Report of the Countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus

Kurshida Mambetova
Head of Culture Department
UNESCO National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan


The Regional Seminar on the Application of the UNESCO 1989 Recommendation in countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus was jointly organized by UNESCO and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

The Regional Seminar was attended by fourteen participants, representing the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Republic of Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Also in attendance were representatives from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, UNESCO Headquarters, the UNESCO Office in Tashkent, Oltin Meros Foundation, the Organizing Committee of the Music Festival Sharq Taronalari, and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

During this seminar, several objectives were achieved:

  1. an assessment of the present situation of traditional culture and folklore in the newly independent countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus undergoing a transitional process from the Communist system to democracy and free-market economy. Particular references were made to new societies with new functions, rejection of the politicized past, adapting present state institutions to new realities, etc.;
  2. examination of the role intangible cultural heritage (traditional and popular cultures) plays in nation-building. Because it is a symbolic reference to a cultural identity deeply rooted in a people’s history, this kind of culture has not been authorized for a long time;
  3. an assessment of the socio-cultural role of intangible cultural heritage, particularly in relation to issues such as globalization, the problem of cohabitation among different ethnic groups particularly in urban areas, youth cultures, the rapid evolution of new communication and information technologies, and environmental degradation;
  4. formulation of recommendations on future actions and proposals for projects to reinforce the application of UNESCO’s Recommendation;
  5. exploration of possible regional cooperation in safeguarding, legal protection, transmission, revitalization, and dissemination of intangible heritage among countries of the region

As a result of the above-mentioned seminar, a Resolution was adopted by the participants.

An Overview of Results of the Regional Seminar

The present Report summarizes the following issues that were discussed during the Regional Seminar (Tashkent, 6-8 October 1998):

  1. positive and negative aspects of national policies for safeguarding traditional culture in Central Asia and the Caucasus;
  2. solutions for common difficulties experienced by the newly independent countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus regarding cultural heritage at the national level;
  3. main objectives of further international and regional cooperation on intangible cultural heritage proposed by participants in the Regional Seminar

The present Report was compiled on the basis of a comprehensive analysis of a) the questionnaires submitted by participating countries, b) a synoptic report prepared on the basis of the questionnaires, c) national reports presented during the seminar, d) results of the round-table discussion, which also was held within the framework of the seminar, and e) resolutions adopted by the participants of the seminar.

First of all, it is very important to note that all participating countries were part of one big country (the former USSR) for a long period of time -- more than seventy years. That is why they all have very similar history and common difficulties in the field of safeguarding traditional culture and folklore.

According to the questionnaire results, the 1989 Recommendation had not been published and translated into the official languages of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Taking into account that all participating countries were Republics of the former USSR until 1990, the Recommendation was published only in Russian -- the official language of the Soviet Union. After 1990, the newly independent states had many economical, political, and social issues, the solving of which was the most immediate task.

In this regard, taking into account the centuries-old traditions of intangible heritage in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, all participants of the seminar noted the great role this heritage plays in the process of nation-building.

That is why safeguarding traditional culture remained a high priority for cultural policy in all states. Many of the participating countries had taken legislative action to guarantee the protection of all forms of cultural heritage.

During the Soviet period, all forms of cultural expression of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus (including both of tangible and intangible culture) were under the protection of USSR Law of Culture. Nowadays in all countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, national legislation provides protection for traditional heritage, including the right of national communities to safeguard their own culture. For example, in Kyrgyzstan the Project of Law on Cultural Heritage is developing; in Tadikistan, protection is provided by the Law on Culture in the State Constitution; in Uzbekistan, by the State Constitution; in Georgia and Azerbaijan, by the Law on Culture. In Kazakhstan national communities have thirty-four national cultural centers.

But participants of the seminar noted that almost all legislation concerning safeguarding of cultural heritage adopted in their countries does not reflect the present needs of traditional culture.

For a long time, material culture was the only recognized folk art in the cultural life of the whole population. But in recent times, there is a tendency toward the privatization and sale of cultural objects, especially in rural places. That is why, in the opinion of the participant from Kyrgyzstan, copyright protection is necessary for the preservation and development of traditional culture and folklore. On this question, representatives of Kazakhstan and Georgia urged that measures be taken to prevent the exchange of folklore for folklorism.

In Resolutions adopted during the seminar, participating countries proposed to organize in cooperation with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) a Regional Training Seminar on the “Model provisions for national laws on the protection of expressions of folklore against illicit exploitation and other prejudicial actions” for countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Moreover, all participants noted that for more successful preservation of both tangible and intangible heritage, an increase in financial assistance was needed not only from government but also from the private sector. The delegate from Armenia noted that because of a lack of governmental assistance, craftsmen have fewer opportunities for development. Above all, the present political and economic situation does not attract tourists, who are the main consumers of handicrafts.

All participants stressed the importance of developing regional cooperation in the development of cultural tourism, which would stimulate people’s creativity and crafts production, raising its economic status in the life of the population and preserving its traditional technologies.

In this regard, the participant from Azerbaijan described one approach to preserving crafts. He spoke about the annual craftsmen’s competition, organized by leading companies to promote the national handicrafts, children’s creativity, and folklore. The participants from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan described the same type of support for intangible heritage, giving examples of competitions between folk ensembles of different provinces and festivals of folk song in which governmental agencies and private companies award special grants to winners.

Despite the fact that the existing infrastructure for the conservation of folklore documentation corresponds to the needs, almost all countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus do experience problems in preserving and restoring cultural documents. Participants from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan deplored the unsatisfactory conditions in national archives and libraries. They strongly recommended making archiving a high priority in state programs as a potentially very effective means to cultural development. Although the archives of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus contain the richest folklore materials, they lack special equipment, especially computers.

Noting the great importance of intangible cultural heritage in relation to the evolution of new technologies in communication and information, participating countries expressed their wish to create a computerized databank of organizations and institutions concerned with traditional culture and folklore in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It was proposed that UNESCO organize a Regional Training Seminar on the establishment of this computerized inventory and network. The UNESCO HeritageNet Program in the countries of Central Asia could be considered one of the first steps in creating a computerized network between cultural institutions. Meanwhile only three countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan -- have joined the first stage of implementation of this program.

The need to train professional specialists in the field of cultural management is still great for the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, even though this infrastructure exists in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In other countries such a system either doesn’t exist (as in Georgia) or is a special project of the network of departments of traditional culture and folklore (as in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan).

In Georgia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan folklore is taught in folklore clubs and other circles, and in school programs for studying national languages and literature.

Scientific research in all participating countries has made a great contribution to safeguarding traditional culture and folklore. In this regard, Georgia noted in its response to the questionnaire that one stimulus for scholars and scientific institutions to study this problem would also be better financial support. Participants in the seminar also discussed the possible creation of a regular scientific bulletin on traditional culture and folklore.

The establishment of the system for recognizing Living Human Treasures was also discussed during the seminar. Such a system already exists in Uzbekistan, implemented by the Oltin Meros (“Golden Heritage”) Foundation and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

The following example illustrates the necessity of establishing ways of preserving folklore and traditional culture in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Kyrgyz musical creativity is vividly represented in performers called akins, who are often singers, musicians, and composers at the same time. Progressive akins improvised songs about the democratic aspirations of the people, their protests against tyranny and the absence of rights, and their dreams about a better life. The creative work of other akins was permeated with feudal ideology. They praised the feudal elite and supported their domination. Both musical tendencies developed on the basis of historical conditions. To our regret, there are now no representatives of the first akins group, while for the second one favorable conditions exist in Kyrgystan.

In order to preserve the oral traditions of the peoples of the world, UNESCO produces audio-CDs of traditional music in the project series Traditional Music of the World. In this collection are several audio-CDs of the oral heritage of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. The production of compact discs devoted to traditional music of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus should be included within the framework of the UNESCO Collection on Traditional and Folk Music.

Currently, UNESCO is considering the possibility of establishing a UNESCO Prize for Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The oral heritage is exceptionally important for the cultural identities of all the world’s peoples, especially in our region, where a very large part of cultural heritage is based on oral heritage.

It was also proposed that there be organized within the Second International Music Festival Sharq Taronalari (Samarkand, 25 August-2 September 1999) a Scientific Conference and exhibition devoted to Eastern traditional music instruments.

Thus, the following items were accepted as priorities for the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus: the elaboration of legislative acts, development of cultural tourism to preserve and revive intangible heritage, increase of government and private funding for safeguarding of traditional culture and folklore, training of professional specialists in the field of intangible culture, establishment of a Living Human Treasures System, development of communications, and others.

Now, in the world’s third millennium, the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus are striving to revive their traditional and popular cultures, which are part of the heritage of all of mankind. Cultural dialogue, a multicultural world, creative diversity, and international cultural exchange – all are prerequisites for building a peaceful future, which is the noblest mission of UNESCO.