Traditions and customs of Azerbaijan

What traditions and customs are there in Azerbaijan?

A review of the customs and traditions of Azerbaijan, a Caucasian country.

Food and Economy

Food in daily life

There are regional differences in the selection and preparation of food due to the availability of agricultural products and belonging to different ethnic groups. A mixture of meat and vegetables and various types of white bread make up the main foods.

In rural areas, there is a tradition of baking flat white bread (“churek”, “lavash”, “tandyr”). Kufte bozbash (meat and potatoes in fine sauce) is a popular dish. Stuffed peppers, grape leaves and soups are also part of daily meals.

Different types of green herbs, including cilantro, parsley, dill, and chives, are served during meals as a side dish and as a salad. Pork is not popular due to Islamic dietary rules, but was eaten in sausages during the Soviet period.

Beetroot soup and other Russian dishes are also part of the cuisine. Restaurants offer many varieties of kebabs and, in Baku, an increasingly international cuisine. Some restaurants in the historical buildings of Baku have small rooms for families and private groups.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Pulov (steamed rice) garnished with apricots and raisins is a main dish in ritual celebrations. It is consumed together with meat, fried chestnuts and onions. During the Novruz holiday, wheat is fried with raisins and nuts (“gavurga”).

Every household should have seven kinds of nuts on a tray. Sweets like paklava (a thin-layered diamond-shaped cake filled with nuts and sugar) and shakarbura (a thin-crust cake filled with nuts and sugar) are an indispensable part of the celebrations.

At weddings, pulov and various kebabs are accompanied by alcohol and sweet non-alcoholic drinks (“shyra”). At funerals, the main course is usually pulov and meat, served with shyra and followed by tea.


Even in rural areas, marriages are increasingly arranged according to the wishes of the couples. In some cases, rural girls may not have the right to oppose a candidate chosen by their parents; it is also not unusual for parents to disapprove of the chosen partner.

Marriages between Azeri and non-Muslim non-Azaeri (Russian, Armenian) girls in the Soviet period were very rare, but Western non-Muslims apparently now have a different status. Men, by contrast, could more easily marry Russians and Armenians.

Both men and women marry to have children and raise a family, but financial security is another major concern for women. In addition to the civil marriage ceremony, some couples now go to a mosque to be married according to Islamic law.


In general, issues related to sex and the body are not openly discussed in public. Depending on the age of the person speaking, some men may refrain from using words like “pregnant”; if they must use them, they apologize.

It is not considered appropriate for adults to openly mention going to the bathroom; in private homes, people of the same age and gender or children may be asked how to get to the bathroom. Women rarely smoke in public or at parties or other gatherings, and an Azerbaijani woman who smokes in the street would be looked down upon.

To show respect for older people, it is important not to smoke in front of older people of both genders. Young men and women are circumspect in their behavior towards older people.

Body contact between people of the same sex is common as part of the interaction when talking or in the form of walking arm in arm. Men usually greet each other by shaking hands and also by hugging if they haven’t seen each other in a long time.

Depending on the occasion and the degree of closeness, men and women may greet each other with a handshake or just words and a nod. In urban settings, it is not unusual for a man to kiss a woman’s hand as a sign of reverence.

The awareness of space is greater between the sexes; men and women prefer not to be close to each other in lines or in crowded places. However, all of these tendencies depend on age, education, and family history.

Activities such as drinking more than a nominal amount, smoking and being in the company of a man are associated more with Russian women than with Azerbaijani women. Azerbaijani women would be criticized more harshly, as it is accepted that Russians have different values.


Religious beliefs

Among the total population, 93.4 percent are Muslim (70 percent Shia and 30 percent Sunni). Christians (Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic) constitute the second largest group. Other groups exist in small numbers, such as the Molokans, the Baha’is, and the Krishnas.

Until recently, Islam was predominantly a cultural system with little organized activity. Funerals were the most persistent religious ritual during the socialist era.

religious practitioners

In 1980, the sheikhul-islam (head of the Muslim board) was appointed. Mullahs were not very active during the Soviet period, as the role of religion and mosques was limited. Even today, mosques are more important for conducting funeral services.

Some practitioners read passages from the Qur’an in the company of women on those occasions.

Rituals and Holy Places

Ramadan, Ramadan Bayram, and Gurban Bayram (the Feast of Sacrifice) are not widely observed, especially in urban areas. Muharram is the period when there are restrictions on celebrations.

The ash is the day the assassination of the first Shi’ite imam, Huseyin, considered a martyr, is commemorated by men and boys hitting their backs with chains while people watching, including women, beat their chests with their fists.

This ritual was not introduced until the early 1990s and is attracting an increasing number of people. People go to the mosque to pray and light candles and also visit the tombs of the pir (holy men) to make a wish.

Death and the afterlife

Although people are increasingly following the Islamic tradition, due to the lack of organized religious education, people’s beliefs about life after death are not clearly defined. The idea of ​​paradise and hell is prominent, and martyrs are believed to go to heaven.

After a death, the first and the four following Thursdays are commemorated, as well as the third, seventh and fortieth days and the first anniversary. When there is very little space, a tent is put up in front of people’s houses for guests. Men and women usually sit in separate rooms, food and tea are served, and the Koran is read.

Secular celebrations

The New Year holiday is celebrated on January 1, January 20 commemorates the victims killed by Soviet troops in Baku in 1990, March 8 is International Women’s Day, and March 21 and 22 is Novruz (the new year), an ancient Persian holiday celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox.

Novruz is the most distinctive Azerbaijani holiday, accompanied by extensive cleaning and cooking in homes. Most households grow semen (green wheat seedlings), and children jump over small fires; celebrations are also held in public spaces.

Other holidays are May 9, Victory Day (inherited from the Soviet period); on May 28, Republic Day; on October 9, Armed Forces Day; on October 18, State Sovereignty Day; November 12, Constitution Day; on November 17, Renaissance Day; and December 31, World Azeri Solidarity Day.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

State funds during the socialist era provided workshops for painters and other artists. These funds are now limited, but national and international sponsors encourage artistic activity.


The Book of Dede Korkut and the Zoroastrian Avesta (which go back centuries but were written in the 15th century), as well as the Köroglu dastan, are some of the oldest examples of oral literature (dastans are recitations of historical events in a very ornate language).

Works by poets such as Shirvani, Gancavi, Nasimi, Shah Ismail Savafi, and Fuzuli, produced between the 12th and 16th centuries, are the most important writings in the Persian and Turkish languages. The philosopher and playwright Mirza Fath Ali Akhunzade (Akhundov), the historical novelist Husein Javid, and the satirist M.A. Sabir produced works in Azeri in the 19th century.

Major figures of the 20th century included Elchin, Yusif Samedoglu, and Anar, and some novelists also wrote in Russian.

Graphic arts

The tradition of painted miniatures was important in the 19th century, while the 20th century was marked by examples of Soviet social realism and Azerbaijani folklore. Among the widely recognized painters, Sattar Bahlulzade primarily worked with landscapes in a manner reminiscent of “Van Gogh in Blue.”

Tahir Salakhov painted in Western and Soviet styles, and Togrul Narimanbekov made use of figures from Azerbaijani folktales rendered in very rich colors.

Rasim Babayev cultivated his own style of “primitivism” with hidden allegories about the Soviet regime (bright, saturated colors, lack of perspective, and numerous non-human characters inspired by folk tales and legends).

Performing arts

The local and western musical tradition is very rich, and there has been a revival of jazz in Baku in recent years. Pop music is also popular, having developed under Russian, Western, and Azerbaijani influences. The Soviet system helped popularize systematic music education, and people from all walks of life participate in and perform music of different styles.

While classical and jazz composers, performers and listeners are more common in urban settings, ashugs (saz and sing players) and mugam (a traditional vocal and instrumental style) performers can be found throughout the country.. It is not uncommon to find children playing the piano in their village homes.

Traditional string, wind and percussion instruments (tar, balaban, tutak, saz, kamancha, nagara) are widely used. Uzeyir Hacibeyov, who is said to have written the first opera (“Leyli and Madjnun”) in the Islamic East in the early 20th century, Kara Karayev and Fikret Amirov are among the best-known classical composers.

Both now and in the past, elements of Azeri music have been incorporated into classical and jazz pieces (for example, the pianist and composer Firangiz Alizade, who recently played with the Kronos Quartet). In addition to western ballet, traditional dances accompanied by accordion, tar and percussion are popular.

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