Author: Yashar Huseynli
The Republic of Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads where historical routes and ancient cultures in and through the Caucasus intersect.
Over the 20th century, Azerbaijan experienced a great number of extraordinary events, influencing the implementation of cultural policies and instruments: such as severe changes of political regimes, economic booms and recessions, national liberation movements, and involvement in world and regional wars.
The Republic of Azerbaijan – the first secular parliamentary republic of the East - was proclaimed as an independent state on 28 May 1918 and existed for two years. Azerbaijan then fell under Soviet rule for more than 70 years. Official politics, through both direct and more indirect ideological instruments, aimed to gradually "sovietise" the country's national identity, culture and the arts. The alphabet used in Azerbaijan was changed twice during this time: in 1929 from Arabic to Latin and again in 1939 from Latin to Cyrillic. This instability made it difficult for young people and researchers to study their cultural heritage.
On a more positive note, efforts were made to ensure universal literacy and to broaden participation in the arts and culture. "Art to the masses" was not merely rhetoric, but also a guideline for action. Culture was wholly financed by the state. As a Soviet Republic, however, the arts were ideologically streamlined. The first signs of individualism and rejection of the principles of socialist realism became visible at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. Since that period, the arts have gradually emancipated themselves from state control. In some sectors, this process was more intense than in others, but it resulted in a powerful surge of national awareness around the middle of the 1980s.
On 18 October 1991, twenty two years ago, the Constitutional Act was passed and Azerbaijan's state independence was restored. With many internal and external problems, the Republic passed through a difficult period of establishment.
In 1993, the National Leader of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, was returned as the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in accordance with the request of the Azerbaijan people. In a very short time, internal political stability was restored, new strategies introduced and the main direction for the further development of the country was defined. The next stage in the social-political progress of Azerbaijan started and contemporary Azerbaijan's cultural policy was initiated at that time.
Azerbaijan's cultural policy today is, first and foremost, the policy of a country which has regained its state independence for the last two decades of its existence. Its political transformation, which brought radical organisational, economic and social changes, had an immediate impact on culture and cultural trends. The greatest achievement of the last years has probably been the birth of a new social consciousness, gradually shaking off the intellectual inertia of the preceding period.
Dramatic social and cultural changes, globalisation, new cultural priorities, the irruption onto the cultural scene of mass culture and the culture industries, the communications explosion, new approaches to preserve and transmit artistic heritage, and a new awareness of culture's vital role in development – are factors which have contribution to new concepts of culture and national cultural policy.