Spring “New Year” Celebration Forms Community Bonds

This year we hope you remembered to tell your Uzbek friends “Navro’z muborak!” The word Navruz itself means “new day” or “new beginning” and marks the beginning of the Persian calendar during spring solstice each year. Sister cities Seattle, Washington and Tashkent, Uzbekistan had a new beginning of their own 42 years ago, as they established the first U.S.-Uzbek sister city partnership (and the first U.S.-Soviet sister city as well). One of the ways Seattle has grown and maintained its ties with Tashkent is by celebrating Navruz, a holiday widely observed in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries including Iran, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and others. 

In the spirit of new beginnings, Navruz is a time for people to host community dinners, clean public spaces, spend quality time together, reconcile issues, and reestablish relationships. In Seattle, Navruz has brought the local Uzbek diaspora community together, and has given the greater Seattle population a chance to learn more about Uzbek and Central Asian culture for the past 17 years. Seattle-Tashkent Sister Cities Association (STSCA) started off with about 40 guests during their first event in 1998. This year they sold out tickets to a record 400 guests.

The 2015 Navruz celebration kicked off with impressive speakers including Mr. Said Rustamov, Embassy of Uzbekistan, Washington, DC Counselor, Deputy Chief of Mission; Ms. Hyeok Kim, Deputy Mayor, City of Seattle; Mr. Gary Furlong, Former STSCA President and Honorary Consul General of Uzbekistan; Mr. Dan Peterson, President, STSCA; and Dr. Scott Radnitz, Director, Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, University of Washington. After introductions were given, activities began with performances coinciding with each course of dinner, including traditional dances, skits, music, and a fashion show. Each form of entertainment gave guests a glimpse into Central Asian traditions and daily life. 

One of the highlights of the evening was an elaborate five course meal created by STSCA and the community at large. Knowing that they would have 400 people in attendance, the STSCA committee prepared to provide enough food for all by asking the community to help out. STSCA approximated that they would need around 900 somsas, a traditional Uzbek fried pastry, for all in attendance. To alleviate some of the cooking effort and to involve guests, they offered a free ticket to each individual who made 30 somsas for the event. Volunteer chefs cooked perhaps the most important traditional Uzbek food, plov, which includes rice, carrots, onions, beef, and spices, on-site outside in a giant wok-like cooker called a kazan while attendees watched the cooking process. Other foods brought by guests or provided by STSCA included nuts/dried fruit, bo ‘ g ‘ irsoq (fried dough), achchiqchuchuk salad, Uzbek bread, desserts, and cake. After food and entertainment, there was a raffle drawing alongside music and open dancing enjoyed by all. 

Overall, the 2015 Navruz celebration was STSCA’s best yet. Over the years, STSCA has learned important best practices for putting on a popular event. Lessons learned include using different advertising for different audiences, targeting an older audience using mailings and a younger audience using social media. Given the event’s growth over the last 17 years, in 2015, STSCA required that attendees purchase tickets in advance to help control food, space, and cash flow. To keep costs down further, they hosted the event at the North Seattle Community College cafeteria, which includes plenty of space for attendees, a stage, and food stations. 

The popularity of Navruz has not only brought the community together for one day of fun each year, but has assisted in reconnecting young Uzebeks in Seattle with their culture year round. They have begun making friends with one another and have brought their language and culture to the larger Seattle community. Today, half of STSCA’s Board of Directors consists of young Uzbek professionals due to this connection.

In addition to Navruz, STSCA has some exciting exchanges in the works. Over the past 42 years, they estimate there to have been over 100 exchanges between the two countries. In June 2015, a delegation of Uzbek businesswomen will go to Seattle to learn more about growing entrepreneurship in the Tashkent community. Additionally, teachers from Tashkent will travel to Seattle in October to learn best practices for teaching English to young students. In response to collaborating with Tashkent, STSCA President Dan Peterson said, “Despite some challenges over the years, people-to-people relationships have been crucial in planning exchanges. We have so many friends in Tashkent now, and people-to-people contact helps us remember that we’re fellow human beings and it keeps our rapport going.” 

To stay up to date with STSCA, visit their website at www.seattle-tashkent.org.