By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The Azerbaijani Embassy in Mexico hosted a daylong celebration of the festival of Nowrūz, an ancient spring holiday, at Mexico City’s Lincoln Park on Saturday, March 19.
The open-air celebration, which was hosted by Azerbaijani Ambassador to Mexico Mammad Talibov, his wife Kamala Talibova and their daughter Faray Talibli, included a performance of traditional Azeri dances by the Nur Said Silk Road Ballet Troupe, as well as displays of Azerbaijani art and handcrafts, and a sampling of Caucasian cuisine.
Nowrūz, which traditionally falls on the vernal equinox, is believed to be one of the oldest holidays in the world, allegedly having been established by the prophet Zoroaster during the sixth century B.C.
The Nowrūz holiday was added to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009, and in 2010, the UN General Assembly declared it an international holiday.
“Although Nowrūz is a very important Azerbaijani holiday, it is also celebrated across the Caucasus region and in parts of Central and South Asia,” Talibov explained.
In Azerbaijan the holiday has evolved into a family celebration linked with the start of spring, and observance of the holiday begins four weeks prior to the equinox, with each week focusing on a different aspect of the earth’s annual rebirth: water, fire, air and soil, he said.
Also in Azerbaijan, Nowrūz includes the dying of hardboiled eggs and subsequent egg-breaking competitions.
Special pastries and foods are prepared and a large metal tray with fruits, sweets and nuts plus a clump of fresh grass is set in the middle of each dining table.
As a tribute to fire-worshipping (Azerbaijan has long been known as the “Land of Fire” because of the phenomena of “burning hillsides” caused by natural gas seeping from open fissures in the earth’s surface), every Tuesday during the four weeks prior to the holiday, small bonfires and candles are lit and young men jump over the flames.
On the last Tuesday before Nowrūz, Azerbaijani children slip around to their neighbors’ homes and apartments, knock at their doors and leave their caps or little basket on the thresholds in hopes that they will be filled with candies, pastries and nuts.
This year, Nowrūz also takes on a special meaning in Azerbaijan, Talibov said, because the country’s cultural capital, Shusha, is celebrating its 270th anniversary.
“Consequently, 2022 has been declared the Year of Shusha by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev” he said.
Often referred to as the “Conservatory of the Caucasus,” the city gave birth to many of Azerbaijan’s most important artists, musicians and poets, including Uzeyir Hajibeyov, the first composer of an opera in the Islamic world.
During the Armenian occupation of part of Azerbaijan from 1994 to 2020, much of Shusha, which is located within the then-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of the country, fell into disarray.
But with the region’s liberation a year and a half ago, Aliyev has made the rebuilding of all the towns and villages damaged during the war with Armenia a top priority, and has said that Azerbaijan is determined to make Shusha again the cultural center of the Caucasus.