2023  N3-4(216-217)
Two major events coincided in Turkmenistan this spring – the traditional nation-wide celebration of International Day of Nowruz (spring holiday) and international conference “Main areas and prospects of tourism development in Turkmenistan.
This coincidence was not accidental. Nowruz, inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, has long been regarded by countries celebrating it as a contender for a tourism brand. Interest in Nowruz is growing every year, and the number of people wishing to participate in the celebration of spring arrival is increasing.
Turkmenistan is no exception. The revived tradition of the spring equinox celebration, including a wide range of events covering a huge layer of the historical and cultural heritage of the Turkmen people and their original customs, is an impressive tourist attraction in its entirety. Like in a mosaic canvas, national values are connected in this ancient and one of the favorite folk festivals. It attracts tourists and presents almost in full the potential of the Turkmen tourism industry, including ecological, historical-cultural, ethnographic, culinary, agricultural, equestrian and sports tourism.
And it was quite natural that the program of events of the international forum included a visit by the forum delegates to a colorful festival that was held against the backdrop of the natural scenery of a spring meadow – a place in the Nowruz Valley that Turkmenistan is proud of as one of the attractions.
This picturesque area located not far from Ashgabat, in the foothills of Kopetdag, has repeatedly become a natural venue for the main celebration of the spring new year. Representatives of the Organization of World Heritage Cities participating in the international conference, heads and experts of leading foreign companies specializing in tourism, including from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Turkey, Croatia, Bulgaria, Iran, showed the sincerest interest in the ethnographic action, attributes and symbols of Nowruz.
Celebrations organized by the Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan on the occasion of the spring holiday at a time of special splendor of nature featured resounding songs and music, incendiary national dances followed by colorful theatrical, folklore and equestrian performances that fascinated the foreign guests. Visitors saw all the variety of dance and music groups of traditional genres that gathered in one place. It is noteworthy that musicians, singers and dancers came to the Nowruz Valley literally from all over the country for the celebration. The performances by the combined ensemble of dutarists, as well as ancient melodies performed on the reed flute (toyduk) became a wonderful backdrop for an impromptu action.
Representatives of the tourism industry were greatly interested in the ethnographic details of the festivities. By tradition, there were installed high swings entwined with flower garlands, which is an indispensable attribute of Nowruz. Swinging on swings is a spiritually cleansing ritual. White yurts with domestic animals – a symbol of hospitality of Turkmens – were also erected in the impromptu Turkmen village. Attributes of the oriental bazaar with its flowery stalls, abundance of treats and entertainment were also there. The exhibitions of folk crafts, jewelry, carpets and rugs, embroidery, being an integral part of the treasury of national cultural values, were also impressive.
The participants of the festival became spectators of a magnificent performance of the ceremony of preparing a wedding dowry, in which women and girls help the bride. They also saw the ceremony of Turkmen wedding, accompanied by various inherent rituals and songs. The art teams helped the guests to plunge into the wedding whirlpool, in which every detail was accentuated by folklore traditions filled with folk wisdom.
The process of making a Turkmen carpet was presented in an artistic way, accompanied by a song that craftswomen have been singing since ancient times while working on a hand-made masterpiece that captivates with its beauty, grace and harmony of the color palette, serving as an artistic reflection of the spiritual identity of the Turkmen people, their enormous creative potential. An exhibition of textiles and products of arts and crafts was a visual illustration of this composition that informed the festival participants of how natural silk is made and what products are made of it.
Other labor collective and agricultural rituals inherent in the Turkmen people, including spring work were also demonstrated in all their beauty. The ethnographic mini performances presented the customs associated with animal husbandry and gardening, cooking festive dishes, various national games and amusements. Spectacular bouts of palvans (wrestlers), as well as demonstration of dexterity on a tightrope and other youth entertainments were accompanied by the approving ringing cheer of fans.
An agricultural exposition displaying the products from different regions of the Turkmen land was set up in the exhibition part of the impromptu village. Attention of guests was drawn to the field camp, where they saw the ancient method of irrigating gardens and fields, vineyards and melons with the help of a chigir - an ancient water-lifting device in the form of a heavy rotating wheel with scoops mounted on it.
The festival participants had the opportunity to see with their own eyes how the effective use of the existing potential of the festivity culture can contribute to the emergence of new ideas for development of local rural tourism, appearance of regional brands and, as a result, promotion of their tourist and recreational attractiveness.
Proud ships of the desert – camels, and true friends of the Turkmens – Alabai dogs were among many “living exhibits” of the festival. These breeds are the national treasure, and the art of Alabai dog and Akhal-Teke horse breeding can be potentially nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The colorful impressive performance by the group of national equestrian games “Galkynysh” on beautiful Akhal-Teke horses, winner of many international festivals of circus art, became a real gift for the visitors, who were fascinated with the daring stunts by members of this unique group who demonstrated not only their high skills but also the best qualities of horses.
The history of Nowruz is rooted in the depths of millennia. It is inextricably linked with the glorious history and fortune of the Turkmen people, who inherited this ancient holiday from their ancestors and reflected it comprehensively and adequately not only in traditions and folk crafts but also in written and oral literature. In this context, Nowruz is associated both with the beginning of the farming season and other creative work.
The festival organizers took note of this aspect. The museums of Ashgabat took part in the celebration, presenting their exhibits at open expositions, including national musical instruments, clothes, tools, magnificent works by Turkmen jewelers. There were also exhibits showing the rich natural and animal world of different parts of the country.
Artists of the Main Academic Drama Theater of Turkmenistan named after Saparmurat Turkmenbashi performed a literary-musical composition about development of science in the ancient Turkmen land. Opening the celebrations in the Nowruz Valley, this performance presented a noble meeting of philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, reflecting on the fabric of the universe, spring equinox and sharing discoveries and new knowledge with each other.
The spring festival in the Nowruz Valley is always a long-awaited and beloved but still familiar event for the people of Turkmenistan. At the same time, the spring celebration was a wonder for lovers of the exotic, and it was indeed interesting for foreign guests to plunge into the unfamiliar atmosphere of national culture to get to know and feel it personally.
And they were extremely delighted with the gastronomic polyphony, striking with the abundance of national cuisine dishes cooked right on the spot according to old recipes by the best chefs and masters of culinary art who offered the guests to taste them all. One could also see how the ritual dish Semeni (germinated wheat) is cooked, how bread is baked in a house oven, the aroma of which reminds of the warmth of home and family values. The participants of the large-scale festival seemed to have performed a fascinating journey through time, feeling the living connection of epochs and generations.
Sharing their impressions, the guests of Turkmenistan expressed genuine delight with the cheerful celebration of the colorful spring holiday that plays a special role in expanding the geography of travel, popularizing the history, culture, traditions and unique nature of Turkmenistan.
As the participants of the conference noted, “the brilliance and scale of the cultural program was striking. We were given a happy opportunity to see the boundless generosity of the Turkmen celebration under the open sky in the steppe that absorbed the millennial traditions of national hospitality - from cooking unique dishes of national cuisine to folk, sports, song and music competitions.”
“There is something to see and something to buy. Such tours could bring great profits to the country’s economy and small businesses. The spring holiday of Nowruz can be turned into an international “brand”, attracting thousands of tourists every year,” the delegates of the international tourism forum said.
The guests also noted how much they were impressed with preservation, and most importantly, the respect of the Turkmen people for their history and culture. “Turkmenistan is a treasure of Central Asia, which should be opened to the whole world,” representatives of the tourism industry concluded.
And this is one of the important discoveries of Nowruz, an international festival that allows the world to better know its humanistic orientation, its good traditions that can serve as a means of peaceful coexistence of all mankind.