Social Studies

Great Women Of Azerbaijan


Khurshidbanu Natavan

Khurshidbanu Natavan, also known as the “Khan Kizi” (the Khan’s daughter), is an Azerbaijani poetess, a public figure, the daughter of the last Karabakh Khan Mehtigulu Khan and Badira Jahan and the granddaughter of the ruler of Ganja, Javad Khan. She was born in Shusha in 1837, when her father was over sixty years old.

She was homeschooled home but got a quality and comprehensive education. Besides speaking her native tongue, Azerbaijani, she was also fluent in Persian, Arabic and Russian. The Khan’s daughter was successful at everything her heart was into. She was such a beautiful, smart and talented women, that she drew glances and captivated hearts. She inspired admiration among her contemporaries.


Mirza Fatali Akhundov played a great role in developing Natavan’s inner spiritual world. He was the mastermind of his time, who promoted humanistic ideas in his work. Her personal acquaintance with him inspired Khurshidbanu’s interest towards social issues and beneficial activity.


In early 50s of the XIX century, Natavan married a promising officer of a Russian army out of great love. At that time, her husband Duke Khasay Utsmiev, was a lieutenant-colonel. He was the son of the ruler of Sulak Kalmikia, which was a part of Russia. He had been in Petersburg since childhood under the protection of the Russian emperor as an amanat (hostage).


While traveling in the Caucasus, Alexandre Duma visited Baku. Duke Utsmiev traveled to Baku with his wife and children in order to meet him. In Baku, he lost a chess match to Natavan and thereafter, presented his chess board set to her. The set is preserved at the Nizami Museum of Literature in Baku.


In the early 1860s, Utsmiev divorced Natavan, and she returned to her native home in Shusha with her two children. There she married a famous poet and became quite a known figure in her native land thanks to her social initiatives on developing her town. A beautiful park was laid out for people to rest and a waterline was installed in Shusha.


Natavan was a great poet. She started the “Mejlisi-Uns” (“Gathering of Friends”) literature club in Shusha and became its first ever chairperson. The best poets of the time gathered at the meetings of the club. They considered the eminent classics of Azerbaijan, such as Nizami, Fizuli and Vagif, to be their teachers. Her independent lifestyle, participation in poetic contests, close acquaintance with many poets and her love of freedom turned these meetings into one of the most glorious achievements in the history of Azerbaijan’s literature and civilization in the 19th century. Her elegant and intelligent poems, full of sincerity and warm-heartedness, are enveloped in a romantic mist of Fizuli’s enchanting poetry. The prevailing motive in all her poems is love. She also speaks loudly of her regret for the denial of women’s right in the society. Consequently, because of this reason she got involved in the social life of the community and taking up literature was something unheard of for women of that time. Natavan broke the eternal rule of female segregation and this required much courage on her part.


Khurshidbanu Natavan died on  October 2 of 1897 in Shusha and she is buried in the “Imaret” cemetery in Aghdam.

Shovkat Salimova – The First Woman Sea Captain

Shovkat Shahbaz gizi Salimova was born in Lahij village of Shamakhi District (now Ismayilli Region) on  December 25, 1920. She was the first ever Azerbaijani woman, who become a sea captain. Shovkat Salimova grew up in a big and loving family of a Baku oilman. She was the oldest sister of 10 children. When she was very young, she signed up for an aviation design club, following a friend. As she was participating in a competition at the club, the 14-year-old Shovkat established an All-Union record on a whim. Her model flew farther than all others. Soon afterwards, she took her first flight on a glider. She thought at the time that her calling was to build planes.

But once she saw the portrait of Anna Shetinina, the first ever woman sea captain, she decided to follow suit. She later joined the navigation faculty at the nautical training school. At first she sailed as a navigation in Caspian and Black Seas, but later got promoted to captain’s mate and later to captain.

During the Great Patriotic War, she escorted convoys of cargo ships through the Caspian Sea to the Astrakhan raid. The ship she captained carried weaponry, fuel and ammunition to Stalingrad and carried the injured to Baku and Krasnovodsk. She had to take to fighting against German planes and negate their attacks several times. She was awarded with the Order of the Red Star and several medals for accomplishing mission-critical tasks.

After the war, ships captained by Shovkat Salimova sailed in the Mediterranean, Red, Marmara, Aegean and other seas.

The eminent woman died in Baku in 1999.


Leyla Mammadbayova first pilot

Leyla Mammadbayova is the first Azerbaijani airwoman. She was born in Baku in 1909. She took her first flight in July of 1931, which made her first ever woman pilot both in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus. After that life-altering flight, the director of the school told Leyla Mammadbayova that she was born to roam the skies.

Who would have thought? She was in the hijab only yesterday, and on a plane today! Well, apparently, everybody in Baku seemed to remember the hijab, which Leyla Mammadbayova did not escape until 1928, even during the first years under the Soviet government and did allow her to captain the plane, offering her an alternative job as a… librarian. That is when she went to talk to Mir-Jafar Baghirov, who was the First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party at the time. It was only with Baghirov intervention, she was allowed into the plane on the very next day.

On March 17 of 1933, Leyla Mammadbayova jumped down the U-2 plane with a parachute. This made her the second woman parachutist in the entire Soviet Union after Nina Kamneva. However, she was still the first in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.

At the time, the Museum of History of Azerbaijan was presented a valuable relic – a proof that the jump took place: “Instructor-pilot Mammadbayova jumps from a U-2 plane with a PT-1 parachute on  March 17, 1933, during training at Osoaviakhim (Society for the Promotion of Aviation and Chemical Defense) school.

Inspired by the success of the Azerbaijani airwoman, the magnificent poet Mikayil Mushfig wrote the “Afshan” poem in 1933. In 1934 Leyla won the parachuting competition among Caucasian republics without regards to gender. That is when Mushfig wrote the poem “Shoyla” (1934).

The life of the first Muslim airwoman Leyla Mammadbayova became a story behind the silent feature film “Ismet” in 1943. She starred in it as a stunt artist and performed several tricks in the air, including the famous “choker hitch”. As a matter of fact, she also became the first woman stunt artist in Azerbaijan.

The American “Huffington Post” listed the Azerbaijani airwoman Leyla Mammadbayova among the famous women-pilots, who participated in the Second World War. “During her life, she busted through the stereotype of the Muslim woman, typical for Azerbaijan, which enfranchised women with the right to vote prior to the United States”, the article said.


Gamar Almaszadeh

Gamar Khanim Almaszadeh was born on 10 March 1915 in Baku into the family of a shoemaker and a midwife. She first took ballet lessons at the age of 6. Her stage life started, when she was only 14. She worked as an artist at the Opera and Ballet Theatre from 1929 to 1932.

She first captivated the audience with her skills in “Red Flower” ballet in 1931. She married the eminent Azerbaijani composer Afrasiyab Badalbayli that same year. However, their marriage broke up soon after their joint work on the “Maiden Tower” ballet (1940).

She left Baku and went to Leningrad Choreographic School from 1933 to 1936. She starred in “The Corsair”, “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” and “Maiden Tower” ballets. While acting as a ballet dancer, she also headed the Azerbaijan State Song and Dance Ensemble under the Philharmonic of Azerbaijan in 1937 were she also led the dance group and staged folk dances. She participated in expeditions to the regions of Azerbaijan under the composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov in order to gather the samples of folk dances to develop the repertoire of the ballet company based on folk dances.

She was the main ballet master of the Azerbaijani theatre since 1953 and the creative director of the ballet company since 1972. The Ministry of Culture of Iraq invited her to Baghdad in 1970, where she started the Iraq Ensemble of Folk Dancing. She died in 2006.


Govhar Gaziyeva (1887 – 1960) – first theatre actress

Her stage name is “goyarchin”, which means “pigeon”.

Govhar Gaziyeva was born in Tbilisi into a noble family. She went to school also in Tbilisi, being educated in both Russian and Azerbaijani. She also made her first serious steps at the theatre stage in her native town in 1906. She played roles in dramas by Azerbaijani authors, such as Najaf Bey Vezirov, Abdurrahman Bey Hagverdiyev, Shamsaddin Samiyev, Nariman Narimanov and Namig Kamal, and also other main roles in plays by European authors. An example is her role in the play by Heinrich Heine.

She took to stage at a time when all roles in the theatre were played by men, even women’s parts. Religious authorizes believed that women should not appear on stage. For this very reason, Govhar’s taking the stage in 1912 was seen as a pure feat in both Tbilisi and Baku, as her profession was not widely supported by the muslim community that she belonged to. But she had to be a true devotee of her profession in order not to yield to pressure from those who disapproved of her choice.

Govhar Khanum was a real hero of her profession. Maybe this is also why she chose “pigeon” as her stage name. She was married to Mirza Agha Aliyev, a famous Azerbaijani actor of that time. She shared the stage with him in Tbilisi theatre. But she stopped appearing on stage after marriage. Govhar Khanum moved to Poland in 1913, where she studied to be a midwife. She then immigrated to Iran, where she lived for the rest of her life.


Sona Velikhan

Sona Velikhan (1883-1982) is the first Azerbaijani woman, who received a doctor’s diploma after graduating from the Saint-Petersburg University in 1908. Later in 1928, she became the first Azerbaijani woman, who received a post-doctoral degree in medicine. She was born into the family of Ibrahim Rahimov, who was the first psychiatrist in Azerbaijan.


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