The main legislation for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Law on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Kyrgyz Republic (2012), together with the Law on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge (2007) and the Law on the Epic Heritage (2011). The national body responsible for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the National Committee for the Intangible Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (with representatives from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Parliament, the National Commission for UNESCO, Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences, practitioners, non-governmental organizations and intangible cultural heritage experts). Other state bodies responsible for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage are the Institute of Languages and Literature and the Institute of History and Cultural Heritage of the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences, and the Centre for Safeguarding and Research of the Epic Heritage. Various non-governmental organizations and associations of intangible cultural heritage practitioners are also involved in safeguarding and promoting intangible cultural heritage.
The Institute of Arts and the American University of Central Asia are involved in the process of training cultural experts at the national and local levels, and the Kyrgyz State College of Arts trains specialists in traditional handicrafts, i.e. ceramics, felting and felt products. The National Conservatory trains specialists in folklore and the art of epic narration. Nevertheless, a lack of human resources and the absence of specific programmes to educate and train specialists in the field of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding have had a negative influence on the quality of safeguarding.
The Centre for Documentation of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage at the National Academy of Sciences holds and maintains an intangible cultural heritage database open to the general public. Any interested individual can access it by visiting the Centre or sending a letter of inquiry. The documentation of intangible cultural heritage in Kyrgyzstan was begun in the 1950s by ethnographers from the Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Soviet Republic. The latter recorded a significant amount of oral folklore and instrumental creations and collected fragments of epic heritage and elements of traditional games, with the support of the USSR Academy of Sciences. All this documentation is preserved at the Academy of Sciences.
Since independence, the inventorying of intangible cultural heritage has been carried out sporadically and locally by various cultural organizations with financial grants from international organizations. The National Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Elements of the Kyrgyz Republic was established in 2008 and was updated in 2011 and 2012. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is the main state body responsible for coordinating the process of updating the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory. This is carried out in close cooperation with other institutions and non-governmental organizations, such as the Aigine Cultural Research Centre. The Centre deals with the inventorying of traditional knowledge, sacred sites and epic heritage. It has almost completed a sacred geography of Kyrgyzstan and documentation of the current version of the epic trilogy of Manas has already been completed. The Rural Development Fund and the Centre for Bio-cultural Diversity under the Agrarian University safeguard and promote traditional knowledge related to farming and agriculture.
The current inventory is structured around seven intangible cultural heritage domains. Each of these is updated every three years on average, by one or several specialized institutions and non-governmental organizations with the participation of bearers, non-governmental organizations and other relevant stakeholders. The inventory contains information on the viability of the elements and a separate inventory is being developed to include elements under threat of disappearance and in need of urgent safeguarding. The Inventory is available in electronic and handwritten formats in both the state (Kyrgyz) and official (Russian) languages. The criteria used for the inclusion of an element of intangible cultural heritage on the inventory are four-fold: (1) It must be related to one of a set of intangible cultural heritage domains, and the request for inclusion must come from a bearer community accompanied by a written statement of the prior and voluntary consent of key practitioners; (2) The continuity or ‘rootedness in the past’ must be ensured, i.e. the element has to be safeguarded or practised by at least two to three generations of bearers or practitioners; (3) Local recognition or ‘rootedness in place’ must be demonstrated, i.e. the element should be strongly related to the communities and places where it is created, safeguarded and transmitted; (4) The element should be recognized as an expression of living heritage.
The National Programme on Safeguarding, Studying and Promoting the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2012- 2017) aims at developing, safeguarding and promoting intangible cultural heritage. It was developed in cooperation with governmental and non-governmental organizations and incorporates the activities of relevant stakeholders. Other measures to ensure the recognition of, respect for and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage include: the organization of various events to increase the general public’s awareness of the importance of intangible cultural heritage, such as international symposiums, national conferences, festivals, exhibitions and training courses; the production of TV and radio programmes, documentary series and animation films; the publication of books, booklets etc.; and the recording of CDs and DVDs.
New educational programmes on intangible cultural heritage are being developed and introduced throughout the formal education system, from kindergartens to schools and universities. For example, learning about the epic trilogy of Manas is obligatory in all secondary and higher educational institutions, for both Kyrgyz- and Russian-speaking students. In non-formal education, a number of activities are implemented, e.g. by the Ustat-Shakirt Centre for Traditional Music. The latter aims to safeguard Kyrgyz musical heritage through the traditional master-apprentice mode of transmission, thereby creating a new generation of traditional music bearers. The Centre also offers instruction in traditional music in public high schools. The National Conservatory began offering training to young epic tellers – manaschys, semeteichis and seitekchis – in 2009. Studio-schools teaching epic narration skills have been set up in all seven regions of the country with the financial support of the government. The Aigine CRC also conducts regular training seminars on playing komuz (a traditional musical instrument) and organizes a youth camp with the aim of transmitting traditional methods of conflict prevention and resolution to youths.
Insofar as bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation are concerned, several joint meetings of experts, government officials, non-governmental organizations and practitioners were organized with other Central Asian countries to exchange documentation and prepare joint nominations of common intangible cultural heritage elements. Currently, an Intangible Cultural Heritage Network of Experts from Central Asian states is being established and a common website is being launched. The Central Asian Crafts Support Association (CACSA) brings together more than 60 public and private artisan groups covering several thousands of artisans in Central Asia and develops activities in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It has implemented 20 regional and international projects, including over 50 workshops for artisans.
Kyrgyzstan has two elements on the Representative List that are subject to reporting here: the Art of Akyns, Kyrgyz epic tellers (incorporated in 2008 after having been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003); and Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz (inscribed in 2009 on a multinational basis, with Azerbaijan, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan). For both elements, inscription has increased their visibility and that of intangible cultural heritage generally and raised public awareness, especially among young people. For the Art of Akyns, it has also led to regional and international cooperation in the field of intangible cultural heritage, including a multi-year project supported by the UNESCO/Japanese Funds-in-Trust. In the case of Nooruz, inscription has been important for securing financial and other support from the government for holding celebrations and conducting studies on Nooruz. In both cases, safeguarding activities focussed largely on strengthening non-formal transmission and promoting greater public awareness. The working group set up to prepare the present report included representatives from the Akyn community and relevant non-governmental organizations participated actively in all stages of the preparation process.