‘Connecting Thread of Creativity…’ – How the Russia – Azerbaijan International Conference Exhibition Was

27 April


Tatarstan and Azerbaijan are two brotherly republics whose historical, political, economic and humanitarian ties have been lasting for decades, becoming stronger every year. And in this close interaction a special role is played by cultural acquaintance and interpenetration, which gives birth to something new and unusual.


Leather Mosaic and Itchigi


Thus, during the Connecting Thread of Creativity, Transferring Experience to Future Generations exhibition of Russian and Azerbaijani folk crafts, which was held within the framework of the Russia – Azerbaijan international conference, the event participants had a unique opportunity to get acquainted with the traditional attire of Tatar women, see carefully reconstructed izyu and khasite carefully and in every detail reconstructed by local craftsmen and immerse into the history of Tatar national costume. The guests of Kazan were especially fascinated by itchigi and leather slippers made using unique leather mosaic technique, which is peculiar only to the Tatar people.


If we refer to history, we will find out that the tradition of making patterned leather shoes is unique, inherent exclusively in Tatar culture and has long been famous throughout Russia. Well-known Tatar embroidered boots – itchigi – can be seen not only on stage, but also in everyday life. The fashion to wear leather products with national ornaments is becoming popular again. After all, this kind of shoes, in addition to their main purpose, can lift the spirit of those who are tired of gray monotony and routine of life, and inspire to study their rich and centuries-old history.


For centuries, itchigis have been made by hand in tandem with the warmth of a craftsman’s heart. Nothing has changed now, except for one thing – there are far fewer masters of this craft.


There is a supposition that the word ‘chitek’ (itchigi) is a shortened derivative of the word ‘chigelgәn itek’ (embroidered boots’). A modern Russian variant of ‘itchigi’ (itchetygi), derived from ‘echke ittek’ – boots on which the outer shoes are put on, also supports this view. Itchigi were especially appreciated by our grandfathers and grandmothers, who observed the rites of the Islamic religion. Such shoes were indispensable when visiting a mosque and praying, because under certain conditions they relieved of the need to wash their feet during the ritual ablutions before each prayer. This is permissible under the Shariah.


Ancestors of the Tatars, the Volga Bulgars, were acknowledged masters of artistic leather craftsmanship and manufacture of quality clothing and footwear made from soft types of leather, called yuft and saffian leather. Embroidered national itchigi and clogs were highly valued in the world market in the century before last. For instance, Tatar itchigi were awarded a big gold medal in Paris in 1883. And in 1920, in the French capital, ethnographic products from different countries were presented. French aesthetes admired green and red embroidered itchigi. The national footwear was awarded a prize.



Music, Carpets and Gold


The Azerbaijani side, in their turn, was presented by women’s traditional bedspreads, household items made of ceramics and plenty of specific spices and well-known Azerbaijani tea.


The history of the Azerbaijani people is deeply rooted in antiquity. Their rich cultural heritage included not only their folk traditions, but also a lot of crafts – carpet weaving, artistic processing of stone and bones, as well as goldwork created by gold folksmiths have long been well-known here.


As far as Azerbaijani culture is concerned, it is worth mentioning such traditions as festivals and folk rituals. First of all, these are wedding customs. In many ways, traditional weddings are similar to those practiced by other Caucasian peoples. Not only customary but also preliminary matchmaking, during which parties make an initial agreement on their future union, is common here.


In many ways, Azerbaijani wedding resembles classical Islamic rituals. The bride’s face is covered with a shawl or thin veil, and the wedding fast is held in both the groom’s and the bride’s homes.


Other holidays are always just as bright for Azerbaijanis. They are full of national costumes, as well as songs and rousing dances.


National color is always seen in the art of dance. The Azerbaijani folk dance has a distinctive rhythm. The entire dace pattern and structure are based on the observance on the rhythm. The dance, which is rooted in old traditions, is often named after plants and animals characteristic of Azerbaijan.


Speaking of Azerbaijani national costumes, one should mention their correlation with the cultural and geographical location of the region itself. Men wear kaftan-arkhalyg and a shirt under it. Men’s costume also implies outerwear for cold weather, as in the foothills of the Caucasus in winter time only burkas or fur coats made of sheep skins can save.


We would like to remind that the ‘Russia – Azerbaijan: Historical Experience of Interethnic and Interfaith Harmony’ international conference, which is attended by leading experts from these two countries, also included the Connecting Thread of Creativity, Transferring Experience to Future Generations exhibition of folk crafts of Russia and Azerbaijan, On the Caspian Coast poetry contest and round tables devoted to the discussion of possible prospects for information, scientific and educational cooperation. The event is organized by the Central Asian Studies Institute with the support of the Presidential Grants Fund and Kazan Federal University.



Ilmira Gafiyatullina