Photo credit: Roziq Kholikov. - Photo: 2019

The ‘Roof of the World’ Festival Keeps Tajikistan’s Traditional Culture Alive

By Alisher Kukanbekov

KHOROG, Tajikistan (IDN) – In this mountainous Gorno Badakhshan region with around a third of the population estimated to be unemployed, the exodus of the people for greener pastures abroad has gathered momentum in the past decade. To protect the colourful traditional culture from disappearing along with its population, the ‘Roof Top of the World” annual cultural festival was launched 12 years ago.

It now has the added objectives of attracting both its expat population to come back for a summer cultural break as well as to attract tourist to the region.

Many people here have been leaving abroad and permanently stay there, which could result in people slowly forgetting their cultural heritage. But many come back during the summer to visit their families and relatives, especially many students who study abroad and can only afford to travel home during the summer. The festival has become a reminder to these people who visit during the summer, to remember their cultural heritage and traditions.

“Canada, in a completely different society from mine, with different cultures and traditions,” says Zuhal, who studies in Canada and has come home for the summer break. “Our culture and traditions are what makes who we are. As a student the only time that I can afford to come back home is during the summer, luckily the Roof of the World festival takes place when I am back in Khorog”.

She feels happy to come back home and enjoy the traditional culture she grew up with. “It has been part of my life” she adds. “I’m happy to be back home I really get to see the beauty of my culture and the importance it has in my life. I cannot wait again for next year’s festival.”

 The ‘Roof of the World’ festival an annual celebration of culture and traditions was created as a small-scale celebration in Khorog in 2008. It has expanded to become a regional expression of traditional Pamiri and other cultural customs and values. Dancers, singers, artists and craftspeople from the Pamirs and from other nations come together during the festival that attracts thousands of visitors each summer.

“Throughout the festival days, we expect to see over 15,000 musicians and artistes from Tajikistan and other countries of the world,” the director of the festival and a prominent national singer Samandar Pulodov told IDN.

This year, from July 26 to July 28, Khorog the administrative center of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) held its 12th annual international festival “Roof of the World”.

The festival not only brought together singers and dancers from the Pamirs, and different regions from across Tajikistan, but also from other countries. “(The festival) reflects cultural diversity and strengthen mutual understanding through the art for promoting peaceful coexistence and universal human values,” adds Pulodov.

The original aim of the festival was to give a chance to local artists and craftspeople to showcase their works to a large audience during the day, and singers and dancers to perform at night to create a colorful setting among the mountains.

This year the event became even more special and memorable with a great concert from famous local singers such as Khayom Khayolbekov and Madina Aqnazarova. The last magical touch was from the famous pop-rock group “Burn the Ballroom”.

After 12 years the festival not only celebrates and showcases the Pamiri culture but there are also participants from neighboring countries such as India, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Latvia the only European country and the United States of America were also participating in the festival.

There are locals who feel as if the festival is no more geared as a reminder of the importance for preserving the Pamiri culture and showcasing it to the rest of the world. Instead are the organizers getting swayed by the attraction of the tourist dollar?

The director Pulodov states, “one of the objectives of the festival is the development of tourism potential in Tajikistan and improvement of the living standards of the local population”.

Pamir’s Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) claims that from the July 26-28 during the festival, a total of 58 tourists were registered. They also point out that they usually receive that number of tourists in 15 to 20 days during the tourist season.

But, operator of one of the prominent shops De Pamiri, which is situated in the Central Park, the venue of the festival, and sells traditional souvenirs, told IDN that they have not had any increases in their total sales during the festival.

“The truth is the festival [Roof of the World] did not have any impact on our aggregare sales. We sold the usual amount as we do every other day and we more or else had the same number of tourists that we get every day (during season), says Saidsho Saidov finance manager of De Pamiri.

Interestingly, he points out that by opening the festival to foreign participants, it has defeated the festival’s original purpose of helping local artistes and arts. “The reason that we did not see any changes, is because people bought the traditional souvenirs that were displayed by other countries such as Uzbekistan, for which they only get a onetime chance to buy,” noted Saidov.

However, most of the hotels that were situated near the hosting ground of the festival were fully booked for its duration. The festival has become a large event over the past 12 years. It is hosting more countries with more visitors than ever before. However, if it is having any impact on the tourism industry in the region is yet to be determined.

Director Pulodov says that the festival has attracted funding from international sponsors such as the Swiss Cooperation Office in Tajikistan, Swiss Embassy in Uzbekistan, Aga Khan Foundation, Tcell Company, University of Central Asia, “Bactria” Cultural Center as well as the Embassy of the United States of America in Tajikistan and the Aga-Khan Music Initiative. “This international interest in our festival makes it economically viable and we hope to expand on the international collaborations in the future” he reflected.

* The writer is a media studies student of the University of Central Asia, who is doing a summer internship with IDN-INPS as the correspondent for Tajikistan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 August 2019]

Photo credit: Roziq Kholikov.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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