UNESCO, Uzbekistan: experience and potential

Head of the UNESCO Office in Tashkent Mr. Michael Barry Lane shared his opinion on the possibility of enhancing the tourist potential of Uzbekistan and talked about the UNESCO projects implemented in this area.

Sergey Savchuk-Kurbanov Staff Writer

A favourable geo-strategic positioning of Uzbekistan right at the crossroads of the Silk Road has remained unused for a long time. After gaining independence a chance to use the potential at hand appeared. Along the ancient trade routes in addition to silks, spices, other exotic goods and
porcelain during the medieval times, a mutually beneficial exchange of technological secrets of production of goods and handicrafts, ideas, various philosophical views and religious movements that left behind the heritage of thousands of unique monuments, archeological and other sites was conducted. Therefore UNESCO is interested in creating conditions to stimulate the revival of Uzbekistan’s grandeur and is committed to implementing numerous projects on developing cultural tourism for this reason.

Among such projects is the restoration of antique Buddhist monumentsMFayaz-tepa) in the south of Uzbekistan near Termez, the revival of crafts and technologies for the production of famous Samarkand paper (with a history of over 13 centuries), Bukhara and Khiva medieval carpet-weaving, gold-embroidery and pottery, holding a folklore festival in Boysun as well as numerous other events conducted under the aegis of the UNESCO and with its participation.

Moreover, the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and other fundamental documents were signed to facilitate progress of these processes. Numerous seminars are held, e.g. “Revival of true values and Uzbekistan” (2004) or Tashkent International Symposium held last year at the International Culture Caravanserai and devoted to the problems of restoration and international experience in this area. The majority of those is held with the support of the Arts Academy of Uzbekistan, Ministry for Culture and Sports of Uzbekistan and other organisations. By investing substantial subsidies in the protection and restoration of the cultural heritage of the Silk Road, the government of Uzbekistan has elevated this activity to the level of state policy because cultural tourisms teaches mutual respect, mutual understanding and trust between peoples and countries. The world practice demonstrates that the states possessing conditions for development of tourism and capable of using it can earn large profits.

Studying the best practices of the international community and integrating those wisely according to local characteristics have become one of the most important tasks of developing the tourist potential of Uzbekistan.

First of all, the image of the county is characterised by its borders. In this case, it is about its «air gates» or airports, i.e. the treatment of guests by the respective services as well as a timely luggage delivery. Let’s ask a simple question: would a foreign tourist want to experience inconveniences or would he instead try to make a better choice in favour of some other country?! And especially considering the incredibly high cost of airplane tickets, visas and hotel accommodation? Is there anyone who would want to spend extra money on these things?

Those countries that care about such things gain the most profits by increasing the turnover of funds and have a constant significant annual increase in the volume of tourist visits.

A special role in these processes is played by the creation of a professionally prepared, attractive, quality and reliable information since it is exactly about the lack of such information that tourism operators of various countries complain.

Uzbekistan has thousands upon thousands of tourist sites. The special place among those is occupied by unique monuments of ancient, primordial art—rock and cave paintings, petroglyphs, and artistic images of mythological characters, animals, people, hunting scenes, astral signs and
other symbols carved out in stone. These sacral places had been used as sanctuaries for holding rituals. The first fortified proto-urban settlements of Sapallitepa and Jarkutan existed here in the bronze era (2 millennium B.C.).

For example, in Surhandarya viloyat alone there are numerous places pertaining to Alexander the Great such as the ancient settlements of Shortepa and Kampyrtepa near Termez. The former, the largest site on Amudarya traced back to the Achaemenid dynasty (6-4 centuries B.C.), was probably conquered by Alexander during the river crossing whereas the latter (4-3 centuries B.C. — 1-2 centuries A.D.) constructed nearby allegedly at his order is probably the famous Alexandria on the Oxus (Amudarya). As far as I know such is the opinion of Ed-vard Rtveladze, a prominent scholar and academician of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan.

During his military campaign Alexander also conquered the legendary Marakanda, the Sogdian capital, the ruins of which are part of the hills of the settlement of Afrosiab near Samarkand.

Two millennia ago the territory of Uzbekistan was the place of retransmission of Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world.

In this context, Uzbekistan possesses unique ancient monuments. In particular, Fayaztepa located on the outskirts of Termez is an object, the protection, restoration and preservation of which is conducted under the aegis of UNESCO and the Japanese Funds-in-Trust Project. Here one can find a Buddhist stupa (a monument with a hemispherical dome) and a building of the three-part monastery that is almost 2 millennia old.

Their uniqueness is also characterised by the fact that the planning elements, plots of wall-paintings and other details and elements serve as a documental proof of the special diplomatic and ideological flexibility of Buddhism that adjusted to the local conditions and religions already existing at that time on the Uzbek land. This is undoubtedly an example of fruitful influence on the progress and prosperity of states and the atmosphere of tolerance thanks to the policy of the Kushan rulers.

For a foreign tourist an integral and somewhat attractive part of visiting certain Central Asian cities that possess medieval monuments may be a possibility to experience firsthand all the aspects of an ancient-era lifestyle of the ancestors of those faraway times. Every tourist finds it important to walk the historical street of medieval cities, old Bukhara and Samarkand, visit peopled blocks, choyhonas and public saunas.

First of all, the strategy is about increasing the potential of tourist attractiveness of the old cities of the Silk Road.

For this reason, there exist programmes aimed at improving the quality and boosting the production of traditional works of handicrafts by teaching these skills to young people and solving the problem of unemployment along the way.

Restoration of monuments in Samarkand
The famous monuments of medieval architecture of samaraknd as well as of a number of other cities of Uzbekistan are constantly imperiled, by external influence, unfavourable weather conditions and they need frequent repair and replacement of damaged parts. Before those problems would be traditionally tackled by usto or the chief masters. And while the continuity and longevity of generations existed, the knowledge would be passed from father to son, and this repair work would not be a problem since there was a possibility of replacing the old details with new samples of the same quality, those produced with the use of the old methods.

In Uzbekistan there also exist numerous schools of folk ceramics whose products were an integral part of the traditional life of the local population. The importance of a tea ceremony in the daily life would ensure the constant demand in the market for teapots and pialas, but they had been replaced by the more practical porcelain produced at the factories.

Revival of carpet-weaving and embroidery
With the direct participation of UNESCO Office in Tashkent the scjiools of traditional carpet-weaving were revived in Bukhara and Khiva which use natural dyes for silk and wool. Another aim was also set and consequently met, that of providing appropriate equipment for the carpet shops and restoring the production of copies of historical Bukhara and Khorezm carpets the images of which are depicted on the medieval miniature pictures.

Folklore and art of musical performance
An important role in the formation of an international image of the country is also played by the international festivals of Sharq Taronalari in Samarkand and Boysun Bohori in Surhandarya region that are held under the aegis of UNESCO with the participation of musicians and singers from dozens of countries of the world.

Within the frames of these and other programmes, in which foreign foundations and organisations participate including the Japanese ones, much is done to maintain and restore makons or the medieval classical music of Central Asia.

It is noteworthy that Uzbek-Tajik makoms are recognised by UNESCO as the masterpieces of nonmaterial heritage of humankind. And in Boysun an educational crafts centre, a tourist centre and a museum have been created, and scientific ethnographic, folklore and archeological expeditions operate.

The Golden Ring of Khorezm
Karakalpakstan and neighbouring Khorezm are rich in terms of culture. Here an array of ruins of cities and fortresses dating back two thousand years such as Toprak-Kala and Ayaz-Kala Were preserved. They represent remarkable examples of antique city-building and fortification art which are included in the tourist route of the Golden Ring of Khorezm.

The capital of the medieval state of Khorezmshakhs is situated close to the Uzbek-Turkmen border. Among its magnificent ruins individual monuments were preserved such as Kutlug Timur, the highest minaret in Central Asia, or Turabek Khanum Mausoleum. Both of them were preserved with the technical assistance of the UNESCO Office and funded by the UNDP. An important task is to include this ancient urban settlement into the tourist routes connected with Khiva which is situated nearby.

In addition, a project on professional training and development is also implemented. In Khiva and Nukus centres were creatted with the support of the EU and JICA that provide training to professionals in the sphere of tourism.

Other projects are also being carried out, all aiding in faster international integration of Uzbekistan in the area of cultural tourism for the tourist potential of Uzbekistan is rather significant.

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