Heydar Aliyev has been acting president since June 1993. The poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1204) is celebrated for his Khamsa, a collection of five epic poems. Muhammed Fizuli (1438–1556) based his poems on traditional folktales, and his poetic versions provide the bases for many 20th century plays and operas. Satirical poet Sabir (1862–1911) was openly critical of the clergy at a time when their influence controlled much of society. Abul Hasan Bakhmanyar, an 11th century scientist, wrote respected books on mathematics and philosophy. Hasan Shirvani wrote a book on astronomy.
The composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885–1948) wrote the first Azerbaijani opera, and also founded the Azerbaijani Symphonic Orchestra and composed Azerbaijan's National Anthem. Other famous composers from Azerbaijan include Gara Garayev (1918–82), Haji Khannmammadov (b.1918), Fikrat Amirov (1922–84), and Vasif Adigozal (b.1936). Vagif Mustafa Zadeh (1940–79) is considered the founder of the Azerbaijani music movement of the 1960s that mixed jazz with the traditional style known as mugam . His daughter, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh (b.1969), is a noted jazz pianist.
Prominent modern Azerbaijani scientists include Lofti Zadeh (b.1921), pioneer of the "fuzzy logic" concept, and Ali Javan (b. Iran, 1928), inventor of the gas laser.