Urazali Tashmatov
Professor, State Institute of Arts and Culture of Uzbekistan

After gaining independence and under the initiative of the president, Uzbekistan commenced on a large-scale project to revitalize historic cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. These efforts resulted in the restoration of hundreds of historic sites, and they created better conditions to research, safeguard, and propagate folk arts, knowledge, and skills of traditional craftsmanship, which were traditionally transmitted by word of mouth, from master to apprentices. In 1995 the government of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted a law that grants taxation immunity to crafts-men working individually. The law gave a huge impetus to the revival and development of popular craftsmanship.

Uzbekistan ratified the Convention on the Safeguarding of ICH of the Humanity (Paris, 2003) in 2008. Currently, the country has four elements of intangible cultural heritage inscribed on the Representative List. These are the Cultural Space of Boysun, Shahmakom, Katta ashula, and Navruz. Two of these elements (Cultural Space of Boysun and Katta ashula) are of national character while the other two are multinational inscriptions.

Fulfilling the conditions of international standard-setting documents, a 2001 law on safe- guarding cultural heritage was modified and amended in 2009. The State Program on Protection, Safeguarding, and Use of ICH for 2010 to 2020 was approved in 2010. To streamline the ICH register and to create a mechanism on identifying ICH objects for inclusion into the register, a resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers adopted legal acts on ICH safeguarding in 2011. This approved regulations on ICH inventory making and on conducting scientific historic-cultural expertise of ICH elements. It also granted the Republican Scientific-Methodical Centre of Folk Art of the Ministry of Culture and Sports with the responsibility of coordinating the activities of governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in ICH.

Regulations on ICH inventory making stipulate the creation of the following registers:

  • Recommendation list of the elements for inclusion into the Representative List
  • List of elements in danger
  • National ICH list
  • ICH lists of the regions

The state creates conditions for ICH safeguarding by creating a legislative basis, coordinating governmental and non-governmental organizations, adopting special state programs, and raising awareness on ICH via mass media.

The National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan for UNESCO has taken the lead in ICH safeguarding, and the organization provides continuous support to both governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as specific ICH bearers. Thus, in cooperation with the National Commission for UNESCO, the Republican Scientific-Methodical Centre of Folk Art received equipment valued at USD 18,000 in 2011. The Department of ICH Documentation was established within the structure of the center. At present, the department is equipped with modern audio-video devices, computers, and typographic equipment.

ICH documentation in Uzbekistan can be traced back to the late nineteenth century when travelers and specialists gathered information about local culture. Most of the collected information was taken out of the country, leaving just a small part, which now is kept in different scientific research institutions in Uzbekistan. ICH documentation with the participation of local specialists has roots going back to the beginning of the 1930s. This invaluable information is stored in manuscripts, and the audio-video materials are low quality. Furthermore, while processing and disseminating this information for educational purposes, details such as the pride for one’s land, peoples’ mentality, and peculiarities of the local languages were omitted as a way of pursuing the objectives of creating a single Soviet nation. These materials do not reflect all the ICH domains stipulated by the Convention and mainly concern oral folklore and music. The information concerning other ICH domains is poorly reflected. Despite this, materials, that are being kept in various archives in different institutions, have a high value. To safeguard, decode, and publish in their original form, work began on collecting the information into a single documentation center.

After Uzbekistan ratified the 2003 Convention, specialists began to use a special approach to organizing field research on ICH identification and documentation. In 2010, the traditional music of Karakalpakstan was inventoried within the UNESCO Tashkent Office Project (July-August). Specialists from the Republican Scientific-Methodical Centre of Folk Art took part in the project. The state program foresaw the organization of field research in neighboring countries, such as China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, which are inhabited by Uzbek ethnic groups.

In 2012, field trips to the Ferghana Valley were organized (with the coverage of Andijan, Namangan, and Ferghana regions) in cooperation with ICHCAP. The implementation of the project, which was developed in cooperation with ICHCAP and representatives of the republics of Central Asia, is divided into three phases. By the results of the first phase, Uzbekistan has accomplished more than planned.

  • In the domain of ‘oral traditions and expressions,’ researchers recorded more than 150 folklore works from more than 70 ICH bearers. Among them are legends, riddles, proverbs, and jokes.
  • In the domain of ‘performing arts,’ more than 100 bearers and 6 ICH collections were covered; more than 200 works on 14 ICH elements were recorded. The recordings include fifteen hours of video and eighteen hours of audio, and more than 1,200 photos and around 240 pages of printed materials were collected.
  • In the domain of ‘social practices, rituals, and festive events,’ researchers covered rituals related to matchmaking, marriage (bow of the bride and buyout of the bride), childbirth, and mourning.
  • In the domain of ‘knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe,’ 24 bearers were covered, 280 minutes of video was recorded, and about 300 photos and more than 190 pages of printed materials were collected.
  • In the domain of ‘traditional craftsmanship,’ members of the expedition covered various types of craftsmanship, including ceramics, coinage, jeweler’s art, knife production, woodcarving, embroidery, hand weaving, and rug weaving. Sufficient photo and video material was collected.

At present time these materials are being processed and archived. We have identified main goals for organizing the following phases of the above-mentioned project.

  • Developing forms and methods of ICH inventory making in respective domains stipulated in the UNESCO Convention.
  • Compiling preliminary ICH list
  • Identifying the most important ICH elements for inventory making
  • Organizing field research across Uzbekistan
  • Providing all kinds of support to ICH bearers
  • Attracting governmental and public organizations and local authorities into the process of ICH safeguarding.
  • Using ICH in education
  • Raising ICH interest and awareness in the youth to attract them to ICH safeguarding

To achieve these goals, it is necessary to develop single forms of applications, prepare specialists on inventory making, and attract funds for organizing field research and attracting students to practice these activities during their summer and winter vacations. Also, attention should be paid to raising public awareness of ICH safeguarding, where a special role is assigned to mass media. For raising international awareness among neighboring countries, we should establish an online instrument, a single database of Central Asian ICH. Creating such databases will allow us to make this information public and to publish literature and ICH atlases of Central Asian republics. This information also could be used as valuable material to introduce ICH into education.