ASTANA – Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan submitted this year a transnational bid for UNESCO World Heritage status for a Silk Road corridor that spans the three countries.
This corridor, called “Silk Roads: Initial Section and Network of Routes of the Tien Shan Corridor” includes 22 possible sites in China, eight in Kazakhstan and three in Kyrgyzstan. The bid is currently under initial evaluation and is expected to be voted on at the next gathering of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar in summer 2014. It is the first transnational Silk Road corridor to be nominated for World Heritage status.
The first step in the now-ongoing evaluation process was to send the submission dossier to the World Heritage Centre to be reviewed. Now, experts from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) will visit the sites. They are expected to arrive in Almaty in late September and continue to Kazakhstan’s sites before moving on to evaluate sites in Kyrgyzstan.
Sites in Kazakhstan’s portion of the corridor include Kayalyk, Karamergen, Talgar, Aktobe, Stepninskoe, Kulan, Ornek, Kostobe and Akyrtas.
“It’s a formal procedure,” Yuri Peshkov, National Programme Officer at the UNESCO Office in Almaty, explained. “They will have to discuss with responsible institutions [and] with governmental officials, look at the documents in the dossier and see the sites. They’ll look at the state of conservation, management issues, all of that. Then they’ll have this evaluation.”
ICOMOS and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) experts provide evaluations of nominated sites to the World Heritage Committee and give feedback to the working groups behind the nominations on the conservation and management of the sites.
“This year, two [Silk Road] corridors were submitted to the World Heritage Centre,” Peshkov said. “One is China-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan, the other is Tajikistan-Uzbekistan. The process of evaluation takes some time.”
The project first began in 2007, when China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan signed a concept paper addressing the World Heritage application. Since then, the project has identified 50 potential Silk Road heritage corridors. The two currently nominated were top priority. There are now 12 countries involved in the project: Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Nepal and Turkmenistan. The Silk Road was an overland network of trade routes connecting east Asia and Europe that flourished between the 2nd and 17th centuries.
Events are underway to promote the bid. In August, a group of 20 cyclists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan rode from Xi’an, Shaanxi province to Masanchi in Kazakhstan, passing through Silk Road heritage sites. Next will be the Silk Roads Heritage Corridors Tourism Strategy Workshop for China and Central Asia, to be held on Oct. 7-8 in Almaty. This meeting is organised by UNESCO, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Industry and New Technologies and the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
The countries of the transnational nomination will have to work together to ensure that the sites are maintained. “They will have to work together; they have to show that the management structure that they’re putting in place is sustainable and the sites are managed in all three countries,” Peshkov said. “Having this meeting about tourism development, that will strengthen their ties and connections.”
Receiving World Heritage status can mean big changes for listed sites. “The sites described in the World Heritage List usually attract tourism, international tourism, and the government will have to take care of the sites more carefully. A management system will have to be established.” Staff will also have to be recruited and local communities included in enhancement schemes, he said.
Though World Heritage listed sites are nominated and approved by UNESCO, responsibility for their upkeep generally falls to the governments of countries in which the sites are located. However, UNESCO’s World Heritage Fund provides funding for already-listed sites determined to be under threat and other funding options are available through funds-in-trust programmes within UNESCO. The Silk Roads project has already received support through UNESCO from the Japan Funds-in-Trust programme and Norway’s Funds-in-Trust programme.
The Silk Road is currently in the midst of a trade and tourism revival. China is perhaps the most active nation in promoting Silk Road tourism and has a number of Silk Road sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list, a listing of sites that a state considers to be of world heritage value and intends to submit in the future. Duhang, China, hosted the sixth UNWTO International Meeting on Silk Road Tourism on Aug. 1-3 this year, a meeting organised by the UNWTO, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), Gansu province and the China Chamber of Tourism. The meeting gathered experts to talk about generating sustainable Silk Road tourism and how to raise the profile of the ancient trade network. The Chinese government has been spending over $12 million per year recently to protect Silk Road heritage sites in its Xinjiang region.
Many countries in the region are also promoting Silk Road tourism and a number of high-level meetings on the topic have been held. The third UNWTO Silk Road Ministers’ meeting, held in Berlin in March, brought together ministers and vice ministers of tourism from over 20 Silk Road countries and resulted in the development of the Silk Road Heritage Corridors tourism strategy, which was to be launched this year.
Kazakhstan currently has three properties inscribed in the World Heritage list and some of its own Silk Road sites, Semirechye (Zhetysu), Syrdarya, Saryarka and Mangyshlak (Uralo-Prikaspiyskiy) on the tentative World Heritage list.