Chovqan: The Traditional Karabakh Horse-riding Game

The Arena Polo World Cup (2013)Heydar Aliyev Center

Chovqan is a traditional horse-riding game played on a flat, grassy field by two competing teams of players mounted on Karabakh horses. This ancient horse race is one of the first forms of modern horse polo. Each team has five riders, with two fullbacks and three forwards.

The game starts at the centre of the field and players use wooden mallets to try to drive a small leather or wooden ball into their opponents’ goal. The game is interspersed with instrumental folk music called jangi.

This traditional competition is played by two opposing teams, each with five players, of whom two stay behind and three act as attackers.

Chovgan, traditional Garabagh horsemanship sport in AzerbaijanHeydar Aliyev Center

The word “Chovgan”Heydar Aliyev Center

Chovgan, the traditional Garabagh horsemanship sport, was included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, In Need of Urgent Safeguarding, at the session held on December 3, 2013, in Baku.

The word “Chovgan”, of Turkish origin, means “to hit with a stick”. According to historians, the sport was created in the middle of the first millennium AD, and has been famous for several centuries in Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and other neighbouring countries.

ChovganHeydar Aliyev Center

Archaeological excavationsHeydar Aliyev Center

There are written sources reporting that Chovgan was popular throughout Azerbaijan. The Chovgan game was depicted on fragments of a glazed pot found during archaeological excavations in the Beylagan region.

This finding proves that the sport existed in Beylagan in the 9th century.

PoemsHeydar Aliyev Center

There is information about playing Chovgan in the epos “Kitabi Dada Gorgud” and in the Nizami Ganjavi's “Khosrov and Shirin” poem. Also, scenes of the game are inscribed on miniatures of the “Khosrov and Shirin” poem, in Tabriz miniatures.

Ancient manuscriptsHeydar Aliyev Center

In ancient manuscripts, the rules of the Chovgan sport are described in detail. Historically, Chovgan was played by Azerbaijani aristocrats and members of the shah family. It was very popular in Karabkh due to being fast and rough; specially trained horses are involved in the sport. Karabkh horses are distinguished for their beauty and are highly adapted to this sport.

International Chovgan tournamentHeydar Aliyev Center

Sources indicate that the first international Chovgan tournament among riders of Middle Eastern countries was held in the 12th century in Baghdad, one of the cultural centres of the Islamic world. Thanks to the Great Silk Road, Chovgan became famous in India and was brought to Europe in the 12th century. Later it was widespread in Europe as well as in America. At the initiative of the English, this sport was named horse polo and included in the Second Olympic Games in Paris in 1900.

Modern historyHeydar Aliyev Center

Modern history of this sport starts in the 2000s. The Presidential Cup tournament was held in 2006 and eight regions of the country were represented in the tournament. In September 2013, the Arena Polo World Cup was held in Baku.

Karabakh horsesHeydar Aliyev Center

In recent years, the urgent need to preserve the Chovgan game has been on the agenda due to the difficulty of breeding Karabkh horses, as well as to prevent forgetting the history of the Chovgan game. The fact of its inclusion in the Intangible Cultural Heritage List under the subheading “In Need of Urgent Safeguarding”, demonstrates indirectly that the cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani people was damaged by aggressors.

Karabakh horses of AzerbaijanHeydar Aliyev Center

Karabkh horses are 148.5 cm in height and 165.8 cm in width, while the wrist is 18.3 cm in cicle. They are mainly golden-redheaded and bay horses. Since 1946, pedigree stock-breeding has been carried out at the Agdam horse-breeding farm.

Although Karabkh horses have undergone some changes due to their interbreeding with Roman, Sassanid, Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, Iranian and other horses, they have maintained their real roots. The breed of Karabkh horses greatly improved in the 18th-19th centuries. Karabkh horses had a great impact on horse-breeding in Turkey, Iran, Georgia, the North Caucasus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Western Europe.

"The Book on Horses" says that modern Don horses are indebted to Karabakh horses for their golden colour. Karabakh horses have won prizes and awards at several international exhibitions and contests. Karabakh Garabagh horses have participated in and repeatedly won contests under the names of Meymun, Tokhmakh, Agalar, Bayram, Zaman, Qaragozlu, Qavqaz Gozali, etc.

Credits: Story

Mahabbat Mehdiyeva
The Director of Museum Department, Heydar Aliyev Center

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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