The Kyrgyz Shyrdagy Festival was inaugurally organized in 2010 by felt carpets producers in Kyrgyzstan, after UNESCO inscribed the traditional Kyrgyz felt carpets ala-kiyiz and shyrdak into the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
The festival is held every year in June in the mountainous Naryn region, famous for its felt carpets. The festival is managed by the Craft Council of Kyrgyzstan under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and the Information and Tourism of Kyrgyz Republic with the support of the regional administration and in partnership with the local crafts communities, NGOs, international agencies, and private businesses.
The goals of the festival are to attract social attention to the necessity of safeguarding the art of traditional Kyrgyz felt carpets, to develop the local market of the felt carpets, and to develop event/cultural tourism, especially in remote mountainous areas of Kyrgyzstan.
The art of making felt carpets among Kyrgyz has ancient historical roots dating back to the first century BCE. Felt carpets are an important decorative component in the yurt, the traditional nomadic dwelling of Kyrgyz people, which is used by local residents in everyday life.
The process of making felt carpets is a socializing, unifying factor. It involves all family members and often relatives and neighbors. During the joint work, knowledge and skills are interactively transmitted by the older generation to young people.
In the past, felt carpets were not intended for sale; they were passed down from generation to generation, playing the sacred role in the family as an ancestral memory of the mother. Therefore, the carpet ornamentation was marked individually by the woman-creator—an imagery of the benevolence or the blessing of the mother to her descendants.
Shyrdak felt carpet today is a popular product on the local tourist market and international craft market, providing a significant income for rural women. Being exported to western countries, shyrdak carpets are highly appreciated as handmade eco-friendly products with unique ornamentation.
With about three hundred crafts artisans and participants, the Kyrgyz Shyrdagy Festival has become a national holiday, recognizing the Kyrgyz people’s cultural values. Residents of neighboring villages go to the festival, dressed in traditional festive clothes. At the festival, attention is given to master classes of the carriers of knowledge of ancient felt-making methods and contests are held for felt carpet producers to better carpet preservation.
In the past festivals, seventy craftspeople were awarded with diplomas and monetary prizes from state institutions and private foundations. Twenty-five awarded shyrdaks were gifted by organizers to five leading museums in Kyrgyzstan. In 2018, within the framework of the festival, it is planned to hold an international conference on preserving traditional crafts with the participation of the National Commission for UNESCO, museum representatives, and tourism and craft organizations.
The Kyrgyz Shyrdagy Festival is currently a meeting point for artisans, traders, representatives of travel companies, scientists, and aficionados of felt carpets from Kyrgyzstan and other countries. It promotes the development of the craft market in Kyrgyzstan and other regions, consequently improving the living standards and social status of artisans. The festival also demonstrates the inseparability of cultural ties between generations, stimulating young people to study, preserve, and develop traditional crafts and drawing the attention to preserving Kyrgyz ICH.
ICH Correspondent Dinara Chochunbaeva Director, Central Asian Crafts Support Association Resource Centre in Kyrgyzstan