Interview with Gulnara Karimova
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A Woman of Substance by all Standards
By Paul Trustfull
Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, possesses charm, class, beauty and elegance as well as a caring sensibility. But these are just some of her natural attributes, and this description doesn’t do justice to who she really is.
Western in manner and dress, with the positive influence of a Harvard education and the global exposure one gets while living in New York, Gulnara is an independent, strong, organized and disciplined woman.
“When I was at Harvard I was young, and like every other student had to do things on my own and for myself. Through this, I learnt to be independent, confident and self-sufficient. America also exposed me to the world stage; it opened my eyes to new things, new cultures and people of other races. I am very grateful for the time in Cambridge; it gave me a very good foundation and tools,” she says.
A stalwart champion of her people’s social, cultural and political affairs in the global arena, Gulnara has come to be identified as the face and representative of Uzbekistan, a rapidly growing nation with multidimensional resources.
Uzbekistan is a dry, landlocked country at the heart of Central Asia. It is also at the heart of the famous historical Silk Road, which was the trading route between China and the West and took its name from silk, the commodity that was most in demand in Europe from China during the Roman period.
The country is a young and dynamic society marked by a melding of traditional and modern culture, creative people and educated youth, economic development and growing trade relations with the outside world.
Gulnara is the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and has been recently appointed as her country’s ambassador to Spain. When she started her diplomatic career in 1995, she served at the department of political analysis and forecast in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Uzbekistan. She has also served as an adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in her country, counsellor of the permanent mission of Uzbekistan to the UN in New York and minister counsellor to the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Moscow.
However, all these responsibilities notwithstanding, and in addition to being a president’s daughter, Gulnara is a highly caring person who loves her people profoundly and wants all the best for them. And she does it from the heart – not for the fame.
“I love our country and our people. We are part of one substance and we must do everything we can for our future,” she says.
Gulnara Karimova with young winners at the final Gala concert of the Yangi Avlod-2009 Children’s Creativity Festival, which was held by the Fund Forum with the support of Unicef and dedicated to the anniversary of The Convention of the Rights of The Child-Tashkent, 2009
Looking and listening to this visionary during an exclusive interview at Tashkent, I could not help but think that even if she wasn’t a president’s daughter, Gulnara would still be just as successful with whatever she touches and does for the people as she is now.
She is an organizer and patroness of a number of public, cultural and charitable organizations well known not only in Uzbekistan, but acknowledged far across its borders.
Mention the words Fund Forum, and immediately it conjures images among Uzbeks of this very intellectual, multitalented and energetic woman. The Forum has become a brand; a trademark and leading public organization in the region connected to and with her.
Other institutions she supports are Mehr Nuri (Light of Mercy) Foundation, Jenskoe Sobranie (Women’s Council) Public Association, Youth Initiatives Center and Social Initiatives Support Fund. She is also credited with founding Uzbekistan’s first independent think tank – The Centre for Political Studies.
It is with this initiative (Fund Forum), for which she is board of trustees chairman and which she founded, that she is promoting Uzbek culture internationally. It is a well-organized, documented organization that has drawn to it world-famous celebrities like Julio Iglesias, Montserrat Caballe, Chopard, singer Sting and football stars Cristiano Ronaldo with Samuel Eto’o. That Gulnara is smart is even more evident with her use of these celebrities to boost her activities through fundraising for charity.
They have become her partners on the global stage and she works with them to push further her humanitarian agenda at home. For example, during one of the Forum’s annual festivals, the Republican Festival of Children’s Creativity Yangi Avlod (New Generation), to support young talents in the country, the young talents receive their prizes from the hands of international stars. This boosts their confidence and gives them role models to look up to, besides adding luster to the whole program.
She also works with USAID, UNICEF, UNESCO, JICA and the British Council, which help her support the projects.
The Fund Forum was established in February 2004 to support domestic science, culture, education and sports. It has given itself a goal to represent Uzbek culture abroad, cultivating and expanding the country’s cooperation in cultural and humanitarian issues, providing broad support to young talents and creative people.
Gulnara Karimova with world music maestro Sting and Laurestes of the “Yangi Avlod” Children’s Creativity Festival and “Kelajakovozi” Talented Youth Contest, who received a special grant from Sting within The Art Week Style.UZ-2009
Through the Youth Projects, the Forum mainly supports youth and gives grants for the education and tuition of talented young people. It supports children’s creativity through the festivals and sponsors creative exhibitions and fashion design projects. Branches of the Youth Initiatives Center are open in every region of the country.
In the years it has been in operation, the Forum has participated in and initiated numerous projects, including the presentation of Uzbek designers in Paris and a photo exhibition in France, Luxembourg, Germany, Japan and China on the Great Silk Road and its Heritage.
Gulnara has a good team of people around her willing to implement what she asks and she knows what she wants to achieve with the organization. She is a tough businesswoman and manager who runs the Forum like a corporation, which is why it is so successful.
I managed to have a chat with three of her directors, who explained to me how the Fund works. Ms. Khaticha Jafarova chairs the Women’s Council Public Association, which was established in 2005.
This is an association that helps integrate women into society, and it is where many of them turn when they have problems. Council members can be found in every city in the country and they often come together to discuss issues afflicting women or anything of importance in their lives.
“We give women microfinance to start businesses and to the farmers loans to boost their agriculture. This helps to empower them and give them a place in society,” she says, adding that women play a very important role in Uzbekistan and need to be empowered.
In fact, she adds, recently the council held a regional breast cancer meeting for women in Tashkent and the function was attended by many women from all over the region and abroad.
Interview with editor Paul Trustfull
Mr. Bakhadir Umarkhanov is the executive director of the Social Initiatives Support Fund (SISF). Among the programs this fund concentrates on are those for the young people that it considers the new and future generation of the country. It runs a youth project that aims to prepare them to become responsible members of society.
Among the initiatives is one where young people are tapped after their university education for the Forum to prepare them to be a part of the bigger society. They are taught how to become confident, while their talents, from music and arts to IT, among others, are also explored.
“For example, in the Youth Initiatives Center we groom them based on their interests and initiatives on how to present their paintings, speak, how to look for jobs and share with each other, among other things. In short, we are providing them with essential tools that will prepare them to join society successfully,” Bakhadir says. “The center is also there for the youth in their time of need,” he adds.
One interesting and captivating project of the Fund Forum is the Center of National Arts, which promotes arts, music and fashion. Ms. Elmira Akhmedova is its director.
As a visitor, your interest is captured when you begin to approach the building where the center is housed. From the outside, it looks like a mosque, but once within its bounds, you discover a wonderful surprise. It is a world where the old fuses with the new, opening up into an array of galleries, restaurants and shops with the latest trends and fashions; yet at the same time, the center will present you with antiquities. The center is a representative of both the old and the new Uzbekistan, and each and every region with their crafts, and that is what tourists love about it, says Ms. Akhmedova.
Gulnara Karimova with Akmal Nur, People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, during The Art Week Style.Uz-2009 at his personal exhibition and the presentation of his book, published by The Fund Forum
“Tourists come here to find out about our culture,” she says. “They want to see our jewelry, clothes, food and so on, and we are proud that they come here as one of the first things they do when they visit Tashkent,” she adds.
“With this culture and art center, we also want the new generation to know and understand where they come from. They need to be able to get in touch with their roots, because there is nothing as important as knowing where your roots are. It gives you a sense of pride and belonging,” Ms. Akhmedova says.
In doing all this with the Fund Forum, Gulnara, a mother of two teenagers, Islam, a son, and Iman, a daughter, says she wants to change the way people think of her country.
She says that Uzbekistan is a very open country, where women too have a lot of power and importance as the ones responsible for the ‘light in the house’ and bringing up the kids with the right values. She points out that through the Women’s Council Public Association, she is a part of the movement that aims to change the attitudes towards women in society and enable them get the appreciation and respect they deserve.
“The open society will help fight poverty and extremism. If you are open and take care of people in the country, you will make them happy,” she says.
She adds that through the Fund Forum, “we are trying to show the world that Uzbekistan is part of the international community with very ancient roots.”
Gulnara is a professor, doctor of political science, with a doctorate from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy (Uzbekistan), and an MA in Regional Studies from Harvard. She also took a course from the New York Fashion Institute of Technology and is a fashion designer and jeweler who tries to combine European style and traditional Eastern luster under her own name – Guli.
This young woman, whose knowledge and achievements belie her youth, says that although it is a big responsibility being a president’s daughter, she doesn’t think about it because she has her own full life. She is throwing a challenge to investors out there and inviting them to invest in her country. She did this recently through her “road show,” as she calls it, around the main cities of Europe, and in a final conference in Geneva with the support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UNCTAD/WTO International Trade Centre (ITC).
She says Uzbekistan is a country to watch; one that will gain in importance in the coming years, and besides being a tourist paradise, it also offers investors incentives and a chance for growth.
The city of Tashkent
Uzbekistan: A Country on the Move and Open for Business
The year 2009 was one of the most turbulent in recent memory for most economies across the globe; many were left reeling from the worst financial crisis in nearly 70 years.
But amid those caught up in red ink were those in the black — countries that resisted the trend and withstood the test of the times. Among them was a dynamically developing, doubly landlocked country known famously as the heart of the Silk Road, linking Europe and Asia with its once-magnificent cities: Uzbekistan.
While other economies were contracting all around and reading in the negative, Uzbekistan stood buoyant, maintaining an impressive 7-8% growth rate — a trend it has kept up from the early 2000s. This year the country is expected to generate an 8.3% growth in GDP.
Uzbekistan, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is the world’s third-largest cotton exporter and sixth-largest cotton producer. Though cotton exports have decreased in recent years, Uzbekistan has become known for exporting other high-value goods. For example, Uzbekistan is the only producer of aircraft in the region, and it manufactures cars with GM, minibuses with Isuzu, agricultural machines with CASE and trucks with MAN. Uzbekistan also exports petrochemicals, electronics, building materials, medications, garments and other consumer goods. Other major export earners include gold, natural gas and oil. Uzbekistan is rich in a broad range of essential mineral resources. At the same time, fundamental processing of raw materials is one of the main targets of economic development. Rising global prices for the country’s principal export commodities are expected to increase export revenues, while growing remittances are also expected to ensure a surplus of current transfers.
Fiscal performance has improved in recent years due to strong economic growth, high commodity prices, tax reforms and a relatively strict economic plan to keep the state budget in check.
International conference “Uzbekistan and Europe: Opportunities and Prospects for Expansion of Economic Partnership”. Geneva, October 2009, where the initiative of forming a representative body of Euro Biz Community in Uzbekistan on the base of experience of the AmCham was proposed. Gulnara Karimova and UN Under-Secretary-Generals in Geneva Jan Kubis, Supachai Panitchpakdi and Patricia R. Francis
Since 2000, the GDP grew 2.4 times, while GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) increased 2.1 times (note: not confirmed by outcomes of 2009 yet).
The GDP structure has also changed, with increases in industry from 14% to 24%; transportation and communication from 7.7% to 12%; and small business from 30% to nearly 50%.
Investments in the economy have surged 2.7 times; exports 3.6 times; and foreign trade surplus 7.4 times. Per capita income has grown more than 5.1 times, while the average salary in the USD equivalent grew 6.1 times.
As of 2009, according to “Uzinfoinvest” Agency Director Bakhtiyor Irmatov, total investment growth to the economy of Uzbekistan increased by 24.8%, foreign investment growth rates totalled 68%, FDI increased 1.8 times, while exports grew by 2.4% compared with the previous year. This ensures that the country has an increased trade surplus, thereby cementing the strength of its national currency.
“This year, the Socioeconomic Development Programme for 2010 adopted by the government of Uzbekistan is expected to generate an 8.3% growth in GDP, 22.1% in investment, and 8.5% in exports. Investment is expected to account for 30% of the GDP,” says Irmatov.
But how has this country — which experienced rapid inflation of nearly 1,000% per year immediately after gaining independence — managed to stay afloat in the global economic downturn, when economic giants have faired so poorly?
According to Irmatov, it is due to “Our unique model of market reforms since independence.” This model, which was developed and introduced by President Islam Karimov, entails a gradual transition to a market-based economy. The progress with economic policy reforms has been cautious; but over the last decade, Uzbekistan has registered respectable achievements.
Gulnara Karimova and Professor Frederick Starr (USA). International conference “Central Asia as Transcontinental Transportation Bridge: Potential and Prospects of Development” by Center of Political Studies. Tashkent, November 2007
The country has focused on creating a stable banking system and strengthening its resource base. “The banks have always been careful with excessive and unsecured consumer and mortgage lending; they have not pumped excessive cash into the economy and have used a conservative approach to issues relating to the country’s domestic and foreign debt,” she says.
“We did not use methods that would generate temporary, dubious or unstable economic growth. Our economy has never relied on virtual financial markets that have caused so-called ‘bubbles’ worldwide.”
Market changes in the agriculture sector, fast-growing investment in the real economic sector, and stimulated export and internal demand have also helped push the economy forward.
In addition, an Anti-Crisis Programme was introduced to support exporters that are affected by the falling global prices of Uzbekistan’s export products, and to stimulate internal demand for them. This initiative included the launch of a large-scale energy-saving program.
“The program did not feature multibillion- dollar government bailouts for banks and enterprises that would be used to repay unsecured credit. In fact, the banks had not incurred such credit, thanks to previous prudent policies. Our budget did not weaken. Moreover, in 2009, it saw a surplus of 0.2% to GDP,” Irmatov says.
Uzbekistan utilizes a two-tier banking system: the Central Bank of Uzbekistan and 29 commercial banks, which have over 8,500 branches, mini-banks and retail banks. Virtually all populated areas in the country have banks.
The Central Bank is responsible for the stability of the national currency and exercising a balanced monetary and credit policy, and acts as a licensor, supervisor and regulator of credit organizations.
It also regulates the country’s money supply, interest rates and exchange rates, which in turn stimulates economic growth and maintains an allowable inflation rate that does not upset the macroeconomic balance.
The country’s foreign exchange policy is based on the “controlled float” and seeks to regulate exchange rates in order to observe target parameters of inflation and stimulate domestic production.
Gulnara Karimova at the Fund Forum’s Asrlar Sadosi Festival of Traditional Culture - Bostanlik District, Tashkent 2009
Uzbekistan: A Gem in the Heart of the Silk Road
In the heart of central Asia lies a magnificent gem, rich in history and culture
By Paul Trustfull
Uzbekistan is a beautiful country, well endowed with stunning mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes. It is a tourist’s paradise where Western civilization meets the East, and where past and present meld together in a fascinating sense of adventure and history.
The country’s magical element is evident everywhere: in its relics preserved from when Central Asia was a center of empire, education and trade; in its mosaics and monuments; and in some of the finest architectural masterpieces you can find among the Silk Road countries. These masterpieces feature elaborate Islamic tile work, turquoise domes of ancient mosques, minarets and palaces that bring history to life and put you among some of the greatest leaders of all time — leaders like the legendary Alexander the Great and Amir Temur (Tamerlane), the 14th-century statesman. During the Roman period, silk from China was in high demand in Europe. The Silk Road was already established as the trading route between China and the West in the second half of the 2nd century B.C.
Uzbekistan — a country with a rich variety of cultures in communities that peacefully coexist — has something to offer everyone. More than 120 nationalities live here. It is an attraction to tourists for its historical, archeological, architectural and natural treasures. Activities include outdoor adventures such as rock-climbing and exploring archeological and religious history.
For the historian, Uzbekistan’s museums tell the best-kept secrets of this ancient region, dating as far back as 7,000 years and reflecting cultures of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Numerous museums with over 2 million artifacts reflect the fascinating cultural development of the country.
The most common museums are those of local lore and art. There are three large preservation museums in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva and 39 museums all over the country. The State Arts Museum in Tashkent houses a beautiful collection of fine and applied arts. The Museum of Nature in Tashkent has been operating for more than 120 years and has nearly 1.5 million exhibits. The Museum of History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan is one of the oldest and houses the largest treasury of exhibits of history and culture. On show here are household items, national clothing, pictures of historical figures and documents. Museum of Applied Arts in Tashkent displays more than 4,000 exhibits of ceramics, carpets, silk fabrics, jewelry, etc.
For outdoor lovers, Uzbekistan’s mountains have some of the world’s highest peaks. The mountains attract hikers, rock climbers, hang gliders, bikers and skiers. For those who love architectural and historical sights, there is plenty to feast upon.
Uzbekistan architecture has been influenced by an array of traditions, including Hellenic, Roman, Persian, Islamic and European.
The Registan, which was the heart of Samarkand, is a sight to behold, and the history behind it is intriguing. Also in Samarkand are the Gur-Emir, Shah-i-Zinda mausoleums, and the famous Bibi-Khanym Mosque – the monuments of the 11th-17th centuries.
In Bukhara lies the Po-i-Kalyan Complex, Ark Citadel, Samanids Mausoleum and Lyabi Khauz Ensemble; and in Khiva, the intact inner city of Ichan Kala, mosques, madrasahs, minarets, walls and gates are all impressive.
The Khazrati Imam Complex in Tashkent
The Cities of Uzbekistan
Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan. It is one of the most ancient cities which celebrated its 2,200th anniversary in 2009. An important international transport junction and modern industrial and scientific center of the region, it lies in the valley of the River Chirchik. In 1966 a massive earthquake destroyed the old town, robbing it of its rich historical past. It was rebuilt, but the new buildings differ greatly from the old.
Samarkand was founded over 2,750 years ago. It was a leading city until the 16th century, when its importance was diminished by competing trade routes to China. Registan Square is the center of the historical town.
Bukhara, which is more than 2,500 years old, was once a center of learning renowned throughout the Islamic world, and today it hosts more than 350 mosques and 100 religious colleges. The center of historical Bukhara is the Shakristan, which contains the Ark, a palace complex of the Emirs.
Khiva, a museum under the sky, is the same age as Bukhara, but better preserved than either Samarkand or Bukhara. The city still lies within the original city walls and has changed little since the 18th century. UNESCO declared Ichan Kala in Khiva, historical downtowns in Bukhara and Shakhrisabs, the motherland of Tamerlane and Samarkand city as a Cultural Heritage of mankind.
Uzbekistan is a secular, democratic and politically stable country, which declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Its head of state is President Islam Karimov. The official language is Uzbek.
The country is bordered by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, though many people involved with tourism and the younger generation speak English.
Most travel involves entering and leaving Uzbekistan through its main city, Tashkent, which is serviced by an international airport, a domestic airport, two train stations and many bus stations and the only Central Asia subway, which has beautiful architecture. Uzbekistan Airways operates with regular international flights to more then 46 cities worldwide. Uzbekistan’s climate is sharply continental, with long, hot, dry summers and cold winters with snow. The best time to visit is during the spring and autumn.
Uzbekistan offers travelers a rich history, culture and landscape, just waiting to be explored. The cities’ tourist infrastructure meets international standards, with modern hotels and high level services for visitors. It is a destination that should be on every tourist’s “must-visit” list.
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