Nouruz in Berlin

On 24 March 2011 Persians and Turks, Sunnites and Shiites met to celebrate together in Berlin.
Ein Beitrag von Sophie Roche und Dina Wilkowsky (Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin)

Nouruz is an ancient feast marking the beginning of spring. It is celebrated throughout Central Asia as well among Persian as among Turkic speaking populations. The day has been fixed at 21 March however the feast stretches over several days. Like every feast it is accompanied by numerous rituals and dishes. In 2010 the UNESCO declared the Nouruz feast immaterial world heritage and thus elevated it to internationally prestigious event.

On Thursday 24 March 2011, for the first time on German ground, embassies of eight Central Asian countries organized together a celebration of Nouruz. The event was an occasion for the ambassadors (who were all personally present) and the more than 800 guests to meet. Having the occasion to participate we could observe how culture became the theatre for a political interplay leaving big questions such as religion, ecology, and politics officially aside. Although the phenomenon may not be new, it was a historical event for the regions of Central Asia.

Present were Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. The initiative was taken by the Kazakh embassy apparently meeting the interest by all the above mentioned countries to find ways of meeting outside western observance. Many of the states had celebrated Nouruz before with some of the participants such as the (Persian speaking) Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan but the dimension of this event exceeded these previous celebrations and was a splendid effort to unite most various political systems, Turkic and Persian speakers, Sunnites and Shiites, and economically extremely different countries. Each country presented itself with a short concert showing a range of various musical traditions, tastes and styles. Whereas Afghans and Iranians performed traditional music out of the large repertoire of Persian music, the Azerbaijanis flew in the state dancing group. Kazakhs offered an impressing concert with pre-Islamic shamanic elements and Kyrgyz surprised with a young wunderkind violin player performing the highest of classics of European music such as Paganini. The Tajik took recourse to a Soviet-traditional stage-music presentation by a female Tajik artist from Moscow and the Turkmen to a contemporary national creation. The Turkic embassy eventually presented musicians from the conservatorium in Berlin. This variation demonstrates best culture in making and traditions in the flow of time.

Certainly the recognition of Nouruz by the UNESCO helped to elevate this feast beyond a purely cultural local and national event offering itself to the creation of political links through common traditions. By officially denying Nouruz much political relevance, it could become a politically used cultural event creating what the moderator has called a culture of peace among very distinct political systems in a world in which minor differences can become deadly impasses. Without having western or other external political representatives to host or finance the event it remained in the hand of those who celebrated it which made all parties to be treated very equally.

Although Uzbekistan did not participate and we may have preservation about the politics of many of those countries (a demonstration took part outside the building against Iran) it was nevertheless an important step for all those countries in finding a common denominator beyond ethnic, political, or religious divisions on a common cultural ground and without having the west or any other external force to dominate the agenda.

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