultural societies. During such meetings, specific problems connected with ethnic minorities are quickly solved. Besides, regularly are held scientific and practical conferences.
At present, an important work is carried out in connection with the cultural centers and associations representing ethnic minorities. It was strengthened material and technical resources of two theaters financed from the government budget - the Lezgin Drama Theater in the Gusar region and the State Puppet Theater in Gakh region. In 1981, in the House of Culture in the Alibeyli village of Gakh region it was created the Georgian Theatrical Circle, which in 1985 was renamed as the “Folk Theater”. In December 2004, on the decree of President Ilham Aliyev the Theater received the status of a state theater. Along with the Samad Vurgun Russian Drama Theater, successfully are functioning the Russian sectors of the Azerbaijan State Musical Theater, the Azerbaijan State Theater of the Young Spectators and the Azerbaijan State Puppet Theater in the country.
The Azerbaijani state, as far as possible, provides to these structures financial assistance from the state budget and the reserve fund of the President of Azerbaijan Republic, promotes strengthening of mutual understanding, tolerance and respect among all peoples, irrespective of their national origin, culture, language and religion.
In regions of compact residence of ethnic minorities – in Lankaran, Astara, Balaken, Zaqatala, Gusar, Lerik, Masalli, Khachmaz, Shabran, Gadabey, Goychay, Ismailli, Gakh and Gabala regions are functioning 41 children’s music schools and schools of arts at which more than 12 thousand teenagers are trained on various specialties.
The state acts appropriately to promote folklore and culture of the small peoples to improve repertoire of the amateur art collectives on the national basis.
Many representatives of cultural centers of the small peoples
The “Sevinj” song and dance ensemble of the Astara cultural center plays active role in promotion of customs and traditions, national dances and songs of the Talysh minority. Performances of the ensemble in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia and Turkey testify to that. In Astara, they always mark the holidays “Mehsul” (“Harvest”), “Ekinchi” (“Plowman”), “Shum” (“Plowing”) with their ethnic elements.
The attention to art collectives of ethnic minorities and care of them is in the focus of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Azerbaijan Republic. Many collectives are equipped with the clothes, musical instruments and technical means provided by the Ministry.
The political leadership of Azerbaijan carries out important work on development of all nations and peoples living in our country. In the period of leadership of the country by the national leader Heydar Aliyev, it was rendered special attention to the culture of ethnic minorities. Now, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev successfully continues these activities.
Support and preserving the cultural diversity have found its reflection in a state policy of Azerbaijan.According to the UNESCO Convention “On protection and encouragement of a variety of forms of cultural self-expression" of October 20, 2005, it is carried out expedient work on preserving culture, art, customs, traditions and languages of the ethnic minorities and ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan. According to the Law signed by President Ilham Aliyev on November 26, 2009, Azerbaijan has also joined the said Convention.
These measures once again demonstrate that the Azerbaijani state, supporting cultural development of the small peoples, gives additional incentive to this process. It should be noted that at the first stages of implementation of the cultural projects connected with the small people, the professional level of on-stage performance groups in places was insufficiently high. However, thanks to the attention paid to them and care, as a result of the practical work carried out with them, there were already created professional ensembles. These collectives have reached such high level that today we can send them to various international events held in many countries of the world that also gives additional incentive to cultural development of ethnic minorities.
The Azerbaijani state tries that the ethnic minorities living in our country keep alive the traditions and culture of these people, which is a component of the culture of Azerbaijan, preserve and pass from generation to generation.The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Education, and other structures carry out appropriate work in this sphere.
There are folklore traditions formulated on the principles of cohabitation. A specific place among them is held by wedding traditions. The wedding is an integral part of culture and folklore of each people. The wedding traditions of the people created around the world within many centuries gives clear idea about these peoples. Interesting customs, in due time inherent in the specific ethnic minority or region, even to a single village or family appear in a single form now. Ceremonial, labor and seasonal songs, lullabies and lamentations, lyrical songs and instrumental dancing melodies within each culture differ in specific forms of manifestation. The place and value of the same genres in folklore of various people can seriously differ.
The rich musical folklore of the small peoples is an integral part of the spiritual culture of Azerbaijan. And the traditional project “Musical Atlas” covers numerous dialects of the musical folklore of Azerbaijan.
For example, the instrumental dancing melodies performed by nagara players and zurna players are widespread among the Lezgins, Avars, Tsakhurs and Rutuls. At the same time, in folklore culture of these people has different types of a song genre (lullabies, lamentations, ceremonial songs, lyrical songs). The general musical style and musical instruments (zurna, balaban, nagara, tutek (pipe), sipsi, tanbur), and a formula of typical melodies unite these peoples. At the same time, sometimes there are various nuances inherent in a concrete people.
The musical folklore of Talyshes - one of the most ancient ethnos - differs in rich genre features of performance. There are well-preserved labor, wedding and seasonal, ceremonial songs performed by women, and songs with dance known as “Halay”. Many samples of songs are performed both in Talysh and Azerbaijani languages. This fact demonstrates close interaction of cultures.
In Balaken region, there is a peculiar national musical instrument – the tambur or tanbur that is used only in Balaken and Zaqatala. Balaken's inhabitants since ancient times make with their hands this instrument and use it in public celebrations. Both men and women perform on tambur. At the same time, under sounds of the tambur they sing lullabies, perform the local dances characteristic for the Balaken people.
Undoubtedly, similar actions directly serve preservation of customs and traditions, in a word, the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities.
The measures undertaken by the Azerbaijani state both on the international and national levels, and directed to encouragement of inter-cultural dialogue serve increase of the authority of our country on the international arena, to further strengthening of national solidarity of our people, represent our country to the international community as a space of mutual enrichment of national cultures. Today, Azerbaijan holds one of the leading places among the world countries where there is no place of discrimination for belonging to any ethnic minority or on the contrary. In a word, the national policy pursued by the Azerbaijani state demonstrates that the people can live in peace and friendship, and from this point of view, our country is a bright example for the whole world.