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Following their ambigous geographic location, Azeriís have their feet in both Islamic and European cultures, the latter mostly Russian and Turkish, struggling with deep divisions between the old and the new. About 90% of the population is ethnic Azeri, with a smattering of Dagestanis, Russians, Armenians, Jews and other groups. Most Azeriís speak Azeri, a close cousin of Turkish, though many also speak Russian. The younger generation is now very keen to learn English. Even more than with Turkey, the 7 million Azeriís living in the Republic of Azerbaijan feel closer to the 10 million (more Islamicized) Azeriís living in Iran, in what is usually called "South Azerbaijan". Although at state level there is no conflict, there are important movements in civil society on both sides of the border, advocating a united Azerbaijan.
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A z e r b a i j a n
A literature of "longing" for reunification has also developed during the last half century (e.g the works by Mirza Ibrahimov, Balash Azeroghlu or by Suleyman Rustam), with a folklore based in recent heroes, such as Semed Behrangi and Jafar Pishevari. Despite years of Soviet attempts to wipe it out, Islam remains the most popular religion with the Azeriís, followed distantly by various Orthodox Christian branches. Like in Iran, the majority of Azeriís are Shia Muslims (70%), whereas Sunni Muslims make up most of the Islamic population of the rest of the former Soviet Union.
Sunnis, the more secular branch, practice leadership by consensus, whereas Shia leadership derives its authority by divine right. In spite of the divisions elsewhere, in a spirit of tolerance, the mosques in Baku serve both the Shia and the Sunni communities. The Azeri Shia community practices the Jafarite rite.
Azerbaijan is one of the most liberal Muslim-majority states, although arranged marriages are common among the urban population, and marriage via kidnapping is not rare in the country side. There is an attempt by foreigners (Iranians, Pakistanis, Saudis, ...) to introduce Islamic fundamentalism.
The country's musical traditions are preserved by ashugs, or poet-singers, who often strum the kobuz (a stringed instrument) while singing of the deeds of ancient heroes. Another popular form of music in Azerbaijan is mugham, which is improvised by voice and wind and stringed instruments and is often compared to jazz.