31.08.2013 - UNESCO Office in Tashkent

DG visit to Uzbekistan

@Uzbekistan Today,

In late August, Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, paid an official visit to Uzbekistan. The distinguished guest attended the opening ceremony of the Ninth Sharq Taronalari International Music Festival in Samarqand. On one of the festival days Irina Bokova was interviewed by a UT reporter.

UT: This year marks the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s accession to the UNESCO. How do you assess the evolution of relations during this period, and to what extent do you think the partnership between UNESCO and Uzbekistan has been fruitful?

Irina Bokova: I am quite pleased that my first official visit to Uzbekistan and Samarqand in particular, has taken place on the eve of Uzbekistan’s Independence Day and the momentous event of the 20th anniversary of your country’s accession to UNESCO. This constitutes a remarkable opportunity for us to revisit the outcomes of our interaction and look to the future. I would like to note that Uzbekistan has been a very active participant in all UNESCO activities. This country is member of UNESCO’s Executive Board. Uzbekistan was also enthusiastic in the elaboration and implementation of the Convention for Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage.  Over the past years, we have materialized a range of joint projects, including anniversary celebrations of Amir Temur, Mirzo Ulughbek, Ahmad Farghoni, Imam Bukhori, Kamoliddin Behzod, Abdukholiq Gijduvani, the world famous cities of Samarqand, Bukhoro, Khiva, Termiz, Shahrisabz, Qarshi, Tashkent, Marghilon, along with precious literary works like Alpomish epic and the holy book of Avesta. The historical and cultural sites of Samarqand, Shahrisabz, Bukhoro and Khiva are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2001, UNESCO distinguished Bukhoro as a City of Peace. The Boysun Cultural Space, as well as Shoshmaqom, Katta Ashula and Navruz, are inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In Samarqand, we reviewed the activities of the UNESCO International Institute for Central Asian Studies, the UNESCO Chair on Computerized Information Technologies at Samarqand Institute of Economics and Services, the UNESCO Chair on Conservation and Management of Historic Centers at Samarqand State Architectural and Civil Engineering Institute, where I have had an interesting meeting with scholars. Thus, we have garnered a rather extensive range of cooperation, for which I am incredibly pleased.

UT: The idea of holding the biennial International Music Festival Sharq Taronalari on the Uzbek land is keenly supported by UNESCO, as your visit has confirmed again. In what sense do you think it is distinct from other similar international festivals, what is its identity, its zest?

Irina Bokova: This festival is really very important for UNESCO, for the region and the world in general.  UNESCO has supported the initiative of the forum from its earliest steps; hence we consider it ours in a sense. We have been observing the music festival’s evolution. Sharq Taronalari implies “Melodies of the East”, but we can see how it has become a world festival of traditional music, and an opportunity also for serious discussions among experts and specialists who take part in academic conferences on how to preserve the intangible cultural heritage in the field of music. They share their expertise and research as specialists from across the entire world, not merely Central Asia.

UT: Highly appreciating the scientific aspect of Sharq Taronalari festival, Irina Bokova addressed the participants of the international conference “Musical Traditions of the East in the Context of Contemporary Culture”. The head of UNESCO noted that “in each nation, the cultural evolution was entailed with various influences, that is why it is so important to carry out holistic research projects, like the study of the formation of cultures on the Silk Road. International and regional cooperation in terms of research of different cultures,” she said, “plays a major role today. The intercultural exchange is priceless."

Irina Bokova: As an international organization, UNESCO has the mandate to seek to safeguard and promote the distinct culture of every society, while underlining that all cultures share many things in common from ages of exchange and dialogue. A good example is our Silk Road project. This is a key UNESCO project aimed at preserving the cultural heritage, historical and cultural monuments, mosques, madrasahs, and other
architectural sites, as well as samples of folklore, crafts, everything that was carried by caravans from China to Europe for centuries, where representatives of different peoples met, shared knowledge, information, and culture, which then was enriched and developed.

UT: Music is by and large called the art with no borders. Here in Uzbekistan, for example, music as a school curriculum is studied in grades 1 to 7 with an emphasis on the study of national musical traditions. However, in the age of globalization, the interest in ethnic music has been somehow downgrading. What steps in your view should be taken to enlist this national identity in the context of contemporary culture?

Irina Bokova: I would not assert that today the interest in traditional music is fading. What I believe is that the process of globalization generates new trends in many parts of the world in the field of music, crafts and customs. I was strongly impressed by the strategy of learning in this field. I visited Uspensky Republican Specialized Music Academic Lyceum, and I witnessed how they work to support young talents and bolster
the music culture. I very much welcome this government policy. This is important because it is linked to the spiritual development of each person, it opens a new world of beauty and values, and it helps to discover new talents. In Samarqand, I visited the Handicraft Center and witnessed the revived production of traditional paper, which had disappeared. This is a UNESCO project that makes us all very proud. I also saw the revival of the tradition of silk carpet weaving. UNESCO promotes both the preservation of culture, and the restoration of crafts, and crucially, advocates the engagement of young people in these endeavors. I am deeply convinced that if people, especially the growing generation, know and respect their culture, they will be tolerant of others.
This is our mission, which we are promoting through our Convention and all our work. I am very pleased that our Country Office in Uzbekistan, which has been operating for more than 15 years, has been marshaling numerous target projects. The fact that we wish to hold up identity is our response to globalization.

UT: You have paid much of your personal attention to education, especially for young people. There are three madrasahs in the Registan Square: Sher Dor, Tilla Kori and Ulughbek. During his life, Mirzo Ulugbek built three madrasahs of this kind. The portal of one of them in Bukhoro has an inscription dating back to the 15th century: "The pursuit of knowledge is the duty of every male and female Muslim." How relevant
do you think this saying is in the 21st century?

Irina Bokova: I fully support this view. I think it was extremely important at that time, so Ulughbek built these madrasahs with good reason. It is known that there were more than a thousand schools of this kind in Samarqand – people came here to study, research, and invent. Education is essential to every nation today. It is even an issue of security, as ignorance is a threat to peace in the world. This is why I initiated a global partnership on education for girls and women two years ago. In the 21st century, I would say it is really one of the key challenges the human race is facing, and one of the noblest goals for humanity to pursue, imperative in achieving sustainable development. This is the reason UNESCO has worked hard on this front – and this is a personal responsibility and priority.

UT: Samarqand, along with historic centers of Shahrisabz, Bukhoro, Ichan Kala in Khiva, is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. You might have noticed how carefully our people strive to perpetuate historic monuments, shrines, and revitalize folk crafts. This aspiration is backed at the legislature level. How do you find the expertise of Uzbekistan in the global context?

Irina Bokova: I welcome people's interest in the preservation of heritage and the revival of crafts and traditions. This is rather important, because I believe the perpetuation of legacy cannot be guided only by fiat. At the same time, it is quite critical that appropriate laws and standards meet the requirements of the Convention on the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, so that both experts and local communities
know what world heritage is, and what they should do to safeguard it. Sometimes we encounter good intentions, which unfortunately do not meet the criteria of the Convention, which are based on the experience and wisdom of forty years of work by experts around the world. I can witness considerable efforts to preserve this heritage in Samarqand, as well. At the same time, we know, and I talked about this with local experts, that there are natural environmental challenges, such as climate change, that affect monuments – and so do tourists sometimes. As we say, sometimes monuments become hostage to their own
success. In conditions of urbanization, which is natural in every corner of the world, we believe the most important challenge is to preserve the authenticity and integrity for centuries to come. UNESCO stands ready to work together toward perpetuating all these amazing monuments of Islamic civilization and culture for the future generations of Uzbekistan. To do this, we have the experience and professionals – we know how to accomplish it.

UT: When getting acquainted with Samarqand, you have admitted that before coming to Uzbekistan she had read much about sightseeing in the ancient city. However, at arm's length, all this beauty is an indescribable experience. You wrote an entry to the visitor’s book, thus: "I express my gratitude for an opportunity to visit the mausoleum of Amir Temur, a great military leader, a builder of a vast empire. I am grateful
to Uzbekistan for preserving this heritage, which already belongs to the entire mankind."

Irina Bokova: It really belongs to the whole human race, which is why the site is included on the World Heritage List in conformity with the Convention. That is the reason why the authenticity and atmosphere of those times should be preserved as much as possible.
We must continue working in this direction across the world, and I know that Samarqand is committed to this.

UT: Irina Bokova’s tour around Samarqand also included other tourist attractions in the ancient city, adding a wide palette of impressions. What will you tell your friends about Uzbekistan upon your return home, and how will you characterize our country?

Irina Bokova: Uzbekistan has its own rich history, its own institutions, its own objectives and customs. It has a huge intellectual potential. I can witness also the vast potential for the development of tourism, sustainable tourism. I think UNESCO can contribute here, like it has been doing in the preservation of cultural heritage.
There are myriads of monuments in Bukhoro, Khiva and other cities – there is a long list of things that can be included in the World Heritage List. Young people in Uzbekistan account for more than 60 percent of the total population and they constitute a huge potential for development. In Uzbekistan, the emphasis is placed on quality education, and young talents are provided with support. I return home from Uzbekistan full of
optimism and I will encourage many of my friends to visit your country and get acquainted with its ancient culture and stunning beauty, and with all the incredible works created by Uzbek craftsmen.

UT: This is your first official visit to Uzbekistan and hopefully not the last. What would you wish for our people?

Irina Bokova: I wish to tell them to be proud of who they are and what they have, to cherish their heritage, crafts, traditions, and to perpetuate them. I wish them to be open to others, to be inquiring, to learn new things about other cultures. Today, Uzbekistan remains as a crossroad of different cultures, hence I certainly wish to participate in many more interesting events, for sustainable development and for the prosperity of everyone.
I wish you peace, harmony, welfare, so that the people, especially the younger ones, are able to develop their talents.

Recorded by Elmira TUKHVATULLINA

@Uzbekistan Today,
Source: Uzbekistan Today Magazine #3 (2013)

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