Russian sector of Azerbaijani mindset
One of the most striking episodes of the Russian-Azerbaijani language friendship's history was Lermontov's banishment to the Caucasus, which turned out to be rather a mercy than a punishment. He wrote: "... if I did not have a grandmother, then, I would rather stay here. Since I left Russia, I was traveling constantly, first by post stages, then on bicycles and horseback. I traveled all the way from Kizlyar to Taman, crossed the mountains, was in Shusha, Guba, Shamakhi, Kakheti, dressed in the Circassian clothes, carried a gun on my shoulders, slept in the open field, fell asleep, when jackals were shouting, ate pita, drank Kakhetian wine.''
In Tiflis, Lermontov met with Azerbaijani scientist and poet Mirza Fatali Akhundov, who spoke Russian well. He taught Decembrist writer Alexander Bestuzhev (Marlinsky), poet Yakov Polonsky and others the Azerbaijani language. Lermontov also began to learn the Azerbaijani language. Akhundov was the author of the "Eastern poem on the death of Pushkin" and read it to Lermontov. Russian and Azerbaijani poets wrote about Pushkin in different words but with the same feelings, and this brought them closer. In fact, Lermontov was banished to the Caucasus precisely for the poem he wrote - Death of the Poet - dedicated to the death of Pushkin.
The Russian Empire in the Caucasus had a huge cultural impact. This trend continued in the following years. In the early 1920s, 214,700 people lived in Baku, and the largest ethnic group was the Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians), 35.5% of them were living in Baku.
Today, the number of Russian schools and universities in Azerbaijan is even greater than in the Soviet period. For Russia, this situation is especially valuable in the context of the closure of Russian schools in the Baltic States and the ban on the study of the Russian language in Ukraine. There are 358 schools with a Russian sector in the Republic of Azerbaijan and 18 schools, where studies are conducted exclusively in Russian. This summer, the Minister of Education, Mikail Jabbarov, instructed to continue the implementation of the project ‘Intensive learning of the Russian language' by signing an appropriate order. Currently, approximately 90,000 schoolchildren are studying in Russian. Another 450 thousand students learn Russian as a foreign language.
Baku Slavic University, a branch of the Moscow M.V. Lomonosov State University, is considered one of the most prestigious higher educational institutions of Azerbaijan. In 2015, a branch of the I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University was opened in Baku. Annually, more than 400 Azerbaijani citizens enter the university.
The Russian Drama Theater is popular in Baku. The performances in Russian are also staged in the Young Spectator's Theater, puppet theater, and musical theater. Films in Russian are constantly shown in cinemas. Literary associations of writers and poets writing in Russian have been working for many years. Certain conditions have been created for the development of the Russian culture and realization of the creative potential of the Russian and Russian-speaking population of the republic.
Azerbaijan's national leader Heydar Aliyev and his successor, President Ilham Aliyev, played a huge role in preserving the Russian language as the language of interethnic communication in the country. "The Russian language has been bringing together the nations and nationalities of the Soviet Union for a long time," Heydar Aliyev said. ‘'Without replacing or forcing out other languages, it enriched them and opened the world's broadest horizons to the peoples of our country."
There are a lot of Russian news agencies in the country. This indicates the openness of the language policy of Azerbaijan. Such a thoughtful state policy has helped to strengthen the Russian-Azerbaijani ties, conditioned by a mutual desire to maximize the benefits of bilateral relations.
The interest of the Russian side is evidenced by the implementation of the federal target program entitled ‘'Russian language''. Prior to it, the education in the Russian sector was controlled solely by the government of Azerbaijan. Eventually, Russia recognized the need to support the Russian diaspora abroad for the development and maintenance of the status of the Russian language in the post-Soviet space. This is not the only reason - Azerbaijan remains an important and profitable political and economic partner for Russia. The readiness of the Russian government to allocate funds from the federal budget to finance the spread of the Russian language abroad underlines understanding of the need for these actions to increase Russia's prestige on the global arena.
Noteworthy, the Russian language in Azerbaijan is much more popular than in other South Caucasian republics. Probably, this is due to the fact that Azerbaijan perceives the Russian language as a part of the mindset. The same can not be said about other countries in the region, where young people gradually stop speaking Russian. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these states do not consider Russia as a long-term partner, steadily continuing the ‘derussification', started after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today, the Russian community in Azerbaijan is the most numerous in the South Caucasus, Russian is de-facto the second language in the country. Such a policy promotes the formation of individuals with a tolerant consciousness, sense of ethnic pluralism, freely orienting themselves in a multicultural and polyconfessional environment.