The Republic of Azerbaijan has made human values its priority, and has set out to build a democratic, secure and law-based state. This involves asserting and upholding the rule of law, which is the essential pre-condition for membership of the world community, and for the normal functioning of all the state's vital activities, including culture. Our society is agreed that a centralized command structure will not work for culture, either as a whole or in its separate phases - the creation, preservation, dissemination and assimilation of cultural values. It has recognized that culture itself and its use of resources - facilities, funds and information - must be regulated, and that laws which are balanced, carefully thought out and geared to modern requirements are needed for this purpose. This is why drafting, passing and enforcing effective legislation has such a vital bearing on cultural policy.
How are laws adopted in Azerbaijan? Under Articles 96 ("Legislative initiative") and 19 of the Constitution, laws and resolutions are drafted and discussed by Standing Committees of the Milli Mejlis. Under the Rules of Procedure of the Milli Mejlis, members of the Milli Mejlis, the President, the Supreme Court and the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan may table bills and other questions for discussion in Parliament. (Milli Mejlis implements the function of the country's Parliament) Bills are discussed and voted on in the form submitted, and may be amended with Parliament's consent. Various authorities and legal entities, including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, are entitled to approach any one of the Milli Mejlis's 11 Standing Committees, asking it to draft a new law or amend an existing one. They may also submit bills themselves. If the Committee agrees that a bill is required, it sets up a working party of leading national experts to draft it. If several committees are involved, this working party may be a joint one. The next stage is to consult relevant laws from other countries, assess the home situation, and identify the problems and shortcomings which the projected bill is intended to remedy. The relevant international conventions are obviously consulted too.
Parliament's legislative activity in the cultural field was fairly intensive between 1995 and 2000 - a period which saw 15 major laws adopted in this area. Following independence in 1991, 21 laws on various aspects of culture were passed:
Title of law
on the re-introduction of Roman letters in the Azerbaijani alphabet
25 December 1991
on mass media
21 July 1992
on establishing a copyright agency in the Republic of Azerbaijan
10 September 1993
on the Industrial Union "Azerkinovideo"
13 December 1993
on author's and related rights
5 June 1996
3 October 1997
6 February 1998
on the protection of historic and cultural monuments
10 April 1998
17 April 1998
on freedom of information
19 June 1998
on the cinema
3 July 1998
3 July 1998
29 December 1998
4 June 1999
on town-planning principles
11 June 1999
on the National Archives
22 June 1999
on mass media
8 February 2000
24 March 2000
30 May 2000
on protection of folklore models
16 May 2003
on theatre activities
29 December 2006
The Standing Committee on Culture and the Department of Social Legislation, which are jointly responsible for cultural legislation, set out to ensure that these laws were in line with the standards and practice of the developed countries, reflected the Council of Europe's cultural priorities, and matched the realities and special features of the situation in Azerbaijan. The main aim in all cases is effective legislation, shielding the rights and interests of all those involved in cultural activity, and satisfying national and international requirements today. All of these laws specify that, in the event of any conflict with inter-state agreements accepted by Azerbaijan, such agreements are to take precedence. This confirms that, for our country, international legal norms come first.
Bills, once drafted, are subjected to linguistic and legal scrutiny by the Secretary of the Milli Mejlis. Since joining the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has also referred particularly important bills to that organization. A case in point was the bill on television and radio broadcasting, which got a positive rating from the Council. Once the Standing Committee has finished working on a bill, the next stage is discussion in Parliament. Representatives of the working group which prepared the text, and invited experts from various departments and organizations, take part in the debate. Every bill passes three readings, and is introduced on each occasion by a reporter, who is a member of the Standing Committee. These readings have certain special features. In the first, the bill's utility is demonstrated, its substantive provisions are discussed, and its general conception is assessed. After the first reading, the Milli Mejlis may decide to publish the bill and throw it open for national discussion. In the second reading, the bill is discussed point by point. When it has passed its first and second readings, it is sent back to the Standing Committee for finalization. All comments and suggestions are considered. In the third reading, it is put to the vote, and no further changes may be made at this stage. Once it has passed its third reading, it is submitted to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan for signing within 14 days, and is then published in the press.
Azerbaijani society is typified at present by cultural diversity, and so all laws on culture are geared to satisfying a broad range of cultural requirements. Some laws are general (e.g. the Culture Act of 1998), others specific (e.g. the laws on cinematography, town planning, museums and publishing).
The Culture Act spells out the principles and aims of state policy, and lays down the duties of government and local authorities in this area. It guarantees the right of individuals to engage in creative activity, promotes international contacts and co-operation, prevents the state from monopolizing culture, and covers preservation and development of the cultural identity and heritage of Azerbaijan and ethnic minorities historically resident on its territory, measures to promote creativity, and public agencies and organizations working in the cultural sphere. State interference is limited to prohibiting any material which is pornographic or which encourages violence, racial, national or religious intolerance, or drug addiction. These prohibitions are backed by effective legal sanctions. All other forms of state interference with cultural activity are prohibited. Many aspects of the functioning and development of culture are also regulated by this law.
The laws "on preservation of historic and cultural monuments", "on museums", "on national archives" and "on libraries" have helped to solve one of the main problems facing the country's cultural policy - conservation of the cultural heritage.
The Constitution and the Culture Act both proclaim that every citizen has a duty to preserve the country's monumental heritage. More specifically, the Act on Conservation of Historic and Cultural Monuments regulates the listing, study, conservation and use of these monuments. It defines the issues, specifies the responsibilities of state and local authorities, and lays down principles for the use, study, conservation, restoration, reconstruction, renovation and safety of monuments. It also lays down criteria for classifying monuments as being of national or global significance, including them on the state register, mapping them and determining their ownership.
No changes affecting the appearance or aesthetics of monuments may be made, and repairs, building work, business uses and other works which damage or destroy them are prohibited. These provisions seem entirely reasonable, and are backed by sanctions.
The rules on conservation take account of the relevant international conventions - the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague, 1954), the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Paris, 1972), the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris, 1972) - and of recommendations and other texts adopted by UNESCO and other international organizations (ICOM, ICOMOS, ICCROM).
The Museums Act was passed to facilitate the preservation and enlargement of museum collections established since 1919, improve museum activities, and promote the creation of new museums, including private ones. An effective text, it regulates relations between museums and the state, defines the duties, functions, privileges and powers of both sides, lays down detailed rules on museum activity, promotes the protection, conservation, development and enrichment of museum collections, and improves the social security position of museum workers.
New requirements concerning the keeping and use of national archives, the need to determine the ownership status of state and non-state archives and documents, and the absence of any legal basis for management and use of this immense intellectual resource were the main inspiration behind the National Archives Act, which regulates all aspects of their compilation, preservation and use, and improves the social security position of archive workers.
The purpose of the Libraries Act was to improve library organization, make libraries more effective and useful, and extend library and information services to people living in rural areas. More generally, it sets out to develop the community's intellectual potential, and contribute to the progress of knowledge. It provides the legal basis which libraries need to do their job effectively and to improve and up-date their working methods. The aim is not to tinker with principles, but to re-think them radically in terms of the new economic and political situation. The Act formulates the principles of state policy on libraries, provides a common basis for the library system, regulates the founding and running of libraries, and covers funding, the public's rights regarding use of libraries, and the principles of international co-operation in this area.
Negative building trends in the early years of independence had serious effects on the architectural and aesthetic quality of our cities, towns and settlements. This was the background to the Architecture Act and the Town Planning Act, both of which set out to arrest the downward slide caused by lack of proper control, to restore architectural harmony, and to preserve for future generations the architectural heritage which, over the centuries, has given our cities their unique character. To ensure that that character is enhanced and preserved, the Act allows foreigners or foreign legal entities to realize architectural projects only in co-operation with Azerbaijani nationals or legal entities. The Town Planning Act aims at optimum population distribution, lays down standards for building and for territorial and urban planning, and regulates the conservation of historic, cultural and natural monuments. Both texts make for consistent and harmonious architectural development and for effective solutions to the problems of city management.
The Publishing Act was designed to remedy shortcomings in the publishing and printing industry, and supply the lack of comprehensive legislation in this sector. Its central aim ia to revive the country's ailing publishing industry. The Act lays down the main principles of state policy, specifies the state's duties, defines optimum approaches to the organization and running of publishing and printing activities, and formulates principles to govern relations between operatives in this area. Geared to the economic realities of the country's situation, and practical in its whole approach, it holds promise for the future of publishing and printing in Azerbaijan.
The Cinema Act covers the main forms of state aid for the cinema. It provides a solid basis for the national film industry, regulates state funding, and covers measures to promote the distribution of Azerbaijani films and participation in international festivals. It offers legal solutions to the problems of regulating organization of the film industry.
Important law is also the Act on Use and Protection of the Azerbaijani Language. Although Azerbaijani was recognized as the state language in the 1995 Constitution, and although the conditions for its widespread use in all areas of the nation's life have been created, such a law is still needed. The re-introduction of the Roman alphabet is also causing huge problems. President Heydar Aliyev's Decree on improved use of the state language (21 June 2001) was issued to help solve them. The main function of the State Committee on Language, which was established on 4 July 2001, will be to supervise implementation of this decree.
Although the Mass Media Act dates only from 2000, it is already being reviewed. The main reason for this is the constant concern to improve the legislative basis of media activity and bring it into line with European standards. In December 2001, the President signed an order on "Additional measures relating to increased state aid for the mass media". The measures envisaged include: the abolition of import duties on newsprint, long-term loans and preferential credit facilities for development of the mass media, measures to promote the extension of independent TV and radio broadcasting, regulation of broadcasting by foreign TV companies on the national territory, review of taxes levied on press concerns and private TV and radio companies, printing facilities for private newspapers in state printing houses.