Azerbaijan and Iran have tussled over weighty issues relating to religion and energy development in the Caspian Sea in recent years. And now they’re haggling over ponies.
The neighboring states can’t see eye to eye when it comes to the origins of chovgan – the Eastern, polo-style game that UNESCO recently deemed an “intangible world heritage” closely connected to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, a UNESCO Goodwill ambassador, reportedly worked hard behind the scenes to promote chovgan’s cause among UNESCO officials.
At first glance, chovgan doesn’t seem much of a cause for an international spat. It is not a professional sport, and it has no cache among the jet-set. Horse-riding instructors make up most of Baku’s two teams; farmers often fill the ranks of regional teams.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku.