A nation is known, recognized and distinguished among the world nations by certain characteristic features. The highest and the greatest of these features is culture.

HEYDAR ALIYEV
1962

A Comprehensive Overview of the First Cultural Heritage Forum in Azerbaijan

As part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of national leader Heydar Aliyev, the Cultural Heritage Forum was held for the first time in our country on December 18–19.

The participants of the forum organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan first of all paid their respects to the grave of the national leader Heydar Aliyev in the Alley of Honor.  They honored his memory by laying flowers in front of his grave. The participants also visited the grave of the eminent ophthalmologist and scientist Academician Zarifa Aliyeva and laid flowers in her honor.

Following that, the forum's opening ceremony took place at "Gulustan" Palace. Officials, parliament members, as well as figures from the fields of science and culture, including experts in cultural heritage, were present at the ceremony.

At first, the participants were introduced to an exhibition of various examples of national applied and decorative arts—specifically, coppersmithing, carpet weaving, kalaghayi art, and tekalduz samples—in the foyer of the palace.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Saadat Yusifova, Deputy Minister of Culture, emphasized the paramount importance of culture as the defining characteristic of any nation of the world: “Our cultural and moral values have faced a number of difficulties at various points in history. However, our traditions, history, literature, mother tongue and culture have played a pivotal role in preserving our identity as a people”.

It was emphasized that President Ilham Aliyev and First Vice-President, Head of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva have placed a strong focus on the protection, restoration, and promotion of our cultural heritage. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation, in particular, is actively involved in numerous projects in this domain.

Speaking about the heritage examples of Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur, which were liberated from occupation, the deputy minister pointed out that 705 historical and cultural monuments were registered in these areas: "The analysis revealed that numerous immovable cultural heritage sites of historical, archaeological, and architectural significance in those areas are not officially registered by the state authorities. These sites were intentionally destroyed and vandalized by Armenians during the occupation, resulting in the erasure of 47 monuments from the earth. Between 2020 and 2022, the State Service for Cultural Heritage Conservation, Development, and Rehabilitation, operating under the Ministry of Culture, conducted inspections on 433 historical and cultural monuments.  Additionally, 182 objects with historical, architectural, and archaeological attributes located in the sites not registered with the state—specifically, the newly discovered monuments—were monitored.”

Speaking about the global promotion of our cultural heritage, Saadat Yusifova mentioned that our country has 26 historical and cultural reserves, four of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition, 23 elements of Azerbaijan's intangible cultural heritage are included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.

Currently, there are 6,308 monuments under state protection in our country; more than 1,400 of them are newly discovered monuments recognized for their historical and cultural significance. Therefore, the work in this field should be carried out with more sensitivity, systematic planning, and comprehensive strategies. Special attention should be paid to the training of personnel, and efforts should be made to increase both the quantity and quality of scientific research. The issues and suggestions raised during the two-day cultural heritage protection forum will be taken into consideration and incorporated into the new 2040 Culture Concept.

Elbay Gasimzadeh, Chairman of the Board of the Union of Architects of Azerbaijan, highly appreciated the Forum and emphasized the role of our rich cultural heritage as a distinguishing factor among the nations of the world.

It was noted that the study and global promotion of our cultural heritage have received the dedicated attention of the national leader during both periods of his leadership. Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, who is a faithful follower of the ideas of the great leader, consistent work is being carried out in this direction. With the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, headed by First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva, large-scale projects have been implemented.

People's artist Farhad Khalilov, chairman of the Union of Artists of Azerbaijan, also stressed the importance of the forum and expressed his conviction that the forthcoming discussions will be beneficial for our culture in general.

After the speeches, the forum continued with panel discussions.

***

After the opening ceremony of the Cultural Heritage Forum on December 18, the first panel meeting was held in the "Gulustan" Palace.

The first panel on "Fine Art and Modern Challenges" was moderated by the art critic and head of the "Yeni Gallery" Baku Art Center, Rafael Gulmammadov.

People's Artist and Rector of the Azerbaijan Academy of Arts, Professor Natig Aliyev, addressed the issue of fine arts education and gave an overview of the advancements in this field. He outlined the initiatives of the university in creating favorable conditions for student artists, organizing joint exhibitions, and holding competitions. He emphasized the importance of exposing children to art education from an early age, possibly as early as kindergarten, and stressed the importance of maintaining this educational continuum in later stages. The Rector also identified challenges at the Master's level in art education, noting a growing preference among girls for specialties such as interior design, leading to a declining interest in classical disciplines. Consequently, efforts are made to revive interest in classic specialties.

The people's artist, sculptor Hussein Hagverdi, emphasized in his speech that the artist's work is almost invisible in modern urban planning. He noted that mosaic works in the capital and regions are not given due attention, and many of them are in danger of destruction due to neglect. He emphasized that it is important to pay attention to mosaic panels and paintings both in interiors and exteriors.

People's artist Eldar Mikayilzadeh touched upon the challenge of expressing traditional art in modern language. Speaking about the book "Dance of Loops," published by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the artist noted its importance for the promotion of Azerbaijani carpet art and carpet school all over the world. Another publication based on his research on the Iravan carpet school is being prepared, he said.

Artist Anar Huseynzadeh shared his thoughts on digital art and emphasized the fascinating impact of his visits to Karabakh on his artistic work. He also emphasized the importance of introducing marketing specialties in education in order to turn the artist's work into capital.

The panel ended with an exchange of views on the issues at hand and the sharing of suggestions.

***

The second panel of the Cultural Heritage Forum focused on the protection of intangible cultural heritage and modern challenges. Sevil Karimova, Head of the Art Department of the Ministry of Culture, moderated the panel, providing information on the topic and inviting speakers to the stage. Later, a video produced by the Ministry of Culture dedicated to our intangible cultural heritage was shown.

Doctor of philosophy in art studies, architect Elchin Shamilli addressed the role of visual language in decorative-applied arts, architecture, and design art in his speech on "Examples of Decorative and Applied Art and Modern Forms of Artistic Expression."

The head of the science department at the Azerbaijan National Art Museum, a Ph.D. in art studies, and associate professor Telman Ibrahimov discussed the cultural resources that Armenians have appropriated and looted over the past thirty years. He pointed out the recent practice of our neighbors presenting examples of intangible cultural heritage taken from Khankandi as their own. Ibrahimov stressed the importance of compiling a "red book" to document our lost wealth.

Asmar Abdullayeva, the Creative Director of "Azerkhalcha" OJSC and a Doctor of Philosophy in Art Studies, delivered a presentation on the topic "Intangible Cultural Heritage as the Basis of Creativity and Innovation: Economic and Social Aspects." She discussed the organization of carpet weaving and felting courses in Pirshagi, Balakhani, and other settlements in Baku for women who had no prior work experience. Abdullayeva also discussed the revival of the art of dyeing using ancient techniques and the practice of silk printing in Shaki. The art historian and scholar shared her recommendations for fostering new opportunities for the innovative ideas of young carpet artists.

Honored artist Mammadhuseyn Huseynov presented the list of overlooked cultural heritage examples in carpet art as a slide and shared his suggestions.

Nuriya Mammadova, the last speaker on the panel and head of division at the Ministry of Culture, addressed the topic "Examples of Azerbaijan's Intangible Cultural Heritage in International Lists." She provided information about the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Following the presentations, there was a discussion on the raised issues and proposals, and questions were addressed.

The third and last panel of the Cultural Heritage Forum, organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Ministry of Culture, held on December 18, was devoted to the topic "Movable Cultural Heritage in Azerbaijan. Museum Work and Modern Challenges".

Nargiz Abdullayeva, Head of the Project Management Department of the Heydar Aliyev Center and moderator of the panel, introduced the topic and invited the speakers to the stage. Later, a video of Azerbaijan's intangible cultural heritage, prepared by the Ministry of Culture, was presented. The video highlighted the attention and support of the national leader Heydar Aliyev for the work of museums, as well as the establishment of the Occupation and Victory Museums by the order of President Ilham Aliyev.

Shirin Malikova, Director of the National Art Museum and Chairwoman of the Azerbaijan National Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), addressed the audience on the topic of "Identification, Study, and Attribution of Azerbaijani Cultural Artifacts Preserved in World Museums, Proving Their Belonging to Azerbaijan." She noted that the Russian State Museum of Oriental Art, the Louvre Museum, and the Istanbul Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art have Azerbaijani art works in their collections. These works have been attributed, and subsequent exhibitions and catalogs have been developed.

Vasif Gurbanov, a staff member of the State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan, provided details about the Customs History Museum during his presentation on "Import and Export of Cultural Resources, Transit Rules." The exhibition highlights the process of developing legal acts and mechanisms outlined in the legislation for the temporary export of cultural resources in connection with international cultural events.

Altun Mikayilli, a Doctor of Philosophy in Art Studies and the Head of the Museum, Gallery, and Exhibitions Department of the Ministry of Culture, addressed the regulations governing the taking away and return of cultural assets from the country. Zarifa Malikova, the Director of the Center for Scientific Restoration of Museum Treasures and Memorabilia, spoke about the activity of the center she heads and the process of giving historical relics a second life. Zafig Khalilov, representing the Heydar Aliyev Center, provided information about the center's museum and exhibition activities, emphasizing the successful organization of over 450 exhibitions and events in 11 years. The exhibitions organized by the Center in line with the new trends were well-received and presented examples reflecting diverse cultures from around the world.

Natig Safarov, the Head of the Scientific Restoration Department at the National Art Museum, emphasized the significance of enhancing the material and technical infrastructure in his speech on "Strengthening the Material and Technical base. Modern Museums. Museums as an Instrument of Social Education." He stressed the importance of organizing scientific restoration work and raising awareness in this field.

Fabrizio Conti, creative director and expert in the organization of Occupation and Victory Museums, spoke on "Restoration of Museums in Territories Liberated from Occupation. Occupation and Victory Museums". He recounted the horror of witnessing the destruction of cultural resources for the first time after the 44-day war in 2020. Conti mentioned ongoing efforts to establish Occupation and Victory Museums in Lachin, Kalbajar, and Zangilan, depicting both pre-occupation and post-victory periods.

Following the speeches, there was an exchange of opinions on the subjects discussed, and questions raised during the session were answered.

***

Within the framework of the Cultural Heritage Forum held on December 18–19, the exhibition "Karabakh Art Camp" was organized at the "Gulistan" Palace. The exhibition presents handicrafts created by artisans during visits to the liberated territories with the support of the Ministry of Culture.

In addition, a book-album depicting our cultural heritage in Karabakh, published by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, is exhibited. This book-album, written in English, presents examples of our art in the liberated territories and presents authentic pictures. Notable works include "Karabakh, dear Shusha, you are free" by Javanshir Mammadov, "The beauty of Karabakh loaded with treasures" by Samir Samadov, "Victory" by Kamran Asadov, and others.

The stand of the Museum of Customs History in the exhibition space presented interesting objects of material culture that were attempted to be smuggled out of the country, including various items ranging from jewelry and weapons to precious manuscripts and musical instruments.

The exhibition also highlights examples of Tekalduz applied arts, such as coppersmithing, jewelry, guramas, tazhib, balaban, and pearl inlay.

***

The English edition of the book "Azerbaijani carpets: the dance of loops," a joint project of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and BP Company, was presented within the framework of the Cultural Heritage Forum.

Deputy Minister of Culture Farid Jafarov emphasized the importance of promoting the art of carpet weaving and highlighted the significance of the book in this context. The publication provides detailed information on the characteristics of each carpet, including the history, main directions, and techniques of Azerbaijani carpet weaving. It also includes insights into the architectural and cultural wonders that inspired the project. The carpets featured in the book were created by six artists and fourteen carpet makers in accordance with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation's project. These carpets are woven from silk and wool threads dyed with natural colors, using a palette of 170 colors and shades.

It's worth mentioning that Azerbaijani edition of the book and an exhibition of the same name were presented at the Heydar Aliyev Center in 2022.

***

Three panel discussions were held on the second day of the Cultural Heritage Forum organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Ministry of Culture on December 19.

The first panel of the day focused on the study and protection of Azerbaijan's immovable historical and cultural heritage. At the panel moderated by Nazli Ahmadova, a member of the Azerbaijan Bar Association, Shahin Seyidzadeh, Chairman of the Board of Administration of the State Historical-Architectural Reserve "Icherisheher," spoke about "Protection of Cultural Heritage, Monitoring, Inventorying, and Passporting, Experience in Restoration and Preservation of Monuments, Traditions, and Modern approaches." He gave information about historical monuments and living conditions in the reserve.

Sabina Hajiyeva, Head of the State Service for Cultural Heritage Conservation, Development, and Rehabilitation under the Ministry of Culture, spoke on "Legislative Issues in the Field of Cultural Heritage Protection," highlighting the main directions and goals. Referring to illegal interventions in monuments, she emphasized that neglect affects some historical and cultural monuments used by citizens and touched upon challenges related to site conditions, location on private property, and other factors hindering their protection.

Zaur Hasanov, the Executive Director of the ANAS Institute of Archaeology, Ethnography, and Anthropology, delivered a speech on "New Methods of Research of Archaeological Monuments: Use of Modern Methods." Hasanov emphasized the importance of integrating modern technologies into archaeological research.

Sadagat Davudova, deputy chairwoman of the board of directors of the Reserves Management Center under the State Tourism Agency, in her speech on "Legislative Issues in the Protection of Cultural Heritage," dealt with the protection of cultural heritage objects in the reserves under the control of the Center. She outlined the main tasks of the Reserves Management Center, including the protection of tangible cultural and intangible historical heritage in reserve areas, organizing their efficient use for tourism, developing tourism potential through designated routes, promoting historical and cultural heritage, supporting research, and raising public awareness.

Chingiz Nemanzadeh, deputy director of the Austrian company "Atelier" Erich Pummer, discussed the "Management of Cultural Heritage Monuments, Modern Technologies, and Innovations in Their Protection and Training of Personnel." He focused on considerations in minaret restoration and highlighted new technologies in this field, supported by a video clip on minaret restoration technology. He spoke about considerations in minaret restoration and presented new technologies in this field. The presentation included a video clip on minaret restoration technology.

TV presenter and tour guide Fuad Akhundov spoke about inappropriate interventions in the facades of historical buildings in his presentation on "Social Responsibility of the Population in the Protection and Use of Architectural Monuments, State and Private Partnership.".

Following the speeches, there was an exchange of opinions, and proposals were made on the raised issues.

***

The second panel of the Cultural Heritage Forum, conducted on December 19, was dedicated to the theme "Protection of The Historical, Cultural, and Natural Heritage of Azerbaijan in the Post-Conflict Period."

Tural Novruzov, Executive Director of the Administration of Shusha City State Reserve, moderated the panel, which covered discussions on "Historical and Cultural Heritage of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur Before and After the Occupation," "Monitoring of Monuments Located in the Territory of Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur and Related Challenges," "History and Cultural Heritage of Our People in the Territory of Western Azerbaijan," "Ensuring the Protection, Research, and Preservation of the Historical and Cultural Heritage of Our People in the Territory of Western Azerbaijan," and "Issues of Application of International Conventions on the Protection of Cultural Resources."

The session began with a video prepared by the Ministry of Culture on the topic of the panel. Ambassador Elman Abdullayev, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to UNESCO, spoke about the country's relations with the organization, stressing the fundamental role of the visionary activities of national leader Heydar Aliyev. He emphasized the important role of First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva in strengthening Azerbaijan's voice in UNESCO, stressing the need for systematic efforts to convey the country's true voice to the world and expose the vandalism committed by Armenian vandals against Azerbaijan's cultural heritage.

Aytan Seyidova, the Head of the Department at the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, spoke about the rich flora and fauna of Azerbaijan. She She noted that there are six natural monuments in the liberated territories; two of them are nature reserves, and four are protected areas. A considerable part of these areas was destroyed during the Armenian occupation.

Nazim Mustafa, an employee of the ANAS History Institute, emphasized the artificial creation of the "Armenian province" after the Russian occupation of the Iravan and Nakhchivan khanates in 1827. Armenians lived around Armenian churches in 62 villages out of 1111 settlements that existed in this area.

Farhad Guliyev, Acting Director General of the ANAS Institute of Archaeology, Ethnography, and Anthropology, spoke about the acts of vandalism committed by Armenian invaders in Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur, including the destruction of cemeteries.

Parvin Baghirova, Head of the Fundraising and Communication Department of the Karabakh Revival Fund, provided information on the mission and activities of the Foundation, emphasizing the importance of preserving cultural heritage as a crucial aspect of a country's history. When we travel to a country, we first explore its historical and cultural monuments. Therefore, the protection of our material and cultural heritage is of great importance.

Azer Ibrahimov, a photojournalist with the Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC), shared his experience of photographing in Karabakh after the Patriotic War, highlighting the tireless efforts of AZERTAC film crews to document the traces of Armenian vandalism in liberated areas and report them to the international community.

The session ended with an exchange of views and the addressing of questions.

***

The Cultural Heritage Forum organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Ministry of Culture on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Heydar Aliyev at the Gulustan Palace has come to an end. The final panel session on December 19 was devoted to "Cultural Heritage and Modern Architecture: Principles of Urban Planning". The panel, which was moderated by Honorary Architect Ilgar Isbatov, Deputy Chairman of the State Committee on Urban Planning and Architecture, covered such topics as "Development of Modern Azerbaijani Architecture, National Elements and Design", "Principles of Sustainable Urban Planning", "Architecture and Urban Planning in the Liberated Territories. Smart Cities", "Great Return", "Program Implementation: Challenges and Goals", "Modern Cities and Urbanization Issues" and "Urban Planning and Monument Preservation".

Before the speeches, the participants watched a video prepared by the Ministry of Culture on the topic of the panel. Fariz Ismayilzadeh, Executive Vice Rector of ADA University, highlighted the ongoing large-scale restoration and construction efforts in the liberated areas. He mentioned that a survey has been conducted among the students of the educational institution, emphasizing the importance of understanding the opinions of the people who will settle in the newly liberated areas.

Faig Hajiyev, Advisor to the Special Representative of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, provided information on the restoration and reconstruction works carried out in the liberated territories of the Karabakh economic region (with the exception of Shusha district). He said that in accordance with the "First State Program on the Great Return to the Occupied Territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan," the planning and construction of 1 town and 12 villages in Aghdam district, 1 town and 10 villages in Fuzuli district, Hadrut settlement, and Tugh village in Khojavand district are planned to be completed by 2026.

At the same time, there is a focus on restoring our historical and cultural monuments as part of the extensive construction initiatives. Progress is being made in this regard. Muslim Imranli, head of the department of management and protection of historical and cultural heritage at the Administration of Shusha City State Reserve, stressed that the master plan for Shusha city encompasses all existing monuments. He remarked, "Despite prolonged discussions, issues persist regarding the determination of monument protection zones in our country. We anticipate resolution in the coming years."

Rafik Mirzayev, Head of the Urban Development Department of the Azerdovlatlayiha State Design Institute, discussed the global urbanization process. He noted that in our country there are 79 cities, 30 of which have a population of less than 15 thousand, including 4 cities with a population of less than 5 thousand. Currently, 56.4 percent of the population lives in urban areas. That is about 5.5 million people.

At the end the questions of the participants of the event were answered. This was the end of the Cultural Heritage Forum held for the first time in our country.

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