Astana, Kazakhstan, 17 December 2002 - "Kazakhstan has the potential to guarantee stability across the Central Asian region. By carefully positioning and investing its human and material resources, the country can help assure both social harmony and economic prosperity in one of the world's most vulnerable regions."
His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, today acknowledged the country's vital and strategic role for the development of Central Asia. The Aga Khan, who was on a short visit to Astana, also received from President Nursultan Nazarbayev the State Award for Peace and Progress.
The Award citation commended the Aga Khan for his "distinguished contribution to strengthening peace and friendship with mutual confidence amongst peoples and for vigourous activity aimed at the solution of humanitarian problems."
"I firmly believe," said the Aga Khan, "that peace will be possible only when the pluralistic nature of human society is recognised, seen as a source of strength rather than weakness, and used as a basis for the formulation of policies and structures at all levels of governance." He also expressed his gratitude for the recognition, and requested that the award be used to create scholarships at the University of Central Asia for Kazakh students with financial constraints who otherwise meet the institution's merit-based admission criteria.
In a separate meeting, the Aga Khan briefed President Nazarbayev on projects of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in the region. Foremost amongst these was the planning process currently underway for the establishment of the Kazakhstan campus of the University of Central Asia (UCA) at Tekeli in the mountains of the Taldy-Kurgan oblast. Established in 2000 by international treaty that the Aga Khan signed with the leaders of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan and that has been ratified by the legislatures of each country, UCA is the world's first institution of higher learning dedicated to addressing the challenges of mountain societies. With an initial endowment of US$15 million from the Aga Khan, the secular University is planned as a major educational resource for some 25 million people living in the region. It has already started operating through its Division of Continuing Education and Training. Courses will begin in Tekeli next month.
The Aga Khan also discussed initiatives that are already working to deepen public understanding of this region's cultural diversity. The Aga Khan Humanities Project has begun implementing in select universities throughout the region, a curriculum based on indigenous intellectual, cultural and ethical traditions. The curriculum, which was developed over the past five years with scholars from several countries in the region and abroad, seeks to promote greater tolerance and understanding amongst and within the peoples of Central Asia. In Spring 2003, the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble will perform and conduct master classes in Kazakhstan as part of a Central Asian tour sponsored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture that was postponed following the events of September 11, 2001. The Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia is building upon the interest created by the Silk Road Ensemble and by artistes from the region who performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC and at smaller festivals across Europe during 2002. The Music Initiative will help record, preserve, and strengthen educational activity around, traditions related to the music of the peoples of Central Asia. The Aga Khan also discussed proposals to make the artistic and artisanal traditions of Kazakhstan more accessible to publics in the Western world.
Drug control efforts and the AKDN's formal collaboration with the United Nations, Central Asian republics and the Russian Federation in this endeavour, progress on rehabilitation in Afghanistan and improvements in regional infrastructure and were other topics that featured in the Aga Khan's discussions in Astana.
The Aga Khan last visited Kazakhstan in August 2000.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Central and South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The Network's agencies work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion and its underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is in excess of US$200 million.
The AKDN has since 1993, launched a number of successful initiatives in Central Asia in areas ranging from agrarian reform to education, infrastructure, healthcare, micro-credit, small enterprise development and cultural revitalisation. These include the creation of rural support programmes in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, curriculum development for universities in the region through the Aga Khan Humanities Project, promotion and preservation of musical traditions of the region through the Aga Khan Music Initiative, educational support for students, faculty and university resources for training in a variety of disciplines ranging from English language, and Economics to Architecture and Computer-Aided Design. Cultural and social development initiatives have been enhanced by support for health and education sector reform and formal collaboration with the United Nations, five Central Asian republics and Russia in regional drug control programmes. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), in collaboration with other international investors has established the Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank the country's largest commercial bacnk. Complementing its engagement in the financial services sector, AKFED operates an extensive micro-credit programme in Tajikistan and is has just launched, in collaboration with the IFC, the Pamir Energy Company which operates one of the largest power projects in the region.
During 2002, the AKDN has embarked upon an ambitious expansion of its humanitarian assistance work in Afghanistan to include a number of development initiatives addressing issues of food security, infrastructure rehabilitation, upgrading and support for healthcare and educational institutions, water and sanitation, revitalisation and urban development in Kabul and the need for investment in priority sectors of the economy such as microfinance, telecommunications and tourism. These follow on the commitment of US$75 million towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan announced by the Aga Khan in January this year.