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Journey to the East|From conquest to empire to soviet state to peace从征服到帝国,从苏维埃到和平的转变

I had to spend several days in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, anxiously awaiting the return of my bicycle from the chaos at Dubai airport (see previous blog). But this wait has given me the opportunity to reflect on Tashkent’s unique position—not only as a historical nexus between East and West on the Silk Road, alongside cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, Merv, Khiva, and Urgench, but also in its contemporary role as capital of a country trying to reinvent itself. Uzbekistan is squeezed by changing climates, aspiring peoples, political ambitions, and global powers, all recognizing its strategic importance yet leaving the Uzbeks to demonstrate their self-esteem, creativity, and agility. And they do with surprising sophistication, at least to me.


During this unexpected stop, I’ve explored the city’s monuments and urban layout, impressed by its balance of urban fabric, infrastructure and parks, focused on well-being and keen historical awareness. Like many architects visiting Tashkent, I downloaded the Tashkent Modernism app, which offers a comprehensive look at the modernist structures from when Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Republic. Notable changes, like the Lenin memorial now serving as the National Museum, reflect a shift from universal principles to national pride. This adaptability is mirrored in other architectural highlights featured in the app, such as the towering former Russia Hotel, now the Uzbekistan Hotel, set against the backdrop of a monumental equestrian statue of Amir Temur, a brutal descendant of Genghis Khan in the 14th century, who made it the status of national hero for Uzbekistan today.


Hosted and introduced by the emerging Uzbek architect Ranay Utkelbayeva, I had the opportunity to deliver a lecture to students, all around 19 to 20 years old, who could articulate in detail the challenges of Uzbekistan's central dependency—sharing resources like rivers, forests, deserts, and railroads with neighboring countries. With my Amsterdam-Shanghai route displayed, we discussed the potential cultural narratives that this 'middle zone' might embody, as envisioned by the younger generation.


One such narrative was vividly presented at the National Museum through an extensive photo series featuring the current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev with various powerful state leaders. Although the presentation was somewhat static, it underscored the nation's orientation towards peace, a refreshing perspective after my abrupt departure from Iran, that not only faced an immediate threat the night I left, but also for decades already is facing the effects of slow and encroaching effects of economical sanctions.


This journey increasingly shapes my view of peace not merely as a pathway to progress but as essential for survival. In a world ticking down to climatic catastrophe, each day marred by aggression is a day lost.



Journey to be continued...

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