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Friday, 3 June 2005
Turkmenistan marks Carpet Day
Topic: Turkmen Traditions
ASGHABAT, May 29 - Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, marks Carpet Day on Sunday. This national holiday was established before the country declared independence in 1991 and is celebrated on the last Sunday of May.

A performance involving pop stars and dance ensembles will be held near the National Carpet Museum in downtown Ashkhabad on this day. A colorful oriental bazaar will offer various carpets and other traditional Turkmen goods.

The show is organized by the Turkmen Carpet state-run corporation comprising 16 enterprises. Their carpets won many prestigious awards at international fairs in Paris, Montreal, Leipzig, Brussels, etc.

Many carpets have ornaments featuring the Turkmen national flag and coat of arms as a symbol of people's unity.

Famous Italian traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324) wrote that Turkmenistan boasted the thinnest and most beautiful carpets in the world. Renaissance artists later used to depict these carpets on their paintings.

Turkmen carpets were mentioned in Avesta (Zoroastrian archives), works by ancient Greek and Chinese historians, ancient Indian epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, The Shah Nameh by Persian poet Firdousi, The Thousand and One Nights, a series of stories in Arabic, etc.

Russian Emperor Alexander II had a Turkmen prayer carpet with images of Mecca and Medina.

Many world museums and private collectors have Turkmen carpets, however, Ashkhabad has the unique Carpet Museum.

The Soul of Turkmenistan huge carpet (193.5 square meters) created in 1941-1942 is one of the museum's main relics.

Another giant carpet, Turkmenbashi (the Turkmen President), was created in 1996 and displayed in the National Museum of Turkmenistan. Its weight is 550 kilograms and total area - 266 square meters. The third giant carpet, President (294 square meters), weighing 1,000 kilograms was made in 1998. It decorates the magnificent Rukhyet Palace.

The fourth carpet, The Golden Epoch of Great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi (301 square meters), weighing 1,200 kilograms was created in 2001. It was included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest handmade carpet.

Source: RIA Novosti

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 1:57 PM
Updated: Friday, 3 June 2005 2:00 PM
Thursday, 2 June 2005
Bright faces of spring
Topic: Turkmen Traditions
Winter is neither long nor cold in Turkmenistan. Nevertheless, the southerner’s soul that used to enjoy the sunlight yearns for the first March heat to replace the gloomy, unfriendly winter sky!

Blossoming fruit trees are the first signal of the season change. It signals the arrival of one of the main holidays - Nowruz Bayramy. Marked annually on March 20-22 within the framework of National spring holiday, it takes a worthy place in the state Turkmen calendar of dates and events.

Nowruz Bayramy is the traditional holiday of peoples of practically all Muslim countries. Yet, if to get into details, this holiday is older than the Muslim religion as such. The day of spring equinox was regarded as the new year’s first day starting from the time of ancient Mesopotamia. The first day of spring and awakening of the nature was also marked in Zoroastrism, which was widely professed before Islam in the territories inhabited by Turkmen. Thus, it can be stated with confidence that Turkmen celebrated Nowruz even in the pre-Islamic times.

Nowruz, marking renewal of the nature and arrival of sunny days, was a symbol of worshipping a magic cult of fertility and prosperity. Nowruz-related traditions and ceremonies reflect all spheres of life of the people. People observe them with a view to ensure well-being of their families, neighbors and avert all misery and misfortunes. A ceremony of cooking the ritual meal, the grown cereal grains as a symbol of fertility in cult religion, was on of the basic strictly observed traditions among other ceremonies. A house is being cleaned up in the run up to the holiday. A bounteous feast with numerous guests is the major part of the holiday. According to legends, abundance and variety of meal on the table will ensure plenty of food for a family in the new year.

Some omens associated with the ancient spring holiday are still popular with Turkmen. For example:

If it is cloudy on Nowruz, such weather will hold on till June.

If it is snowing or raining on Nowruz, the year will be plenteous.

The fruits crop will be heavy, if fruit trees bleed on Nowruz.

The grain crop will be bounteous, if weather is cold on Nowruz.

Young people mark the arrival of spring with traditional outdoor games and competitions. The first horse races and dog fights are held during Nowruz celebrations. The modern life of the Turkmen state has added new colors to the bright palette of the ancient spring holiday. Today, Nowruz Bayramy coincides with the celebration of Woman’s Day, day of Mother, in Turkmenistan. The deep ancient symbolism of renewal and continuation of life has never better embodied the recognition of women's role in the life of society.

Ahmetjan NURIEV, Culturologist
Turkmenistan Analytical Magazine, March 2005

Posted by countryturkmenistan at 9:29 AM
Monday, 30 May 2005
Some elaborate dishes of Turkmen national cuisine
Topic: Turkmen Traditions
One can talk about dishes of Turkmen cuisine for a long time and with pleasure. It is important not to indulge in doing so on an empty stomach, otherwise there is a danger to choke by slaver.

It’s not by chance that the oriental hospitality has turned into a legend, and the Turkmen one is not an exception. Any guest is welcomed kingly, and, while treating him, they will lay the richest table. There is also a notion of guest of honour in the everyday vocabulary. He may be a respectable yashuli, an elder, or a popular musician, bakhshi, whose attendance promises a magic evening in the waves of enchanting sounds of dutar, a two-string instrument. He may be a guest from the remote country who visits a Turkmen family for the first time, or just an old friend with whom one wasn’t in touch with for a long time. The guest of honour is served a special dish called “kelle-bashayak”, or sheep’s head.

Most of people I know, who turned up in the festive Turkmen repast for the first time, unwillingly felt uneasy when they saw a sheep’s head fragrantly flavored on the dish. The rituality of the situation makes it impossible to refuse it, for one can offend the host gravely. At the same time it poses the problem of how to deal with such an exotic delicatessen. It goes without saying that for the traditional European cuisine an animal’s head on the dish is quite unusual. And even if one overcomes all doubts regarding the palatability of skull looking at you with low-expressive glance, the genetic memory is still unable to suggest a slightest idea of how to start and what can be eaten.

From my long experience of enjoying the dainty I would definitely say that all of it can (and need to) be eaten. I do it every time I visit an old friend of mine. I would lie, though, if I told you that I was always entertained with sheep’s head. This food is not for every day. It requires much time to cook. They eat it piping hot leaving no remnants. (It would be an absolute absurd to assume that sheep&'s head can be put to fridge for tomorrow and eaten again after warming over).

Both hosts and guests should get ready to the ritual meal beforehand. The guest foretastes the forthcoming feast and eats nothing to maintain the appetite strong. The hosts’ concerns are much greater. The whole process of preparing “kelle-bashayak” takes five to six hours. By the way,ankly speaking, it is accuracy and duration of cooking this meal that make it possible to call it a dish for the guest of honour. In this situation, the host’s respect for the guest is shown not by the richness of the table, but by the diligence and patience in the process of its preparation.

Patience is a separate issue. As a rule, Turkmen men have always boasted the best skills in preparing food. During any crowded repast outside the house in the area where big cauldrons are boiling up and braziers are blazing from saxaul wood, an experienced cook rules. It is a restricted are for women. The best cooks enjoy the popular love. To invite such a cook to family feast is considered a good luck.

However, in contrast to most of holiday dishes, “kelle-bashayak” is best cooked by women. Probably, it is the result of the women’s natural ability to be patient. I would like to remind you that preparing a sheep’s head is a long story.

My friend’s wife, Mengli, is a busy woman. She heads the local administration of a small village on the suburb of Ashgabat. Moreover, she doesn’t like seeing someone pestering her eyes when she works in the kitchen. For the sake of the special occasion, we were lucky to persuade her to demonstrate her own way of preparing “kelle-bashayak”. Her grief was not long when she learned that her recipe would be published.

- If you want, you may write, she said. The main secret, however, is not only in how to cook and what procedure to follow. It is also important what to say and think of while doing it. Here, every hostess has her own method.

The most tedious part of preparatory work is cleaning the head. One should singe all hair by blow lamp, remove all soot and remaining hair by knife to make the skin soft and resilient. Ankle-bones of sheep legs, the indispensable ingredient of the dish, are subject to the same labor-intensive process. If everything is done hastily, one would likely spoil the food.

“Kelle-bashayak” should be prepared on the small fire for at least four hours. The saucepan must be deep and capacious so that the bouillon covers sheep’s head. Flavoring may be diverse but fresh tomatoes, onions and pepper are obligatory. Salt is added in the end of the long process.

Mengli’s know-how is making use of offal. Cleaning the sheep’s belly is a matter long and labor-intensive process. The final result is worth wasting so much time and efforts. She places both head and legs in the offal, sews it and puts the future dainty into the saucepan. In the process of work she hums all the time and whispers something. It is the realization of all those secrets that cannot be described in the recipe.

From now on, one would wait, taking off the scum and adding flavors. The condition of bouillon is definitely the indication its readiness. By the moment of readiness it looks like hot jelly (it is similar to Russian galantine, Armenian hash).

First, the guests are served the hot nourishing bouillon. While they melt from the pleasure of swallowing the hot broth in combination with the hot loaves of chorek, the head sewn in the offal must cool down a bit, otherwise you can burn the oral cavity. This anticipation is not tiring.

As soon as the plate with red and orange bouillon is empty, an obscure roll from offal is put on the table. The host cuts the thoroughly cooked offal with his sharp knife and distributes its pieces among the guests. There is no time to be carried away with the delicious preamble as the main “hero of occasion”, sheep’s head, appears out of the cut “roll”. The host easily cuts the pieces of meat off the bones by the same sharp knife.

For the one who is not used to seeing such exotic dishes would be advisable not to pay attention to the visual acceptability but to focus on how it tastes. The delicate well-cooked pieces melt in the mouth. Tongue is the most delicate part. It can be swallowed in the literary and figurative meaning of the word.

The look of the bald sheep skull cannot cause unfriendly associations any longer, since the state of fullness and hiccupping bliss come by this moment and the final part of meal, sheep brains, is perceived as a light dessert. Time has added its nuances to the centuries old process of eating the dish prepared for the guest of honour that, in my opinion, do not spoil traditions. I mean a weeping small glass of a crystal clear forty-degree alcohol international drink.

And now, one can relax, lean back on cushions scattered around dastarkhan, reflecting on what mysterious wonderful words said Mengli and what she thought about creating this culinary wonderwork.



Posted by countryturkmenistan at 12:47 PM
Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2005 3:58 PM

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