Silk Road Revival Grows As More Sites Protected
If we could
somehow blow away the centuries-deep sand that today covers the ancient tracks
of the Silk Road, we would see amazing things. We would see caravans of up to
6,000 camels moving slowly, day by day, across the vast distances separating
China and Europe. Each kilometers-long caravan carries as much as a large
merchant sailing ship of its time and along the routes, great cities of trade
and learning flourish. Today, this ancient world is gone but its historical
importance is increasingly recognized. And now, new international efforts are
under way to protect the legacy of the Silk Road, from Turkmenistan to
The Minaret of Jam, a UNESCO World
in western Afghanistan
PRAGUE, June 26,
2006 (RFE/RL) -- In Turkmenistan, the archeological treasures of Merv, a city by
some estimates believed to be the world's most populous in the mid-12th century,
So, too, is the Islamic architecture of Bukhara and Samarkand
These are some of the riches of the Silk Road that are
already protected by their inclusion in UNESCO's World Heritage List -- a
grouping of hundreds of sites that are officially recognized for their cultural
Saving History From Extinction
But for each
Silk Road site on the list, there are others that are conspicuously
"There are also a number of sites which were not yet ready to go
onto the World Heritage List because of their [poor] state of conservation, says
UNESCO World Heritage Center representative Francis Childe. "Cities, for
example, like Otrar, an extraordinary archeological site in south Kazakhstan;
Krasnaya rechka in Kyrgyzstan in the Chui Valley. These sites were very badly
neglected in Soviet times."
Burana Tower, all that remains of
Balasagyn, an important
on the Silk Road in
Childe and his colleagues have been working for nearly a decade on these
and other sites to save them from decay and bring them up to the physical
condition necessary for nomination to the World Heritage List.
efforts are supported by funding from Norway, Italy, Switzerland, and especially
Japan, which has contributed several million dollars to conservation projects in
Central Asia. Additionally, Turkey has sponsored a number of projects,
contributing funds directly to the region's governments.
In the future,
Childe hopes to also receive monetary support from the wealthy Persian Gulf
states, which he would like to channel to places like Afghanistan, where the
need is particularly acute.
"A part of what we have been doing is to
conserve these sites which were excavated in late Soviet times, were then opened
to the elements, [and were] in danger of disappearing completely and totally
from the face of the earth within the next 10 or 15 years [due to decay],"
Often, the actual work
of physically restoring damaged buildings is as international as the sources of
funding. Conservation experts from Europe and the United States are brought in
to work with local specialists and craftsmen, teaching them the skills necessary
to preserve and restore the sites.
As a result, cities such as Otrar may
soon be receiving the World Heritage List status that they deserve.
Childe says that UNESCO representatives and regional officials will meet
in Samarkand from October 9 to 14 to prepare the official nomination of many new
"The member states themselves -- the Tajiks, the Kazakhs, the
Kyrgyz and so on -- will come to an agreement on which sites they wish to
identify from their country, see what needs to be done in terms of their
conservation and their nomination, in order that we might present a kind of a
global Silk Road nomination for all of the Silk Road sites or at least for a
series of Silk Road sites from Central Asia, perhaps some time as early as
2008," Childe says.
Rediscovering Historical Identities
aside from their architectural and archeological value, the Silk Road sites also
represent a chance for the people of Central Asia to rediscover their
The remains of a Nestorian church in
This, Childe says, proves that preservation of the Silk Road does not
only mean respecting the past, but also means looking toward the future of
"In Central Asia in Soviet times, the ethic groupings, if
you will, of most of the Central Asian states basically lost their historical
identity," he notes. "They were as much as told, "you weren't developed until
the USSR was formed, you were nomads, you had no archeological sites, you had no
history," and so on -- which simply wasn't true.
"So in part, the
restoration and conservation of these great archeological sites is a way to give
back the Kazakhs their own history, to give back the Kyrgyz their own history,
to give back the Tajiks their own history and their own cultural identity,"
The Silk Road countries
could also derive substantial economic benefits from the rediscovery of their
cultural legacies. Inclusion on the World Heritage List is likely to translate
into a sizeable boost in tourism.
According to Childe, the city of Otrar
had approximately 8,000 or 9,000 visitors per year before his team began work on
the site. Today, he estimates that figure to have risen to 100,000 visitors per
year -- a number which should only increase if Otrar gains list
And the Silk Road, which for so long provided a stage for
intercultural exchange, may be able to re-adopt this function as
"These [sites] can eventually become motors for local economic
development, but also [can act as] an exchange of experience between peoples,"
"The Central Asian ex-Soviet Republics remained completely
isolated and cut off for more than a hundred years, and now that they're opening
up again, they're as interested to see people coming from America and from Japan
and from Australia as the people in those countries are to go and actually visit
them," he adds. "So there's an economic potential there, but there's also a real
potential for genuine human understanding and interchange."
UNESCO team is presently working on some 12 sites across Central Asia and in
China, with a budget of some $7 million.
... Payvand News - 6/26/06 ... --