GOULNARA KARIMOVA’S WORLD OF DIPLOMACY, CULTURE AND CHARITY

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The Permanent Represent-ative of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, Ambassador Goulnara Karimova, who assumed her current post in 2008, is relatively new to the Geneva diplomatic community. Even so, she gained international popularity long before her diplomatic tenure started, hitting the front pages and headlines of prestigious magazines and newspapers thanks to her multifaceted activities in political, cultural and public spheres.

Bridging the distance between her country and the rest of the world, Goulnara Karimova has so far been successful in making sure that modern Uzbekistan emerges in the international arena in all its bright and fascinating colours. Due to various far-reaching projects in cultural and humanitarian spheres, which she supervises personally, more and more people across the world are becoming aware that Uzbekistan’s significance is not limited to its ancient history, rich culture and colourful traditions, but also to the fact that it is a rapidly growing nation with multidimensional resources. It is a young and dynamic society marked by a symbiosis of traditional and modern culture, creative people and educated youth, enjoying peace and stability, geopolitical significance, economic development and burgeoning trade relations.

It is often said that Goulnara’s existence is determined by her missions. Even a brief conversation with her conveys the impression that she is endowed with a keen mind, strong determination, creative thinking, tremendous charisma and exceptional ability to capture her audience’s attention.

Having started her diplomatic career in 1995 at the Department of Political Analysis and Forecast in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Goulnara Karimova has subsequently served as Adviser to the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Uzbekistan to the United Nations in New York and Minister Counsellor to the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Moscow.

However, for Goulnara Karimova, diplomacy has not been the only avenue she has explored to achieve her mission. She is the organizer and patroness of a number of public, cultural and charitable organizations well-known not only in Uzbekistan but also far beyond its borders. These include the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation (www.fundforum.uz), Mehr Nuri (Light of Mercy) Foundation, Jenskoe sobranie (Women’s Council) Public Association, and Social Initiatives Support Fund (SISF). She is also credited with establishing Uzbekistan’s first independent think tank — the Center for Political Studies — through which she has laid the foundations of conceptually new infor-mation and analysis activities contributing to the development of collaboration with leading research institutes and analytical centres in Europe, Russia, Asia and the United States.

Her name is associated with the creation of the modern model of social projects and the encouragement of charitable activities in the country. These include children’s and youth competitions and festivals on a national scale, the development and renewal of rural and urban hospitals, schools and kindergartens, grants for students, teachers, female entrepreneurs and farmers, craftsmen, a variety of international projects, including exhibitions, presentations of national arts and traditions, cultural, scientific and economic forums and conferences — all of which are conducted under her guidance.

She also studied at New York Fashion Institute of Technology. Her talent for singing and writing poetry — activities she humbly describes as hobbies — have also brought her many fans. However, reading her poems and listening to her songs, which are also available on her personal website (www.gulnarakarimova.com), one gets the impression that this is more than just a hobby.

According to many, Goulnara Karimova deserves special attention for giving an added impetus to Uzbekistan’s efforts to foster international cultural and humanitarian co-operation, a merit which reveals the reason for her appointment in February 2008 as Deputy Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan for International Co-operation in Cultural and Humanitar-ian Spheres and in September of the same year as Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the UN Office in Geneva.

A closer look at her activities also reveals Goulnara Karimova’s participation in matters of geopolitics and regional security. Just as noteworthy is her contribution on behalf of Uzbekistan to the process of institutionalization of the initiative on establishing a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (CANWFZ), which was formally accomplished in September 2006 by the signing of the Treaty on CANWFZ.

Goulnara Karimova has a master’s degree in regional research studies from Harvard University (USA) and a doctorate in political science from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy (Uzbekistan). Her educational portfolio also includes a B.A. in international economy from Tashkent State University, a M.A. in economics from the Institute of Economics of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, as well as another B.A. in telecommunications from Tashkent University of Information Technologies.

THE FUND FORUM’S CULTURAL STRATEGY

First impressions of a particular country are often based on its culture. Hence, an effective and comprehensive cultural strategy plays a dominant role in getting one’s message across to the rest of the world.

To this effect, Uzbekistan has lately been observed to take significant steps by consolidating all available resources and efforts arising in public organizations. In particular, the experience of the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation, also known as the Fund Forum, deserves particular attention.

Established in 2004 on Goulnara Karimova’s initiative, the Fund Forum has grown into Uzbekistan’s leading public organization dealing with a broad range of issues in cultural and humanitarian spheres. The Fund Forum has offices in Tashkent, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris, Geneva and Vienna. It has established cultural ties with partners in Austria, Belgium, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Russia and Switzerland, as well as other counties. Memoran-dums of understanding and partnership agreements have been signed with UNESCO, the British Council, the Swiss Agency for Develop-ment and Co-operation, Soon Ching Ling Foundation of China, the Austrian Association of Retirees and the National Museum of the Republic of Korea.

The Fund Forum has given itself the goal of representing Uzbek culture abroad, cultivating and expanding the country’s international co-operation in cultural and humanitarian spheres, providing broad support to young talents and creative people.

The main directions of the Fund Forum’s activity also involve youth projects and grants to support the education of talented young people in the country and abroad; international presentations; children’s creativity projects including premises with free tutoring; sponsoring creative exhibitions and wide-scale projects in fashion and design; supporting youth cinematography and music; grants to support young athletes; charity projects and micro-credits for female entrepreneurs and large families; social events to support large families; pedagogical and educational projects to support researchers and publishers; business forums, round-tables, etc.

For the past years the Fund Forum has carried out a number of major projects which generated great interest abroad. Among them are the presentation of Uzbek designers in Paris, the photo exhibition "125 years of Uzbek photography" presented in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, China, Japan, Russia and Ukraine, the exhibition "Great Silk Road and its Heritage" in Tokyo, "An Evening of Uzbek Art" organized annually in Moscow, the art exhibition "Dreams about the East: Russian Vanguard and Bukhara Silk" in Saint Petersburg, the exhibition "Colours of the Silk Road: Suzane of Uzbekistan" in Glasgow, art and photo exhibition "Tashkent: Yesterday and Today" in Geneva and Vienna, and many others. The Fund Forum also became an official partner of the annual Hy?res International Festival of Fashion and Photography in France.

In May 2009, Goulnara Karimova’s Fund Forum was the official donor of the annual charity evening amfAR Cinema against AIDS held as part of the Cannes Film Festival in Paris. In particular, Goulnara made a donation of $50,000 to the amfAR Foundation, which will be channelled into HIV/AIDS research, prevention, education and advocacy programmes worldwide.

In Uzbekistan Goulnara is the initiator of implementing by several foundations together with USAID of the Programme of training and awareness raising against HIV/AIDS entitled "We are for healthy lifestyle!", in which annually around 200 volunteers and students participate from almost all major higher education institutions.

The Fund Forum’s activities at national level are equally extensive and diverse. In particular, it implements a major annual project to support young talents in Uzbekistan — the Republican Festival of Children’s Creativity Yangi Avlod (new generation), which is now held with the assistance of the UNICEF.

What adds lustre to the biggest children’s festival is the fact that these talented young people receive their prizes from the hands of international stars. This year, the grants were handed to the laureates by big-name stars such as Sting and Sezaria Evora, who had come to Tashkent specifically for this event. Throughout its five years of existence, the Festival has embraced over 50,000 talented children across Uzbekistan. The Festival features children aged between 6 and 14 years old, irrespective of their social status and professional training.

Among other big projects are: Programme on Educational Grants, Programme of Scholarships for gifted students, Contest of Talented Youth Kelajak Ovozi (Voice of the Future), the festival of traditional and contemporary arts Navqiron O’zbekiston (Young Uzbekistan), an annual award in sphere of music and TV M&TVA, an exhibition/fair of applied arts and crafts Bazar-art, the festival of Traditional Culture Asrlar Sadosi (Echo of Centuries), the biggest Art Week in Central Asia Style.uz, and many others. Besides that, the Fund Forum provides support in implementing various international projects in Uzbekistan, such as the Tashkent International Biennale of Modern Art, which was held this year in the framework of Art Week Style.uz, International Photo Biennale, the International Photo Exhibition of Contemporary Arts "East and West: Tashkent Crossroads".

TRADITION AND MODERNITY — IDEAL COMBINATION?

Judging from the international interest and the success of the Fund Forum’s two major projects — the Festival of Traditional Culture Asrlar Sadosi (echo of centuries) and Art Week Style.uz, initiated by Goulnara Karimova — the answer is definitely "yes".

According to art experts, the purpose of these two projects is twofold: first, they represent Uzbek culture in its full spectrum, including traditional aspects and modern trends; second, international celebrities, art experts, journalists and other international guests attending these events not only learn about Uzbek culture but also help to convey the "Uzbek cultural message" to the rest of the globe.

The recent Art Week Style.uz—2009 (www.style.uz), which is held annually, was another major event. The project, conceived by Goulnara and launched in 2006, exceeded all expectations and demonstrated its scale and significance through colourful events in the sphere of culture, art and fashion, as well as participation of big-name celebrities, such as Kenzo Takada, Favaz Gruosi and Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, Julio Iglesias, Monserrat Caballe, Sting, Rod Stewart and others.

It should be noted that Art Week greatly differs from Fashion Week as the former features exhibitions of paintings, antiquities, presentations and concerts. Style.uz accentuates the support for the youth and provides grants for masters of textile and weaving arts engaged in reviving the ancient technologies of fabric making.

Asrlar sadosi (Echo of Centuries) is a lively festival of traditional culture, which is held out of doors on a large open space. It is a relatively new project developed by the Fund Forum. The Festival was first held in May 2008 near the historical city of Shahrisabz and was attended by over 30,000 people, among whom were many international guests. The Festival is aimed at preserving the unique folk heritage, popularizing national creative work, supporting and encouraging talented national music bands and artisans, and presenting Uzbekistan’s rich traditional culture to the international community.

This year, the idea of holding the Festival was supported by the UNESCO, which is indicative of its growing significance.

’SOFT POWER’ TOUCH OR MORE THAN CULTURE

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, which took place in Jordan in May 2009 and brought together over 1,200 businessmen, heads of government and public leaders, Dr. Goulnara Karimova touched upon the "soft" power strategy of Uzbekistan. She said that: "Uzbekistan is not only aware of the best international practices in this regard, but is already implementing projects within this strategy." This was exemplified by the experience of public organizations and civil society, in particular, that of the Fund Forum. Goulnara also stressed a wide range of social, educational, youth, women’s and charity projects — all activities that are within the scope of the non-governmental organizations which she heads — namely, Mehr Nuri (Light of Mercy) Charity Foundation, Jenskoye Sobraniye (Women’s Council) Public Association, Social Initiatives Support Foundation (SISF) and Kelajak ovozi (Voice of the Future) Youth Initiatives Center (YIC).

The Mehr Nuri Foundation (www.mehrnuri.uz) strives to develop the tradition of charity, mercy and friendship through its activities, which have always been peculiar to the Uzbek people. Established in 2004, this Foundation sponsors talented young people, small and medium-sized businesses. It also provides social protection to those in need, such as the disabled and orphans, through grant programmes: the Programme of Educational Grants; the Fellowship Programme for Gifted Students; the Grants for the Development of Family Business; the Grants for the Development of Small and Medium Business and Farming, etc. Since the beginning of its activity, the beneficiaries of the Foundation have included some 430,000 people in Uzbekistan.

The objective of another organization — Jenskoye Sobraniye (Women`s Council) Public Association (www.women.uz) — is to provide support leading to a healthy motherhood and childhood. More specifically, among its recent projects was an international conference that focused on combating breast cancer, held in Tashkent this year and attended by specialists from Germany, Italy, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States of America. Another significant event was the opening of "For the Sake of Life" Women’s Association for combating breast cancer.

Many well-known scholars and experts made their presentations at the Conference. They include Dr. Marco Martuzzi, representative of the WHO European Center for environment and health-care in Rome (Italy), Prof. Mikhail Davidov, Academic of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (RAMS), President of RAMS, Director-General of the largest in Europe the Russian Oncology Scientific Research Institute named after N. Blokhin (Russia), Elliot M. Belenkov, Professor of the "Mount Sinay" medical school, Member of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, member of the European Society of Medical Oncology (USA), Dr. Alexander Scharf, Professor, Mammology center Vice-President, Clinic of Heidelberg University (Germany), Chiba Momoco, Professor of the International University of Health and Welfare of Japan, Arie Bitterman, Director of the Institute for Surgical Oncology of Mammary Gland, Roman Barak, Chief Terapeutist of "Horev" Medical Center (Israel), Prof. Haluk Allagul, Chairman of Breast Surgery Association, head of the General Surgery Department, Gazi Osman Pasha University (Turkey), representatives of major international pharmaceutical companies like "Novartis" (Switzerland), "Sanofi- aventis" (France), "Hoffmann - La Roche" (Germany) and others.

Following the Conference in clinics of various regions of Uzbekistan special mammology offices are being established with the modern equipment where patients are helped by breast physicians and psychologists. The cooperation is established with the European Coalition to fight against breast cancer "Europa Donna" where Uzbekistan became its member in 2009 at the initiative of Jenskoye Sobraniye, and as well as with a number of pharmacological companies and enterprises that does possible providing with expensive and necessary medicines for women who need the support due to breast cancer diagnosis. Jenskoye Sobraniye organizes a variety of events for orphans as well.

The Social Initiatives Support Fund (SISF) (www.sisf.uz) works toward consolidating the efforts of active members of Uzbek civil society in order to improve the living conditions of citizens and those in need of social support. The SISF co-operates actively with Uzbek and foreign partners, implementing diverse programmes in health-care, education, social infrastructure, ecology and provision of access to clean water. For the past two years, more than 100,000 people have become direct and associated beneficiaries of the projects launched by the SISF.

Among the most significant SISF projects are: Programme of Micro-Credits for Women-Farmers; Programme of Introducing a National Model of Inclusive Education in the system of pre-school and school education; as well as programmes aimed at fighting and preventing HIV/AIDS in the region.

As was mentioned, the Fund Forum provides assistance to talented young people and engages them in projects and activities which combine both modern cultural tendencies and the traditional heritage, in particular through its project Kelajak Ovozi Youth Initiatives Center (YIC) (www.kelajakovozi.uz), which was founded in 2006 in consideration of the initiatives of winners of the Fund Forum’s projects. Currently, the Centre has branches in all regions of Uzbekistan, and several thousands of young people parti-cipate in its work. The YIC projects play an important role in the life of the Uzbek youth. For instance, Kelajak Tour (Future Tour) — a bureau for international tourism and co-operation founded in 2007 — has been very active in the development of international youth exchange and co-operation. Among other YIC projects are Young Entrepreneurs’ School, which helps develop skills in theoretical and practical business activity and economics; the Youth Employment Agency, a programme that assists talented young people to apply their knowledge and skills in practice; Kelajak Lingvo (Future Lingvo) Language Centre, which provides opportunities for young people to master foreign languages. In an effort to boost discussion and polemic culture and ensure more active youth involvement in social, political, cultural and economic processes, the YIC established a special Debating Club "Dilemma", where young people conduct discussions in Uzbek, Russian and English. The YIC is also working to develop other directions that the youth are in interested in, such as Voice of the Future Television Studio, Association of Youth Clubs, Youth Press Centre, etc.

The non-standard and promising models of social projects and programmes which Goulnara develops with a creative approach and an eye for positive outcome are indicative of her broad vision and her boundless desire to make an important contribution to the level of life, way of thinking and life perception of many today. To let people believe in themselves as she puts it: "There are many talented young people who need a chance and an opportunity to become a bit self-confident at an early stage, and young people, in their turn, should have a healthy aspiration to make life better in its all manifestations. Then the progress is possible" - is rather important and plays a significant role in the life of each and everyone.

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