Preserving for access: UNESCO helps Uzbekistan extend life of Central Asian documentary heritage
UNESCO’s Office in Tashkent organized several training sessions for specialists from the Al-Beruni Institute of Oriental Studies (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) in order to enhance their ability to deal with manuscripts’ storage, manipulation, preservation and conservation. The Institute holds one of the most important collections of Central Asian manuscripts, reflecting the role of this part of the world as a crossroads of the Silk Road. Around 26 000 manuscripts, dating from the IX to the XX century, are inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Within the framework of the UNESCO project “Preservation of the manuscripts collection of the Al-Beruni Institute of Oriental Studies, Academy of Sciences, Tashkent, Uzbekistan”, funded by Saudi Arabia, Al-Beruni’s restorers acquired good precision in their work. They got acquainted with treatment methodology in paper conservation; got familiar with production of protective container for manuscripts’ storing; and learnt how to deal with dust removal techniques. All those practical elements were accompanied by the introduction of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Protection Handbook, Care and Handling of Manuscripts.
Those capacity-building activities, which took place through eighteen months, enabled restorers to gain in responsibility, even if those trainings are a permanent process for which trainees will need “more practice under professional guidance to be more autonomous in decision making”, states Marco di Bella, an international expert and UNESCO consultant, who delivered the training on bookbinding.
Another major achievement of the project is the renovation works conducted in the Al-Beruni Institute. All storage areas were renewed through painting, air conditioning and improvement of safety conditions. Staff got trained on manipulation of manuscripts and sensitized to disaster preparedness, response and recovery. The conservation laboratory also underwent refreshing, and brand new equipment, material and products were acquired. This renovation permitted improvement of exhibition facilities, reading spaces and global infrastructures, allowing the Institute to enhance its image and to benefit from the first initiative of this kind in Uzbekistan.
The outcomes of the project will include a handbook written by international expert Mr Mirabile to help the Al-Beruni Institute to set up and design policies and procedures in the field of acquisition, communication, conservation and storage of manuscripts. Such a publication could have very promising spillover: it could be implemented to other manuscripts’ collections, of which Uzbekistan is rich.
Lastly, a trilingual catalogue of the Institute collection, Treasury of the Oriental Manuscripts of the Al-Beruni Institute of Oriental Studies, will be published for the first time. The organization of an exhibition with selected manuscripts will also help raise public awareness about this unique collection.
There is no doubt that all these efforts will improve conditions of the 25 261 volumes of the Al-Beruni collection, and its maintenance and management will be ensured with best practices. These precious documents, inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, gaining in longevity, will be accessible for study, research and public audience even easily than today, with better respect of their integrity, authenticity and conditions.
UNESCO and Saudi Arabian Funds-in-Trust joint project
This unique initiative is based on the exchange of knowledge and best practices. It aims not only to enhance capacity of the Al-Beruni Institute in Uzbekistan, but also spur the development of a real network of specialists, researchers and scholars in collaboration with the King Al-Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The project also seeks to develop a benchmarking system to deal, in the best way, with conservation and preservation of old and precious manuscripts.