The oral epic Manas so beloved in Kyrgyzstan has been included on the United Nations cultural heritage list.
The poem, which many Kyrgyz boast is the longest in the world, “expresses the historical memory of the Kyrgyz people and survives thanks to a community of epic tellers, both women and men, of all ages,” UNESCO, the UN’s cultural affairs body, said, announcing the decision to include Manas on the List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity on December 4. “Narrators accept their calling after experiencing a prophetic dream, understood to be a sign from the heroes of the epic.”
Manas, which describes the unification of disparate tribes into a single nation and can take up to 13 hours to recite, is viewed in Kyrgyzstan as a bedrock of the Kyrgyz nation’s cultural heritage. Its inclusion on the UNESCO list is a diplomatic triumph for the government, which was outraged when China beat Kyrgyzstan to have Manas included on the UNESCO list in 2009 on behalf of its Kyrgyz minority population.
Manas is so central to Kyrgyz culture that streets in many towns in the country are named after it, as are public facilities – including the airport where the US airbase is hosted.
A festival of films from Central Asia, Turkey, and Central Europe was set to conclude in New York on May 24 with the screening of the highly acclaimed Uzbek film “Parizod.”
The New York Eurasian Film Festival,opened May 20, with a slate of more than 20 shorts and feature-length pictures from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Poland, and Bulgaria. Brooklyn’s St. Francis College hosted the second annual event.
Most of the films in the festival had never previously been shown in the United States, and some had garnered high praise elsewhere. Parizod, for example, won the Grand Prix at Latvia’s Kinoshok festival. Loosely translated as “Heaven – My Abode,” the film, named after the title character, follows the story of a woman with mystical powers who appears out of a cloud of mist only to change the lives of her benefactors, who try to find her a suitable husband.
The Eurasian Film Festival is the brainchild of Hakki Subentekin, a New York-based filmmaker originally from Turkey, and Yuliya Tikhonova, a Moscow-born curator and founder of the Brooklyn House of Kulture -- “an experimental curatorial model created to allow artists to work within communities,” according to Tikhonova’s own online description.
The Caucasus Film Festival runs through March 31 in Tbilisi. (Poster courtesy: Caucasus Film Festival.)
A week-long Caucasus Cinema Festival is underway in Tbilisi. In a region marked by discord during the post-Soviet era, the festival strives to promote peace-building by highlighting cultural commonalities.
The driving force behind the festival is Claire Delessard, who serves as a Regional Conflicts Adviser for the Northern and Southern Caucasus attached to the British Embassy in Tbilisi. The EU is helping to fund the film series.
“Caucasian people had always been living together without division lines for centuries,” Delessard said in an email interview. “We thus wanted for people to remember these times through cinema.”
The festival kicked off on March 26 with a screening of one of the most famous films made during the Soviet era, Sergey Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat Nova). Made in 1968, the film is a dream-like fantasy that recounts the life and death of an 18th century Armenian bard. (A drastic departure from the state-approved style of Soviet realism, the film helped earn Parajanov four years of prison camps in the1970s.)
Another Parajanov classic, The Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors, a story of family rivalries set in a Ukrainian Hutsul village, will also be screened during the festival.
“This film is not only an historical lesson for us, but also a cinema masterpiece,” Delessard said.
Other films in the lineup include Highlander, a 1992 film directed by the Ossetian director Murat Djusoev that depicts life in the mountains of the Caucasus. The oldest film being screened is a Georgian silent picture from 1929, My Grandmother, directed by Kote Miqaberidze, while the most recently released film is 2010’s Precinct (Sahə), an Azerbaijani drama involving romance and career choices.
The “global Russian” website Snob.ru, the online platform of oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov’s Snob Magazine, is reporting a funny story about Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Venice Biennale. The exhibition at the Azerbaijani pavilion, it seems, has been put on hold after Aliyev personally draped over a sculpture by participating feminist artist Aidan Salakhova.
The reason? Aliyev found the work demeaning to women.
Arriving on opening day – an unusual practice for a head of state, writes Snob's Maria Shubina, but an understandable one, this being only Azerbaijan’s third time at the festival – Aliyev examined the exposition. One of Salakhova's works, titled “The Book,” depicted a black oval of a woman’s head and torso in Islamic dress, with no distinguishable face and protruding white hands that appear to hold the Quaran. It was at this point that the president reportedly declared that such a work could not represent his secular nation’s attitude toward women, and covered it with a sheet.
Salakhova’s work in the Biennale, if Snob’s illustrations are to be believed, also features a vaginal-shaped black-and-white sculpture known as “The Black Stone.” Her “Destination” series, to which “The Book” belongs, includes a piece where the traditionally-dressed woman holds a double-sided penis - a giveaway, one might suspect, that Salakhova is anything but an Islamic propagandist.
“Reading irony, seeing double entendre – all of this is, undoubtedly, not for presidents,” Shubina writes, adding the incident has produced so much buzz for Salakhova, it is as though she and Aliyev were in cahoots.