Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan
His Highness the Aga Khan addresses guests gathered at the opening of the University of Central Asia’s first campus in Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic.(Photo: Gary Otte)
Your Excellency, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic
Your Excellency, Amanbai Kayipov, Governor of Naryn Oblast
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies,
Students, Faculty and Staff of the University
This is a great day for the University of Central Asia and for me, and for all those who have participated in the development of this University in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And I know that now is also a very special day for the people of the Kyrgyz Republic and for the leaders and the citizens of Naryn. It is indeed a great pleasure to join with you in celebrating a truly historic moment as we inaugurate the Naryn campus of the University.
It has been a great honor, and also a great pleasure, for my colleagues and for me to work with all of you in building here in Central Asia a great new institution. Your contributions have come in many ways; through your wise advice, through financial resources, through building materials, and through the energies of local workers. Everyone who has made a contribution will always be a part of this place.
You all have our warmest thanks not only for your generous material support, but also for your friendship and for your vision.
Let me mention, too, how honored I was when the President presented to me yesterday this country's esteemed Danaker Order. This award has special meaning for me because it represents important ideals - values that the people of the Kyrgyz Republic honor in daily practice.
I gratefully accepted this award as a symbol of the partnership which has grown up through the years between the people of Central Asia and the people of the Aga Khan Development network, a reminder of the road we have walked together, and of the wonderful journey that still lies before us.
As a result of your efforts, the University of Central Asia is already helping to lead the peoples of this Central Asian Mountain Region to an exciting new chapter in their history. As we take this new step forward, I am also thinking of some of the developments already underway that have highlighted the story of these past sixteen years while providing a great sense of momentum as we move into the future.
UCA is not a typical start-up university. I would point, for example, to the remarkable School of Professional and Continuing Education. Since it launched its first courses in 2002, it has engaged a remarkable number of learners - over 90,000 in all - ranging from members of parliament to young people from the regions and from villages. I would also point to the Humanities Project with its valuable array of courses that have attracted support from 77 other universities and colleges throughout Central Asia. We could also talk proudly about The Institute of Public Policy and Administration, as well as the Mountain Societies Research Institute, two places that are already doing path-breaking research, cooperating with international partners on issues that will be central to the region’s progress. In yet another area of learning, the Cultural Humanities and Cultural Heritage Unit's work on the musical heritage of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are harbingers of what can be expected. Meanwhile, through our faculty development programme, scores of Central Asians have completed their doctorates at leading universities, also providing a unique talent pool for UCA. All of these assets are building blocks which now can help the Naryn campus to play its own central and vibrant role.
This event today brings back some wonderful memories for me. It was just sixteen years ago that I joined the Presidents of the Founding States in signing an extraordinary International Treaty. It was an unprecedented event. The Treaty was then a unique example to the entire world of how these three countries could actually dream together about their common future. And it was also a wonderful example of how they could join hands together, across national boundaries, to make their dreams come true.
When I have talked about this project with people in all parts of the world over these past sixteen years, many of them have been a little bit surprised, and they were also extremely impressed. Do you mean, they asked me, that this new university will have these different bases, in three different countries, all working together in the pursuit of common goals? And my answer of course is yes - not only has this been our plan, but that is what is actually happening today. We would like to build our three campuses in the quickest succession possible.
What this University is all about is not only the power of education, but also the power of international cooperation. It is a power that can change peoples’ lives.
It is important to know that what we are doing here will be a valuable example of international cooperation for the future not only here in the region, but also for people far beyond the region.
And it is also important to remember how this example also grows out of this region’s past.
Students of world history remind us how Central Asia, a thousand years ago, “led the world” in trade and investment, in urban development, in cultural and intellectual achievement. This was the place that leading thinkers from around the known world would look to for leadership. What were the latest breakthroughs in astronomy or mathematics, in chemistry or medicine, in philosophy or music? This was the place to find out. This region is where algebra got its name, where the earth's diameter was precisely calculated, where some of the world’s greatest poetry was penned.
Why did this happen then? Why did it happen here? Above all, I would suggest, it was because of the quality of “openness.” By that I mean openness to new ideas, openness to change, and openness to people from many backgrounds and with a variety of gifts. The people of the cities here, even all those centuries ago, joined hands with the people of the steppes, and together they reached out to people who were far, far away.
That kind of openness can again be the key that unlocks the doors to the future. This will be true not just for people who live down the road, or others who may live over the immediate horizon, but also for people who are even farther away. They are potential partners and potential beneficiaries as we take on the great questions of our time and place: How can we best improve our schools, head off climate change, deal with natural disasters, and advance the public’s health?
The University of Central Asia can do a great deal to help address and answer these questions, not only through its undergraduate and graduate programs, but also through faculty and student research, through relevant interdisciplinary programs - and through partnerships with other institutions - in each case, geared to the specific challenges and circumstances of the region. And the impact of what we do can not only be global and regional - it can be local as well. By working with the leadership of the Oblast, we hope, for example, that Naryn will become a dynamic university town, enhancing the quality of life for all its citizens.
Some examples are already in place: the renovation of the Jakypov Park is one; the medical and diagnostic centre is another. New plans are underway for an early childhood development center, a residential development for faculty, staff and other local citizens, as well as a university inn for the many visitors that will come to share in the beauty and vitality of the Naryn region, and the new university community.
Finally, let me mention that we are also taking some very important organizational steps as we reach this milestone moment in the early history of the University of Central Asia. Not only is UCA launching its first undergraduate degree programme, but, as an autonomous institution, it is now ready for self-governance under a Board of Trustees as envisaged in the International Treaty and the University’s Charter. As the Chancellor of the University, I am making the first appointment to the Board by naming, as its chairman, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha.
Shamsh has had a remarkable career as a successful leader in the field of education. For almost three decades, he led the building, planning and operation of the Aga Khan University, based at first in Pakistan, but now extending into three continents. He was also a former Minister of Education, as well as a Minister of Science and Technology in Pakistan. After making his appointment official, we will now also be moving to appoint other Trustees as Members of that Board, a task I will undertake in cooperation with the Presidents of the Founding States who are the Patrons of the University.
It is under their leadership that we will now go forward. What we celebrate today is not the first phase of this story of growth and progress - but it is still an early step.
Even as we rejoice today, we look forward to the many wonderful steps that are still to come.