Blog: <strong>Azerbaijani women who wrote history</strong>
May 15, 2023

Blog: Azerbaijani women who wrote history

Although women officially have the same rights as men in Azerbaijan, social discrimination remains a problem. In rural areas of the country, social norms and slow economic growth combine to restrict women’s role in the economy, and therefore their empowerment to exercise their legal rights.

Despite this, women in Azerbaijan have been present at key moments in the country’s history. During the Azerbaijan People’s Republic, established in 1918, the law established equal suffrage rights for all peoples and both sexes living in the territory of the country. Thus, Azerbaijan became the first country in the Muslim East, and one of the first in the world, to give women the right to vote. And there are many women pioneers in Azerbaijan.

Ladies who made a first!

Researching this topic, I have been amazed by the lives and determination of the women I read about, and proud to be a citizen of this country.

We cannot choose our gender when we are born, but we can choose who we will be and the way we will live. Some of us have strong will and determination, we know what we want. The women I’m going to talk about are definitely among those.

The first film actress, the first female petroleum engineer and the first female chemical academician… all in one! Izzat Orujova was Azerbaijan’s first chemical scientist, only the second female academician of Azerbaijan (and the first female chemist), but extraordinarily she was also the first Azerbaijani film actress, playing the lead character in the movie Sevil when she was just 19 – a highly symbolic role, as her character casts aside her headscarf and becomes a symbol of freedom and revolution.

Our first female lawyers – Bilgeyis Hashimzadeh was born in 1900 in Sheki, in a worker’s family. While working as a teacher and studying, she actively worked in various public positions. In 1925-1928, she was department head of the Sheki Accident Committee, and in 1928 was invited to Baku for a managerial position. From 1928-1938, she worked as a former deputy prosecutor of the Azerbaijan SSR, rector of the Azerbaijan Institute of National Economy (1938-1941), and chair of the Presidium of the Bar Association of the Azerbaijan SSR (1941-1945). In 1945-1951, Hashimzadeh was an associate professor of the law department of Azerbaijan State University. The first Azerbaijani woman jurist, the first Azerbaijani woman rector of the institute, Bilgeyis Hashimzadeh worked in senior public affairs throughout her career, as well as being the author of many scientific researches and journalistic works.

Süreyya Agaoğlu was born in Susha in 1903 but moved to Turkey after the fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1920. There she went on to become Turkey’s first female lawyer, and the first president of the International Society of Women Lawyers, as well as the founder of the Free Thought Association and the Association of Turkish-American Universities.

The first female aviator – Leyla Mammadbeyova was the first female aviator of Azerbaijan, performing her first flight in 1931 and rising to the rank of major at the beginning of the Second World War. However, because she was the mother of four young children, she was not sent on active duty. Despite this, Leyla Mammadbeyova, who was only the second female aviator of the USSR, was able to enter the history of Azerbaijan.

The first female military pilot – Zuleikha Seyidmammadova was the first Azerbaijani woman to fly in combat, rising to the rank of captain, fighting in over 40 aerial battles and carrying out over 500 missions during the Second World War. After the war, Seyidmammadova served as Minister of Social Security of the Azerbaijan SSR.

The first female editor-in-chief – Khadija Alibeyova, the founder of the first women’s magazine Işıq in 1911, an enlightened intellectual of the time, went down in the history of the Azerbaijani press as the first female editor-in-chief. The first female composer in Azerbaijan was Aghabaci Rzayeva, who was also the first woman to receive a professional music education in Azerbaijan. The first female film director of Azerbaijan is Gamar Salamzade, the daughter of Aligulu Qamkusar, one of the main writers of Molla Nasreddin magazine.

The first female sculptor – Munavvar Rzayeva, a girl from Shusha, born in 1929, is considered the first female sculptor of Azerbaijan. She is the author of the statue “Ayna Sultanova”.

The first female minister – our first female minister was Tahira Tahirova, who was the minister of foreign affairs Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic from 1959 to 1983. She was also the first Azerbaijani woman specialist to receive higher education in the oil industry. In 1940, she was appointed director of the Azerbaijan Oil Research Institute and was responsible for the uninterrupted supply of oil to the front during the Second World War.

The first female Olympic champion – shooter Zemfira Meftahaddinova won the gold medal at the XXVII Summer Olympic Games and became the first female Olympic champion in Azerbaijan’s sports history. The shooter, who was awarded the Order of Glory, currently works as a police lieutenant colonel.

The first female grandmaster – Aynur Sofiyeva, who worked as the president of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation for a while, made history in Azerbaijani sports by receiving the title of international grandmaster in 1990. She is currently the deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan State Committee on Family, Women’s and Children’s Problems.

Interested in the latest news and opportunities?

This website is managed by the EU-funded Regional Communication Programme for the Eastern Neighbourhood ('EU NEIGHBOURS east’), which complements and supports the communication of the Delegations of the European Union in the Eastern partner countries, and works under the guidance of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, and the European External Action Service. EU NEIGHBOURS east is implemented by a GOPA PACE-led consortium. It is part of the larger Neighbourhood Communication Programme (2020-2024) for the EU's Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood, which also includes 'EU NEIGHBOURS south’ project that runs the EU Neighbours portal.

The information on this site is subject to a Disclaimer and Protection of personal data. © European Union,