Press Release: Aga Khan Announces First Ismaili Centre in Central Asia

Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 30 August 2003 – His Highness the Aga Khan today launched a landmark cultural centre here marking a milestone in the 1 300 year history of the Ismaili Muslim community in Central Asia.



Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 30 August 2003 – His Highness the Aga Khan today launched a landmark cultural centre here marking a milestone in the 1 300 year history of the Ismaili Muslim community in Central Asia.

The Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe, when completed, will be comparable in scope and standing to existing major centres in London, Vancouver and Lisbon and those at advanced planning stages in Toronto and Dubai.

The foundation stone of The Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe was this afternoon laid by Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon on a prestigious 25 500 square metre site in the centre of the city.

President Rahmon took the opportunity to underline the commitment of the Government of Tajkistan to provide enabling conditions for the development of institutions promoting “freedom of conscience, pluralism and faith” as well as “exchange of opinions and national accord in society.”

Calling it “a place where people will come together to share their creativity and their wisdom,” the Aga Khan said the Centre would “recognize and promote the plurality of traditions and forms of expression to which Central Asia has been a welcoming home and eminent crossroads over the centuries.”

Addressing a distinguished gathering including national and civic leaders and diplomats, the Aga Khan expressed the hope that the Centre would “play a role in reminding the world of a fact, alas, too often ignored or misunderstood: that Central Asian traditions of spirituality and learning have had a lasting and positive impact on civilizations far beyond their own.”

The Centre, the Aga Khan said, would be a “a place for contemplation, upliftment and the search for spiritual enlightenment,” noting how significant it was that the event coincided with the celebration of the one thousandth anniversary of the world famous Ismaili poet-philosopher, Nasir Khusraw. “Bequeathing a legacy that to this day enlightens the region's intellectual traditions,” said the Aga Khan, “Nasir Khusraw was among the premier thinkers whose contributions will be celebrated in the space that we initiate today.” He described the Centre's intended role in revitalizing the inheritance of “Rudaki, as also of Firdawsi, al-Biruni and Ibn-Sina, amongst other giants of learning” who flourished under the patronage of the Samanid dynasty that bestrode the 9th and 10th centuries.

“In seeking to enliven the encounter of the past with the future and foster a mutually rewarding dialogue between tradition and modernity,” said the Aga Khan, “the Centre will attempt to reflect lessons from structures both monumental and mundane, from spaces both religious and social.”

“It would draw inspiration,” he said, “from the magnificent landscapes of this region, but also from its architecture, construction technique, materials, and decorative traditions.”

The Aga Khan situated the purposes of the Centre in the context of recent history. “Like its neighbours,” he said, “Tajikistan is in a stage of profound transition which brings in its wake its own share of trials and tribulations, calling upon the nation's reserves of patience, courage and foresight.” Recognising especially the impact of economic globalization and the spread and growth of new knowledge and technology, the Aga Khan underlined the need for “societies to enhance their capacities to adjust, adapt, innovate and invest.” Referring to the various endeavours of the network of development agencies that he had established, the Aga Khan noted that in addition to the role of the private sector in economic development, “a richly diverse yet purposefully united citizenry is capable of making a critical contribution to social development in the struggle against poverty.”

“The Centre,” he said, “would stand for the ethics that uphold the dignity of man as the noblest of Creation. It will bring down the walls that divide and build bridges that unite.” “These,” he commented, “are the ethics that inspire the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).”

Earlier in the day, the Aga Khan, who is on a short visit to Central Asia, made brief remarks at the opening session of the Dushanbe International Fresh Water Forum which was co-sponsored by the AKDN and the UNDP in commemoration of the UN declaration of 2003 as the International Year of Fresh Water. The Aga Khan commented on the need to see whether an unusual water situation, such as the world's highest dam below Lake Sarez in Tajikistan, might present an opportunity rather than simply a hazard. He also urged the delegates to consider “how mountain people can become part of the solution to effective watershed conservation and management, while also improving their own circumstances.” Mountain communities, the Aga Khan said, need and deserve support from society and government at the national level “for they are the most capable micro managers of micro water resources.”

The Aga Khan is, during the course of his visit, reviewing progress on site planning of the campuses of the University of Central Asia (UCA) in Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan. The University, established by international treaty among Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and the Ismaili Imamat, is the world's first institution of higher learning dedicated to the challenges of mountain populations.

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