Amanda Rivkin

Azerbaijani Women

Four major currents of Western and Eastern culture collide in the post-Soviet Caspian republic of Azerbaijan. Women exist in four very divergent cultures: Turkic, Persian, Russian or Soviet, and European or Western. Never quite certain of their status or fully in tune to the rhythms and expectations of any of these four cultures, women are tethered by family and traditions customary in the Caucasus.

Virginity is valued and marriage occurs quite young compared to the West. In the countryside, girls can be married as teenagers while in urban Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, women are often married before the age of 25. Divorce is only evidenced in Baku, where some women (and men) in the elite, find liberation through the dissolution of their marriages and the unshackling of societal expectations. Children are the typical glue in a society where marriages are more often arranged than not.

The confrontation between these four very divergent cultures creates stark contrasts akin to the shifting of cultural tectonic plates. The Baku woman wears stilettos and short skirts, but virginity is still expected of her until marriage. Like in the Middle East, women are often viewed as either representations of purity vis-à-vis virginity or whorishness. Baku is also a city of prostitutes that cater to locals and the country’s large foreign expat community that serves the country’s only predominant industry, oil.

Azerbaijan sits on the world’s 19th largest proven energy reserves comprised of crude oil and liquid natural gas. In the 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has tapped into its natural wealth and constructed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which has done more than anything else to bring Azerbaijan into contact with the West. Ten thousand foreign workers, mostly all male, work for BP, the main foreign oil company invested in Azerbaijan, and the city of Baku is now prone to traffic as SUVs, luxury cars of all make and model zoom down the city’s ancient streets and the posh Neftchiler Prospekt, or Oil Workers’ Avenue. The outcome of the influence of this new influx of foreign residents and wealth is yet to be determined, but if history is any guide – the country’s first oil boom and one of the first oil discoveries in the world occurred in late 19th century Baku – women will remain moored to cultural traditions as a means of maintaining their identity and coping with new circumstances.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  A young dancer participates in Azerbaijan's Ballroom Dancing National Finals at a wedding palace in the Surakhani District on November 27, 2011.
  
SHUVALAN, AZERBAIJAN.  Visitors exit the holy sanctuary of Mir Movsum Agha during the first day of Eid, the festival of sacrifice, on November 6, 2011.
  
GOYCAY, AZERBAIJAN.  Young women wait in a classic car to greet an official delegation in fine dresses during the Pomegranate Festival on November 4, 2011.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN. Guests at the engagement party of dissident and opposition activist Adnan Hajizade and fiancé Parvana Perisiani at the high end restaurant Chio Chio San in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 10, 2011.  After serving 16 months in jail in 2009 and 2010 on charges of hooliganism after making a video attacking the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, that labeled him a donkey, Hajizade and a colleague, Emin Milli were released in November 2010; Hajizade and Persiani were engaged in early October 2011.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Young women of the pro-government youth organization Ireli, translation
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Young female customers arrive at the grand opening celebration of Emporium's second store at the Port Baku luxury residences on October 28, 2011.  Emporium's second store in Baku was designed by Japanese architect Yukio Ishiyama of the Milanese design firm Garde and features over 150 luxury ready-to-wear brands such as Azzedine Alaïa, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney; Emporium is widely considered to offer the greatest variety of high-end designer shopping in Baku under one roof.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Rena Ibrahimova (center), 5, tries on a traditional Azeri costume in the attic of a woman, Farida, who started her own business making and manufacturing costumes for schoolchildren in school plays and productions on March 10, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  A young girl stands beside her mother and a friend at the grand opening celebration of Emporium's second store at the Port Baku luxury residences on October 28, 2011.  Emporium's second store in Baku was designed by Japanese architect Yukio Ishiyama of the Milanese design firm Garde and features over 150 luxury ready-to-wear brands such as Azzedine Alaïa, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney; Emporium is widely considered to offer the greatest variety of high-end designer shopping in Baku under one roof.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Husniye Maharramova, a presenter on Ictimai TV interview three small children, including two young twin girls, during an open casting call for a Eurovision promotional video at the Baku Business Center on the Bulvar in downtown Baku, Azerbaijan on January 6, 2012.  The open casting call for the promotional video was one effort to involve Azerbaijanis in the Eurovision Song Contest; 387 people responded to the open call.
     
  
SHUVALAN, AZERBAIJAN.  Small children pick through discarded garbage for sheep's intestines that have been dropped after slaughter during Eid, the festival of sacrifice, on November 6, 2011.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  An Azerbaijani family poses in front of a New Year's tree with figures of Azeri New Year's, Grandfather Frost, who bears a striking resemblance to Santa Clause, and Snow Girl as well as a dragon at the start of the New Year's holiday on December 30, 2011.  A majority Muslim country where 99 percent of the population is Shi'a, traditions with a Christian origin associated with the Christmas holidays were adopted to meet local religion and took on a New Year's character during 71 years of Soviet domination from 1920-1991.
  
GANJA, AZERBAIJAN.  Female factory workers work on an assembly line of a bottling assembly line at a vineyard on October 17, 2011.  The tour of the plant was well orchestrated during a visit on the occasion of the World Youth Festival which brought young people from around the world to Azerbaijan as part of a week-long tour co-sponsored by the pro-government youth organization Ireli, translation
     
  
KHINALIG, AZERBAIJAN.  A woman fetches fresh water from a pipe perched high in the mountains on August 19, 2012.  Khinalig is one of the oldest continuously inhabited mountain villages in Eurasia and the last village on the road before the Azerbaijani border with the Russian North Caucasus territory of Dagestan.
  
GIVRAKH, NAKHCHIVAN AUTONOMOUS REGION, AZERBAIJAN.  Farid Aliyev, 23, and Khanim Veliyeva, 20, pose for pictures in his home on the third day of a traditional three day wedding on July 15, 2012.   Once the bride is delivered to the groom's family's house, she will stay with the family and live the rest of her life in her new home.
  
GIVRAKH, NAKHCHIVAN AUTONOMOUS REGION, AZERBAIJAN.  After a certain hour, relatives of the groom Farid Aliyev, 23, are joined by the village in dance into the late evening on the second day of a traditional three day wedding on July 14, 2012.  Traditional Azerbaijani wedding dancing is a traditional way of celebrating the bride's arrival the following day at the groom's home where she will live with the groom and his family.
     
  
GIVRAKH, NAKHCHIVAN AUTONOMOUS REGION, AZERBAIJAN.  A day after the wedding and bride Khanim Veliyeva, 20, has joined her groom's family, her female relatives arrive for lunch, bring her her belongings and socialize with her in her new room in her groom's family's house on July 16, 2012.   After the bride is delivered to the groom's family's house, she will stay with the family and live the rest of her life in her new home.
  
GIVRAKH, NAKHCHIVAN AUTONOMOUS REGION, AZERBAIJAN.  After a certain hour, relatives of the groom Farid Aliyev, 23, are joined by the village in dance into the late evening on the second day of a traditional three day wedding on July 14, 2012.  Traditional Azerbaijani wedding dancing is a traditional way of celebrating the bride's arrival the following day at the groom's home where she will live with the groom and his family.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Women dance on the tables at Shakespeare bar on March 18, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Visitors stop to look at a type of street art of planted paint brushes after leaving the opening of Azerbaijani painter Tora Agabekova in the old city on October 7, 2011.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  A young woman dances as a female singer and her band sings covers of American pop and classic rock songs during a youth party benefit for Free Youth, a youth organization, at the Amnesia Pub on June 28, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Women are seen in the stairway of an exhibit space during an exhibit by photographer Rena Effendi in the old city on May 3, 2012.
     
  
MASTAGAH, AZERBAIJAN.  (L-r) Animal rights activists Sumara Aliyeva, 32, smokes a cigarette as Fidan Askerova, 24, Leila Akhundova, 23, and Naila Azimova, 34, hang out in and around their cars while waiting for materials to be prepared to build additional kennels for stray dogs they have rescued from the streets in a field on October 8, 2011.
  
NEAR GOYGOL, AZERBAIJAN.  Volunteers Sevinc Sultanova, 25, with the pro-government youth organization Ireli (translation,
  
MURGUZALLI, AZERBAIJAN.  Pari Shirmammadova, 46, pours fresh water for tea from a freshwater source on the family's property on November 22, 2011.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Actresses apply more make up backstage between takes on the set of “Javanliq,” a show mirrored on “Friends,” in a small, makeshift television studio on May 1, 2012.  On May 2, the government of Azerbaijan is prohibiting foreign soap operas from appearing on Azerbaijani television in the hopes of encouraging better quality in domestic productions; many Azerbaijanis will still have access to beloved foreign Turkish soaps through satellite television.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Couples make out on a dock on the Bulvar, the Caspian seaside promenade, in the middle of the afternoon on May 4, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Sadigova Khayala, 26, a former child bride who married at age 16 in a mosque in her native region of Mingechevir, Azerbaijan and separated after six month when her husband started to beat her, is seen in the office of a psychologist on November 28, 2011.  Khayala had the support of her mother who helped her to escape and the two moved to Baku where Khayala later attended university.
     
  
MASTAGAH, AZERBAIJAN.  Sumara Aliyeva, 32, an animal rights activist, drives with a kitten rescued from the street of central Baku in her lap in the Baku suburb on October 8, 2011.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Women exit a motor boat on the newly opened Venetian-style man made canals on the Bulvar on August 9, 2012.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Children receive flowers and take to the stage for a round of applause from the audience and photographs by doting parents after a classical music performance at the Philharmonic on April 27, 2012.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Emin Milli, a blogger and opposition activist heavily championed by the West who was imprisoned for 17 months on hooliganism charges following a video he made satirizing his country's leadership, remarries for the second time a painter Tora Agabekova following his divorce from a previous marriage earlier this year after being released from prison on November 12, 2011.  To Emin's right is Adnan Hajizade, who served with him in jail and now serves as a witness at his wedding.
  
MURGUZALLI, AZERBAIJAN.  Gulgaz Ahmadova, 43, whose sister is married to the grandson Yvonne Botto nee Ivonna Shirmammadova, 83, feeds a baby lamb milk as Botto's granddaughter, Saida Shirmammadova, 25, looks on beside their family's home on November 23, 2011.  Born in Monaco in 1928 and raised in La Fayet, France, Botto first came to Murguzalli, Azerbaijan with her first husband, Shamet Shirmammadov, a young Azeri escapee from a German prisoner of war camp who attended her father's underground communist meetings in France; three years after returning to his hometown, he passed away and she remarried Shirmammadov in 1954 according to local village custom, although she swears to the present day he does not love her like her first husband Shamet did, and converted to Islam.
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Huseyn, 3, plays with a broken chair in a woman's shelter on November 28, 2011.  Huseyn's mother Sevinc, 27, left home in one of the villages outside Baku after her husband physically abused her every night, beating her repeatedly in the head so she could not sleep; her mother now supports her husband in demanding she and Huseyn return and her husband bribed local police, who beat her as well, demanding that her son returned to her father's custody.
     
  
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN.  Gulnar Rzayeva, 35, wipes water from the face of her son, Suleyman Rza, 10, after washing his face before school in one of the last freestanding and undemolished homes on their block despite psychological pressure and the desire of city officials to turn it over to developers for more money on November 1, 2011.  Three families part of one larger extended family live in the home that is completely surrounded by the rubble of the homes of their former neighbors.