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Preserving cultural heritage is everyone’s duty

Preserving  cultural heritage is everyone’s duty
“If we destroy all this, the beautiful city which has different layers of history will become just a city without a soul and heart”

The Fantasy festival was held in Azerbaijan with support of the  European Union Representation in Azerbaijan.  The purpose of the 10 days  festival is the preservation of the cultural heritage of Baku. The name of the festival is taken from the Fantasy bathhouse, built in Baku at the end of the 19th century, and being a model of architecture uniting the Eastern and Western styles. The festival will include exhibitions, concerts, tours of Icheri Shahar and the territory called Soviet, seminars, film demonstrations, and competitions.
 
-The Fantasy festival was held for the first time in Azerbaijan. The festival attained  great interest . What was the purpose of holding  the festival ?
 
-As you know 2018 is the year of cultural heritage therefore there are cultural events of this type in countries of the EU, the member states. So in some third countries the idea was to have small, isolated events on the cultural heritage, but in Azerbaijan we are probably the only country that is not in the EU where we hold such a festival. Frankly speaking the idea came after meeting with several artists, several people from Baku who had a special sensibility about the future of the city and how the landscape of the city is changing. After listening to several photographers, artists, after visiting "Sovetski”, after visiting Fantasia Hamam and all this neighborhood, after visiting "Kubinka” and "Sabuncu” which are my favorite districts in Baku. I thought that there is a story to them. And I think that many people wanted a platform to discuss this. After many brainstorming meetings we had with several local partners, people from radio and TV, photographers, people living in Icerishahar, in old houses, people from different universities we came to the final conclusion that we need much more than one isolated event, we need a whole festival. That's why we came to the idea of fantasia.

-The program included a visit to the ancient part of Baku - Ichari Shahar. What was the guests’ impression ?

The impression is that Baku is a city that has undergone tremendous changes in the last years, because of the economic development of Azerbaijan and a lot of people came to Baku in search of a better housing, better working, better conditions, better way of life. Therefore the city had to grow very quickly and sometimes this growth was detrimental to cultural and historical heritage of a very multicultural and historically very rich city as Baku. As in all cities, not only in Baku when there is rapid growth this means speculation in real estate. This means that there are many risks for mistakes in the way housing permits are given and we can see in their eyes the number of high rise buildings in areas where probably they should not be. Additional floors added to old buildings are violating the esthetic view of the building. However we have to say that this rapid growth of Azerbaijan and Baku carried also positive events. For instance many buildings have been renovated and we had the pleasure to have one event in one of them- the residence of  Magsud Ibrahimbeyov in Icharishahar which was restored in every detail by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. And I think this is a very good example of how preserving the cultural heritage and giving an important use after preservation to this building can bring benefits to the city and the citizens. So I think Baku as every European city has some good practices and  bad practices. So it's important we exchange notes, we can learn from Baku and Baku probably can learn from our mistakes.

-Today Baku is a European city. At the same time, we are trying to preserve the ancient spirit of Baku. Generally speaking how can we  protect architecture of the ancient city as a whole?

-I will tell you one important point that people sometimes tend to forget. First of all preserving the heritage is the matter for everybody, for all citizens. This is the most important thing that people believe this is just for the municipality or the state. No. Also the have a role municipality, the state authorities, different other authorities, they of course have a role but it’s also our duty. Because you see in the Old City during the years they added balconies that are completely illegal, they have built additional floors. This is not the state, this is not the municipality, it’s people who did that. So and obviously the municipality now can say "You know what? You violated the law, it’s not nice, it aesthetically destroys the building. You should not do that.”Because Icharishahar is UNESCO heritage therefore these things are not allowed. Everbody will go and turn against the state saying "the  state should not do that” etc.  etc. It’s the citizens  who’ve violated this.  So I think the first thing to do is everbody understands that this is the duty of each one of us.Preserving the heritage is the duty of each one of us.We should preserve because it keeps our collective memory alive otherwise if we destroy all this , this beautiful city which has different layers of history , each period left its own presence in Baku , then the city will become just a city without a soul and without a heart. It will become just a sea of glass buildings without any soul.
     
An event outside Baku...

-I saw the photo posted on your Facebook page that you are looking for a place to hold the next Fantasy Festival. What city can be a new place for the festival?

-We have discussed this also with the minister of culture, the authorities here because we believe that there is too much concentration of all activities in Baku which is of course very good but Azerbaijan is more than Baku. There are a lot cultural heritage  monuments, buildings outside of Baku that deserve also some attention.Attention is not adequate for this so I think it’s important that every year we have of course activities in Baku but we also try to pick some activities outside of Baku so that we raise awareness also outside Baku because I think they deserve it.
 
-You freqeuntly visit regions of Azerbaijan. Recently, you have visited Lerik and Lankaran regions and participated in "Tea, paddy, and citrus fruits festival” in Lankaran. Considering that, it was your first visit to Lankaran, what was your first  impression ?

-Lankaran is a very interesting city.We had the Europe Day celebration in 2017 in Lankaran. And I can tell you that it was very very moving and  impressive because the way we do it is a very interactive way and I was left with the best impressions of  Lankaran.And I think our goal is in the future to create some kind of network of people,students,businessmen but also other people who have an interest on the EU.And  the idea would be that every year we have certain events in each of the big cities of Azerbaijan. Because I think this is important that these people also have some kind of access to all these cultural activities that we have.Obviously we have a lot of activities in Baku which is very good because we have good public .I think many people see the  EU  as the provider of culture that is very important. But we need to do that in the reaches as well.We slowly do that .We have started with Ganja, Lankaran, Shaki, Nakhchivan .Next year we have plans to cover  more areas but also the idea is to cover all big cities with at least one event every year.
 
-To what extent Azerbaijan is interesting for the European Union  as a region and partner ?

-I believe the most important area where we have to work together is to increase the people to people contacts. Because in the political, trade area I think our relations are progressing but I think in the people to people contacts we have to work together to increase the resume. Because according to the strategy the state tourism agency priority markets are the Gulf countries, Turkey and the CIS but not the European Union and I think we need to probably change that because I think European tourists will not bring only just additional tourists but they will bring good tourists very eager to know more about culture in Azerbaijan and they will be at the end of the day Azerbaijani ambassadors in Europe. I don’t know of tourists from Europe who came here and go unsatisfied. All of them are very happy and all of them are very impressed by Azerbaijan. So the more European tourists we have I think the better promotion we have for Azerbaijan and this is the best promotion for Azerbaijan to attract more and more people from Europe. I think it’s like participating to the best tourism fairs in the world. Because you have a very good tourism product .Obviously there are things that can be improved as everything. We are also here to help you with this. But it will be important that the strategy of the state tourism agency adapts in a way so that Europe can also be one the target markets for attracting tourists.

-  What are plans of the EU for next year?

-I can tell you that after we finish fantasia we immediately  start preparing next year’s activities. Next year we have 10 years of eastern partnership so we will have certain events dedicated to this. And also next year we will have European elections .They are very important elections because this will be in also that the European Parliament and new European Commission.  Next year also hopefully will be the year when we will sign the new agreement by latter agreement with Azerbaijan. So if this happens this is also an important opportunity for us to discuss about that. We are  preparing certain events for these big things .We will have obviously our Tolerance Festival .In May we will have Fantasia Festival. In November we have a film festival. And then we will have certain dedicated activities to these big events that I told you. Possibly the new agreement and explaining to people what this will mean for them and the Eastern Partnership and a debate on the future of Europe .So we will have certain dedicated events t. We have already began working on them. We want to give not only political sense in this but to discuss with civil society and artists about the future of Europe. So I think it’s going to be very interesting.
 
-Wish you success in your future activity. Thank you for the interview. 
 
Tarana Maharramova
 
 

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