Search
Menu

Islam, Empire, and Energy: Azerbaijan and the Modern World

Students will take up residence at the crossroads of Europe and Asia – the meeting place of Christendom and Islam, and the nexus of the broader Turkic, Persianate, and Slavic civilizations – and examine the traditions of nomads and mountain-dwellers, the relationship between religion, identity and politics, and the nature of the split between Sunni and Shi’i Islam.

Islam, Empire, and Energy: Azerbaijan and the Modern World
ADA University, Baku, Azerbaijan

Michael Reynolds, associate professor of Near Eastern studies and director of the Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies

Azerbaijan is not (yet) a household name in the United States. This should not surprise, since it was only a century ago that Azerbaijan, then part of the Russian Empire, began to acquire a national identity. Despite the youth of their nationhood, Azerbaijanis have played key roles in the world, influencing the course of history in the Turkic, Iranian and Russian worlds, to all of which Azerbaijan belongs. The culture and history of Azerbaijan offer a fascinating lens through which to study some of the key processes that created the modern world.

In this course, students will follow the Turkic Azerbaijanis as they arrived from Central Asia and settled in the Caucasus. They will take up residence at the crossroads of Europe and Asia – the meeting place of Christendom and Islam, and the nexus of the broader Turkic, Persianate, and Slavic civilizations – and examine the traditions of nomads and mountain-dwellers, the relationship between religion, identity and politics, and the nature of the split between Sunni and Shi’i Islam.

The arrival of Tsarist Russian rule in the nineteenth century sparked an array of processes that formed modern Azerbaijan. The seminar will survey the emergence of a secular Azerbaijani intelligentsia and its creation of new literary forms, including theater and satire; the transformation of the capital, Baku, from a small town into the center of world oil production; the rise of socialist and other revolutionary movements in Russia and Iran; the assimilation of nationalism and the beginning of ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis; the formation of an Azerbaijani elite; and the foundation of the first republic in the Muslim world, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR).

The ADR’s existence was cut short when the Bolsheviks conquered Azerbaijan and brought it into the Soviet Union. Students will analyze the impact of Soviet rule upon Azerbaijan in politics, development, and culture, comparing Azerbaijan’s development to that of its neighbors Turkey and Iran. Finally, students will examine present-day Azerbaijan: the causes and consequences of the Karabakh War, Azerbaijan’s role as a global node of oil and gas production and transportation, its political development, and its relations with Iran, Turkey, Russia, the EU, and the United States.

Excursions will include day trips to a city outside Baku (Lenkoran, Ganja, Sheki or Quba). In Baku, students will visit the Old City, the History Museum, the Azerbaijan Republic Mejlis and/or Presidential Administration, and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. The class will also attend at least one live performance of Muqam, Azerbaijan’s famous style of musical composition.

This course fulfills the Historical Analysis (HA) general education requirement.