Iranian Azerbaijan: Babek Castle Gathering


Every year in early July the Azerbaijani town of Kaleyber becomes a colorful landscape of anti-colonial resistance against internal colonialism and oppression in Iran.
People come from all over Azerbaijan in their hundreds of thousands to a place at the heart of which lies the famous Fortress of Bezz, a sacred sanctuary that sheltered a local resistance movement centuries ago. They gather in the town of Kaleyber to pay homage to their ancient hero, Babek Khorramdin, who over twelve centuries ago put up a fierce resistance against the invading Islamic/Arabic forces. Men, women, students, workers, peasants and farmers come to celebrate the birthday of Babek, this legendary figure who has now turned into the living soul of a people’s history of resistance and struggle. They pitch their tents around the Fortress of Bezz, the stronghold of Babek and his fighters for 23 years; they explore the Qala/Fortress from dawn to dusk; they gather around bonfires at night; they sing, dance, exchange ideas and read poetry.
This magnificent festival is not just about dance and poetry, though. There is more to it than meets the eye. People come here with their musical instruments, songs, dances, and poems to redefine themselves by means of their own culture, their own language, on their own terms. This is about the survival and resistance of an entire people in defiance of an internal colonial force determined to annihilate its very existence. By annihilating their means of communication, their language, their culture, and their historical rootedness the government seeks to annihilate the Azeri people’s authentic means of self-definition and self-expression.