Since ancient times, Central Asia has been populated by numerous nomadic and sedentary peoples and ethnic groups. The region is characterized by a rich cultural diversity as well as the interaction and interpenetration of different cultures, each of which is original.
Craftsmen, being carriers of traditional culture, from ancient times contributed not only to cultural exchange but also to the development of market relations in the region. This tradition continues successfully today, as exemplified by the Oimo International Festival of Traditional Culture and Crafts (Oimo, for short), which has been held in Kyrgyzstan since 2006.
The festival demonstrates a dialogue between a dynamic nomadic world and the ancient Central Asian cities as cultural centers, a meeting of written and oral tangible and intangible cultures. At present, the idea of cultural partnership and dialogue among representatives of different countries and peoples has acquired special significance as a stabilizing factor in the world, including the Central Asian region.
Oimo is held by public funds through the Resource Center in Kyrgyzstan of Central Asia Crafts Support Association (CACSARC-kg) in partnership with the Craft Council of Kyrgyzstan and other public organizations interested in developing culture and tourism. Every year, the festival starts in the capital of Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek) on the last Thursday of July and lasts until the first week of August, during the peak tourist season in Cholpon-Ata on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.
The event is held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism of the Kyrgyz Republic with the support of the Bishkek and Cholpon-Ata cities’ administrations.
The festival objectives are as follows:
- Preserve Central Asian peoples’ intangible cultural heritage: crafts, clothing, cuisine, traditions, and customs
- Promote the idea of a dialogue of cultures, peace, and mutual understanding among the people of the region
- Develop and expand the handicraft market in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia
- Develop cultural and craft tourism in Kyrgyzstan
- Promote Kyrgyzstan as a country of ecological and cultural tourism
- Form a positive image of Kyrgyzstan internationally
The festival participants are artisans, designers, musicians, singers, epic narrators, and other carriers of intangible cultural heritage of Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia, and other countries.
The festival attracts all kinds of visitors—urban and rural residents, tourists, collectors, representatives of businesses and culture organizations, and youth.
The festival traditionally opens with a solemn parade of craftsmen and guests of the festival, who wear national costumes. The parade moves along the central Chui Prospect of Bishkek to the venue of the festival in central Bishkek in Kurmanjan Datky Square.
More than 150 artisans from different countries display their products on the shelves of the craft fair, which is set up with a spread of tents reminiscent of the traditions during the Great Silk Road period.
In the festival program, various workshops take place: handicraft master classes for children and adults; demonstrations of traditions, customs, and folk games within the program framework, “Heritage of Ancestors;” and the tasting of traditional Central Asian dishes. In addition, exhibitions, competitions, art, and environmental actions are included. On stage, designers demonstrate their models in an “ethno” style, and artists and amateur groups of the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan perform.
At the conferences and roundtables, participants and international experts discuss issues related to the current state of culture in Kyrgyzstan and the region. Topics include the preservation of intangible cultural heritage, intellectual property rights, regional cooperation in developing the craft market, and cultural tourism.
Over the past twelve years, representatives of Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries as well as Afghanistan, Turkey, China, India, Russia, the United States, Mexico, Iran, Mongolia, Sweden, and Great Britain have taken part in Oimo. The festival has become a significant and attractive event in the cultural life of the region. Many Central Asia travel companies include it on the calendar of regional events, and this attracts an additional flow of tourists to Kyrgyzstan.
Oimo participants, the number of which is growing every year, come to the festival with family members, replenishing the tourist flow and, thus, contribute to the growth of the local population’s incomes.
Oimo, which carries the idea of cultural and economic cooperation, peace, and tolerance, contributes not only to developing the cultural and ecological tourism industry in the region but also to the stabilizing the situation in the country and forming a positive image of Kyrgyzstan in the international arena.