For the fourth year running, the international literary festival and forum “Open Eurasia and Central Asia Book Forum & Literature Festival – 2015”, organised by the publishing house “Hertfordshire Press” together with the Yunus Emre Institute London Turkish Cultural Centre and “ORZU Arts” theatre was held from 6th to 9th November 2015 in London (UK).

The forum, which has alternated between Central Asian countries and the UK since its inception, held 22 events and brought writers, poets, artists, diplomats and politicians together from 20 different countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Norway, Brazil, Pakistan, Iran, England, Iraq, Netherlands, USA, Russia, Latvia, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Scotland and Wales.

Spread across 8 different venues both in London and Cambridge, the festival has gone from strength to strength and this year included the wider Eurasian region amongst its topics and participants. It remains the only such festival that seeks to promote the literature of Central Asia, past and present, to new English-speaking audiences.
Opening on 6th November at the Yunus Emre Institure London Turkish Cultural Centre, Turkey’s ambassador to the UK, Abdurrahman Bilgiç welcomed guests and participants of the festival and contest, followed by opening remarks from the Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic, Gulnara Iskakova and Her Highness Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia and Serbia, who both wished attendees well for the next few days of cultural immersion. Rounding the evening off, London Uyghur Ensemble performed from their repertoire.

A traditional part of the festival, and indeed the culminating highlight of the proceedings, is the annual competition among writers, poets, translators, artists and filmmakers from Eurasia and Central Asia. The contest is extremely valuable to budding authors and filmmakers not only because of the promotion to their works that it brings but the total prize money of $31,000 is the largest injection of funds to promote Central Asia that is genuinely open to anyone to apply for by submitting extracts of their latest work.

The main prize is a grant of $20,000, which is put towards the publication of the winner’s book in London, followed by a presentation at the London Book Fair 2017.

The Literary Contest 2015 had very strong participation, with entries from some 800 contestants from 28 countries, including Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Armenia, Israel, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Estonia. The number of participants is now five times higher than when the competition began in 2012.

The winners were announced at a glittering awards dinner at Pasha restaurant with Zinaida Longortova from Russia winning the contest with her book titled “XXX”. She was presented her award by renowned author and former Kazakh politician, Mukhtar Shakhanov. Ikhtiyar Hodja from Uzbekistan took first place in the category of literary translation and Nikolay Anisimov from the Ukraine took the winning spot in the category of illustration.

For the second year the Marziya Zakiryanova Prize, worth $5,000, for the best female work was won by Harlampyeva Natalia (Russia) and the award was presented by Tamerlan Zakiryanov. The Arkadiy Bezrukov Prize, worth $1,000, for the best work on the subject of mountains was won by Pavel Shumov (Russia). The prize was handed out by Elena Bezrukova.

Once again the Generals Awards, from the Association of Generals “Generals of the World are for Peace”, were made at the festival. The Association’s highest award, the “Dove of Peace” medal for the best work on the topic of strengthening of peace, friendship and mutual understanding between peoples, was awarded to Gulsifat Shahidy (Tajikistan). The prize was handed out by honorary member of the Association, Marat Akhmedjanov. A number of certificates of merit were also handed out, including to Yuldosh Yuraboev whose Orzu Arts theatre group delighted festival participants throughout the weekend.

The organising committee of the festival continued its tradition of awarding the authors who have made a special contribution to the development and promotion of literature in Central Asia. This year the diploma was awarded to the outstanding Kyrgyz fiction writer, poet, Begenas Sartov (1945-1978). The diploma was received by a niece of the writer, Shahsanem Murray.

In 2015, the festival organizers established tow new awards: “Breakthrough of the Year”, with the diploma went to Kazakh poet and member of the Writers’ Union and the Kazakh PEN club, Raushan Burkitbayeva-Nukenova. “Author of the Year” went to the British historian, Robert Toby Wight, author of “Vanished Khans and Empty Steppes”.

At the heart of the capital, at the University of London (University College London) and the Yunus Emre Institute London Turkish Cultural Centre, there was a presentations of several new books, including last year’s winner, Davlat Tolibshoi for his book “Cranes in the Spring” and Lenifer Mambetova’s poetry, “My Homeland, Oh My Crimea!”.

A round table devoted to the Central Asian literature took place at Cambridge University. The meeting was held with the students of Cambridge University and discussed books by Mukhtar Shakhanov, Sultan Raev and Raushan Burkitbayeva-Nukenova that were also were given to the Cambridge Library.

An important panel discussion on the topic of “Central Asia through the eyes of Western writers” was held at Yunus Emre Turkish Centre. The moderator of the meeting was author of “Friendly Steppes” and Editor-in-Chief or Open Central Asia Magazine, Nick Rowan, who had to be on top of his game to keep an enthusiastic set of contributors under control.

For the first time, a special session of London’s highly fashionable Extremists Club was organised as a part of the overall festival. Participants were invited to share Remembrance Sunday worship at St. Peters church in Clapham as an insight into British cultural life. Following which, they withdrew to the upstairs “Theatre Room”, wherein Mukhtar Shakhanov was asked to speak about his literary work and political views to colleagues from across the capital. As an experimental “arts and politics” club (currently receiving rave reviews) David Parry took his usual position as chair – in his now legendary persona “The Whig” – and led a lively discussion.

With the event taking place over the Remembrance Sunday weekend, several recitals were held in memory of those writers no longer with us: Nemat Kelimbetov (1937-2010), Kazat Akmatov (1941-2015), Ravil Bukharaev (1951-2012), Cengiz Dagci (1919-2011) and Beganas Sartov (1945-1978).
David Parry, playwright, poet, and member of the Royal Society of Arts, David William Parry conducted the Nemat Kelimbetov Prize ceremony, awarding prizes to the contestants in the category of “Video Film”, with the winner of the Nemat Kelimbetov Prize (for $5,000) being named as Kamal Hasanov (Azerbaijan).

The extended weekend festival once again proved that there is significant interest in and great authorship from Central Asia and its wider Eurasian sphere. It would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Marat Akhmedjanov and the Hertfordshire Press, Open Central Asia and Silk Road Media teams. Next year’s festival is proposed to be held in Yakutia, Russia, and will continue to grow from strength to strength if the 2015 festival is anything to go by.

Previous festivals in 2012-2014:

The first OECABF festival was held on 24 to 25 November 2012 in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), gathering 1300 guests and becoming the first event of its kind in the region. The festival was opened by the former president of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva. The winner of the literary contest was Galina Dolgaya (Uzbekistan).

The 2013 festival took place from 5 to 9 November in London and Cambridge, providing an opportunity to the British public to get a better idea of the work of artists from Central Asia. The winner of the literary contest was Zaur Hasanov (Azerbaijan).

The 2014 festival was held from 14 to 17 November in Almaty, Kazakhstan. OECABF 2014 was organized by the publishing house “Hertfordshire Press” in conjunction with the National State Book Chamber of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “Elena Bezrukova Centre”, and supported by the Ministry of Culture of Kazakhstan, Almaty city administration and the Kazakh Academy of Sports and Tourism. The festival held 38 events. It was visited by 2,500 people. More than 65 writers from 10 countries spoke with their reports and presentations. The winner of the literary contest was Tolibshohi Davlat (Tajikistan).

The 2016 Festival is currently planned to be held in Yakutsk ( Russia)

Since 2002, the publishing house “Hertfordshire Press” (London) has specialized in the publication of modern non-fiction literature by Eurasian authors, as well as re-release of important works of previous years, which, despite their undying relevance, currently unavailable in English.