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The Apex of Islamic Culture in the Land of Fire

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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.  

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Arts & Culture

“Kharibulbul” festival represents a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural Azerbaijan

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As a country of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan promotes the cross-cultural dialogue inside the country, but also at the regional level. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan regards the existence of a people as the result of the civil and political self-determination of the peoples in Azerbaijan. For the time being, Azerbaijan is populated by representatives of over 30 national minorities such as Talysh, Kurd, Lezghi, Tat, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Inghiloy, Tatar, Avar, Ahyska Turk, Jewish, German, Greek and others. All of them enjoy the cultural societies. Representatives of three main religious confessions – Islamic, Christian and Judaic communities participate jointly at various public ceremonies and cultural events. Support and preservation of the cultural diversity are reflected in the State policy of Azerbaijan.

The ongoing clashes near Nagorno-Karabakh started after Armenia attacked Azerbaijani civilians and military on September 27. Azerbaijan won its historic Victory in 44 days, liberated its lands, dealt crushing blows to the enemy, and defeated Armenia. As a result of this defeat, Armenia was forced to sign capitulation and surrender. Thus, Armenia’s 30-year policy of aggression has come to an end. During this time, the glorious Azerbaijani Army has liberated many settlements from the enemy. Thousands of citizens have volunteered for military service across the country to fight Armenia’s increased military aggression. The volunteers come from various ethnic, religious, social backgrounds and are united around the cause to restore the country’s territorial integrity as well as justice.

Despite all this, Azerbaijanis are not the enemy of the Armenian people. Azerbaijan is a multinational state. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan, primarily in Baku. Armenia, which has created a society intolerant towards other nations and religions, has tried to completely erase the ancient Albanian, Orthodox, Muslim religious and cultural heritage that historically existed in the occupied territories of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Azerbaijan. It has either completely destroyed cultural and spiritual heritage of the Azerbaijani people or falsified their history and origins by Armenianizing and Gregorianizing it. In the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, mosques, temples and cemeteries, historical monuments, museums, libraries have been destroyed and looted, Caucasian Albanian Christian temples and Russian Orthodox churches have been Gregorianized, mosques have been turned into barns and subjected to unprecedented insults such as keeping animals forbidden in Islam in them. The Armenian regime, which has been pursuing aggressive policies for years, has ignored the norms of international law and international humanitarian law, has committed environmental crimes in the occupied territories through fires, the use of phosphorus bombs, poisonous substances and mines. Today, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh region, also they can normally live only within the Azerbaijani state. The Azerbaijani people are tolerant.

It is also well known by the world public that the Republic of Azerbaijan, diverse in terms of ethnic and religious background, fought to liberate its historic territories from occupation that had nothing to do with Christianity. Secondly, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – representatives of all nations and religions living in our country – fought alongside Azerbaijanis in the armed forces of Azerbaijan. These people were united around the “ Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” slogan by Mr. Ilham Aliyev, Commander – in – Chief of the victorious army, and not false religious appeals. Among them are those who displayed unequalled heroism falling martyrs, wounded, and awarded with supreme orders and medals of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 

 As with the beginning of the conflict, there are lots of officers and soldiers – representatives of the nations and religious communities living in Azerbaijan – who serve in Azerbaijan’s national army and display outstanding valor in liberating our country from occupation. Azerbaijani nation doesn’t discriminate between its heroic sons and martyrs on ethnic and religious background.

Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, who played a major role in this historic victory of Azerbaijan, said the followings: “Our advantage lies in the fact that representatives of all nations living in Azerbaijan feel themselves as comfortable as in their families and motherland. The fraternity and friendly relationships between various nations is our big wealth and we have to protect it. Our policy will also be pursued in the future. Representative of all the nations living in Azerbaijan displayed outstanding courage and heroism in the Second Karabakh war, falling martyrs, fighting for the cause of Motherland, and embracing death under the Azerbaijani flag. This is the society we have in our country and it is our big wealth».

For your information, “Kharibulbul” music  festival, bearing the name of symbolic flower growing in Shusha, was first organized in Shusha’s fabulous Jidyr glade in May 1989.  30 years later on May, the 12th “Kharibulbul” music  festival in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital Shusha was organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and will be held every year hereafter.

Musical creativity of different nations living in Azerbaijan on Jidyr glade within the festival was introduced devoted to “ Multiculturalism in Azerbaijani music” as a program comprising folk and classic musics.

Representatives of various nations living in our country demonstrated stage performance. All nations living in Azerbaijan have contributed to our joint victory. The Patriotic War once again proved that all nations live in fraternity, friendhips, and solidarity in Azerbaijan and there is national unity and solidarity in the country.We are sure that Shusha will host numerous music festivals and international conferences.

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Priyanka Banerjee exposes the harsh realities of rape culture in India in her short film “Devi”

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Priyanka Banerjee is the writer and director of the award winning film “Devi”. Devi as a film explores ideas related to rape culture in India. The entire short film is shot inside a theatre style single room. All the women in the film are sitting together in a room after their death and discussing how crowded the room is getting. The plot soon reveals that all these women have been raped.

The climax of the film catches all viewers off-guard and exposes them to the harsh realities of today’s India.

Tell us more about your journey as a director and writer

I have no formal education in writing and direction. I took theatre arts in school and got a little experience there and then started a theatre company, Leogirl Productions (today it does content and video for clients). Along the way, I taught myself screenwriting from online courses. Many people believe that films are very technical. However, I think that if you are curious enough, you can learn it on the job. My first short film was released in 2016. I did not then imagine that I would work on a film which will win the filmfare. The idea for Devi came along in 2018 and it took a while to work on the idea and bring it to the screen.

What inspires you to make films?

Movies are very relatable. I end up thinking of movies most often when I am having a moment – good or bad. I think of movie scenes which relate to how I am feeling all the time. I think movies are capable of leaving a deep impression on people and creating an impact. I want to create an impact on people via my storytelling and make films which people will remember.

What inspired you to write and direct Devi?

My very first draft was actually called candlelight. However, once the film was ready, our producer Niranjan Iyengar suggested we call it “Devi” and that immediately stuck.

When the Kathua Rape case happened a few years ago, I watched the news on television and felt numb. For the first time ever, I did not have a reaction to something that usually impacted me a lot. This scared me a little. Not having a reaction meant that rape news was normalised, I was desensitised. I wrote Devi with that frustration in mind.    

I am someone who takes time to write and work on films. I started working on Devi in 2018 however, it finally only released in March 2020.

Why was Royal Stag barrel select short films chosen as a platform to launch Devi?

The producers generally choose which platform a film should release on. Royal Stag Barrel Short Films has a great collection of films and I am happy that the film found the right platform for release.

What strikes you as the most impactful scene in “Devi”?

I was deeply impacted by two scenes in the film, even as I was writing them. One scene was when the maushi told the medical student,  “You are studying for an exam you are never going to give”. The second impactful scene is a more popular one. It was when the little girl walked into the room and the deaf girl signed and told her,  “You are safe here”. The scene implied that the girl was finally safer after her death than while alive. Both scenes impacted me as I was writing them, and I’m glad they were received the same way.

What can be done to change rape culture in India?

I think rape is not so much about sex as it is about power. Many Indians’ sexual desires are repressed, desires are considered taboo, not to mention there is a total lack of empowerment even when it comes to education or employment. Therefore, they find empowerment is hurting another. Not to mention the total lack of sensitivity when it comes to how women are spoken of by the media, by politicians, by influencers in everyday life. Each of these things causes a systemic rot which has to be cleaned out with every generation. Awareness of these various aspects of what can take us to the root of the problem, I think.

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Art Is a Mirror Of The Magnitude Of Human Achievement

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Dr. Sofija Bajrektarevic, Culture for peace to culture of peace(left); Reine Hirano, Artist (right)

The ‘From Culture for Peace to Culture of Peace’ (known also as the Culture for Peace – Unifying Potentials for the Future) Initiative was once again participating in the ‘Vienna Processes’ conference series program by wishing to emphasize the importance of cultural diplomacy in the processes of creating and maintaining dialogue and the well-being of society.

On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process event titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.

This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

The event was probably the largest gathering since the beginning of 2021 for this part of Europe.

For this occasion, the selected work of artist Alem Korkut is on the Conference poster.This artist work with the motto/message: ‘Sustainable Future – Quo Vadis?’ is a standing part of the Initiative project. This previously launched initiative refers to the visual arts and the engagement of artists in the field of ‘culture for peace and culture of peace’.

“Europe Future Neighborhood” Conference poster

In addition to the artistic visualization of the theme and message of the conference (same as it was a case with the first conference in the series ‘Vienna Process’), this Conference leg was closed in the big hall of the Austrian Diplomatic Academy with a well-chosen artistic musical performance.

This time, conference participants and attendees were able to listen to the selected parts of Suite No. 1 in G major for solo cello from J.S. Bach, performed by Japanese artist Reine Hirano.As a solo and chamber musician she performs in concert halls worldwide, including the Konzerthaus in Vienna and the Suntory Hallin Tokyo.

It was to emphasize the importance of culture, science and arts as essential binding and effective tool of cultural diplomacy. Utilized to support dialogue, these types of interventions of the Culture for PeaceUnifying Potentials for the Future Platform already became a regular accompanying part of the ‘Vienna Process’, which makes it special – quite different from the usual conference forms of geopolitical, legal and economic contents.

Conclusively, art – indeed – is a mirror of the magnitude of human achievement, but also a message of how fragile those achievements are.

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