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Museums

The first museum in Azerbaijan was a school museum, founded in the village of Nehram in the early 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Education Museum was set up at the Public Schools Authority in Baku.  Around the same time, an in-house museum was also established at the Baku branch of the Russian Technical Association.  This mounted exhibitions on various themes ("Oil", "The Shamakhy Earthquake", etc.). Under the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920), the Museum of Independence was opened in the Parliament building in Baku on 7 December 1919. The Azerbaijan State Museum was established in May 1921, initially with sections devoted to archaeology, history, ethnography and nature.  An art department was added later.  This expanded to become the State Museum of the Arts, and the State Theatrical Museum was founded on a similar basis in 1934.  The State Museum itself was reorganised as the Azerbaijan Museum of History in 1936. In the twenties, local museums were founded in many other cities and towns, such as Ganja, Nakhchivan, Sheki, Lankaran. A Resolution of the Government paving the way for a literary museum, named after Nizami, the great Azeri poet, was passed in 1939, the 800th anniversary of his birth.  The Nizami Museum was opened in 1945. The Museum of National Education was founded in Baku in 1940. The Musical Culture Museum and the Carpets and Applied Arts Museum (both in Baku) were established by government decree in 1967, as were local museums in Zagatala, Agdam and other places and a unique Museum of Bread in Agdam. 

The museum network continued to expand in the seventies, partly thanks to the personal efforts and commitment of H. Aliyev, the country's leader. In this and the following decade, memorial museums devoted to the life and work of a number of outstanding artists and writers were opened, e.g. the Samed Vurghun and Uzeyir Hadjibeyov Museums in 1975, and the Byul-Byul, Djafar Djabbarli and Nariman Narimanov Museums in 1982.  The State Museums Office was founded in 1980, to advise museums on techniques and methods.  It serves museums in the capital and in outlying areas. In 1980, in accordance with the Government's Resolution, historical territorial museums, and also the Museum of Stone Sculpture in Zangelan, the Museum of long-living people in Lerik, etc. have been founded in almost all big administrative districts (Agjabedy, Geichay, Zardab, Shamkir, Udjar, etc.) State Museum of Carpet and Applied Art was opened in Baku in 1972. Valuable historical exhibits: archeological monuments of Bronze Epoch, 12-century pottery crockery, carpets and 17-century carpet works, artistic needlework and national clothing of 19 century, etc. The exhibitions from the Museum's collections have been demonstrated in more than 50 countries, such as England, Holland, Israel, India, Iran, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Cuba, Portugal, Russia, France, etc. It's necessary to note that the Museum carries out huge work on propaganda of national cultural heritage by holding international symposia and conferences, etc. The restoration unit, which had been operating at the Museum of Arts since 1957, became the Centre for the Scientific Restoration of Museum Exhibits and Relics in 1982.  It offers museums and the public a wide range of restoration and conservation services.

The social, political and ideological changes of the nineties also led to changes on the museum front.  Thus the Museum of Atheism became the Museum of Religious History, while museums devoted to various Soviet statesmen, such as the museums of Lenin, Phioletov, Kirov, etc., were closed.  Conversely, a number of museums devoted to the history of the democratic movement in Azerbaijan and the struggle for peace have been created.  In spite of the problems raised by the transition, the network is still growing.  In the last decade alone, 21 new museums have been opened.

The State University of Culture and the Arts acquired a "Museum and Cultural Work Department" in 1991, and has started to run courses on museum management and monument conservation. An ICOM National Committee was established in Azerbaijan in 1992, and has since played an active part in the life of the museum community.  It's Chairman and members attend sessions of the ICOM Executive Committee, and present reports at ICOM international conferences.  Several issues of an "ICOM - Azerbaijan" bulletin were published, but financial difficulties have now put a stop to this. 

Azerbaijan has about 200 museums, 34 picture galleries and an exhibition salon. Of these, 184 museums (including 24 branches) are controlled by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 4 are controlled by the National Academy of Sciences, and the remainders are controlled by other departments.
By type, these museums break down as follows:

Historical and local museums  66 
Literary museums7
Art museums14
Historical12
Museums of battle fame
Houses, apartments and memorial museums44
Museums dedicated to national leader Heydar Aliyev 36
Total 184

The largest museums are:

  • The State Museum of the Arts (the Mustafayev Museum)
  • The State Carpets and Applied Arts Museum
  • The State Historical Museum
  • The State Theatrical Museum (the Djabbarli Museum)
  • The State Museum of Musical Culture
  • The State Literary Museum (the Nizami Museum)

Concerning the fate of museums and museum collections in the occupied territories, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the ICOM National Committee have repeatedly raised this issue with UNESCO.  2 Fact-finding missions were sent to Azerbaijan in 1994 and 1995.  The result was an appeal by UNESCO, recognizing that Armenia had seized Azerbaijani territories and calling on it to protect their cultural assets.  With UNESCO backing and using its logo a leaflet carrying pictures and details of various lost items was also issued. Although museums in the occupied territories have lost their buildings, almost all their collections, their catalogues and their display equipment, they have not been abolished in law, and their staff has not been dismissed.  As "refugee museums", they still receive funds from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, maintain their activities, and have been assigned special premises.  Their staffs still receive salaries (which is why these museums appear in the figures kept by the Central Statistics Board and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism).

The work of museums controlled by Ministry of Culture and Tourism is governed by the instructions of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, by the Museums and Cultural Acts and by the Directives on Registration and Conservation of Items in the Collections of the State Museums of the Republic of Azerbaijan (Baku, 1996), and relies on the recommendations and practical guidelines issued by the Museums Office. The order on "Improvement of work of museums in Azerbaijan" issued on 6th March, 2007, where the global problems in the cultural sphere has found its reflection also has a great importance. All the items in the national museum collection are recorded in standard inventories, which are kept by each museum.  A total of 1,151,000 items have been registered.  No museum has a data-base at present, but the chief museums in the capital have started to create one.  Because of the country's economic problems, museums are insufficiently funded, and so only some of those in the capital have (one or two) computers.  Those which have computers tend to use them for administrative and stock-taking purposes - but not so far for exhibitions.  Two of the main museums have Internet connections and websites - the Museum of Musical Culture, the Carpets and Applied Arts Museum.

Most museums have poor technical facilities, and lack temperature and humidity control, air-conditioning and special lighting, many of them don't have guarding and fire-fighting systems.  They have no transport vehicles, and rarely have access to modern packaging materials.  Their storerooms are often overcrowded, and they suffer from lack of equipment. Not all museums produce their own publications and publicity material. In market economy terms, our museums are discovering new ways of earning money (fund-raising).  The range of services they provide (expert reports on works of art, souvenir sales, etc.) is expanding. Museums can solve some of their problems by attracting sponsorships and grants.  The main sponsors are foreign companies and embassies, the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute, and a number of home companies and businessmen (although economic problems and the government's failure to offer tax incentives are increasingly discouraging local sponsors). As a whole, this assistance is not significant and cannot make a positive affect on common development of museums.

The exhibitions mounted include: thematic displays of items selected from a single museum's collection, modular exhibitions of items drawn from various museums, exhibitions from Azeri museums abroad, and foreign exhibitions.  The most important lately have been: an exhibition of the german photograph Claus Vinrat "Five directions: the beauty, children, jewelry, Costa Rika", personal exhibition of Margarita Kerimova "Carnival Venesia", Cultural Days of UAA in Azerbaijan. Home exhibitions cover a broad range of subjects.  In recent years, for example, there  has been staged exhibitions to mark anniversaries connected with many famous artists, an exhibition of young artists, the 2nd International Photo festival "Ayna", the inauguration if the exhibition of modern art "5+", the presentation of CD "Virtual Gobustan", the exhibition from the cycle "Seasons"-"Spring, woman, love" etc. The regional museums also mount exhibitions and are very active educationally.  They arrange special events and displays to mark National Independence Day, Shekhid Memorial Day (20 January), anniversaries connected with well-known writers, scientists and artists, National Music Day, International Women's Day (8 March), National Language Day, etc. The Museum of Musical Culture took a wholly new kind of initiative in 1996 by setting up a unique twelve-player ensemble, performing on reconstructed medieval instruments.
By focusing on all aspects of the country's cultural heritage and mounting exhibitions which reflect and clarify its people's collective experience, museums can help to forge a sense of community, encourage the public to get involved, and promote a positive image of Azerbaijan.



The authors are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts contained on this website and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization

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