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  • His Highness the Aga Khan (left) and Secretary of State Colin Powell touring Samarkand Square, one of the main pavillions set up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Silk Road and its culture.
    AKDN / Zahur Ramji
Aga Khan and Colin Powell open Silk Road Festival in Washington

Washington, DC, USA, 25 June 2002 - "A search for new forces of stability," was how His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, today described one of the pressing needs of the moment in Central Asia. One such force "that seems particularly essential," he said, "is the validation and vigorous promotion of human and cultural pluralism ... For the new countries of Central Asia, the inherent pluralism of their societies can be an asset rather than a liability. In a wider sense, it can be a means for enlarging the frontiers of global pluralism.... This is a goal, with which we can all associate and should all associate."

Noting that "the Silk Road was the main link between civilisations of the East, Central Asia, and Europe and from Europe, the products and ideas spread to the New World of the Americas," US Secretary of State Colin Powell pointed out that it was "more than an image of past glories .... The countries of Central Asia are once again joining the nations at either end of the Silk Road on a path to a better future for all ... The region’s security, stability and prosperity depend on critical political and economic reform, but the Silk Road is once again a living reality."

In the shade of a canvas replica of Samarkand’s Registan Square on The Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, the Aga Khan joined Secretary Powell and distinguished government leaders, including Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Sam Brownback, as well as renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to light a lamp symbolically inaugurating the Smithsonian Folklife Festival produced in collaboration with the Silk Road Project, Inc. whose lead funder and key creative partner is the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The Festival, produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, is for the first time in its 36 year history dedicated to a single theme: "The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust." The 2002 Festival features a living exhibition of the music, crafts, culinary and narrative traditions involved in the cultural interchange between the "East" and the "West."

Senator Edward Kennedy, in his remarks, expressed deep appreciation of the role being played by the Aga Khan in the process of education and cultural understanding. "Now more than ever," said Sen. Kennedy, "his is a voice that needs to heard and understood."

Following the opening ceremony which featured short performances by Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble, as well as musicians from countries as diverse as Mongolia, Japan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the Aga Khan and Secretary Powell toured several of the exhibits.

Set over 20 acres, the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival features some 350 traditional artists - musicians, dancers, craftsmen, storytellers, artists, cooks, and more - from 20 nations including the United States, Italy, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Mongolia, and Japan. The Silk Road program illustrates connections between the cultures of Asia, Europe, and America based upon historical trade routes. It emphasizes the development of many living traditions - from silk textiles to tea drinking, from stringed instruments to paper making, from noodle traditions to blue and white "chinaware."

The Silk Road Project, Inc., founded by Yo-Yo Ma, seeks to illuminate the Silk Road’s historical contribution to the cross-cultural diffusion of arts, technologies, and musical traditions, identify the voices that best represent its cultural legacy today, and support innovative collaborations among outstanding artists from the lands of the Silk Road and the West.

Through the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the lead funder and creative partner of the Silk Road Project, seeks to preserve and revive the traditional music of Central Asia and enhance its role thorough providing financial resources, technical assistance and organizational support directly to individuals and organizations in the region.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is one of the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The Trust’s own involvement in Central Asia covers areas of architecture and education as well as music. It has recently begun two major cultural restoration and urban revitalisation projects in Kabul, Afghanistan: the Mausoleum of Timur Shah and the Bagh-e-Babur gardens.

In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, the Trust’s Education and Culture Program has developed ArchNet, an Internet-based network that will provide students and professionals around the world with a globally accessible resource on architecture, urban design and related issues such as restoration, conservation and housing design and construction. ArchNet has established a computer laboratory and held courses in computer aided design at the Tajik Technical University in Dushanbe. The Aga Khan Humanities Project for Central Asia, based in Dushanbe, is working with scholars from the region and abroad to design humanities curricula for universities and schools in Central Asia.

The AKDN has launched a number of successful initiatives in Central Asia ranging from agrarian reform to education, infrastructure, healthcare, micro-credit, small enterprise development and cultural revitalisation. Pre-eminent amongst these is the University of Central Asia, the world’s first institution of higher learning dedicated to the study of mountain societies. The University, established by international treaty between Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and the Ismaili Imamat, will serve a catchment population of nearly 25 million people.

The AKDN is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Established by the Ismaili Imamat (office of spiritual leadership) and working in over 20 countries, the Network’s underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.

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