Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

According to national and international definitions, intangible cultural heritage refers to the particular behavior, symbols, skills, means, indigenous knowledge and know-how, handicrafts and cultural spaces of a nation. They are handed over from a generation to the next.

Iranian intangible cultural heritage includes performing arts, traditional and hand-made crafts, skills associated with traditional and hand-made crafts, social traditions, customs, festivities and rituals, science and customs associated with nature and world, verbal traditions and other manifestations like languages and dialects. The UNESCO list includes:

Radif of Iranian music

Radif of Iranian music - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The Radif of Iranian music has been playing a magnificent role in the culture of Iranian classical music and being inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity reflects the importance and effects of it on world music.

Radif could be vocal or instrumental in other words it has been performing in two ways of singing and playing an instrument.  Actually, Radif is a collection of numerous melodies of Iranian classical music that have been set based on special order.

Radif was formed in the early 19th century by some Iranian music masters to facilitate the process of training other parts of Iranian music like Dastgah and Gusheh. Different Radifs were transmitted from masters to disciples by oral traditions and some of their innovation and changes made the Iranian music more dynamic.

Ritual dramatic art of Ta‘zīye

Ta‘zīye - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Ta‘zīye an Iranian ritual dramatic art recounts religious events and beliefs. Since the Safavid era, with the recognition of Shiism in Iran, Ta‘zīye has become common all over the country and overseas in different communities and languages.

Due to remembering and recreating parts or moments of the tragic events of Ashura day that took place for Imam Hussein (the prophet Muhammad’s grandson) and his companions in 680 A.D, these dramas are performed principally as parts of Shi’ite Muslim’s tradition of mourning during Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar; according to this, the word of Ta‘zīye is related to grief expression or condolence.

Generally, men are the performers who participate in the show just because of their beliefs and values so they never gain money and perform for spiritual rewards.

This folkloric art welcomes large crowds, therefore, it is performed outdoor in a public arena where audiences convene to watch it enthusiastically.

Poetry, music, song, motion, and special costumes are elements of Ta‘zīye. Besides performers, several artists play significant roles in presenting a perfect Ta‘zīye.

It should be mentioned, that the effects of Ta‘zīye on Iranian religious poetry, music, theater, and even cinema are irrefutable.

Traditional skills of carpet weaving in Fars

carpet weaving in Fars2 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Fars carpets are one of the high-grade and durable carpets in Iran which are originally woven in Fars province. The distinguished element of these carpets is about weaver; the majority of Fars carpets are woven by nomadic ladies or settled tribal weavers in the villages. In other words, Fars carpet is one of the nomads’ handicrafts in this region.

As a result of the nomadic pastoral lifestyle, the carpet is woven with woolen yarns. Traditionally men are responsible for shearing sheep and women design and weave rugs. Horizontal looms are used so that their transportation might be easy during the nomads’ annual migrations.

Typically patterns and shapes are mentally-designed by ladies who symbolize concepts of nature, myth, and history of the tribe in their arts. The Fars carpet is the only rug to depict nightingales, which are shown as angular-shaped birds.

The skills of all processes of weaving are transmitted to new generations through oral traditions and fortunately, were inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Traditional Skills of Carpet Weaving in Kashan

carpet weaving in Kashan - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Kashan has been being one of the main centers of hand-woven carpets in Iran. Due to the quality of the materials and skills of local people in designing, dyeing, shearing, loom-building, and tool-making and weaving; this carpet is Inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Kashan carpet is one of the most glamorous rugs in Iran. This masterpiece is woven on vertical looms, the warp and woof are of cotton or silk and the Farsi knotting style (asymmetrical knotting) is applied for knotting the yarns. Apart from, the skills of carpet weavers which the majority of them are women, the folkloric songs that they were crooning during the weaving, is a treasure of Persian oral culture.

And also the first machine-woven carpets in Iran were weaved in Kashan so now this city is a successful zone in the carpet industry, too.

Music of the Bakhshis of Khorasan

Bakhshis of Khorasan - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

In the north of Khorasan, a Dotar musician who is a master in crafting the instrument, songwriting, singing, and storytelling, has been being known as “Bakhshi”. Bakhshis whose main occupation is farming, mostly live in the cities of Quchan, Shirvan, and Bojnord.

Music of the Bakhshis is a collection of poetry, literature, mysticism, and ethics. They narrate epic tales and myths and recount Islamic and Gnostic poems that have been taught through oral traditions. Historically, they have been providing the music for weddings, births, and other important festive events.

Generally, Bakhshis are extremely respected among their community, people consider them as judges, mediators, masters, and authentic Dotar musicians.

Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei Rituals

zorkhane - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Since ancient eras, workout and having a strong body has been an inseparable part of daily life and a significant value for Persian people who should be smart and powerful enough to can work hard and defend their land and people against any threats of enemies.

Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei sports are a symbol of Iranian sports in thousands of years. The acts and performances in this ancient sport are an intelligent combination of religious and ethical beliefs as well as martial skills. In terms of its instruments, each of them symbolizes a classical weapon.

Pahlevan means a helpful and modest champion who is considered as a hero, therefore a Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei athlete learn to be both strong in his physical strength and ethical values through some rituals.

The ritual takes place in a Zoorkhane, a traditional domed gym with a Goud (Arena/ring) which is built lower than the main hall floor and is a symbol of the battlefield, and a seat for Morshed (master) higher in position than audiences. Morshed with a prominent character and status, who plays drum and sings epic and moral poems; leads the athletes to perform group movements to the rhythm of the music and songs of him.

For promoting this sport on a global level, the International Zoorkhaneh Sports Federation (IZSF) was established in 2004. Moreover, UNESCO Recognized Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei Rituals as the world’s longest-running form of such training.

Naqqāli, Iranian Dramatic Story-Telling

Iranian Dramatic - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The great interest of Iranians in epic tales, legends, myths and stories of their ancestors, caused the prosperity of literature and several related arts such as drama and music. To the extent that storytelling or reciting some of the literary masterpieces like Shahnameh have been being an inseparable part of each gathering or ritual ceremony. As a result, a folkloric and dramatic performance known as “Naqqāli” became customary.

“Naqqal” a person who is the only narrator that recounts stories by his gestures and movements. During the performance storyteller’s eloquence, powerful memory, and knowledge about literature attract people’s attention. Sometimes a piece of appropriate music or a painted scroll helps audiences imagine properly.

Naqqāli was formerly performed in coffeehouses, in recent years most of them have been replaced to modern cafes. In addition, decreasing the interest of young generations in traditional dramatic arts as a result of increasing usage of mass and social media is threatening the survival of Naqqāli.

Traditional skills of building and sailing Iranian Lenj boats in the Persian Gulf

Iranian Lenj boats - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Historically, the sea has been playing a leading role in inhabitants’ source of income and the formation of their unique lifestyle, on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf, therefore, sailing for traveling, trading, fishing, and pearl diving have been being inseparable parts of people’s life; which need advanced knowledge and techniques.

Lenj, Iranian wooden hand-built vessels that are made in workshops near the beach mostly in main ports as well as its belong arts or cultures display minor parts of the philosophy, ritualistic background, culture and traditional knowledge of sailing, navigation techniques, and terminology, oral literature, specific music, rhythms, performing arts and festivals in this region.

Due to traditional time-consuming methods and also expensive materials, nowadays old workshops are replacing to repairing shops so these artistic and traditional skills are gradually disappearing. Consequently, UNESCO Inscribed them on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

Qalishuyan rituals of Mashhad-e Ardehal in Kashan

Qalishouyan ritual in Kashan 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Qalishuyan is a ritual ceremony in the Mashhad-e Ardehal a town near Kashan. Thousands of people of Kashan, Fin, Khave, and surrounding villages take part in the Qalishuyan ritual (literally carpet washing) each year.

The only religious ceremony in Iran holding according to the Persian solar calendar takes place commonly on the second Friday of Mehr (the 7th month coincides with October).

This impressive gathering and traditional ritual symbolize the funeral and mourning of Soltān Ali the son of Imam Mohammad Bagher (the 5th Shia’s Imam) who was martyred in this region about a thousand years ago. Locals found his body and carried it on a carpet to a stream where it was washed and then buried.

On Friday a group of local people wrap a carpet of his mausoleum with a special ritual of sprinkling rosewater on it and reciting poems, then delivers it to another group of mourners waiting in the courtyard. They carry carpet to the stream as a sign of washing Soltān Ali’s blood off the carpet; at the same time another group who are holding a stick symbolizing the fight against the murderers accompany them; at the end, the carpet is returned to the mausoleum.

Qalishuyan rituals which are assumed related to some ancient Persian religion or traditions have been transmitted to new generations by oral tradition.


lavash - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

As an essential and nutritious food, bread has had a respectful and valuable status in Persian cuisine and culture, therefore, the process of raising wheat, milling it, baking bread and finally, its quality really matters for Iranian. The diversity of bread in ingredients, tastes, shapes, thickness, and methods of baking, in the country, is considered as a result of this importance.

The extremely thin, roundish and flatbread of Lavash is one most popular bread in Iran which is made with flour, water, a bit salt and often bakers’ yeast. It is baked in traditional or modern ways all over the country. In rural areas, baking bread is ladies’ duty who bake it commonly using a “Tanūr” an oven-shaped hole in the ground. In the nomadic area, women bake Lavash on a round metal surface “Saaj” which is easily transported in their migrations. In the modern and traditional bakeries mostly men are the baker.

In addition, as a widespread bread, Lavash is bake in the areas surrounding the Caspian Sea, the South Caucasus, and Western Asia that lots of traditions related to making, sharing, or eating in religious or festive events are found in these communities.


Nowruz - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Nowruz is the word for Persian new year. Based on the Iranian solar calendar, the first day of spring is coinciding with the vernal equinox. It occurs on the 21st of March or its previous or following day. In the Persian language, Nowruz means a new day that the people will experience a new beginning like nature. This event has an authentic background that refers to Persian myth, culture, history, and traditions of its ancient religions, such as Mithraism and Zoroastrianism.

Nowruz is Celebrating worldwide by millions of people in South Asia, Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, the Balkans. Until 2017 in addition to Iran, eleven countries including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey have been joined to the Nowruz case on the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

These communities have lots of in common in terms of culture and history however, celebrating Nowruz and other related cultural events which are holding before and during the New year are a bit different from each other. 

Family members gather together and wish the best year full of happiness and health for each other. Moreover, visiting relatives and friends is an inseparable part of Nowruz.


kamanche 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Kamancheh (little bow) a bowed string instrument is a major element of classical and folkloric music in Iran and Azerbaijan. Nowadays a four-stringed Kamancheh comprising a bow made with horsehair and body is used. The player moves the bow on the strings horizontally while he is sitting and put the resonating box on the ground or on his knee.

Kamancheh is a common instrument which is played in the majority of people’s social and cultural gathering or other festive events like weddings, and Nowruz in Iran. In Golestan province (northeast of Iran) Kamancheh is a significant instrument among the Turkman community; where Kamancheh is played at the same time with Dotar and the performer sings epic tales and expresses his feeling about life.

Kamancheh has been an inseparable part of any royal orchestra, event or gathering in Tehran. During the Qajar dynasty, Tabriz was the residence of princes, therefore Kamancheh and melodies were affected by capital’s music. Moreover, proximity to the Caucasus and Azerbaijan influenced the music of this city.

Arts of crafting and playing Kamancheh has a notable status among Lor tribes in the west of Iran where Kamancheh is made with minor changes in shape to perform folkloric music of people.

Today the traditions and knowledge of performing and crafting Kamancheh are transmitted to the contemporary methods; somehow most of them are made in workshops by masters and young players are mostly trained in academic centers, colleges, and music schools.


2tar 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

In comparison with several plucked string musical instruments in Iran, Dotar has a prominent status among Iranian classical music lovers and masters. In the Persian language “do” means two and “tar” refers to the string. A pear-shaped instrument with a long neck and two strings is crafted using wood of mulberry, walnut, jujube, and apricot.

Referring to the ancient manuscripts and historical documents about the Persian music backgrounds obviously Dotar is one of the oldest musical instruments in Iran plateau.

Dotar is traditionally acquainted and prevalent in the east of Iran especially among Kurds of Khorasan and Turkmen people. Performers play Dotar on important social or ritual occasions and ceremonies while they are recounting the epic, mythical tales and singing ethical and Gnostic poems.

The folkloric art of crafting and playing Dotar is inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List to be safeguarded for the next generations.


Chogan - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The traditional horse-riding game of Chogan is a Persian ancient game in which players of two teams compete to pass the ball through the opponent team’s goalposts using a stick.

Primarily, as a training game for cavalry units, or to indicate the glory and potency of the king’s guard and other elite troops afterward as a royal game became a popular entertainment and sport of kings, noblemen, and authorities.

Since ancient eras to now, Chogan has been being played in vast plains, royal courts, urban fields, and polo clubs. In the time of King Abbas I (17th century – Safavid dynasty), when Chogan was a known interesting royal game an official Chogan field was built in the Naqsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan.

After spreading all over the extensive empire, it was played in different states of Persia which now they are independent countries. The game was brought from India to England so Englishmen had a great role in introducing this game and setting some rules to the extent that now the sport of polo which is played worldwide is originated from Chogan.

Chogan is traditionally accompanied by music and storytelling; the presence in the literature, miniature painting, and decorations of architecture or handicrafts, as well as its influence on some arts like music, Naqali, and painting, proves the strong connection of Chogan with Persian culture.

Art of miniature

Art of miniature 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The miniature is a type of two-dimensional artwork that involves the design and creation of small paintings on books, papier-mâché, rugs, textiles, walls, ceramics and other items using raw materials such as gold, silver and various organic substances. The patterns of the miniature represent beliefs, worldviews and lifestyles in a pictorial fashion and also gained a new character through the Islamic influence. While there are stylistic differences between them, the art of miniature as practised by the submitting States Parties shares crucial features. Traditional painting principles and techniques are preserved, but artists also bring individual creativity into the process.

Pilgrimage to the St. Thaddeus Apostle Monastery

Pilgrimage to the St. Thaddeus Apostle Monastery 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The annual three-day pilgrimage to St. Thaddeus Apostle Monastery in northwestern Iran is held each July. The pilgrimage venerates two prominent saints: St. Thaddeus, one of the first apostles preaching Christianity, and St. Santukhd, the first female Christian martyr. The bearers of the element are the Armenian population in Iran, Iranian-Armenians residing in Armenia, and followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Pilgrims gather in Tabriz before departing for the monastery. They cover 700 kilometers from Yerevan to the monastery annually. The commemoration ceremony includes special liturgies, processions, prayers and fasting. It culminates in a Holy Mass with Holy Communion. Special times are set aside for traditional Armenian folk performances and Armenian dishes are served. The pilgrimage is the primary social and cultural event of the year. Because attendees reside in tents in close proximity to one another, the sense of community is enhanced. The monastery has been a pilgrimage site for over nineteen centuries. However, during the years of Soviet power in Armenia, participating in the pilgrimage was prohibited. Bearers of the element preserved cultural memories of the pilgrimage and transmitted it to families and communities. Only after independence in the 1990s was the pilgrimage from Armenia resumed.

Crafting and playing the Oud

Crafting and playing the Oud 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The oud is a traditional, lute-type instrument played in Iran and Syria. The musician places the short-necked instrument on their leg, fretting with one hand and plucking the chords with the other. In both countries, the oud consists of a pear-shaped sound box made of walnut, rose, poplar, ebony or apricot wood. Crafting an oud takes up to twenty-five days, during which the wood is left to dry and harden and is then treated with water and steam for fifteen days to build its durability. Ouds are crafted in different sizes for different sized-bodies and decorated with wooden carvings and mosaic patterns. They typically have five twin strings, though a sixth string can be added. With its bass and baritone ranges, the instrument can produce melodic and harmonic tones. The oud is played solo or in ensembles and is accompanied by traditional songs and dance in a wide range of events. Its practice is transmitted through apprenticeships and in musical centres, colleges and universities in urban areas. Crafters are mostly men, although in recent years young women have developed an interest as well.

Turkmen-style needlework art

Turkmen style needlework art 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Turkmen-style needlework is a decorative applied art used on the national dress of people of all genders and ages in Turkmenistan and Iran. In both countries, Turkmen-style needlework begins with the preparation of thin silk threads that are intertwined in three layers and twisted into a single thread, then straightened with a large needle. This unique technique gives the thread a shine. For the most common needlework style, a series of loops are created by piercing the fabric with a thin needle and holding the previous loop with the thumb of the other hand. There are also other needlework styles that vary according to the region. There is no age limit, and young girls traditionally learn the needlework from their mothers and grandmothers. In rural areas, the patterns used reveal the territorial identity of the needlewomen. They are also used to symbolize love, friendship, nature and strength. The needlework is used on wedding clothes, in clothing for funerals and cultural events, and as decorative parts of ordinary clothing, such as scarves, coats, pants, shawls and accessories.

Sericulture and traditional production of silk for weaving

Sericulture and traditional production of silk for weaving 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

In sericulture and the traditional production of silk for weaving, farmers care for the silkworms through their entire lifecycle, growing the mulberry trees that provide leaves upon which the worms feed and produce silkworm eggs. The fibres are reeled from the cocoons, spun into silk threads, cleaned and dyed. The threads are then used to create various types of craft products, including fabrics, carpets, rugs and curtains. Silk products are highly valued by all social and cultural classes, and people use them for special occasions such as weddings, funerals and family gatherings. Deeply rooted in the traditions of the Great Silk Road, the practice is an expression of cultural identity and centuries-old traditions. It is also viewed as a symbol of social cohesion, as the silk trade contributed to the exchange of culture and science within and across the countries concerned.


Yalda Chella 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Yaldā/Chella refers to a traditional celebration of the sun and the warmth of life. Practiced in Iran and Afghanistan, the event takes place on the last night of autumn, when families gather at the houses of elders and sit around a table adorned with a series of symbolic objects and foods: a lamp to symbolize light, water to represent cleanliness, and red fruits such as pomegranates, watermelons, beetroots, jujube and grapes to symbolize warmth. Broth, sweets, dried fruits and nuts that are used specifically for the occasion are also set on the table and consumed during the gathering. Activities range from reciting poetry and storytelling to playing games and music and giving gifts to new in-laws, brides and children. The event celebrates cultural identity, nature, respect for women, friendship, hospitality, cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence. It is transmitted informally within families, although radio and television programmes, publications, social media and educational materials have also played an important role in transmitting the practice in recent years. Events, conferences, trainings, workshops and awareness-raising activities carried out by research centres, NGOs, cultural organizations and educational institutes have also had a significant impact on the proper transmission of the element to future generations.

National programme to safeguard the traditional art of calligraphy in Iran

National programme to safeguard the traditional art of calligraphy in Iran 425x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The tradition of calligraphy has always been associated with the act of writing in Iran, and even when the writers had limited literacy, calligraphy and writing were still intricately linked. But with the advent of printing and the emergence of computer programs and digital fonts, this art gradually declined and the emphasis on pure readability replaced the observance of both readability and aesthetics. This resulted in a decline in the appreciation of calligraphy among the new generations. The safeguarding of the Iranian calligraphic tradition thus became a major concern in the 1980s, and a national programme was developed for this purpose by non governmental organizations in collaboration with the government. This programme aimed to expand informal and formal public training in calligraphy, publish books and pamphlets, hold art exhibitions, and develop academic curricula, while promoting appropriate use of the calligraphic tradition in line with modern living conditions. Some of the work on this programme was started by the Iranian Calligraphers Association before the 1980s, and given its immense popularity, the public sector turned it into a national programme by redefining and coordinating it on a large scale based on the experiences of the public and private sectors.

Iftar/Eftari/Iftar/Iftor and its socio-cultural traditions

Ramadan Iftar 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

TIftar is observed by Muslims at sunset in the month of Ramadan (the ninth month in the lunar calendar), upon completion of all religious and ceremonial rites. Observed by people of all ages, genders and backgrounds, it marks the daily termination of the hardships of fasting from dawn to sunset. The evening prayer is followed by activities such as praying ceremonies, music, storytelling, games, preparing and serving traditional and local meals and marriage arrangements. For communities, it often takes the form of gatherings or meals, strengthening family and community ties and promoting charity, solidarity and social exchange. The ceremonies and rituals related to Iftar are also practised by people who do not necessarily fast during the month of Ramadan. The knowledge and skills are typically transmitted within families through oral instruction, observation and participation, and children and youth are often entrusted with preparing components of traditional meals. During this process, parents also transmit knowledge about the benefits of fasting and the social values and functions of Iftar. Iftar is often supported by governmental entities, NGOs and charities, as well as through television, radio, press and social media.

Art of illumination: Tazhib

tazhib 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

Illumination is a centuries-old decorative art practised on the pages of manuscripts, calligraphic texts and miniatures. The main component is gold leaf or gold paint, both of which entail specific knowledge and techniques. Natural pigments are also used, and synthetic paints such as watercolour or gouache have become widespread in recent years. Today, traditional and contemporary interpretations of the element can be seen in manuscripts, miniatures and calligraphy as well as in stand-alone pieces of art. The practice is transmitted through apprenticeships as well as through formal and non-formal education, including in many universities, academies, research centres, and public and private workshops. The colours, patterns, and motifs used have symbolic meanings, and it is common to embellish religious texts, literary and historical manuscripts, marriage deeds and even commercial treaties with illuminations. The practice is therefore closely tied to the beliefs and cultural practices of communities. Illumination strengthens the sense of cultural continuity for communities at national, regional and international levels. And as the traditional knowledge and methods of illumination are also used in the restoration of ancient manuscripts and folios, the practice also contributes to the preservation of historical and cultural objects and to their safeguarding for future generations .

Iran’s ancient Sadeh festival

sade festival 600x400 - Iranian Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO List

The ancient festival of Sadeh, celebrated 50 days before the New Year (Nowruz), is one of Iran’s oldest cultural ceremonies, dating back to the Achaemenid Empire. (550-330 B.C.)

For ancient Persians, the 10th day of the month of Bahman (on or around 30 January) was a day of special importance: a day of joy, excitement and sacred rituals. Before the sunrise, Iranians gathered together on high mountains or on the roofs of their houses and kindled huge fires, celebrating the most important Iranian festival: Sadeh Festival.

The festivity honors the sacred elements of fire, water, wind, and soil to defeat the forces of darkness, frost, and cold.In ancient Iranian belief, the fire lit on this day symbolized the warming of the earth and its readiness for the arrival of the spring season.

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