In his book “Azerbaijan since Independence”, Svante E. Cornell writes: “If Azerbaijan had to be defined by a single word, that word would have to be “crossroads” – an observation made by the greatest historian of Azerbaijan, Tadeusz Swietochowski. …Azerbaijan is both European and Asian at the same time.
Azerbaijan’s importance is much greater than its small [territorial] size.” The fatherland of Heydar Aliyev plays indeed a fundamental role in preserving Islamic Culture and Architecture, it is a cradle of civilization, home of Gülüstan Monument, Noah’s Mausoleum and of Momine Khatun Mausoleum; in the same vein the ‘Land of Fire’ has become a special place where visitors appreciate unique urban developments, natural beauty and impressive hospitality in Azerbaijan’s oldest cities, national parks, carpet museums while tasting some of the traditional wine of Kurdamir and the creamy goat cheese of Jalilabad. While sitting in front of the statue of Sabir in Baku, a highly courageous XIX century Azerbaijani poet whose wit and wisdom reflects the acclaimed patriotic movements and hardships of the Azerbaijani people; for me it is impossible not to write about some of the historic landmarks, cities and districts that reflect a deeply rooted multiculturalism environment and impeccable Architecture in the Azerbaijani society. The beautiful mountainous landscapes of the Caucasus, impressive cultural heritage, and unique Islamic Cultural sites are the highlight on every major city and district of Azerbaijan, some of them are: Kurdamir District, Ganja City (the birthplace of Meskheti Ganjavi), Lankaran City, Lerik District, the City of Gazakh, Jalilabad District and Salyan District.
The historic city of Ganja is the second largest urban metropolis of Azerbaijan; it is the capital of poetry and lyrics in Eurasia. Ganja is the birthplace of Nizami Ganjavi (the icon of Azerbaijani multiculturalism and religious tolerance); Meskheti Ganjavi (the most important lyrical poet of antiquity); Hasan Mashadi Huseyn oghlu Aghayev (the Deputy Speaker of National Assembly of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic) and Nigar Khudadat qizi Rafibeyli (a distinguished Azerbaijani writer and the former Chairwoman of Azerbaijan’s Writers Union). The city is also an important financial hub where Its International Bank was chosen by Euro Money Magazine as one of the best institution of banking services among the Central Asian Countries.
Ahmed Razi, a XV century Persian geographer would write the following about Ganja: “I have not seen a place such as Ganja anywhere else in the world. It has always a fresh look and an attractive musky scent. Its water is rosewater and its land is equal to saffron.” The advent of Islam and its powerful influence in the architecture, visual arts and literature have made Ganja a special town, a genuine tourist destination, where the Sasanian Empire of Iran and Eastern Mediterranean World have concocted with Islamic Culture certain salient historic and architectural landscapes that were inspired by the predominant faith in the region. Moreover, the architecture environment of Ganja, shaped by religious and contemporary monuments; the Juma Mosque of Ganja, Six Large Ancient Gates of Ganja, Ganja Regional Scientific Center, Ganja Central Mosque paired with the striking natural beauty of Goygol Lake, perhaps would be the perfect setting for Isabel Allende’s forthcoming story to be dedicated to Azerbaijani culture and women, as a well known outspoken advocate who pays tribute to the sacrifices of women, intertwining mythology and realism on her novels.
Tourists will find comfortable accommodations at the Ganja Hotel, one of the oldest destinations in the city. This hotel is equipped with forty five comfortable rooms including: two VIP rooms, seven suites, five premium and 60 standard rooms. The hotel has a top level restaurant were special European and National cuisine have earned an international reputation.
The Kurdamir District, founded in 1930, has an extensive territory of steppes where a diverse animal habitat includes: wolves, foxes, jackals, pheasants, ducks and geese. The word ‘Kurdamir’ means “Kur” (in reference to Kura River) and “Damir” (Iron), this is a region (known in the earliest times as Shirvan Province) with deep historical roots of Azerbaijan (189 km north-west from Baku). Kurdamir has a majestic and a fertile soil; it has been a very attractive site for visitors with an emphasis on tourism of adventure. Summer in Kurdamir is hot and dry, it has a steppes’ climate, while it is located at the left banks of the Kur River. It is worth mentioning that the Vineyards of Kurdamir are very famous, many British travelers have reflected their best impressions about this part of Azerbaijan, it’s most famous grape vine is “Shirvanshahly”. Moreover, Kurdamir has earned a great reputation with its centuries’ old tradition of carpet-weaving, making “Shilyan” the most popular carpet in the world; that is woven in the village of Shilyan. Delicious Cuisine on its restaurants and impressive hospitality among its people; makes Kurdamir a cherished city of the Caucasus. Some of the most traditional plates are served at the “Garabag” Restaurant, only 5 km west of the city center.
Passing the Kura River banks, the visitor’s eyes will be enlivened by the beautiful landscape of Naftalan, with a worldwide reputation for its oil based medical treatments that have been carried out since the 1920s. More than two thousand research papers and books have proved the effectiveness of Naftalan’s natural resources of healing and treatment of many diseases.
According to Archaeological sources the city has been a major commercial center in the XI Century AD. Marco Polo has visited Naftalan while its oil has garnered a special reputation from the Near East all the way to China and India, traded by caravansaries to many regions of Eurasia. In the early 1900s a German company was established to export Naftalan’s oil to Europe. Further Research on the oil of Naftalan is currently taking place at the Azerbaijan Medical University and the National Arthritis Center. Today, the number of hotels and resorts in this region has grown thanks to the dynamic tourism policy that is implemented by the Government of Azerbaijan.
The City of Gazakh is a special place where visitors will appreciate listening to traditional Azerbaijani songs. Only a few years ago Gazakh was established as the capital city of Azerbaijani Folklore. The City of Gazakh was founded in the VIII Century by a Military Commander Marvan ibn Mahammad. According to G. Voroshityasel, an investigator of ancient Azerbaijani language, “Gazakh is a very old town. Documents written in the IX – X centuries make reference to Gazakh that the city had existed 1,270 years ago.” In late XV Century, Gazakh Sultanate was established and it included Garabag beylerbeyi, under the rule of the Safavid Dinasty.
The District of Gazakh is also known for its carpets; they are absolutely beautiful and certainly decorate the royal palaces of Norway and Denmark.
The designs and patters of these carpets are included in the paintings of famous Italian renaissance artists, including: Pinturicchio, Carlo Crivelli and Domenico di Bartolo and in the works of Dutch painter Jan van Eyk. The carpets of Gazakh are exhibited in major museums around the world, the Hermitage, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the Berlin Museum of Art, the Budapest Museum of Decorative Arts and many others.
While going further south the nature becomes brighter and more colorful; the steppes of Salyan District have many interesting attractions. The district is home to the Shirvan National Park which is inhabited by 20,000 gazelles and many other rare mammals. Next along the way is Bilasuvar with its ancient fortress of Shahriyar. Moreover, the district of Jalilabad, is very famous for its organic cheeses and wines. The district of Masally has an abounding land with springs of fresh and healing waters. The well-known resort Istisu (“hot water”) will persuade international visitors to fall in love with Masally District of Azerbaijan. Not far from here is Lankaran, Azerbaijan’s “fruit capital”. Special climate conditions provide to the locals the opportunity to grow subtropical crops such as tangerines, persimmons, pineapples, guavas and lemons. In Lankaran District there are also located the famous plantations of tea that have no difference in quality and flavor from classical Indian or British brands. Lankaran lands were part of the ancient Atropatena, the surroundings of Lankaran are ideal for those who want to go back in time, as it is the only place in the world, where tourists will visit forests that have taken shape thirteen million years ago. Nearby Lankaran there are many natural attractions: Yanar – Bulag (Burning Water), Yanardag (Burning Mountain) and Lake Vilash. The fantastic iron trees, chestnut oaks, the Caucasian hornbeams, alders, figs, boxwoods, ferns – make this district a special place where more than a thousand species of unique plants have been growing for centuries.
Lerik District, a land of centenarians, is located only 40 km from Lankaran. It is home to fifty people who have crossed the century old age. Scientists explain this phenomenon by unique conditions provided by the Caucasian highlands. As a matter of fact, in Lerik there is also a museum of those who lived for over a hundred years, where the guides will mention the local shepherd Shirali Muslumov who lived for 168 years.
Each cultural and natural domain in these districts of Azerbaijan represents unique pictorial languages, cultural peculiarities and architectural masterpieces. In Azerbaijan, tourists will experience a reflection of a wealth of literary works including those of Nizami Ganjavi, Hafiz and Sa’di, who have provided a tremendous pictorial expression of Azerbaijan multiculturalism in their verses and harnessed a continuously refined Islamic culture that is vivid until today from the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan) to Absheron District.
Brazilian Favela Art Project – Global Project with Local Focus
Brazilian Favelas, or shanty slums are some of the most underdeveloped and overly populated regions in Brazil with high levels of crime, violence, gender discrimination and poor levels of hygeine and sanitation. There is an urgent need to spread awareness about healthy lifestyle choices and improve the standards of living for people residing in these slums. This is not just the prevailing situation in slums in Brazil, but across slums worldwide. Inspired by the Misaal Mumbai project led by Rouble Nagi, aimed at painting Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, located in the suburbs of Mumbai, it is crucial to start similar projects in other slums across the world, like in Brazil. Artwork is a great way to bring about social change and also enhance the landscape of slums. Brazilian slums have poor hygiene, lack of focus on education, higher crime rates, rampant sexism and other social issues. There is a pressing need to instill a better sense of hygiene, importance of education, reduced dropout rate from schools, fueled creativity, inspire a better future, make people aware of their legal rights (specially women), make women more aware of personal hygiene, promote healthier safer living environments, reduced family tensions, improve neighborhood relations and promote less harassment via artwork in Brazilian favelas. While it is unrealistic to expect social workers to visit slums everyday and educate people about social issues, artwork solves the purpose by acting as a constant reminder to slum dwellers about good decision making so they can partake in to be more responsible members of the community. In light of this, we have started a project called Brazilian Favela Art Project aimed at sponsoring artists to visit favelas in Brazil and create artwork on available walls and empty spaces, to promote positive social values. The project is led by me from Mumbai and involves funding from passionate donors across several countries. We work with artists from Brazil to sponsor their artwork in these shanty favelas.
There are several challenges arising during the project, mainly because of language barriers. The most widely spoken language in Brazil is Portuguese, whereas most people who are a part of this project do not understand and speak Portuguese. To sort out this issue and to project a more global approach to local issues in slums, specifically Brazilian Favelas, we have added some Portuguese speaking locals from Goa, India to the project. Goa was a former Portuguese colony and still has over 12,000 Portuguese language speakers. These select Portuguese speakers help us to communicate with local artists from Brazil and curate artwork directed at social change in collaboration with them. Since, the artwork produced in the favelas is also in Portuguese language, the messaging is created by English speaking professionals along with Portuguese translators from Goa and Brazil. Hence, the project truly is global involving people speaking various languages across continents.
Another major challenge we face is funding by corporations. Most corporations only want to fund corporate social responsibility projects among their target audience to improve branding. Since favelas house low income populations, most corporations are not interested to heavily invest in social change in the region. Moreover, corporations also have reduced trust in favela residents and believe that the artwork produced will not bear a long term impact since it could be at the risk of mutilation by locals. However, our conversations with local Brazilian artists have proven otherwise. The artwork is preserved by local communities since they see the positive community value in the artwork, as well as benefits to external landscaping that are created. Most of the donors of this project, have therefore been individuals at the moment, and not large corporations. We need to find corporations that are more keenly interested in social change in favelas in Brazil and target them for fundraising. Though the funds required are not very high because the base costing is spent on travel to favelas and paintwork, we aim to create bigger murals across Brazilian Favelas, not just in Rio De Janeiro, where the project currently focuses.
It has also been the case, as local artists have informed us, that artwork against drug consumption is generally mutilated by drug dealers living in favelas, since it is a source of revenue for them. Hence, alternate methods to prevent drug consumption in favelas need to be better researched. There are no other cases of art mutilation in favelas.
Local initiative with global effort
In the age of digital connections, whatsapp groups, telegram chat channels, LinkedIn and other networking spots, there is little scope to go wrong with building global connections and uniting towards a cause. The main source of interaction to create impact has been on zoom, considering the project was founded during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in light of budding news about increased crime rates in slums across the world and increased stronghold of criminal gangs specifically in Brazilian Favelas. Various reports mentioned that Brazilian gang overlords were increasing their stronghold in favelas, enforcing lockdown with a long term focus to ride the wave of the pandemic. Consumption of cocaine and other drugs increased in favelas since drug overlords knew exactly what troubled the favela community members at distinct times during the pandemic. In light of this news, I realized it was crucial to create a global project to solve the rampant issue of crime, violence and drug abuse in favelas, among the most vulnerable communities impacted by the pandemic. I was deeply surprised to see that not enough was being done to support favela dwellers by local community members. Various local initiatives had popped up during the pandemic, but none at all to support favela dwellers in Brazil. The global project – Brazilian Favela Art Project, with a local focus was hence founded out of the pressing need to support favelas in Brazil and promote positive social values.
The initiative involves funders, donors, artists, language translators, public policy enthusiasts and administrative officials from various countries, sharing resourcing and joining hands to bring about positive social development in Brazilian Favelas. It has been a privilege to witness and personally observe the impact of the pandemic in making us realize that we are all united in battling issues. No issue, despite being continents away, is too big for us to not solve or too far for us to care about. With a united, global approach, we can solve any major issue in this world. Social change starts with you and with everything you wish to see differently.
Vidhi Bubna, author of the article is also the Founder of the Brazilian Favela Art Project and aims to reduce crime rates and encourage social change in Brazilian Favelas, specifically in Rio De Janeiro.
UN Geneva open exhibition “The World In Faces”
On November 24, United Nations Geneva hosts “The World in Faces”, an exhibition of photos by the renowned Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin. The artist personally presented a collection of artistic photos of representatives of different peoples of the world, photographed in authentic national costumes in their habitat. The 170 large artistic portraits of more than 100 indigenous peoples around the world are on display in the main hall of UN Geneva’s Palais des Nations. A big part of the exhibition is dedicated to the indigenous communities of Russia’s Siberia and the Far East.
“It is gratifying that the exhibition at the UN this year takes place as the world celebrates the International Human Rights Day. It is a great pride and honour for me to present my photo project at the UN, especially on this momentous day”, said Alexander Khimushin.
The idea to create a collection of photographic portraits of indigenous peoples in national dress and in their native environment was born in 2014, when Alexander had already accumulated a considerable amount of work done in the most exotic locations – from Samoa and Fiji to Swaziland. Since then, he has never stopped traveling around the world, and his project is growing and becoming a phenomenon.
In 2018, Khimushin went to the Russian Arctic – Taimyr. The result was a series of portraits of the region’s indigenous inhabitants – Dolgans, Nganasans, Enets, Nenets, Evenks.
“Taimyr is unique in that it is a distant, cold place. For me, this was not something new, since I grew up in Yakutia (the Far East of Russia is the cold pole on the planet), but it is the peoples living there – the Nenets, Dolgans, Nganasans, they have a unique culture, their way of life and reindeer husbandry have been preserved. It was interesting to visit, thanks to Norilsk Nickel (The world’s largest producer of palladium, one of the largest producers of Nickel, platinum and copper), to get to these places. I would like to return to Taimyr, shoot more there, if there is such an opportunity, ”the artist noted.
The Norilsk Nickel company, which takes an active part in the fate of the small peoples of the Arctic, supported the Khimushin project.
“Nornickel has always interacted with the indigenous peoples of the Russian North in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual assistance. This year, the company’s relations with the indigenous peoples reached a new level. Based on the UN principles and objectives of sustainable development, we study, with the involvement of leading international experts and the scientific community, the socio-cultural specifics of indigenous life in Taimyr, and the traditions and historical memory of the peoples living in the region. This helps us make our support to indigenous peoples more targeted and effective. Cultural projects and support of traditional folklore and handicrafts are one of the most important components of our projects”, said Mikhail Kuznetsov, Nornickel’s Director of Federal and Regional Programmes.
Nornickel regularly participates in projects intended to foster economic and social development of Taimy’s indigenous communities. In 2020, Nornickel signed a cooperation agreement with organisations representing the interests of the indigenous communities of the North inhabiting the Taimyr Peninsula. Together with them, and based on proposals from the chiefs of indigenous communities, a comprehensive plan for the development of the peoples was developed for a total of RUB 2 bn. The plan is designed for five years. The programme will run until 2024 and includes support for traditional activities, protection of the indigenous habitat, and financing of new homes, hospitals, museums etc.
The photo exhibition will run until December 10, 2021.
Sezzadio: The small village where the great history of the Aleramici began
Men and women of culture, united by the idea of the Euro-Mediterranean Federation on Ancient Medieval Migration, challenges this difficult period of the pandemic with new historical research activities to rediscover and transmit the desire to return to normality.
As part of the project of “Le Vie Aleramiche Normanno Sveve” in Sezzadio, a village near Alessandria where Aleramo was born had been visited on the initiative of the Mayor, Enzo Daniele, the Councilor for Culture Piercarla Bocchio and the local head of FAI Anna Maria Gobello, collected the texts to create an “Aleramici Library” which will be closely linked to the “Aleramici Research Center of Sezzadio”. Two honorary presidents are members of our technical-scientific committee: Francesco Barone of the University of Catania, one of the leading experts in the Aleramici history of Sicily and Salvatore Lo Re, historian and President of the National History Society of Piazza Armerina, City of foundation aleramica which, soon, will see the Municipal Library enriched with a section dedicated to the study of its origins. Therefore, a study workshop will be commenced to work in synergy with the parallel Sicilian structure: the prestigious Palermo “Officina Studi Medievali” headed by Prof. Diego Ciccarelli.
Sezzadio, the place of origin of this fascinating story: it is said, in fact, that the noble Aleprando, on a pilgrimage to Rome, stopped in this small town near Acqui Terme with his wife about to give birth and that Aleramo was born here. The municipal administration of Sezzadio, after having already undertaken various projects to enhance the small center of Alessandria and installed explanatory signs at the entrance to the village to highlight its extraordinary historical importance, has enthusiastically joined the proposal of the promoters of the project, Fabrizio Di Salvo and the UNESCO Club of Piazza Armerina, (represented by the President Anna Maria Di Rosa Placa and the Secretary Lavinia Garsia) and took the opportunity to give life to a research center that will be formed in network with the Workshop of Medieval Studies in Palermo and the research activity in Piazza Armerina, a real study center dedicated to ancient medieval immigration “on the contrary”.
The fundamental activity was Fabrizio Di Salvo’s visit to Sezzadio last summer which allowed to define the membership of the Municipality of Sezzadio to the Euro-Mediterranean Federation on Ancient Medieval Migrations, by virtue of which it benefits from the support of the Coordinator for Northern Italy, Nadia Ghizzi.
The work of identifying the texts and training the library was supported by our technical-scientific committee which boasts among its ranks the Byzantinist Walter Haberstumpf, Prof. Salvatore Trovato, former professor of Linguistics and Glottology at the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania, the Director of Sibrium Magazine and President of the Center for Prehistoric and Archaeological Studies of Varese Lucilla Caramella, Luigi Piano, the President of “Italia Medievale”, Maurizio Calì, (who collaborated directly in the creation of the library), as well as the teachers and researchers of prestigious international universities, such as the distinguished medievalist Henri Bresc and Joanna Drell of the University of Richmond in the USA.
To realize the intent of making culture available to all, it is essential to give our research a European breath and make people understand how much the history of the Middle Ages, which took place in a Europe different from the current one, was well-defined in its supranational scope. The project connected France, Italy, and Germany and, in particular, the Municipalities of Hauteville-La-Guichard in France, (where the myth has it that Tancredi, the future lord of Hauteville and progenitor of the Altavilla family, saves the life of Duke Riccardo II of Normandy on a hunting trip); of Göppingen, in Baden-Württemberg near Stuttgart, (where tradition has it that the Swabian dynasty was born) and of Piazza Armerina, a city in Sicily founded by Aleramici in the 12th century. The cultural triangulation will also expand in Sezzadio, in the spirit of continuing to create links between historically similar realities and, currently, it takes the form of collaboration between the municipal administrations, anticipating and preparing the future twinning.
Thanks to the dedication of those who embraced and developed the project from the beginning, today, the Euro Mediterranean Federation for Ancient Medieval Migrations stands out for the adhesion of important figures from the world of culture, of high-level institutions, such as the Library of Alexandria of Egypt, of numerous Italian Municipalities, of Universities and Associations. Despite the interruptions due to the pandemic, the Project has given rise to numerous initiatives such as conferences, lectures, and meetings, and the production of a documentary film shot in the European lands touched by this research: Piedmont, Sicily, France, Turkey, Germany, Greece, and Ukraine.
A powerful work, curated for four years by Fabrizio Di Salvo, which collects precious contributions from excellent scholars and returns the atmosphere of medieval Europe thanks to the choice of splendid locations, such as the Castle of Pomaro in Monferrato, to the costumes of the ancient Samantha Panza’s “Principessa Valentina” tailoring from Asti-Italy and coordinated by Gianni Gallo. The exceptional protagonist is the actor Walter Siccardi, an extraordinary interpreter in the role of Aleramo. The shields that recall the emblems of the Aleramici dynasties and parts of the sets used for the shooting will be donated by the Euro-Mediterranean Federation to the Aleramici Research Center in Sezzadio.
We will continue our incessant work of research and historical reconstruction, hoping that it will create opportunities for recovery, resilience, and increasingly nourish the dialogue between people who are only apparently distant.
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