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
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
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
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
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 Committees 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
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
The Bureau of the International Scientific Committee consists of a
president, four vicepresidents and a rapporteur. The Bureaus 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
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