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April 2020

Cover Story

In Wake of Coronavirus, Embassies, Museums Offer Culture from Comfort of Your Couch

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By Anna Gawel

Washington, D.C., has one of the most globally diverse cultural scenes in the country, if not the world. And every month, The Washington Diplomat highlights the various international offerings around town with our popular events and film calendars.

Sadly, because the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down the nation’s capital, we did not print a new calendar in April for the first time in 25 years.

But just as we’ve been forced to adapt to a new normal, so have arts organizations, museums and embassies, all of which are increasingly going digital to bring exhibitions, films, concerts, readings, dance performances, discussions and other events directly to viewers at home.

As a newspaper, we are doing the same thing as we significantly expand our digital footprint. On that note, we recently introduced a new webcast called Global 360 that not only breaks down the important headlines of the day, but also continues our exclusive coverage of the local arts scene with a “cultural corner” that highlights what’s happening around town (or, for now, from home).

To view the first two episodes, click on these links:



On this page you’ll find comprehensive information on the events mentioned in the webcast, which will be continually updated, along with other interesting cultural tidbits. Here’s the latest:

European Union Delegation to the U.S.
Home With EU

The popular annual EU Open House weekend that welcomes thousands of visitors to the embassies of the European Union's member states in D.C. is obviously not an option this spring, but the bloc has adjusted with a "Home With EU" alternative that aired on May 9 on the @EUintheUS social media platforms (#HomeWithEU). The program will be available online throughout May at www.euopenhouse.org and will feature cultural experiences native to each EU member state, such as culinary expert Marilena Joannides sharing dishes from Cyprus; traditional music from Croatia; a tour of the Germany ambassador's residence; and coronavirus-related discussions.

Fiesta Asia

One of the most popular features of the annual Passport DC showcase of embassies and international events is the National Asian Heritage Festival, which has attracted over 20,000 attendees each year over the last decade. This year, the festival is hosting a Virtual Heritage Showcase featuring an eight-part series of films that can be viewed online 24/7 and that explore different facets of Asian culture. Each episode is 30 minutes long and spotlights artistic performances, notable historical figures, everyday community heroes, cooking demos, education trivia and other topics.

Embassy of France

With coronavirus dominating the headlines, an important, somber anniversary was overshadowed: the devastating fire on April 15, 2019, that almost burned down France’s iconic Notre Dame cathedral.

The medieval cathedral survived but the rebuilding process will be a long one. FrenchCulture.org is offering stunning virtual 3D tours of the cathedral both after the fire and exclusive footage filmed a few weeks before the flames erupted, allowing viewers to experience Notre Dame both before and after the tragic event.

In addition, the website is offering myriad ideas to experience French culture from home, including: hundreds of classical, symphonic, chamber music and jazz concerts from the France Musique radio station; a virtual visit of the Lascaux prehistoric cave; original video works of the Paris Opera; and a “POP platform” created by the French Ministry of Culture that is gathering all digital content related to French national heritage and ancient collections in one place to make it accessible to a large audience.

Embassy of the Czech Republic
Czech That Film

The Embassy of the Czech Republic is launching a stay-at-home edition of the Czech That Film Festival, which will run until June 7. Each week, a different film is featured online for a fee of $4. The festival opens with "Old-Timers (Starici)," which centers on two former political prisoners who seek revenge for the injustices done to them in the 1950s (based on true events).

Embassy of Sweden
Upcoming Events

#SwedenAtHome is the new digital campaign spearheaded by the House of Sweden to connect people to Swedish culture. Check out the embassy's social media platforms for ideas such as Swedish television shows, art exhibitions, trivia and family-friendly activities.

Also, the embassy had the unfortunate timing of debuting its new year-long series of programming on "Smart Mobility: Taking Us into the Future" just as the coronavirus pandemic was grounding everything to a halt. While the House of Sweden is now closed to visitors, you can still check out the entire exhibition online to learn about how the Swedes have pioneered innovative mobility solutions with global impact. Two accompanying exhibitions showcase the country's cutting-edge fashion designers.

Embassy of Korea’s Cultural Center

“K-Culture at Home” presents weekly online content specials including webcast performances, educational activities, virtual gallery tours, cinema, lessons, discussions and much more from one of the most active embassy cultural centers in town.

That includes "KCCDC x Hillyer: Virtual K-Artist Talk Series #2," a weekly series of videos and social media conversations with accomplished Korean artists. Seoul-based Tae Eun Ahn will be featured in the next talk on May 15 at 6 p.m.

Spain arts & culture


The cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy offers a “mix-and-match” series of online programming, including: the just-launched English edition of Andrés Barba’s latest novel, “A Luminous Republic”; #MuseumsFromHome, which revisits the Prado Museum’s 2014 retrospective of Spanish painter El Greco, who was crucial to the development of what we call “modern painting”; and a curated collection of Spanish music available on Spotify.

In May, the embassy's cultural office hosts a three-part discussion series (May 14, 21 and 28) examining the socio-botanical consequences of the Magellan-Elcano expedition. To mark the 500th anniversary of the first trip around the world by Juan Sebastian Elcano, Spanish artist Juanli Carrión will design a garden as the centerpiece of a slate of activities that include workshops, performances and online panel discussions reflecting on how commercial interest in clove and nutmeg drove the expedition, which established the first global commercial route, connecting three continents ecologically and gastronomically.

Embassy of Argentina
Festival Argentino USA

On May 16, Festival Argentino USA presents an online video showcasing the 30-year journey of this popular annual festival in Arlington, Va.

Embassy of Colombia

The Embassy of Colombia is supporting the “Let’s Take Care Now So We Can Meet Again Soon” campaign to keep interest alive in Colombia as a tourist destination. As part of the effort, ProColombia is broadcasting videos in Spanish, English and Portuguese on media outlets and on social media across eight countries.

And as part of #MuseumsFromHome, visitors can tour the house that belonged to famed liberator Simon Bolivar and the Museum of Memory of Colombia in Bogota, which won’t officially open until 2022 in Bogota but has held a few itinerant exhibitions. One of them, “Voices to transform Colombia,” is now virtually available.

Embassy of Canada
Embassy of Canada Art Gallery

It may be too late to catch the Canadian Embassy’s latest exhibit, “A New Light: Canadian Women Artists," in person, but the embassy recently launched a virtual version of the display that will run until the end of August. In addition to showcasing a broad array of women artists, the exhibit reveals that the embassy is home to a permanent collection of 180 pieces of art — and that the work in “New Light” will be added to that collection as part of a broader government effort to diversify the art it displays at its various missions? Learn more by checking out The Washington Diplomat’s article on the unique endeavor.

National Air and Space Museum

This popular Smithsonian museum boasts a treasure trove of aviation-related content on its website. Each week, it highlights certain sections with its "Digital Discoveries" series, which examine achievements such as the Apollo 13's “successful failure”; spy planes and aerial reconnaissance; and 30 years of the Hubble Space Telescope. It also offers "Air and Space Anywhere," which has a plethora of information, virtual tours and online activities, including those designed for students from kindergarten to 12th grade — perfect for parents trying to keep their kids busy at home.

Heart's Delight Wine Tasting & Auction

For the last 20 years, Heart's Delight has raised over $20 million for the American Heart Association with a four-day celebration of wine and food each spring in Washington, D.C. Because that's not possible this year, the organization is hosting an online auction — "At Home with Heart's Delight" — on May 2 that will offer one-of-a-kind experiences from future trips to virtual meetups with winemakers. To register and view the auction lots, visit https://hd2020.ggo.bid/.

Virtual Smithsonian Folklife Festival

While the 2020 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall has been postponed, people can still experience the festival's unique offerings with its online "Story Circle" via Facebook Live that features a rotating series of performances, music, art, recipes and conversations. Programs include "'Ramadan and Connection" with Emirati entrepreneur Sana'a Amro; "Northeast to Southeast - Brazil in D.C. Music" with Christylez Bacon and Cizza Paz; and vocalist Aditya Prakash on tradition and innovation.

Composer/Curator/DJ Mason Bates
Curating the Concert Experience

Symphonic music composer and electronic music DJ Mason Bates strives to bring classical music to new audiences in fresh ways. He's sharing his experiences in a three-part virtual masterclass titled "Curating the Concert Experience," which premieres April 27 and will be accessible through the Kennedy Center's website. Bates, the Kennedy Center's composer-in-residence, breaks down the main elements of concert curation, using direct examples from events he has put together to demonstrate what works and what doesn't.

Library of Congress
Citizen DJ

The Library of Congress is celebrating its 220th birthday by giving music lovers a chance to play with Citizen DJ, a groundbreaking project that inspires hip-hop music-making from home and opens new doors to the library's expansive audio collections. The open-source, web-browser application uses some of the library's free-to-use audio and moving image collections to enable users to select short samples and create their own beats and sound mixes.

American University Museum
AU Museum at Home

The American University Museum, which typically hosts 20 to 30 exhibitions per year, has canceled its spring and summer shows but is offering a new initiative called "AU Museum at Home" as museum staff look to find new ways to connect with the community and bring patrons #artwhereyouare. To that end, the art and artists of the canceled shows are being shared through digital storytelling, artist playlists, collection highlights, children's art tutorials, online gallery talks and other online offerings.

FilmFest DC at Home

This popular annual local film festival may have been postponed, but it's offering viewers a virtual series of films from around the world for free, along with past FilmFest DC programming you may have missed. The festival runs until May 21 and includes many foreign films presented in conjunction with embassies, including France's "Sink or Swim" and Argentina's "Tango Glorified."

IN Series

The IN Series has created an entirely virtual season of opera-theater for 2020-2021 to adapt to the pandemic. The group's artistic director, Timothy Nelson, said "this will not opera as usual, shrunk down to the small screen," but rather will include features such as a specially designed virtual opera house, interactive opera experiences inspired by gaming technology and collaborations with filmmakers, animators, radio stations and others — all for free.

Virtual Paella Cooking Classes and Wine Tastings

Special Events by Danny Lledó

Chef and sommelier Danny Lledó of Slate Wine Bar and the newly opened Valencian fine dining concept, Xiquet DL, located at 2404 Wisconsin Ave., NW, will debut two new virtual series, Paella Cooking Classes and #SommNights, as well as an exclusive wine dinner with Greg La Follette of Alquimista Cellars, during the month of May. The hands-on cooking and wine classes will stream live on Zoom on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The paella tutorials are priced at $35 and will teach viewers the art of making the traditional Spanish rice dish from the most-awarded paella chef in America.

Alliance Française de Washington

The Alliance Française in Washington is hosting the photo contest “Vue de ma Fenêtra” from April 24 to May 24 that takes advantage of our current lockdown by encouraging people to document what the world looks like from their window in these strange times.

You can share the images on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtags #vuedemafenetra or #mywindowontotheworld or on Facebook at @AFWDC.

In June, the organization will present a book signing and talk with Loubna Hassanieh as part of the 2020 DC Francophonie Festival, in conjunction with the Embassy of Lebanon (June 26 at 7 p.m.), as well as “Poets of the World, Unite!” featuring select poems from the French-speaking world (June 19).

If Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, the events will take place at Alliance Française at 2142 Wyoming Ave., NW. If not, they’ll be streamed online.

PostClassical Ensemble


PostClassical Ensemble’s two most recent projects, before the virus changed everything, were “An Armenian Odyssey” at the Washington National Cathedral and “Furtwangler in Wartime,” both of which can be viewed online via Vimeo and WWFM Classical Network. The former explored the power of music to forge inspirational cultural synergies, while the latter explored the power of music to “bear witness” during World War II.

GALA Hispanic Theatre

This theater company focusing on Latino artists was hit with a double whammy during the pandemic: Its co-founder, Rebecca Medrano, came down with coronavirus in the midst of a production. Read all about her story in the Diplomatic Pouch here.

Fortunately Medrano has recovered and GALA is working to keep sharing its unique content online. On that note, the theater has introduced “GALA En Familia,” which will feature a 12-week series of films for children.

In addition, the program’s inaugural presentation, “Poetry For The Soul,” showcases company member Luz Nicolás as she recites “La casada infiel (The Unfaithful Wife),” a poem by Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Listen to her conversation with Hugo Medrano, GALA’s producing artistic director, as they discuss why she selected the poem, the themes she explored in interpreting the text and Lorca’s role in Spain's cultural legacy.

National Museum of Women in the Arts


Americans don’t always have a complete picture of life inside Mexico. Acclaimed Mexican contemporary photographer Graciela Iturbide challenges stereotypes and offers an inside look at her homeland with hauntingly complex black-and-white gelatin silver prints that are now on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA).

You can check out the entire exhibition online at the NMWA’s website through May 25 and read all about the show in our own article, “Graciela Iturbide Captures a More Nuances Portrayal of Her Homeland.

Synetic Theatre

This innovative theater company presents "The Decameron" starting on June 10 (pay-what-you-can options start at $10). Over 35 artists from Synetic's 20-year history have connected while in isolation around the world to create the company's first-ever online streaming production. In this virtual play, artists will adapt one story each from Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron," a collection of novellas written in Italy in response to the Black Plague of 1347-1351.

"I have been getting stir-crazy and feeling sad not creating and collaborating, and now with this project I'm feeling alive again," said Synetic's founding artistic director, Paata Tsikurshvili. "The historical connection to Italy — the other epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic — felt like kismet. Then, as now, 'The Decameron' showcases the power of storytelling in creating a community of equality and prosperity out of social isolation."

Studio Theatre


In keeping with this theater’s commitment to provocative work in intimate spaces, “Studio Recommends” offers recommendations that span genres and mediums, from podcasts and audio plays to books, cinema, streaming entertainment and social media tidbits.

Highlights include Studio-commissioned playwright James Ijames, who started publishing three-line plays every day for the first four weeks of social distancing in Philadelphia, where he works and lives; the beloved series “Fleabag,” based on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show; and the highly timely “Station Eleven,” an intense, haunting novel about a roving theater troupe that keeps remnants of the old culture alive — largely by performing Shakespeare and symphonies — 20 years after a pandemic has decimated the world population.

Also check out our article on Studio’s last show, “Pass Over,” a searing play that doesn’t discriminate in challenging both whites and blacks about preconceived notions of race. The play may be over but a filmed version is available through Amazon Prime.

If your organization is presenting digital events, you can email the press release to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Anna Gawel (@diplomatnews) is the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat.


Azerbaijan Commemorates 30th Anniversary of ‘Black January’

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By Larry Luxner


This article is paid sponsored content that appeared as an advertorial in the April 2020 issue of The Washington Diplomat.

Azerbaijan recently marked the 30th anniversary of one of the saddest episodes in its history — Jan. 20, 1990 — the night 26,000 Soviet troops rumbled into Baku and attempted, but failed, to crush the country’s dream of independence.

In downtown Baku, the Alley of Martyrs — located on a hill overlooking the Caspian Sea — stands as a solemn reminder to the 147 people killed and 744 injured in what has come to be known as “Black January.” It’s common for citizens to place flowers on the graves of the fallen, and each year precisely at noon, the country observes a minute of silence accompanied by the horns of cars and passenger trains as well as ships in the Bay of Baku.

In Washington, D.C., this year, the Embassy of Azerbaijan remembered the tragedy with an event at the Women’s National Democratic Club. About 100 ambass­adors, dignitaries, jour­nalists and members of the public listened intently as the embassy’s political counselor, Vugar Gurbanov, explained how the massacre, ordered by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, ended up triggering the end of the embattled Soviet Union itself.

“This operation against the people of Azerbaijan backfired. Soviet rule lost its moral ground for legitimacy, and after that tragedy, our determination to regain our independence got even stronger,” Gurbanov said. “I would make this bold statement that the struggle and sacrifices made by our people enormously contributed to the collapse of Soviet communism.”

Comparing Moscow’s military operation against his country to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and its crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, Gurbanov said there was no justification for any of these actions.

The Soviet invasion of Baku was triggered by an earlier decision by the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR to include the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in its budget and allow its residents to vote in Armenian elections — infuriating Azerbaijani citizens. Soviet troops entered Baku to supposedly restore order, after having destroyed the central TV station and cut all phone and radio lines, but then began attacking unarmed protesters and firing into crowds. On the third day, more than 2 million Azerbaijanis came to bury their dead.

“The 20th of January reminds us of our duty to stand for the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” Gurbanov said. “I would like to thank our colleagues from other former Soviet republics — and especially our Ukrainian, Georgian and Estonian colleagues who are present here. Over the last 50 years, we have all shared similar tragedies.”

Before being treated to musical performances by Azerbaijani classical pianist Nargiz Aliyarova and Grammy-nominated violinist Azer Damirov, guests heard from historian S. Frederick Starr, chairman of the Washington-based Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.

“I don’t want to minimize the suffering, but this event marked a hugely important end and an equally important beginning — and that’s why it deserves to be memorialized not just in Azerbaijan, but on a global scale,” said Starr, who’s also distinguished fellow for Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council.

According to Starr, the 1990 uprising had its roots in the early Soviet anti-religious campaigns of the 1920s and, later on, Moscow’s attempts to destroy Azerbaijani identity.

In 1976, Heydar Aliyev was appointed a non-voting member of the Soviet Politburo and a full member six years later. He became first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers — the highest position ever attained by an Azerbaijani in the USSR. The undisputed leader of Azerbaijan, Aliyev was nevertheless forced to resign from this position in 1987 by Gorbachev. Meanwhile, unrest was intensifying not only in Azerbaijan, but also in Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and various other Central Asian republics.

“Brezhnev kind of made a deal with each republic,” said Starr, referring to former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who served as general secretary of Communist Party from 1964 until his death in 1982. “He said, ‘You’ll give us what we need, and we’ll lay off. In Central Asia, it became virtually a sovereign state, except it didn’t have its own foreign policy or army. The leaders of those various republics under Brezhnev used this opportunity to advance their cause. But with the appointment of Gorbachev, this deal fell apart. He was absolutely out to get those national leaders who had taken advantage of the deal.”

After the events of Black January, Aliyev returned to Azerbaijan. By December 1991, the Soviet Union itself had ceased to exist, and Azerbaijan had formally declared its independence. In October 1993, Aliyev was elected president; he ruled until his shortly before his death 10 years later, having appointed his son, Ilham, as his party’s presidential candidate.

President Ilham Aliyev has led Azerbaijan since 2003.

“In the end, all of the Soviet efforts to keep Azerbaijan under Soviet rule proved worthless,” wrote Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Katarina Hall. “The Soviet Union’s attack on Baku had the opposite effect. Instead of suppressing dissidents and eliminating the independence movement, it further encouraged Azerbaijanis in their drive for freedom from communist rule.”

In an interesting footnote to history, in 1995, Gorbachev apologized to the people of Azerbaijan, stating that “the declaration of a state emergency in Baku was the biggest mistake of my political career.”

It also marked, as much as any single event, the rebirth of an independent Azerbaijan.

“I see guests here from other countries that weren’t even found on the map then,” Gurbanov said in thanking all for their attendance. “Yes, this was a terrible event in which good people suffered. But those of us who respect sovereignty, self-determination and open systems of government all have a reason to rejoice.”


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