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Role of Women in the Sexual Culture of Azerbaijan

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Culture, identity, as well as sexual life of Azerbaijan has been influenced by many factors throughout the history. The Soviet influence, Islamic rule, Caucasus traditions, and traditions of neighboring countries are only several of the many factors. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan became a secular, Muslim, and independent republic in 1991. The biggest influences in the sexual economy of Azerbaijan were indispensable in the gender dynamics, which reflected on the sexual culture, and modern developments.

Azeri people have undergone the Russian dominance for nearly two centuries, first under the Russian Orthodox religions of Tsarist rule, and later under the atheistic Soviet socialism. The Russian political and economic dominance was accompanied with an endeavor to suppress the ethnic, national identity. Over 20 million of Azeri people live in the North of Iran, which has its own cultural implications for the religious perceptions to be accepted. On the other hand we have an ethnic identity as a Caucasian state, which highlights the similarities in the sexual and marital culture ignoring the religious differences. The case of Azerbaijan in gender dynamics and its development is an indispensible example, as it is geopolitically is situated between the East and the West. "Azerbaijan offers yet another example of the diversity of women's situation in the Muslim world, defying commonly held Western stereotypes."(Tohidi 1)

The Soviet revolution did not only provide a drive for modernization, but also a shift in the traditions of marriage, female behavior, and status. "The great masses of Azeri women, illiterate and house bound, were urged to step out, to become builders of a technologically advanced modern world run along the principles of socialism." (Heyat 80) The cultural and ethical transformation of women was not only reflected in their education and employment, but also more freedom and rights in terms of marriage, divorce, and social communications with males. The freedom of choice to marry anyone they wanted replaced the arranged marriages, and gave an opportunity to the females to better choose their sexual partners and husbands. Opportunities for easier access to the opposite sex, meant that women could marry freely initiating love marriages. The generation of Soviet Azerbaijan in 1930s was very open and freedom in the relationships. Farideh Heyat in her book "Azeri women in transition..." gives a good example from the interview of a woman, which proves the differences of early post revolutionary period and more conservative standpoint about sexuality afterwards. Feride Malekova born in 1938 also continued: "Most of my friends parents had met independently, either at university, the workplace, or at some public function. But since the late 1930s when a new generation of the intelligentsia began to emerge they had different expectations. They behaved in a more conservative manner than their parents." (Heyat 104)

What could have actually triggered a certain social change? The Socialist campaigns tried to assure male population that female employment would not interfere with their domestic duties. "But in the Muslim republics this reassurance had to go beyond domestic duties encompassing women's behavior in public, especially anything associated with sexuality and the cult of namoos(honor)" (Tohidi 119) The sensitive issue of namoos (honor) was closely interconnected with females, because in order to make a contrast between the Russian and Caucasian women to form a compromise. This compromise entailed high respect and protection for the female population, while in return women had to behave according to the ethnical limits set by the males. Nevertheless, women were happy to strive to be segregated and differentiated in the marriage market, made Azeri women follow "certain traditional, and at times, repressive images, dress codes, and behaviors."(Tohidi 1) The ethnical and religious views were interconnected with virginity, not going out without a male or older female chaperone, not driving cars, not wearing trousers, and not drinking or smoking in public places. This compromise was also part of the ethnocentrism and strive to preserve national culture and customs in order to avoid 'Russification'.

Even though socialist movements promoted atheistic perceptions, religion was domesticated; and its interplay with the nationalism reveals the striking similarities of gender attitudes and male-female relationships. The family structure and norms remained very conservative and patriarchal after the breakup of



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