Seong-Yong Park
Assistant Director-General, ICHCAP
Eunkyung Oh
Director, Institute for Eurasian and Turkic Studies, Dongduk Women’s University

A wide range of festivals are held in Uzbekistan to generate public interest in intangible cultural heritage. This includes the recent International Bakhshi Art Festival, which was held for a week from 5 April in the ancient city of Termez. Bakhshi is a multi-genre art form that brings together singers, musicians, and performers of Doston, a Central Asian oral epic. Teams from seventy-five countries took part in this festival, which featured not only a wide range of performances but also an enlightening international conference.

Dr. Seong-Yong Park, Assistant Director-General of ICHCAP, and Professor Eun-kyung Oh, Director of the Eurasia Silk Road Research Center, attended the festival under an official invitation from the Uzbek government. They met and interviewed with Mr. Bakhtiyor Sayfullayev, Minister of Culture and Sports, to hear about the Uzbek government’s use of festivals to safeguard intangible cultural heritage. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Sayfullayev had a long career as a film director, a university professor, and artist. He has been working at the Ministry of Culture and Sports since 2004 and was appointed Minister in 2017. This article is a summary of his responses during the interview.

Why Safeguard Bakhshi Traditions

Bakhshi is a traditional Uzbek art form with a long history. It goes by other names, with slight variations in techniques and format, such as djirov in Karakalpakstan and ashik in Iran and Azerbaijan. A presidential decree to establish bakhshi schools in various regions across the country to ensure the tradition’s transmission to future generations was adopted in Uzbekistan. This policy is an example of the government’s strong commitment to raise public awareness of cultural heritage and train highly skilled professionals in the field.

As part of this initiative, a bakhshi school was founded in Surkhandarya while bakhshi programs were established in music schools in Kashkadarya, Samarkand, Khorezm, Djizzakh, and Karakalpakstan. Skilled professional bakhshi masters (kora bakhshi) such as Abdunazar Poyonov and Ilhomnazarov are currently training young artists at these schools.

The Uzbek government’s interest and support for the bakhshi tradition led to the establishment of the International Bakhshi Art Festival. The first was held last year in Surkhandarya by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and over three hundred artists, directors, and members of the media participated. International cooperation among experts in various fields was sought to ensure the festival’s continuation in the future. The Uzbek government hopes to share the bakhshi tradition with the public and ensure its transmission organically, using the festival as a stage for intercultural communication.

How Does the Festival Promote Intercultural Dialogue

Traditional weaving and practitioners at the International Bakhshi Art Festival © National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan for UNESCO

When this festival was initially planned, a huge challenge was ensuring that the participants from seventy-five countries, each with their own cultural background, could come together to enjoy the festival equally. Although the Ministry of Culture and Sports has extensive experience in hosting large-scale festivals, it was exciting to anticipate the huge turnout of people who we hoped would have a great time. As we had hoped, the festival was a time of harmony and communication among its many participants and made us see the possibility of intercultural dialogue through festivals.

As can be seen from the various logos on the placards and posters, the International Bakhshi Art Festival was made possible with the interest and support from a wide range of partner organizations such as the UNESCO and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. I think the festival was a success thanks to cooperation and networking among various stakeholders sharing the passion and drive to safeguard the bakhshi tradition. Intangible cultural heritage safeguarding cannot be accomplished through unilateral policies from the government alone. The Ministry of Culture and Sports will continue to seek close and sustained cooperation with experts in various fields to safeguard the bakhshi intangible cultural heritage efficiently. The International Bakhshi Art Festival was an outcome of our efforts, where members of the public were able to get an up-close and personal experience with bakhshi traditions.

What Are Your International Partnership Strategies

A wide range of festivals are held year round in Uzbekistan. Apart from the International Bakhshi Art Festival, there are intangible cultural heritage festivals held annually or biennially in various regions of Uzbekistan such as the Boysun Bahori Festival, Fergana Valley Crafts Festival, Samarkand International Music Festival, and Khiva Traditional Dance Festival. Not to forget, the First Silk Road Festival will be held in June this year in Margilan, Fergana. Tourism revenue aside, the main goal of the government for these festivals is for more people to enjoy our intangible cultural heritage and participate in its transmission.

Live performance at the International Bakhshi Art Festival © National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan for UNESCO

The bulk of the funding for these festivals comes from the Ministry of Culture and Sports as well as through donations. The Fund to Promote Art and Culture under the Ministry of Culture and Sports plays a large role. The Ministry of Culture and Sports has a festival committee for the systematic organization of festivals, chaired by the Minister of Culture and Sports. We also use our international networks to cooperate with various stakeholders both domestically and internationally and to invite a wide range of honored guests from around the world.

We appreciate the efforts and achievements of the ICHCAP in safeguarding Central Asian Silk Road culture over the past ten years. We hope to continue our strong partnership with the ICHCAP as a specialized center for networking in the field of ICH, for the continued transmission of both ICH festivals and Silk Road culture.