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Uzbekistan – UNESCO: Partnership, Perspective Plans

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Uzbekistan – UNESCO: Partnership, Perspective Plans

As is known, following the 42nd session of the UNESCO General Conference, held in Paris on November 7-22, 2023, a historic decision was made to hold the following 43rd session in 2025 in Samarkand. This decision was supported by all 194 member states of the organization. This is a high assessment of the systemic reforms in Uzbekistan in recent years.

We talked about this historic decision and the relationship between Uzbekistan and UNESCO in general with the Deputy Chairman of the Committee of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis for International Affairs and Inter-Parliamentary Relations, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor Qodir Jurayev.

– Let’s first talk about the UNESCO organization, its place worldwide, and its activities.

– UNESCO was established in 1946 after the Second World War and is one of the specialized agencies of the United Nations. The organization’s primary goal is to develop education, science, culture, and the information and communications sector in member states. The headquarters is located in Paris. UNESCO is unofficially called the Laboratory of UN Ideas. The great Indian thinker and statesman Jawaharlal Nehru called UNESCO “the conscience of humanity”.

Currently, 194 countries are members of this organization. Another 12 countries and territories have associate member status. Today, more than 400 international non-governmental organizations, foundations, and international and regional associations cooperate with UNESCO.

– In what sectors does Uzbekistan cooperate with UNESCO, and how do you assess this interaction?

– The Republic of Uzbekistan became a member of UNESCO on October 26, 1993. The UNESCO Representative Office in Tashkent has been operating since 1996. Member states of the organization create a National Commission for UNESCO. It is the state’s coordinating organization for UNESCO programs. Thus, on December 29, 1994, the National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan for UNESCO was established.

Over the past period, Uzbekistan has effectively engaged with UNESCO in various fields. In this context, it should be noted that dozens of countries, including Uzbekistan’s historians and archaeologists, actively prepared the book “History of Civilizations of Central Asia” published by UNESCO in 1992-2001.

One of the areas of cooperation with UNESCO is the celebration of historical events and memorable dates. It should be noted that the widespread celebration of dates associated with the ancient history of Uzbekistan, under the leadership of UNESCO, began even before our country gained independence. An example is the celebration within UNESCO of the 1000th anniversary of Abu Rayhan Beruni’s birth (1973) and the 1000th anniversary of Abu Ali ibn Sina’s birth (1980). During the years of independence, this tradition received further development: within the framework of the 600th anniversary of Mirzo Ulugbek’s birth in 1994, as well as the 660th anniversary of Amir Temur’s birth in 1996, Amir Temur Week, scientific conferences and exhibitions were held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

The anniversaries of several of our historical cities and great scientists were also celebrated. In September 2023, the 1150th anniversary of the encyclopedist Abu Rayhan Beruni’s birth was celebrated at UNESCO Headquarters. The 950th anniversary of the work “Divan Lugat at-Turk” and the 200th anniversary of the Karakalpak poet Ajiniyaz Kosybay uly’s birth were included in the UNESCO list of international anniversaries.

In addition, the “Sharq Taronalari” music festival is held in collaboration with UNESCO. Under this organization’s auspices, festivals of folklore, handicrafts, bakhshi, and maqom art are also held.

The next step is the creation of UNESCO departments in our country’s higher education institutions to provide direct support for increasing personnel training capacity. The country’s leading universities have departments such as “Comparative Study of World Religions”, “Water Diplomacy, Water Resources Management and Environmental Protection”, and “Cultural Tourism”.

– In recent years, Uzbekistan’s shrines and cultural heritage have been included in the UNESCO lists. Would you please tell us about these lists and the sites included in them?

– Indeed, UNESCO’s international lists have a special place in our country’s bilateral relations with this organization. In particular, 5 sites in Uzbekistan are currently included in the UNESCO World Heritage List: the Ichan Kala complex in Khiva, the historical center of Bukhara, the historical center of Shakhrisabz, the crossroads of cultures – Samarkand, the Zarafshan-Karakum corridor of the Great Silk Road.

It is worth noting that “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” was included in 2023. This site was presented jointly by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. It consists of 31 historical monuments built in different periods and located on the Great Silk Road. These monuments are masterpieces of the rich cultural and historical heritage of Central Asian peoples. Of these, 15 are in Uzbekistan, 9 in Tajikistan, and 7 in Turkmenistan.

The 15 monuments located in Uzbekistan include the Jartepa temple, Sulaymontepa hill, Kafirkala, Dabussia fortresses, Kasym Sheikh architectural complex, Mirsaid Bakhrom mausoleum, Rabati Malik caravanserai, Sardoba, Deggaron mosque, Chashma-Ayub mausoleum, Vardanzi fortress, Vabkent minaret, architectural complex of Bahauddin Naqshband, Chor Bakr necropolis, Varakhsha and Poykent fortresses.

Another equally important is the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It included 14 elements of the intangible cultural heritage of the Uzbek people. These are shashmaqom, the cultural traditions of Baysun, katta ashula, the art of wit – askiya, culture, and traditions associated with pilaf, the traditions of celebrating Navruz, the Margilan Center for the Development of Crafts, the protection of atlas and adras, creating traditional technologies, lazgi, the art of miniatures, the art of bakhshi, silk-making and traditional art of silk making, traditional stories about Khoja Nasreddin, pottery art of Uzbekistan, the art of illumination: ornamental painting (together with Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Türkiye, and Iran), Iftar and its socio-cultural traditions (together with Azerbaijan, Türkiye, and Iran).

There is also a UNESCO Natural World Heritage List, which includes two sites in Uzbekistan. These are the Western Tian Shan (2016) and the “Turanian Deserts” (2023).

The UNESCO Memory of the World Register was created in 1992. Its primary purpose is to prevent the irretrievable loss of documentary heritage – documents or collections of documents of significant and enduring value, whether in paper, audiovisual, digital, or any other format. It aims to preserve this heritage and make it more accessible to the general public.

Until 2023, the UNESCO Memory of the World Register included the Holy Quran of Uthman, stored in Tashkent, a collection of manuscripts located at the Beruni Institute of Oriental Studies, and documents from the archives of the Khiva Khanate. In 2023, two more sets of documents related to the history of Uzbekistan were included in this register – “Kulliyoti Mavlono” and a collection of documents from the Office of Qushbegi of the Emir of Bukhara.

Another important area is the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which includes two sites in Uzbekistan. These are the Chotqol State Biosphere Reserve (1978) and the Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve (2021).

– In recent years, relations between Uzbekistan and UNESCO have revived and become more active. Various bilateral and multilateral events are being held, and joint plans are being developed. Could you tell us more about this?

– Indeed, Uzbekistan’s interaction with UNESCO has reached a new level in recent years. UNESCO is important in enhancing our country’s prestige and expanding its bilateral and multilateral cooperation with the world community.

The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, met with the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, three times. As a result, in 2017-2023, 14 unique examples of our national cultural heritage were included in the above-mentioned UNESCO lists and recognized internationally as a heritage of humanity. The city of Bukhara was included in the Creative Cities Network.

In 2022, for the first time in its history, Uzbekistan was elected a member of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage for 2022-2026.

On November 14-16, 2022, the UNESCO World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education was held in Tashkent with the participation of Audrey Azoulay and representatives of about 150 countries and decision-makers of international organizations.

To date, Uzbekistan has joined 10 international UNESCO conventions. Another significant development is that in 2023, the UNESCO – Uzbekistan Abu Rayhan Beruni International Prize was established jointly with this organization to stimulate scientific dialogue by promoting ethics in artificial intelligence.

– It is known that the 43rd session of the UNESCO General Conference will be held in Samarkand in 2025. How are preparations going for this event, and what are your expectations?

– It should be noted that the General Conference is the supreme body of UNESCO. Its sessions are held every two years. For more than 40 years, the General Conference sessions were held only in Paris. It was not until 1985 that the session was held in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Of course, it is not by chance that Samarkand was chosen as the venue for the 43rd session of the UNESCO General Conference. This has a deep symbolic meaning. After all, this ancient and eternally young city has been the center of historical meetings and dialogue of civilizations since time immemorial. It’s no secret that different cultures intersect here, complementing and enriching each other.

Preparations for this grand event, which will take place in Samarkand, have already begun. On March 15, 2024, the Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to prepare for the 43rd session of the UNESCO General Conference in 2025” was adopted in Samarkand. This document is noteworthy because it defines several tasks to thoroughly prepare for this prestigious international event at the highest level.

Along with the preparation, the resolution identifies promising directions for further development of cooperation. In particular, an official application will be submitted for our country to become a member of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. Steps will be taken to include cities and unique cultural and natural heritage sites, respectively, in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities and other international lists.

As a personal participant in the 28th and 29th sessions of the General Conference of UNESCO, held in 1995 and 1997, I can emphasize that this high-level event is indeed a huge event since it defines the strategic goals and objectives of the UNESCO, which, as already mentioned, is the “conscience of humanity”. In addition, along with authoritative delegations from all member states of the organization, the leadership of UNESCO will also take part in the session.

Another historical significance of the upcoming event in Samarkand is that it will coincide with the 80th anniversary of UNESCO’s founding. In this context, the structure’s activities over the past period will be summarized, and the main directions of its activities in the future will be determined. In addition, the procedure for electing the new Director-General of UNESCO, which will take place during the 43rd session, will further enhance the prestige of the upcoming event.

As part of this event, representatives of the world community will once again become closely acquainted with Uzbekistan’s cultural, historical, scientific, educational, and tourism opportunities and its universal contribution to world civilization. In short, holding the 43rd session of the UNESCO General Conference in our country undoubtedly means great trust and, at the same time, responsibility for Uzbekistan. This UNESCO decision indicates that the international authority of our country is increasing. It is becoming an active member of the world community, and the “voice of Samarkand”, imbued with the spirit of peace and sustainable development, is sounding louder and louder.