Chovqan, a traditional Karabakh horse-riding game in the Republic of Azerbaijan
Inscribed in 2013 (8.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- The winner Agstafa team enjoying their victory
Chovqan is a traditional horse-riding game played on a flat, grassy field by two competing teams of players mounted on Karabakh horses. Each team has five riders, with two fullbacks and three forwards. The game starts at the centre of the field and players use wooden mallets to try to drive a small leather or wooden ball into their opponents’ goal. The game is interspersed with instrumental folk music called janghi. Chovqan players and trainers are all local male farmers and skilled riders. They traditionally wear large astrakhan hats, long tight-fitting coats with a high waist, and special trousers, socks and shoes. People of all ages come to watch this traditional game and to support their teams. Chovqan strengthens feelings of identity rooted in nomadic culture and linked to the perception of the horse as an integral part of everyday life. The specific rules, skills and techniques of Chovqan are transmitted from experienced players to beginners through collective training. The practice and transmission of Chovqan have weakened, however, due to a loss of interest among the youth, combined with urbanization and migration, leading to a shortage of players, trainers and Karabakh horses.
Decision 8.COM 7.a.1
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:
- U1: The knowledge and skills related to Chovqan are transmitted from generation to generation and from more experienced players to younger ones; Chovqan is part of the everyday life of the community and provides its practitioners with a feeling of identity and belonging;
- U2: The viability of the element is at risk because of a decrease in the number of Chovqan practitioners and trainers, reduced interest of young people in the traditional practice, and the growing scarcity of the Karabakh breed of horses; these factors are aggravated by more general threats such as urbanization and migration and the reduction of pasture areas;
- U3: The participation of practitioners, non-governmental organizations and the State in past and current safeguarding efforts is demonstrated and the well-formulated safeguarding measures are planned with the participation of its practitioners and provide evidence of the State Party’s commitment to the safeguarding of the element;
- U4: The nomination was elaborated with full participation of Chovqan practitioners, trainers, experts and two civil society organizations; evidence of free, prior and informed consent is provided;
- U5: Chovqan was included in 2010 in the Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Azerbaijan, established by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and updated and monitored by the Documentation and Inventory Board;
Notes that the nomination concentrates mainly on the practice of the horse game as a sport and encourages the State Party to give full consideration to the social, cultural and symbolic role of Chovqan today, as well as the music, crafts and other expressions that are associated with it;
Further encourages the State Party to take care when designing, planning and implementing safeguarding measures to involve all communities concerned with the practice of Chovqan today, including the craftspeople, musicians, breeders and horse trainers and, as appropriate, associations representing the public in order to ensure the long-term viability of the element.
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website