By Peter Tase
The Islamic World has three principal vehicles of artistic expression and such a cultural wealth can be tremendously appreciated in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan), all of its artistic components including: architecture (Ajami Nakhchivani, a XII Century architect and designer of: Yusif ibn Kuseyir tomb, Momine Khatun Mausoleum, Nakhchivan Juma Mosque, to mention a few), the arts of the book (illustration and calligraphy founded by Nashavi Haddad ibn Assim, Izzaddin Abulfazi Doblatshah known as-Sahibi, Afig Ordubadi, Mirza Mahammad Ordubadi and others) and the arts of the object (including metalwork, ceramics, woodwork, textiles and glass). All of these revered forms of artistic expression were recently experienced by Mr. David Santulli, president of United Planet, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Boston (MA), who visited Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, the 2018 World Capital of Islamic Culture. In an interview for the Foreign Policy News Journal, Mr. Santulli emphasized: “Most recently, my two sons, Troy (16), Tristan (14), and I had the great pleasure to visit Nakhchivan with the support of Natig Tours. It is one of the most spectacular travel destinations that we’ve had the opportunity to experience. Nakhchivan is truly a land of plenty—abundant natural beauty, deep history, and a kind, curious, and passionate people.”
In his memorable visit Mr. Santulli was able appreciate the most recognizable and ubiquitous symbols of Islam, while raising to our attention Nakhchivan’s geographic position: “Nestled between Turkey, Iran, and Armenia, Nakhchivan is undeniably “The Cultural Capital of Azerbaijan” and perhaps even the whole of Asia. A visit to Azerbaijan would not be complete without a visit to Nakhchivan. Nakhchivan is also known as the “Land of Noah.” It is believed that Noah’s Ark touched the awe-inspiring mountain of Ilandag as it navigated through the great flood. Locals claim that the salt mines of the area provide further proof that the area was once submerged under the sea. Today the salt mines of the region are enjoyed by visitors from near and far for the special restorative properties of their air. At one time, Nakhchivan was at the heart of both the salt and silk roads—UNESCO declared the silk making art of the area a cultural treasure.”
At the same time, Mr. Santulli underlines the unique and special physical geographic features of Nakhchivan: “the otherworldly landscape of mountains, rivers, lakes, and vast valleys are still flooded, but this time with extraordinary vestiges of a storied past. Ancient mountaintop fortresses (Alinca Castle “the Machu Picchu of Asia”), exquisite towers and tombs filled with romantic legends (Momuna Khatun Tomb dating from the 11th century), palaces, mosques, and spiritual sites (Ashabi-Kahf Cave which pilgrims across many religions believe that it inspires a belief in God) are just a few of these incredible treasures. It is important to note that my visit was filled with awe as I gazed at these special sites with my family, but there was something even more special. At every stop, we encountered the local people and we had conversations with them. We greeted each other and shook hands together, smiled and laughed together, and shared about ourselves. As foreigners in an unknown land, it was heart-warming for us to be welcomed with such kindness.”
Globalization values, mutual respect, intercultural dialogue and brotherly conversations are some of the many charms of Azerbaijani culture, graciously experienced by Mr. Santulli and family in Nakhchivan city: “As an American, my sons and I met Iranians in the spa at the Tabriz Hotel. We greeted each other with enormous handshakes knowing that as people we yearn to be friends. One very kind Iranian man taught my two children how to do the butterfly swim stroke in the pool for nearly an hour. It was a great joy for everyone. People are the best ambassadors.”
As the approaching evening brings in a fog, a majestic mist covers the Alinjachay Khanagah of Ulug Gutlug Lala bay and Sheykh Haji Lala Malik; Mr. David Santulli concludes his genuine impressions with Satoro’s astute verse: “As Ryunosuke Satoro, the Japanese Poet, once said, “Exploration is the root of wisdom.” We feel greatly enriched by coming to know Nakhchivan and its significance in both the cultural and natural tapestry of our world. We are grateful for Natig Tours and the people of Nakhchivan for their generosity and their warmth and we believe that a trip to Nakhchivan would be life-changing for those special travelers who decide to make the journey just as Noah once did in his day.”
Mr. David Santulli is the President and Founder of an International Nonprofit Organization, called United Planet (www.unitedplanet.org) based in Boston (USA) which strives to build stronger relationships across cultures and peoples, he has had the privilege to travel the world widely both professionally and also with his beloved family. United Planet is currently engaged in many development projects throughout the world including countries such as Ghana, Nepal, Chile, China, Tanzania, Peru, Ecuador and others.