Multiculturalism as Azerbaijan's tradition and custom

By Amina Nazarli

From time immemorial, Azerbaijan, located at the crossroads of East and West and different civilizations, formed the historical traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance.

As a country with polyethnic composition, Azerbaijan always was a place, where different nations, languages and cultural traditions met and interacted.

The high level of tolerance in a society is an indicator of the antiquity of its people and culture, therefore Azerbaijan, as one of the oldest centers of human civilization and human settlement made multiculturalism as part of its traditions and customs.

Land of Fire historically was a region where representatives of different nations and religions live as a family, in an atmosphere of peace, friendship, tranquility and mutual understanding, that’s why the respect for the culture of other nations has turned into a life style in the Azerbaijani society.

As a Caspian country, Azerbaijan was one of the richest states on the Silk Roads, serving as the "gate" between mysterious faraway China and rich Europe.

This historical route was the major transporter of valuable wares, information and knowledge between East and West, promoting the exchange of scientific and cultural traditions between the Silk Road countries, and thus contributing to multicultural environment, ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity in the medieval Azerbaijan.

Throughout its history, being a bridge between Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan played an important role in the interaction of different religious groups of the region.

Accepted as an important center of ancient Zoroastrian civilization, it also played a great role in cultural development of Christian peoples of the region. After the Arabic invasion and spread of Islam, Azerbaijan became the important center of Islamic culture, but preserved traditions and cultural heritage of Christian and Zoroastrian periods.

Although the secular state Azerbaijan has an overwhelming majority of Muslim population (96 percent), worshipers of other religions enjoy freedom here, and one can often witness Jewish synagogues and Orthodox and Christian churches and other religious centers functioning freely.

In different periods of the history, Azerbaijan has become home to the representatives of different nations, cultures and religions, as a result of millennia of migration and conquest.

The conquest of Azerbaijan by the Russian Empire and the resettlement policy in the region initiated by Russian tsarism marked the beginning of new processes and changes in the ethnic and demographic structure of the country, leading to the emergence and formation of new ethnic communities, the historical birthplace of the majority of which was far beyond the Caucasus.

As the oil and other industries began to develop in the country, since the beginning of the 19th century, Azerbaijan became home for migrants from Russia, Ukrainia and Belarus, who were engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding and gardening, as well as were teachers and engineers.

Land of Fire is indeed a perfect example of the relationship of Western and Eastern cultures in a single community, since for many years the representatives of several European nations including Germans, Poles, Greeks, Swedes, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Czechs peacefully and harmoniously lived side by side.

German community was one of the major Western European communities in Azerbaijan, establishing eight colonies in several region of the country in the early 19th century. These colonies were a shelter for German colonists, who created a little Germany here with cozy houses built in German style and tidy streets, with pear and plane trees along them.

Up to now the descendants of those immigrants have retained their cultural and ethnographic peculiarities, customs and traditions.

Today the Land of Fire is known worldwide not only as the country rich in energy resources, but also as the country committed to the principles of humanism and tolerance.

These traditions are kept and continue developing in modern Azerbaijan which is promoting its values to the whole world. In fact, the country has set up an international centre for multiculturalism in 2014, as a concrete effort to promote the values of multiculturalism.

Azerbaijani multiculturalism has got international recognition and is subject of study in many organizations and universities around the world.

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Amina Nazarli is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @amina_nazarli

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