An Azerbaijani saying has it that “a man is not a man without his papaq” - without his hat that is. In Azerbaijan the papaq - traditionally made of lamb or karakul’s fur - is not simply just headgear, but rather a symbol of honor and dignity, though in the digital age the traditional hat has slowly lost its significance. And so the craft of making them has been fading.
Aqil Karimov is one of the handful of hat-makers left and he is determined to keep the tradition alive. The 42-year-old is the last papaq maker in Shaki, a city of 63,000 in northern Azerbaijan which used to be a leading centre for manufacturing of papaq in the country.
“Such was its significance that until not long ago men without hats could not witness in court,” says Karimov, whose craft has been his family’s business for five generations. “Touching a man’s hat used to be considered an insult while losing it was the worst shame.”
Every day Karimov opens his workshop in the city’s Karavansarai, an historical building tucked away in a cobbled street - yet his customers are mainly tourists, interested in taking pictures with the papaqci and share them on Instagram.