Although the Arabs introduced Islam, the Arab people left few other lasting imprints
on the people as today the people are most similar ethnically to the Turks and Persians.
However, Islam did change the culture and lifestyle of the people to a great degree.
Even today most of Azerbaijan's population is Muslim and many people continue
to live by the dietary and dress restrictions of that faith. Islam also united the
people to the Turkic and Persian people and today these people are related to the
Azeris both ethnically as well as culturally.
Persian influence was quite strong in the country until the Russians, and later
the Soviets, took power over the Azeris. The Soviets in particular changed the culture
dramatically as religion was outlawed and the people were forced into a new society
that was based on industrialization and urbanization. The Russian language was also
forced on the people, but more importantly today, ethnic Russians and others moved
into the region. This Soviet influence destroyed much of the historic culture, but
it also divided the people with the immigration of foreigners.
Since independence from the Soviet Union, the cultural changes have been mixed.
There has been a return to Islam (although many people now drink alcohol) and other
historic cultural aspects, but most people continue to work in industry or in the
field of natural resources as nearly everyone is urbanized. The diversity has also
led to tensions among the people, particularly between the Azeris and the Armenians
and between the Azeris and the Russians. These divisions have magnified historical
aspects of Azeri culture as many people have found a renewed pride in Azeri culture
and today this culture is becoming more and more clearly defined.