History of Civilizations of Central Asia

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Description of Project

The General Conference of UNESCO, at its nineteenth session (Nairobi, October, November 1976), adopted the resolution which authorized the Director-General to undertake, among other activities aimed at promoting appreciation and respect for cultural identity, a new project on the preparation of a History of Civilizations of Central Asia. This project was a natural consequence of a pilot project on the study of Central Asia which was approved during the fourteenth session of the UNESCO General Conference in November 1966.

The purpose of this pilot project, as it was formulated in the UNESCO programme, was to make better known the civilizations of the peoples living in the regions of Central Asia through studies of their archaeology, history, languages and literature. At its initial stage, the participating Member States included Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan and the former Soviet Union. Later, Mongolia and China joined the UNESCO Central Asian project, thus enlarging the area to cover the cultures of Mongolia and the western regions of China.

In this work, Central Asia should be understood as a cultural entity developed in the course of the long history of civilizations of peoples of the region and the above delimitation should not be taken as rigid boundaries either now or in the future.

In the absence of any existing survey of such large scope which could have served as a model, UNESCO has had to proceed by stages in this difficult task of presenting an integrated narrative of complex historical events from earliest times to the present day.

The first stage was designed to obtain better knowledge of the civilizations of Central Asia by encouraging archaeological and historical research and the study of literature and the history of science. A new project was therefore launched to promote studies in five major domains: the archaeology and the history of the Kushan empire, the history of the arts of Central Asia, the contribution of the peoples of Central Asia to the development of science, the history of ideas and philosophy, and the literatures of Central Asia.

An International Association for the Study of Cultures of Central Asia (IASCCA), a non-governmental scholarly organization, was founded on the initiative of the Tajik scholar B. Gafurov in 1973, assembling scholars of the area for the co-ordination of interdisciplinary studies of their own cultures and the promotion of regional and international co-operation.

Created under the auspices of UNESCO, the new Association became, from the very beginning of its activity, the principal consultative body of UNESCO in the implementation of its programme on the study of Central Asian cultures and the preparation of a History of Civilizations of Central Asia.

The second stage concentrated on the modern aspects of Central Asian civilizations and the eastward extension of the geographical boundaries of research in the new programme. A series of international scholarly conferences and symposia were organized in the countries of the area to promote studies on Central Asian cultures.

Two meetings of experts, held in 1978 and 1979 at UNESCO Headquarters, concluded that the project launched in 1967 for the study of cultures of Central Asia had led to considerable progress in research and contributed to strengthening existing institutions in the countries of the region. The experts consequently advised the Secretariat on the methodology and the preparation of the History. On the basis of its recommendations it was decided that this publication should consist of six volumes covering chronologically the whole history of Central Asian civilizations ranging from their very inception up to the present. Furthermore, the experts recommended that the experience acquired by UNESCO during the preparation of the History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind and of the General History of Africa should also be taken into account by those responsible for the drafting of the History. As to its presentation, they supported the opinion expressed by the UNESCO Secretariat that the publication, while being a scholarly work, should be accessible to a general readership.

Since history constitutes an uninterrupted sequence of events, it was decided not to give undue emphasis to any specific date. Events preceding or subsequent to those indicated here are dealt with in each volume whenever their inclusion is justified by the requirements of scholarship.

The third and final stage consisted of setting up in August 1980 an International Scientific Committee of nineteen members, who sit in a personal capacity, to take responsibility for the preparation of the History. The Committee thus created included two scholars from each of the seven Central Asian countries – Afghanistan, China, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia and the former USSR – and five experts from other countries – Hungary, Japan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Since the disintegration of the USSR, five new republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have been formed within the Central Asian subregion bringing the total number of twelve Member States. A new International Scientific Committee of sixteen members was appointed in 1993 by the Director-General including one scholar from each country in Central Asia and four from the other countries – France, Japan, Turkey and the United States of America.

The Committee’s first session was held at UNESCO Headquarters in December 1980. Real work on the preparation of the publication of the History of Civilizations of Central Asia started, in fact, in 1981. It was decided that scholars selected by virtue of their qualifications and achievements relating to Central Asian history and culture should ensure the objective presentation, and also the high scientific and intellectual standard, of this History.

Members of the International Scientific Committee decided that the new project should correspond to the noble aims and principles of UNESCO and thereby should contribute to the promotion of mutual understanding and peace between nations. The Committee followed the recommendation of the experts delineating for the purpose of this work the geographical area of Central Asia to reflect the common historical and cultural experience.

The first session of the International Committee decided most of the principal matters concerning the implementation of this complex project, beginning with the drafting of plans and defining the objectives and methods of work of the Committee itself.

The Bureau of the International Scientific Committee consists of a president, four vice–presidents and a rapporteur. The Bureau’s task is to supervise the execution of the project between the sessions of the International Scientific Committee. The reading committee, consisting of four members, was created in 1986 to revise and finalize the manuscripts after editing Volumes I and II. Another reading committee was constituted in 1989 for Volumes III and IV.

The authors and editors are scholars from the present twelve countries of Central Asia and experts from other regions. Thus, this work is the result of the regional and of the international collaboration of scholars within the framework of the programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The International Scientific Committee and myself express particular gratitude to Mrs Irene Iskender-Mochiri for her arduous and selfless work in preparing the volumes for the press.

It is our sincere hope that the publication of the History of Civilizations of Central Asia will be a further step towards the promotion of the cultural identity of the peoples of Central Asia, strengthening their common cultural heritage and, consequently, will foster a better understanding among the peoples of the world.

M. S. Asimov