Shymkent Seeks UNESCO Recognition As 2,200-Year-Old City

ASTANA – Kazakhstan’s third largest city, Shymkent, will seek an official recognition from the relevant UN body that it is 2,200 years old, according to the city akimat’s (administration) website. If the request is approved, the city plans to celebrate the anniversary in 2017.

Shymkent officials say a relevant request has been sent to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the hopes that the organisation will recognise Shymkent as an ancient city, said the city Akim (Mayor) Darkhan Satybaldy at a Jan. 15 meeting with journalists.

“UNESCO will consider the application and the age of our city [is expected to be] recognised at the global level. Thereafter, in 2017, we will hold a big celebration in honour of the anniversary,” Satybaldy said. He explained that Kazakh national level officials have joined in the process of application too. According to UNESCO rules, such an application should be reviewed and decision on it should be taken in 2016.

According to Satybaldy, the authorities have already started working on the issue and are preparing the list of activities to be carried out in 2017.

The new claim was earlier made public by the scientists of Kazakhstan at the international conference titled “2,200 Years of the History of Shymkent,” held in October 2014. Scientists from France, Canada, Belgium, England, Russia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, as well as representatives of UNESCO attended the conference. The participants were presented the results of excavations, which appeared to prove that the city has an ancient history. It was reported from the conference that foreign participants confirmed the validity of their Kazakh colleagues’ evaluations.

“There are ceramics, burials, vessels, gold, which are more than two thousand years old, no doubt. Archaeologists have done a great job, and I agree that Shymkent is 2,200 years old,” French professor of history Lyonnet Bertille said at that conference, according to Liter newspaper.

If the application is approved, Shymkent will be recognised as Kazakhstan’s oldest city.

There have been lengthy debates in the scientific community about the real age of Shymkent. Until recently, it was popularly believed that the city can trace its history back to the 11th-12th centuries AD.

In his book, “History of Shymkent: 2,200 years according to archaeological sources,” Bayurzhan Baitanayev, general director of the Alkei Margulan Institute of Archaeology, explained that the opening of a chair on archaeology and ethnology at the Mukhtar Auezov South Kazakhstan State University was a key development leading to a more structured and focused research on the history of the city. Scholars at this chair, having set themselves the task of establishing the age of the city, had prepared a programme of archaeological studies of the Shymkent settlement located in the old part of the contemporary city, near its main bus station.

Thanks to the financing from the city akimat in 2003-2004, as well as to the state programme Cultural Heritage, the scholars were able to find a number of artifacts which appeared to date the settlement to the 2nd Century BC. In his 2005 report under the Cultural Heritage programme, academician and famous archaeologist Karl Baipakov noted that “the city has existed for 2,200 years.”

“If the [country’s] national UNESCO commission submits a request about the age of the city, the UNESCO general conference will review it in 2016 and pass the decision,” Yuri Peshkov, a UNESCO specialist on cultural issues in Central Asia, explained at the October 2014 conference.

According to Kazakh officials, Kazakhstan’s national UNESCO commission did submit such a request in 2014, also requesting that the 2,200th anniversary of Shymkent be included in the UNESCO calendar of international events.