The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, with a central administration in Baku and regional offices at the local level, is responsible for implementation of the 2003 Convention and the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage at national level. The Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences is in charge of research in the field of intangible cultural heritage and its safeguarding. Three major non-governmental organisations are active in the field of safeguarding. In 2003, even before ratification of the Convention, a law on ‘Legal Protection of Folklore Examples of Azerbaijan’ was adopted with the aim of regulating legal protection, use and safeguarding of folklore expressions as an inseparable part of intellectual property protection. It has set a basis for future legislation and actions related to safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in Azerbaijan.
The Intangible Cultural Heritage Division of the Cultural Policy Department, within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is responsible for documentation and inventorying activities in Azerbaijan. In cooperation with bearers and communities concerned, the Division has elaborated an extensive information database in order to reinforce safeguarding and support transmission of living heritage to the next generation. The database will become accessible to communities, groups and individuals concerned, once an electronic version of the database is set up and available online. The Division also organizes the work of the Board of Identification and Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage (established in 2009), which is managing the State Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage Elements of Azerbaijan. The Register currently contains 73 elements, classified according to five main domains: holidays and ceremonies, cultural spaces, folklore, traditional crafts and craftsmanship, and the performing art of national musical instruments. ‘Guidelines on the legal protection of intangible cultural heritage, registration and maintenance of the State Register’ were adopted in 2012. According to these guidelines, proposals for inclusion of elements in the Register can be submitted by communities, public and private institutions, non-governmental organisations, regional offices of the Ministry, creative associations and individuals. Proposals are evaluated by the Board, which makes the final decision. Communities have a legal obligation to report periodically on the status of their element(s) to the Board, more frequently in cases of low viability.
In close cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, the Intangible Cultural Heritage Division also undertakes regular monitoring of national and local policy support to safeguarding and analyses current bills and laws related to intangible cultural heritage.
In the period 2007 to 2013, the Ministry took a number of measures to facilitate access to information about living heritage using experience gained during the inventorying process (e.g. concerning aspects of secrecy of certain knowledge). A number of museums have placed information about intangible cultural heritage elements on their websites (e.g. national costumes weaving, embroidery, metal craftsmanship or stone engraving). Public libraries have organized symposia with practitioners and distributed materials on inscribed elements. City and municipal libraries have been advised on how to better disseminate knowledge on intangible cultural heritage.
A ‘State Programme on Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage (2011–2020)’ has been approved and is currently being implemented. It foresees a number of safeguarding measures, including development of safeguarding models and plans adapted to the situation of the country and its regions, promotion of elements of intangible cultural heritage, reinforcement of legal protection of intangible cultural heritage, and elaboration of education and training programmes for a better understanding concepts of the 2003 Convention. The programme also foresees creation of a database of ‘subjects’ related to safeguarding with the aim of putting emphasis on safeguarding experiences of bearers and practitioners (masters, performers and performing groups, craftspeople, experts in regional studies, folklore and craftsmanship, non-governmental organisations and private institutions). The Cultural Heritage Division develops safeguarding plans related to specific elements and monitors their implementation. As part of integrating intangible cultural heritage into development policies, a programme has been launched with a number of national and international cultural tourism itineraries built around living heritage.
Several publications have been issued by the Ministry, state agencies, institutions, private organisations and non-governmental organisations to raise awareness about intangible cultural heritage, provide methodological guidance and ensure its promotion among the general public. Competitions have been held to encourage articles on relevant topics. A ‘Programme of Capitals of Folk Art’, in which various cities were selected as capitals of a specific domain of intangible cultural heritage, was implemented from 2010 to 2014. Each of the selected cities hosted a series of events, such as ceremonies, national and international conferences, round tables, concerts, competitions, festivals, exhibitions, fairs and tours. A ‘National Competition of Folk Theatres’ was initiated in 2008 and the ‘International Children’s Day’ in 2010 was used to raise awareness on living heritage among young people. In 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014, Baku hosted a series of 15 traditional arts festivals with a total number of 40 groups of practitioners representing most minorities living in Azerbaijan.
Research on intangible cultural heritage is undertaken by the Archaeology, Ethnography and Folklore Institutes of the National Academy of Sciences through field expeditions in various regions of the country. National and international interdisciplinary scientific conferences are organized to disseminate research findings. For example, between 2006 and 2013, the Folklore Institute undertook a number of studies on traditional epic telling and Ashiq art, with community participation.
Capacity-building and information programmes on the 2003 Convention are led by the Ministry and its regional departments. In addition, the Government works continuously with national and local media to improve understanding of the Convention. The Azerbaijani State University of Culture and Arts which includes education in the field of creative industries and traditional arts, offers a number of specialized bachelor, masters and PhD degrees on intangible cultural heritage.
In terms of bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, Azerbaijan closely cooperates with other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Organization of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY) and regularly takes part in meetings of National Commissions for UNESCO of Turkic States. Examples of such cooperation include: an international festival (2009) which brought together practitioners of traditional foodways from Turkey, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Georgia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Moldova, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Serbia, Ukraine and Greece; or the ‘Third International Workshop on Inventorying and Programming of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkic Peoples’, co-organised by the Ministry and TURKSOY, with experts and non-governmental organisations from Turkey, Kazakhstan and Tatarstan (Russian Federation).
Azerbaijan has six elements inscribed on the Representative List, five of which are covered by the present report, namely: the Azerbaijani Mugham (2008); the Art of Azerbaijani Ashiq (2009); Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz (multinational with India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan, 2009); the Traditional art of Azerbaijani carpet weaving in the Republic of Azerbaijan (2010); and Craftsmanship and performance art of the Tar, a long necked string musical instrument (2012). The last element inscribed in 2014 is the Traditional art and symbolism of Kelaghayi, making and wearing women’s silk headscarves, which will be covered by Azerbaijan’s next report. An element has also been inscribed in 2013 on the Urgent Safeguarding List, namely the Chovqan – a traditional Karabakh horse-riding game in the Republic of Azerbaijan.