The first ever Silk Road Festival has been took place at the Stafford Center in Houston on October 4-7, 2012. The festival was held on a 60-hectare area which was provided to the organizers for the festival by the city of Stafford. Organized by the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, the Silk Road Festival featured many stands that promote local and traditional handicrafts, music and foods unique to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, countries located along the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road.
Organizers said one of the most popular stands was a vendor selling Turkish food, followed by a concession featuring ebru work, a traditional Turkish paper marbling. US-based ebru artist Nazlı Çizmeci performed her art under the curious gaze of festival visitors.
The four-day event brought together hundreds of participants from six major countries along the historic trade route in Eurasia; Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The event was the most comprehensive and large-scale display of the music, dance, crafts and cuisine of these cultures in the U.S. until now. Traditional foods in the festival area were gyro, shish kebab, chicken kebab, manti, borek, lahmacun (pizza) , traditional meatball, Uzbek palaw, besparmak, dograma, Kazakh manti, as well as deserts: baklava, sutlac, kunefe, ice-cream and more.
The mission of the Silk Road Festival is to introduce visitors to the ethnic, cultural and historic bonds shared by these far-away nations and provide a unique interactive experience rivaled only by visiting the countries themselves.
The festival featured round-the-clock live performances and craft demonstrations at separate exhibit areas hosted by each country. Dozens of folk dancers and musicians traveled from all corners of this region to bring to the festival regional dances and dances rarely seen by Western audiences. The program included also evening concerts by world-class musicians and pop stars.
Each area had on display life-size replicas of famous landmarks with stands where craftsmen will display traditional arts, from carving to calligraphy.
At the center of the festival grounds there was a market with 120 stands selling regional foods and crafts including rugs, clothes and jewelry.
In addition to informative and entertaining stands about the cultures of the various countries located along the legendary road that connected Asian travelers to Europe, the festival also featured 50-meter-long panoramic pictures of historic buildings from each of the countries represented. The festival provided Texans and visitors from other areas, such as Satdashan Khalsa, who came all the way from New Mexico just to attend the festival, a unique cultural experience, while also giving those originally from Turkey and the other participating countries a taste of home. Khalsa said, “I think the festival is truly worth visiting for the great food and interesting handicrafts.”
There were performances by Omer Faruk Tekbilek, a world-famous master of mystical music specializing in there ney (a traditional flute), and other wind and percussion instruments on Friday, October 5. In remarks during the concert, Tekbilek said the civilizations of the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia together form a rich whole and send a message of peace and brotherhood, emphasizing the unifying aspect of music. Tekbilek’s group was made up of musicians from diverse backgrounds, including artists from the US, Israel, Iran, Armenia and Turkey.
And on Saturday, October 6 The TURKSOY Regional Youth Chamber Orchestra performed classical Turkic music and TURKSOY multinational folk dance group gave a concert in the evening of the day. Silk Road Forum begun on this day. From the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan Deputy Chief of Mission His Excellency Dastan Yeleukenov spoke on a topic entitled “Kazakhstan’s Energy Sector Since Independence: Two Decades of Growth and Challenges Ahead”. A photo slide show entitled “The Last Caravan on the Silk Road” by Turkish Famous Artist Mr. Arif Asci was shown around noon time.
Ambassador Elin Suleymanov of Azerbaijan to the United States talked about “Azerbaijan: Energy Jewel of the Caspian”. Ambassador Muktar Djumaliev of Kyrgyz Republic to the USA and Canada spoke also on “Kyrgyzstan: Trade and Business Opportunities”
Around 600 people including Politicians and Businessmen came together at the reception that was hosted by Mayors of Houston and Stafford cities. By underlining the importance of the festival, Former Prime Minister of Turkey, Yıldırım Akbulut said this organization is significant in terms of the relations of countries and nations between each other. Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker indicated the importance of the festival in terms of people to people relations. By describing people get a chance to know each other closely at the festival, Mayor Parker said attended countries to the festival introduced their traditions; a lot of people came together; I thank all of you who helped to organize this festival.
US Congressmen Pete Olson, Al Green and Henry Cuellar as well as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee attended to the reception. Texas State Senators Rodney Ellis, Royce West and Texas State Representatives Sylvester Turner, Helen Gidinks, Carol Alvarado, Hubert Vo, Charlie Howard as well as Alma Allen; Mayor of Stafford Leonard Scarcela, Mayor of Rosenberg Vincent Morales , President of the University of Houston Dr. Bill Flores and President of North American College Reg Pcen as well as many other academicians discussed about the success of the Silk Road Festival throughout the reception. They all suggested to organize this festival every year.
There was “Kustdepdi” dance performance by Turkmen students who study in Houston.
There were two panels: 1) Research Fellow at the Rethink Institute, Vladimir Fedorenko talked on “Central Asia: From Ethnic to Civil Nationalism”. 2) From University of the Incarnate Word, Dr. Martha Ann Kirk spoke on “Iraqi Woman of Three Generation” and then the lecture was followed by book signing. Her book’s name was “ Growing Seeds of Peace”
Sunday, October 7, Rafet El Roman, a chart-topping Turkish pop star and recording artist performed live music.
“We brought over 200 professional artists from the 6 countries here, traditional folk dancers, musicians and even the chef from these countries,” said Mahmet Okumus, organizer of the festival. Throughout the festival concerts and dances were performed by the following artists and dance groups.
”Ak maral” Kyrgyz Traditional Dance Team
Akyerke Tazhibayeva- Kazak Singer
Azerbaijan National Folk Dance and Music Group
Babalar Sazy- Ethnic Folk Dance Group
Erkebulan Yerinov – Kazakh Singer
Gulmira Tapay- Kazakh Singer
Gulnur Asanova- Kyrgyz Singer
Gulzoda Hudoynazarova- Uzbek Singer
Hulkar Abdullaeva – Uzbek Singer
Madina Saduakasova- Kazakh Singer
Ordo Sahna- Ethnic Folk Music and Art Team
Parizod- Uzbek Dance Group
Saltanat- Kazakh National Dance Group
Umid Ishankhodjayev- Uzbek Singer
Uzbek Sadolari – Music Group from Uzbekistan
Batyr Odeyev – Turkmen Dutar Singer