On November 28, 2018, the Committee on the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at its 13th session listed the dance “Yalli” as an intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding. It was listed under the following names: “Yali (Kochari, Tenzere), traditional group dances of Nakhchivan”.
This event caused quite a stir in Armenia. Director of the Center for Western Armenian Studies, Armenologist Haykazun Alvrtsyan, in particular, criticized current and former Ministers of Culture for allowing such a thing.
Meanwhile, Arman Abovyan, a member of the Yerevan City Council representing the Prosperous Armenia Party and an advisor to the RA Ambassador to Ukraine, in turn, brought the issue to an emotional level. “Hereupon, when you watch the Armenian dance “Kochari with a look of pride, remember that the international community may consider it an Azerbaijani dance.”
Let us, however, try to speak with facts. First, we must understand what UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list is. It is a list of various phenomena and objects of cultural value in different countries.
As a rule, UNESCO refrains from any definition of nationality for any cultural heritage. UNESCO lists only the heritage presented by member states. For example, the following are listed in the list of intangible cultural heritage from Armenia,
- Duduk and its music (2008)
- The Art of Armenian Khachkars (2010)
- Performance of the Armenian epic of ‘Daredevils of Sassoun’ or ‘David of Sassoun’ (2012)
- Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia (2014)
- Kochari, traditional group dance (2017)
As we can see, last year UNESCO registered Kochari as an “Armenian” intangible cultural heritage. Abovyan’s emotional words, especially in this context, are apparently manipulative. The fact that the kochari, or rather, the yalli (the circle dance, the types of which are also kochari and tanzara), has been registered as a traditional group dance in Nakhichevan does not mean that it has become “Azeri” or non-Armenian in the eyes of foreigners.
It is also noteworthy that in the text adopted by UNESCO there is no word about the dance being “Azerbaijani”.
Lastly, UNESCO has registered the same or almost the same intangible cultural heritage in several cases from a number of countries.
The art of Kamancha was also registered as an intangible cultural heritage of Azerbaijan and Iran. Meanwhile, Lavash is registered by Armenia’s proposal, but also by recommendations of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.