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Cultural Industries and Crafts

Cinema. Azerbaijan is one of the few countries with a film-making history dating back to the 19th century.  The Baku photographer, A. Mishon, shot documentary footage of several local scenes and a short humorous film, and showed them to an audience on 2 August 1898.  This date is regarded as marking the start of cinema in Azerbaijan, and is celebrated every year, by presidential decree. At the beginning of the last century, when the oil boom was at its height, a number of well-known foreign film companies (Pathé, Pirone, Filma, etc.) made feature films in Azerbaijan.  In 1910, the country had 14 cinemas, some of them specially built.  Mobile cinemas served outlying areas.  Important in the history of national cinema was the feature film, "In the Kingdom of Oil and Millions", based on I. Musabekov's novel and starring the outstanding Azerbaijani actor, G. Arablinsky.

The Soviets regarded the cinema as vital to the ideological education of the proletariat, and so all aspects of film-making were state-controlled.  The state itself had firm views on what the cinema should be doing - and these dictated the thematic and ideological content of all the films produced.  The same standards were applied in buying foreign films for distribution in the USSR.  The few exceptions only confirmed the rule. Film-makers in Azerbaijan were subject to all these ideological and artistic constraints, and their work inevitably followed the standard Soviet line.  On a certain level, however, national cinema could assert itself, and there were some masters, with their own creative style, who managed to leave a distinctive mark on it.  For example, "Arshin mal alan" and "O olmasin, bu olsun" became "cult" films, gave several generations of Azerbaijanis a new sense of national identity - and are still influential today. Towards the end of the Soviet era, Azerbaijanfilm, the country's only studio, was turning out 7 or 8 films a year commissioned by the State Cinema and the Central Soviet Television Service.  Its annual output also included 20-25 documentaries and 2-3 animated films.  From the earliest days, some 240 full-length features, over 50 short features, over 1,200 documentaries and about 100 animated films were made in our country.

The situation of Azerbaijan's cinema-industry today needs to be seen in terms of the country's general situation, which has been the same for over ten years, and is rooted in the transition from a planned to a market economy.  Obviously, film production and film distribution are equally affected. In 1990-1993, film production, which is a hugely costly business, lost all the backing it had previously received from the state - at that time, its only customer for feature, documentary and animated films. Around the same time, various private structures, with money to put into film-making, started to appear.  In the early 1990s, about 20 private studios - headed by directors who were setting out to make films with their own money - came into being.  Rapid inflation in the first half of the decade quickly made a number of private banks, investment companies, etc. very rich, and some of them decided to invest in film production.  With the help of these funds, 4-5 films were turned out annually in the early nineties.

However, the activity of private investors decreased, and the reason was that films fail to yield the expected returns. Fifteen full-length feature films were made on private money between 1991 and 1993.  Between 1994 and 1997, there were only 8.  In 1998-2001, there have been none. In succeeding years films of moderate cost, shot on private sources began to appear in the markets. At the moment, 2-3 short documentary films are spasmodically funded ever year from private sources. The independent producer companies, engaging in the production of preview trailers, musical clips, and realization of moderate cinematographic projects have been established.

Practically the only source of funding in Azerbaijan today is the state, which commissions films from the state studios: features from Azerbaijanfilm, documentaries from Salname and Yaddash, animated films from Azanfilm, Debut. Moreover, the independent producer centers are also drawning into the shooting of films. Averagely, the state spent approximately 300 thousand manats for a fiction film. 3-4 full-length features, 4-5 documentaries, 1-2 animated films are shot and newsreel footage for the national film archive is executed. Since 2006, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has recruit young directors to the film shooting. Three debutants shot the first commercial short length documentary films in the same year, and in 2007 five short length and three full length films were shot. The activity of the studio "Debut" has been restored.

Through the adoption of the order of the Head of State on development of national film, big perspectives were opened for the cinematography of the country. The series of fundamental measures have been taken for investment of means in renewal of industrial basis of "Azerbaijanfilm" cinema, in perfection of normative-legal basis of the films, development of film networks, and especially in modernization of "Nizami" cinema - the biggest one in the country and etc. The Azerbaijani film industry has the professionals it needs to succeed - specialists, who trained as directors or scriptwriters at VGIK (one of the world's best film schools) in Moscow. The Baku University of Culture and the Arts runs courses for directors, cameramen, scriptwriters, set-designers, actors, etc. 

Looking at the present state of film in Azerbaijan, it is clear that we need to give private-sector production a new impetus.  We have embarked on market reform, and we need to absorb and apply the lessons which other countries' cinema industries can teach us. The restructuring of state involvement in film-making has generated a new interest in co-production.  Several films part-funded from Russian sources are now in the pipeline, and an intergovernmental agreement with Russia is being prepared for signing.

One aspect of cinema, which has no commercial potential, but is important solely from the film heritage standpoint, is the acquisition and storage of significant home-produced and foreign films.  In 1993, the Government set up the State Film Archive for this purpose, giving it premises and a budget of its own.  One of only two film archives in former Soviet countries, it joined the International Federation of Film Archives in 2000. At present, the new building is constructed for the State Film Archive that will be supplied with the modern technological equipment. With the support of Azerbaijan Cinematography Unions - the public organization, combining in itself the creative film workers, the international film festival "Eats-West" is yearly held in Azerbaijan. The international and other film festivals are held in Azerbaijan. An Azerbaijani cinema encyclopedia - a major work covering the home industry, and also film-making and film-makers world-wide - has been in preparation for several years. The Cinema Act was passed by the Milli Mejlis in 1998.  It guarantees state support for the national film industry, protects the creative freedom and copyright of film-makers, and regulates various other matters.

Most popular film festivals in Azerbaijan -

Baku Filmfest "East-West"

International Audiovizual Festival

„Start" International Film Festival

 „Gold Lamp" National Cinema Premium

Book publishing. Book culture has a long tradition in Azerbaijan.  The characters and alphabets used on our territory - the main element in book production - have changed repeatedly.  Mikhey characters were the first employed.  Our Turkish ancestors used Orkhon-Yenisey, Uigur and other characters in the first centuries A.D.  Albanian characters made their appearance in the first half of the 5th century. As in other countries, manuscripts are a precious part of our intellectual tradition.  Their development in Azerbaijan was linked with the rise of paper-making.  The founding of paper-making workshops in Tebriz - the country's cultural centre from the 8th to the 13th century - encouraged the copying of inscriptions from many ancient monuments and produced priceless masterpieces. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the manuscripts produced before the Arab conquest (8th century) and under the caliphate have not survived. The oldest manuscript we have - a copy of Tabarini's commenatary on the Koran - dates from 1220-1225.  It is currently preserved in the National Library in Paris.  Among manuscripts copied in the 13th century, Nizami's "Iskendername" (1233) is in a private library in Tehran, the "Treasury of Secrets" (1239) is in the India Office Library in London, and  Khatib Tebrizi's "Sharkhi-divan-khaman" (1256), Alaaddin Djuveyni's "Mongolian Story" and Ibn Behtushi's "Maafil al-kheyvan" (1297-1298) are in collections in other parts of the world.
Original versions, and also copies, of scholarly and literary works, written by Azerbaijani authors and later rewritten by different calligraphers, are among the greatest treasures of many precious book collections.  We need only note that 792 copies of Nizami's "Khemse" and about 800 copies of Fizuli's works are currently owned by libraries and museums throughout the world.  The earliest copies of "Kitabi Dede-Gorgud" - one of Azerbaijan's greatest cultural treasures and the subject of 1300th anniversary celebrations in 2000 - are in the Dresden and Vatican Libraries.
The first printed book was Nasreddin Tusi's "Takhriri Oglidis", which was produced by the Medici press in Rome in 1594.  It was later translated into Latin and published in London in 1657. The printing of Azerbaijani books abroad continued in the years after that.  The 17th century historian Orudj Bek Bayat's "Book of the Iranian Don Juan" was printed in Valladolid, former capital of Spain, in 1604; I. Gutkasheli's novel, "Rashid Bek and Saadat Khanum" was printed (in French) in Warsaw in 1835; A. Bakikhanov's "Ganuni-Gudsi" was printed in Tbilisi in Farsi (1831) and Russian (1835); M. Kazimbek's "Grammar of the Turkish and Tatar Languages" was printed in Kazan (1839) and St. Petersburg (1846); N. Tusi's "Akhlagi-Nasiri" was published in Bombay in 1851, M. Sh. Vazeh's poems in Berlin in 1851. Modern publishing methods reached Azerbaijan towards the end of the 19th century, and the country's first publishing house was founded around that time.  Baku had only one publisher and one printer in 1889 - but 16 publishers in 1900.
The Communists saw books as one of the most powerful ideological weapons - and immediately nationalized everything connected with publishing.  The Azerbaijani Press Centre was set up within the People's Commissariat of Education to take charge of this sector.  A Literature and Publishing Committee was founded in 1923 to give the state an even stronger hold on publishing.
"Azerneshr" - the State Publishing House of Azerbaijan - was founded in 1924 and made totally responsible for publishing and selling books. During first years of its activity, this publishing house edited featured literature and books for children.
In the first years of Soviet rule (1920-1926), it published 779 titles, and produced over 4 million books. Book publishing continued to expand dynamically in the years after that:


Number of titles

Circulation (in thousands of copies)
















Private publishers and printing firms started to appear in Azerbaijan after 1991.  State control of these sectors was relaxed, and censorship was abolished in 1998.  State involvement in publishing fell off sharply, although both the state and private sectors revived to start with. A number of previously banned books were published in great quantity.  The revival was short-lived, however. The problems associated with the switch to a market economy also negatively hit book-publishing. The public's diminished purchasing power, shortages of paper and other printing materials, and also publishers' inability to adapt flexibly to the market economy and loss of state subsidies, were the main causes of the down-turn of book-production in the country.


Number of titles

Circulation (in thousands of copies)






















Publishing is regulated by the Publishing Act and the relevant sections of other laws.  Under the Act on State Registration of Legal Entities, anyone may set up in business as a publisher or printer, a license is not required. In Azerbaijan there are functioning more than 200 publishing houses and publishing-polygraphist firms. Most are in Baku, though there are some publishers in Gandja, Nakhchivan, Sumgayit, Gabala and in other places. Political literature aimed at a mass readership was the main staple under the Soviets, although scientific and literary works, children's books and other genres were also plentiful.  Specialized publishers emerged in the seventies and eighties.  For example, Maarif specialized in textbooks and education, Azerneshr and Yazichi in literature, Gandjlik in books for children and young people, Ishig in posters, photographic books and art books, and Elm in scientific publications. Foreign works were also published on a massive scale.  In the eighties, Gandjlik published 53 titles (40,000 volumes) in its "World Library of Children's Literature".  Yazichi also started to publish its "Library of World Literature" in 100 volumes, and published more than 30 books of this series. But the recession put an end to this venture.

Specialized cultural journals are now far more numerous than they were under the Soviets.  Newcomers include the magazine, "Khazar", the newspaper, "Culture", and the "World of Music" and "Arts" series.  Most of these are published by creative unions. "Azerbaijan", "Ulduz", "Khazar", "Gobustan" magazines and "Literature" newspaper are the editions of the Union of Writers, which supports them financially by budgetary funds. The magazine "World of Music" of the Union of Composers, and the "Arts" - of the Union of Artists are financed by the money, which come from sell. Although the number of such journals has increased, circulations are vastly lower than in the Soviet era.  At that time, specialized publications like "Teaching Culture" and the "Gobustan" series had circulations of 5-10 thousand, while their popular counterparts, "Azerbaijan", "Ulduz" and "Literature and the Arts" sold 40-50 thousand copies.  The figure for most of today's publications is about 500 copies.  The only exceptions are "Teaching Culture" and "Culture".  These are published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, are sold to subscribers, and varies between 1,500-2,500 readers.


Title of publication






























"Teaching Culture"





"Music World"
























A comprehensive book distribution system was set up by the Soviets. "Azerkitab", the book trade department in the Ministry of Press and Information, was responsible for sales in the towns.  Sales in the country were handled by "Kendkoopkitab", the book trade arm of "Azerittifag".  Rural libraries were stocked from the Central Fund.  When the market economy arrived, this whole system broke down.  Most of the "Azerkitab" shops have been privatized and now deal in other commodities. At present, publishers and authors are themselves involved in distribution.  The activities of the private bookshops are not satisfactory, and their links with publishing-commercial enterprises are tenuous.

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Information Observatory on Cultural Policy of the GUAM Countries