Social Studies

When Azerbaijan Was The First

When Azerbaijan Was The First

Disclaimer: The information in this article is reprinted from the webpage www.history.echo-az, the author of the texts is Bulanova O.


Different cities and countries have their own fates. Both Baku and Azerbaijan were destined to be the first ever in the world or in the Muslim East in many different fields such as in industry, transport, production sector, culture, and politics.

Industry And Transport

The 19th century brought industrial growth into many countries as urban population grew. However, none of the cities had such a high rate of population growth as Baku did; in some 60-70 years the number of population multiplied by 33.4 fold, which exceeds all rates of population growth known in the entire world during the 19th and 20th centuries. So what was the reason behind such a leap?

The first ever oil well in the world was drilled in Bibi-Heybat village near Baku in 1846. It was 21 meters deep. The drilling was conducted under the guidance of Alekseev, director of Baku oil fields and Corps of mining engineers. Afterwards, oil industry starting developing with a cosmic pace and in 1901 Baku topped the world in the quantity of produced “black gold”: it produced more than half of the global oil supplies.

The first even tanker in the world was built in 1877-1878 upon the order of the Nobel Brothers Fellowship. Until then, oil was transported in barrels, which were loaded onto the lower holds of ships. The tanker was named “Zoroaster” after the prophet Zaratushtra. Curiously enough, the tanker found its death undersea: it was sunk along with other six ships, in order to become the foundation for the first ever oil platform in the world in the open sea – the Oil Rocks, which was later included in the Guinness World Records. This happened in 1948-1949. Oil Rocks is a colony to itself, standing proudly on poles in the Caspian Sea. It has its own shops, houses and culture centers.

It is even noteworthy that the first ever-offshore oil extraction also happened in Absheron. A Baku merchant Kazimbey built the first offshore oil wells in 1803 near Bibi-Heybat village. A framework of wooden panels tightly fitting into one another protected the wells from the waters entering them.

V.A. Kokorev, a Russian merchant and entrepreneur, built the first oil refinery, called the photogen plant, in 1858-1859 in Surakhani village near Baku. Justus Liebig, professor at the Munich University, and later the eminent Mendeleyev himself took part in the development of the project. The goal was to produce special photogen oil from resinous shale for the newly invented light bulbs.

First navy academy of the USSR Navy – in Baku

It is no secret that Baku is home to various schools, including military academies, however there was one school in Baku, very few people have heard of. The school was called Baku Navy Training College and was established in June 1943. It was the first navy training college of the USSR Navy. However, its history had begun even earlier, on 22 June 1940, when they established special navy middle schools. 8th-, 9th– and 10th-grade students could enroll without exams, but only boys with excellent or good academic performances were invited. It was a tuition-based school – 160 rubles a year. Such schools were organized in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Gorki, Odessa and Baku (7 Baku special navy school). The students lived at home and wore navy seamen uniforms, but without badges of rank. They wore bows instead of ribbons on their sailor hats. The Baku special school ran until May 1943 and produced only one class of graduates.

In 1943, when the combat activities were at full swing, they decided to establish closed educational establishments in the country, which would be in the subordination of the Navy People’s Commissariat. As a result, on 25 June 1943 the People’s Commissar of Navy issued an order “On establishing the Baku navy training school on the basis of Baku special navy school”. The Baku training school was designed to educate young men in 7th to 10th grades.

It is no coincidence that the government of the time chose Baku. It was located away from all fronts, had a warm-water seaport and the Caspian warship flotilla, which acted as a patron of the Baku training school. The school was staffed with schoolboys at Baku, Kiev, Odessa and Gorki special navy schools. The share of Baku students was only 20.6%. All the students were assigned a military rank of a “cadet”. Students could enroll based on entrance examinations, which were a serious challenge, as they selected only the best.

How Baku hosted the first oil pipe in the Russian Empire and the first fuel oil line in the world

Explosive oil development in late 19th century raised an urgent issue of transporting oil from oil field to refineries. In the summer of 1876, Ludvig Nobel, who was actively processing oil from Balakhani fields at his plants in the Black City, traveled to Absheron and wrote a research note “Review of Baku oil industry and its futurity”, where he defined the strategic pathway. At first, they had to forego transporting oil in 20-25-pud (pud = 16 kg) barrels (which at the time had already superseded wineskins). Transporting oil in such manner was dirty, slow, and most importantly, expensive business. In 1877 a pud of oil cost 3 kopeks at fields, whereas delivering it from Balakhani to the Black City cost up to 20 kopeks.

Back in 1863 D.I. Mendeleev had visited Baku and offered building a pipeline for shipping oil from the fields to the plant, but the offer had not been approved at the time. Nobel once again raised this issue in his research note. Moreover, the note also mentioned building iron reservoirs for storing oil and oil products; wider utilization of oil residues (fuel oil) for heating and gas production; radical improvement of kerosene quality; introducing loading methods for oil transportation in oil tank cars, river and sea vessels; establishing a divergent structure for storing and selling oil products in Russia.

In 1878 Ludvig Nobel negotiated with numerous construction firms, but they all refused the project, which was new for that times. That is when the Nobel brothers decided to carry out the project independently – employing the help of a construction firm ran buy A.V. Bari, an engineer, who had recently returned from America: “Bari, Sitenko & Co.”. At the time, an exceptionally talented and already well-known engineer Vladimir Grigoryevich Shukhov had been cooperating with Bari’s firm for several months. Shukhov would later author the famous Shukhov Radio Tower in Moscow and other unique buildings. He had met Bari at an exhibition in Philadelphia, so accepted Bari’s proposal to run the branch of the construction and technical firm in Baku, which dealt with building and engineering works at oil fields.


First metro in the Caucasus

The Baku subway solemnly opened in 1967. The Azerbaijani capital became the fifth city in the USSR where the public transport was complemented with such a comfortable means of mass transport such as metro. It became the fifth after Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Tbilisi. At the same time, Baku became the first city among all Islamic cities to launch a subway. For comparison, Tashkent had metro in 1977, the huge Cairo in 1987, Ankara in 1996, Teheran in 1999, the gigantic Istanbul in 2000, Kazan in 2005 and Almaty in 2011.

Large-scale construction works started in 1951 and the first line was to open after a couple of years. The stations were developed at great depths in harsh geological conditions, but despite all the challenges the staff worked in three shifts with great enthusiasm.

Back at the time, people had good reason to think that the Baku metro will be the third in the USSR, advancing the Kiev subway. Note that the construction works there also started in 1949, but developed at a slow race. The death of Stalin on 5 March 1953 saw several powerful leaders of Caucasus descent lost their powers and the construction works were temporarily shut down. Khrushchev thought a metro in Baku was an unattainable luxury, which is why in September 1953 several kilometers of subway tunnels, which had already been built until then, were temporarily shut down. They managed to win permission from the Union government to “reanimate” the metro project only in 1960. The new metro was built in a “simpler”, cheaper option compared to the initial project.


Some keywords to remember: drill, afterwards, noteworthy, offshore, coincidence, ranks, refinery, supersede, reservoir, residual, divergent, luxury, tunnel

First Ballet

“Maiden Tower” – the first ballet ever in the history of Azerbaijani and Muslim East

Ballet has always been a purely European type of art. But Azerbaijan would not be Azerbaijan at all if the talents of the country did not write and stage the first ever ballet in the history of the Muslim East. This naturally became a first for the country as well. The “Maiden Tower” ballet premiered in three acts with a prologue and an epilogue on 18 April 1940 at the Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet Theater.

The eminent ballerina Gemer Almaszadeh performed the lead role. She was one of the first professional Azerbaijani ballet dancers, and she was later awarded the title of the People’s Artist of the USSR. This ballerina was endowed with outstanding acting skills and an unspeakable allure, which turned every performance by her into a true festivity.

The famous Azerbaijani composer Afrasiyab Badalbeyli, who also authored the libretto, which is based on the longstanding legend about how the tower came to be called the “Maiden Tower”, wrote the ballet.

On the photograph: Afrasiyab Badalbeyli with the lead role performer Gemer Almaszadeh, 1940

According to the libretto, Gulnak and Polad are in love and preparing to get married. Jangir Khan severs the lovers, as he wants to take the girl into his own harem. Wet-nurse Ayperi reveals a secret to the khan: She saved Gulnak from death many years ago and Gulnak is none other than Jangir Khan’s unwanted daughter (the khan wanted a son, but a girl was born, so the khan ordered to kill the little girl and make a slave of his wife). However, the khan is inexorable. Polad is thrown into a dungeon on his orders and Gulnak must enter his harem. The girl begs the khan to free her beloved and is ready to sacrifice herself to save him, agreeing to marry the khan. But in order to postpone the odious wedding as much as possible, she asks the khan to build her a tall tower at the seashore. Khan starts and finishes the construction and the enslaved Polad is one of the workers. However, he manages to escape.

First school for Muslim girls in Baku


In the late 19th century, Baku had several women’s schools, such as the Saint Nina School or the Mariinsky Gymnasium. But these were secular schools, where education was in Russian. However, there was no women’s school for Muslim girls, which would teach them in their own mother tongue. This was the case not only in Baku, but the entire Muslim East. The great Bakuvian, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev came up with the idea of starting such school in Baku. He perfectly understood that only an educated woman can raise an educated person and started taking steps towards creating conditions, through which women would be able to benefit from a quality education in their mother tongues.

He appealed to Emperor Alexander the 3rd for the permission to start a Muslim girls’ school in Baku, but the emperor refused. Taghiyev decided to wait and when Nicolas the 2nd was about to be crowned, he sent an expensive gift to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and asked her to assist in opening a Muslim women’s school in Baku. It was a wise move. In order to win the empress over, Taghiyev advocated for naming the school after her. He received his permission after two years.

But getting permission from Saint Petersburg was only the start. He also needed to get permission, and most importantly the blessing for opening the school, from the local religious figures, which hindered progressive beginnings in every way possible. Teaching Muslim girls? Why? Their business is to bear children and manage the house. But Taghiyev came up with yet another wise move – he sent one of the forward-minded clergymen to win the support of revered religious figures in the Islam world. Thus the construction began.

He invited the eminent Polish architect Jozef Goslawski to carry the project out. Goslawski would later author the Baku Duma (later the Baku Soviet). The construction started in 1898 and finished in 1900. The building was so impressively big that it could easily have become a university. It was a U-shaped and had a gated yard thanks to the fortress wall. It perfectly corresponded to climatic and lifestyle conditions of Baku. The magnificent oriental main façade played a unique role in the decoration of the building.

All the people of Baku gasped when the construction was over. The building was beautiful outside and well thought inside. It corresponded to all the requirements, proposed for the school. The ground floor hosted classrooms, laboratories, perfectly equipped library with a study hall and a receiving office. All training rooms were wonderfully equipped. They had all training aids the students might need: atlases, global maps, stuffed animals and birds, herbariums, etc. Spacy and light rooms with tall ceilings and windows remained cool even on hottest of the days. The first floor included the canteen, kitchen, bedrooms, teachers’ rooms, the director and doctor’s rooms and a prayer room. The bathroom, first-aid room, laundry and other service rooms were in the yard, where they also had a beautiful garden. During the first years, the girls wore hijabs, but later they replaced them with uniforms of Russian high-school girls. They had special summer and winter uniforms, as well as dresses for solemn ceremonies and holidays.

The only girls and women Muslim School named after Empress Alexandra became an innovative school not only in Azerbaijan, but also the entire Muslim East. It radically differed from the old mollakhanas. The high-school girls were taught housekeeping, needlework and sewing. Girls, who graduated from this school, became the first women-teachers in the country. Many of them continued their education to become doctors, economists, librarians, scientists, and artists.

The school was famously known as an exemplary one in all aspects – in education and upbringing system, their uniforms, how they behaved and etiquette. They paid special attention to neatness of their clothes and shoes, their health and cleanliness.

Religious figures could sleep peacefully. Only women worked at the school and the doorman did not allow anyone in, even the parents. There was a special room, where the girls could meet with their loved ones at certain allowed hours. At holidays the girls were taken to the cinema or the Taghiyev Theater. Afterwards, they wrote essays about the plays they saw, which were staged based on classical pieces. They walked in the streets without wearing their veils, but some stayed at school, as they feared to anger their relatives. High-school girls went to concerts and special evenings at the Russian girls’ high school. They also visited them back. In 1915-1916 the girls were even taken to concerts and evenings to men’s high school and neighboring non-classical secondary school.

They received comprehensive education and upbringing, as the school also had drama, literary, dance and women’s choir clubs. On Fridays the drama club staged plays for parents. Once they even staged “Arshin Mal Alan” and invited the author of the play, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, who was very satisfied both with the club and the play.

Boarding school students organized exhibitions at Novruz and Eid holidays and demonstrated their handiwork. They invited their families and came together around dinner. All of this contributed into the popularity growth of the women’s Muslim school in and outside Caucasus. Taghiyev himself and his wife Sona were frequent guests at the school. Taghiyev always told the girls: “My daughters, study diligently. Happiness lies in learning. Remember that knowledge is the greatest wealth.”

In 1913 Taghiyev’s school was transformed into a teachers’ training school. Taghiyev was planning to give his gallery at Olginskaya to the school as well, but the First World War started and interfered with all his plans.

In the Soviet period, the building hosted the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijani SSR. At the moment, the Institute of Manuscripts of the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences is located there.


Some keywords to remember: premiere, prologue and epilogue, sever, inexorable, postpone, seashore, advocate, hinder, clergyman, eminent, oriental, innovative, comprehensive

Classroom activities: Debate –Stereotype, what are the gender roles for girls and boys. Lead the class to discuss some of the societal gender classifications, and actions attributed to boys and girls.



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