Shahin Mustafayev
Deputy Director, Institute of Oriental Studies

Azerbaijan is one of the countries whose history is inextricably linked with the Silk Road. From ancient times, the network trade routes connecting the east with the west and the south with the north crossed the territory of Azerbaijan.

It is not surprising that the diverse colors, sounds, and images, characteristics of people with a dynamic history that were open for constant interaction with the outside world, was reflected in traditional Azerbaijani culture.

The folk art of Azerbaijan is remarkable for its amazing diversity and vividness. The festivals organized in this field are designed to draw the attention of the public for the need to preserve of national traditions. So, in late October to early November 2019, the First Baku International Festival of Traditional Crafts “Folk Art” was held in the historical part of Baku. About sixty participants from thirty-five countries participated in the festival. For seven days, craftsmen from the countries of Central Asia, the Near and Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia, sat on the main streets of the Old City, demonstrating their skills, creating traditional samples of the national culture of their countries in front of audiences. Here one could see objects from woven straw, characteristics of the peoples of the African and Asian areas, graphic works stylized as medieval Iranian miniatures, samples of traditional ceramics of the Slavic peoples and various types of carpet products created by craftsmen from Central Asia. Also, within the framework of the festival the international conference Prospects for the Further Development of the Art of the Islamic World was held.

Azerbaijan is located on a fertile strip of land on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Despite its small territory, it includes nine climatic zones from dry semi-desert to humid subtropical. It is not surprising that historically, the land of this country has been the area of ​​ancient farming and animal husbandry. The fruits and vegetables grown since ancient times on this land have always been distinguished by their exquisite taste. Many of them have symbolic meaning in poetry, musical culture and traditional and modern painting of Azerbaijan. And it is no accident that at present, the so-called “fruit” festivals that are held in various regions of the country have become traditional in Azerbaijan. These events are an important platform contributing to the fruitful synthesis of folk customs with musical culture and traditional crafts.

For instance, at the end of August 2019, in the ancient city of Shamakha, historically famous for its viticulture, the festival of grapes and wine was held for the first time. Within two days, local and foreign guests of the festival had the opportunity to get to know closely the ancient traditions associated with the cultivation of grape varieties and wine production in Azerbaijan. The festival was accompanied by musical and dance performances, a demonstration of folk crafts associated with these types of production, the performance of classical Azerbaijani and Eastern poetry, in which wine was chanted, an exhibition of carpets with decorative elements symbolizing grapes, etc. The festival was of great importance for popularizing both the traditional type of production in Azerbaijan, and for preserving and popularizing various types of folk crafts, instilling in young generations love and respect for music and classical literature.

Over the past few years, in the Goychay district, a traditional place of primary production of pomegranate, festivals dedicated to this fruit are held in the days of its collection. Pomegranate is considered the king of fruits in Azerbaijan, and a number of poems and songs are composed about it. For centuries, pomegranate has been the main source of income for local residents. Some even claim that this is the only country where all varieties of pomegranate grow. People from various regions of the country as well as foreign guests come to the festival. Throughout the days of the festival, various exhibitions are held on the central square of the city of Goychay, a fair is unfolding. Competitions, performances by folklore groups, athletes, and concerts are also held.

No less colorful and massive is the Apple Festival in one of the northern regions of Azerbaijan and the mountain tourist center—the city of Guba, famous since ancient times for its paradise fruits, and apples of various varieties. In the popular Azerbaijani folk song, the “White Apple of Guba,” which a young girl presents to her lover as a symbol of her sincere and deep feelings, is sung. The Apple Festival has been held every fall in the city since 2012. Within the framework of the festival, guests from Azerbaijan and foreign countries get the opportunity to taste varieties of apples and apple products—cakes and sweets, preserves, and compotes. Here dance groups, performers of folk music, artisans and craftsmen show their art. The purpose of these festivals is the preservation of national traditions, the development of agriculture, and promotion of tourism in the region.

Other festivals related to the intangible cultural heritage are periodically held in Azerbaijan. Among them, the International Music Festival “Silk Road,” organized annually in the ancient city of Sheki, and the festival in the city of Aghsu, dedicated to the traditional way of life and crafts of nomads, enjoy great popularity.