Accepted Paper:

Gendering Muslim Modernism: Azerbaijani Cultural Reformation, 1900-1918  


Yelena Abdullayeva (University of Waterloo)

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the relationship between modernism and gender during the period of cultural transformation pursued by Muslim modernist reformers in Azerbaijan, 1900-1918. It examines the project, realised by the enlightened philanthropist and oil-tycoon H. Z. Tagiev, that changed the traditional female education from homeschooling into modern public education. This modern training system prepared young Muslim women to live in pro-Western rather than in traditional Islamic environments. The innovations contributed to end generational and gender hierarchies that prevailed between women in homeschooling and whole Muslim society. The school boarding system for underprivileged female students also broke the societal order by mixing the representatives of all classes. Along with this, it unified them by importing a modern common knowledge and work experience. Thus, the innovations in female education changed the societal roles of urban Muslim young women and advertised them the new agents of societal modernisation. The mass-media actively promoted the image of a well-schooled Muslim woman as an instrumental actor of politics on societal transformation to create a new millet. However, this modernist rhetoric, concentrated in the hands of the male intellectual elite, articulated only the revolutionised household roles for women giving them autonomy only within the family. I argue that Muslim women did not gained economic, political, social rights and power to control their lives, particularly outside Baku. They continued to act in accordance with the societal expectations. Nevertheless, they were able to establish several Muslim women's associations and the first journal for Muslim women, Ishig, that promoted their views on male-female equality and developed the prominent activists who later welcomed the early Soviet gender reorganisation project recognising the state as the agent of the societal changes. Thus, that modern public schooling program shaped new generation of Muslim women who continued the policies for female emancipation after the sovietisation of Azerbaijan in 1920.

I build my arguments on the critical examination of the articles from the contemporary periodicals, pamphlets, and books. This research relies on the documents from Azerbaijan State History Archive, ARDTA, about the project to establish the first public schools for Muslim young women in Baku and its surroundings, in 1901-1918. I also base my arguments on the documents of the Azerbaijani enlightenment societies, which were the primary means for the cultural reforms planned by Muslim modernisers, their personal diaries, and correspondence from the Azerbaijan State Institute of Manuscripts, ARIM.

Panel HIS-16
Memory and Modernity