THE COURSE OF HISTORY

Kazakhstan 2016 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the significance of the Silk Road and working closely with Kazakhstan.

Irina Bokova
BIOGRAPHY
Irina Bokova, a national of Bulgaria, has been the Director-General of UNESCO since November 15, 2009, and was successfully reelected for a second term in 2013. She is the first woman and the first Eastern European to lead the organization. As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova is actively engaged in international efforts to advance gender equality, quality education for all, and combat the financing of terrorism by preventing the illicit traffic of cultural goods. A leading champion in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, Bokova has spearheaded UNESCO’s activities on Holocaust remembrance and awareness and is the first Director-General of the organization to appoint a Special Envoy for Holocaust Education. In addition to her mother tongue, she speaks English, French, Spanish, and Russian.

What is the importance of the eight settlements of the Great Silk Road located at the territory of Kazakhstan, recently added onto its World Heritage List?

The Silk Roads were an interconnected web of routes linking the ancient societies of Asia, the subcontinent, Central Asia, Western Asia, and the Near East, and contributed to the development of many of the world's great civilizations. The Chang'an-Tian-shan corridor (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) is one section of this extensive overall Silk Roads network inscribed on the World Heritage List in June 2014. Extending across a distance of around 5,000km, it encompassed a complex network of trade routes extending to some 8,700km that developed to link Chang'an in central China with the heartland of Central Asia between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD, when long distance trade in high value goods, particularly silk, started to expand between the Chinese and Roman Empires. It flourished between the 6th and 14th century AD and remained in use as a major trade route until the 16th century. Thirty-three sites from China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan were included in the inscribed serial World Heritage property. They include capital cities palace complexes of various empires, trading settlements, Buddhist cave temples, ancient paths, posthouses, passes, beacon towers, sections of the Great Wall, fortifications, tombs, and religious buildings. The inscription of the Silk Roads: Routes network of the Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor on the World Heritage List promotes inter-cultural dialogue, the notion of shared heritage, and regional and international cooperation in the world. Eight sites of the serial transnational World Heritage property are located in the Almaty Province and Zhambyl Province of Kazakhstan. These sites are: Kayalyk, Talgar, Karamergen, Aktobe, Kulan, Ornek, Kostobe, Akyrtas. Most of the sites are former trading settlements. A combination of agriculture and trade led to the development of prosperous towns and cities that persisted over many centuries and brought together different peoples such as the Saka, Ousun, Turks, Iranian, Khitan, Mongolian and Han Chinese. This serial property has been inscribed on the World Heritage List because it fulfills four criteria for outstanding universal value in accordance with the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The Chang'an Tian-shan corridor is an extraordinary example in world history of how a dynamic channel linking civilizations and cultures across the Eurasian continent, realized the broadest and most long-lasting interchange among civilizations and cultures between the 2nd century BC to the 16th century AD.

During the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed the establishment of an International Academy under UNESCO, for maintaining peace through the implementation of the UNESCO Culture of Peace Concept. What opportunities do you see in this regard and what other initiatives will be taken in order to maintain peace in this region?

In propagating the “International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures" in 2010, which subsequently became a UN Decade (2013-2022), Kazakhstan has, and continues to play, a key role in promoting intercultural dialogue, which is crucial for fostering mutual understanding, inclusiveness and peaceful coexistence. As a catalyst for new ideas, UNESCO stands ready to support all initiatives aiming to reinforce a culture of peace, including Kazakhstan's initiative “The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions." Kazakhstan has also shown interest in establishing an International Center for the Rapprochement of Cultures under the auspices of UNESCO, which is an initiative that should be welcomed.