My project investigates the history of enlightenment societies and music assemblies in Azerbaijan from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. I argue that these societies were the primary means through which Azeri intellectuals implemented their projects of cultural and social reform. These projects reflected the shifting cultural influences in nineteenth century Azerbaijan and expressed the anxieties about progress and identity held by Azeri intellectuals. I locate cultural innovation in Azerbaijan within a broader nineteenth century trend in which culture played an integral role in the evolution from local to national identities, illustrating how Azeri cultural activities interacted with similar movements in both Europe and the Middle East. By considering the role of the turn of the century Azeri middle class in the creation of a literary and musical culture through the means of enlightenment societies and music assemblies I expand the historiography of bourgeois popular culture outside the West. I argue that as a result of Azerbaijan's location at the intersection of the Ottoman, Iranian, and Russian empires it was uniquely positioned to play a central role in the development of secular intellectual culture in the Middle East. By repositioning Azerbaijan at the center of cultural innovation in the Middle East I challenge the traditional geographic bounds of the region and propose that Central Eurasia, and important ground of Persian-Turkic exchange, and Russian imperial presence in there, be considered as an important location of cultural and intellectual development in the Middle East.