Safeguarding World Heritage along the Silk Roads

March 17, 2019
 Challenge The Silk Roads have represented routes of integration, exchange, and dialogue between different cultures and civilizations over more than two millennia. Situated at the convergence of the many Silk Roads, the Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) are home to numerous historic and cultural sites attesting to the Silk Roads’ role as crossroads of civilizations. Nonetheless, Central Asia has been one of the most under-represented regions on the World Heritage List, not only because the late ratification of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, but also because the lack of capacity and resources, and dearth of legal protection and management systems. The five Republics equally remain under-developed socio-economically, albeit presenting enormous potential for culture-based development. Towards a Solution The Silk Roads brought about the transmission of knowledge, ideas, cultures and beliefs which had a profound impact on the history and civilizations of the Eurasian peoples. Countless historic natural and cultural sites remain along the Silk Road. UNESCO has a long history of working to safeguard the rich cultural heritage of the Silk Roads and promoting its contribution to sustainable development and sustainable tourism. Since 2003, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has coordinated the preparation of the transnational World Heritage nomination of the Silk Roads Cultural Routes in Asia. The project aims to guide States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention in preparing Silk Roads transnational World Heritage nomination dossiers to address the insufficient representation of heritage routes on the World Heritage List. This also contributes to the implementation of the World Heritage Committee’s Global Strategy for a Representative, Credible, and Balanced World Heritage List, adopted in 1994. Work undertaken as part of the 3-year UNESCO/Japan Funds-in-Trust (JFIT) project to support the Silk Roads World Heritage Serial and Transnational Nomination in Central Asia, between 2011 and 2014, paved the way towards establishing the standards of documentation and research necessary to finalize the first two nominations: The ”Silk Roads: Penjikent-Samarkand-Poykent Corridor”, jointly submitted by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the ”Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang, an-Tianshan Corridor”, jointly submitted by China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. A second phase of the Japan funded project aims to further enhance the capacities of national authorities, providing them with additional training in documentation and archaeological research, conservation and management planning, in order to ensure that the Silk Roads corridors are managed sustainably. This transnational World Heritage nomination process is still on-going, thanks to the support of the governments of China, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the Republic of Korea. China and the five Central Asian countries also provided in-kind contributions, while International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office, Japanese institutions and the ICOMOS International Conservation Centre in Xi’an provided technical assistance. ICOMOS Thematic Study for Silk Roads found that a selection of corridors across various geo-climatic areas, reflecting the varying chronological shifts in emphasis along the routes, will help to ensure that the wider range of responses are encompassed. The successful nomination of the two corridors mentioned above encourages the serial and transnational nomination approach in Central Asia. This approach is being replicated in the ”Penjikent- Samarkand-Poykent-Merv Zarafshan Heritage Corridor” (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), the ”South Asian Silk Roads” (Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal), the ”Fergana-Syrdarya Silk Roads Heritage Corridor” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), and in other ongoing initiatives such as the ”Maritime Silk Roads and Mausam: Maritime Routes and Cultural Landscapes”. To respond to the growing tourism demand along the Silk Roads, a project supported by the Netherlands is being implemented to develop a Common Tourism Strategy for the Silk Roads Heritage Corridor in Central Asia and China, in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations. The Strategy focuses on training tourist guides and encourages visitors to explore the region more widely and increase the quality and length of their stay. It is also a valuable opportunity to strengthen the inter-state relations in the region and create new opportunities for community investment. The project has contributed to SDG 8.9 on sustainable tourism and 12.b on the promotion of local culture and products, as well as SDG11.4 on the protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage and SDG 16 on sustainable and inclusive societies. Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 8.9, 11.4, 12.b, 16 Countries/territories involved:Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Supported by: Government of Japan Implementing entities: UNESCO Project status: Ongoing Project period: 2011-2014 (Phase I); 2015-2018 (Phase II) Contact: Name:  Mr. Roland LIN Chih-Hung, project officer, Asia & Pacific Unit, World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, Email: