BUS Developments and Activities June 2017 to June 2018: Chairman’s Report

 

Dear Members and Friends of the British Uzbek Society!

My year as Chairman of the Society (June 2017-18) has been eventful, with many changes and new activities. Here is my report on the main developments. Some of you will have been with us for long enough to observe the changes. For others, this chronicle will perhaps give you new insights. But however long you have been part of our Society, I hope you will have found it an agreeable experience and are looking forward to helping us to do even better in 2018-19!!!

Membership

This has risen from less than 10 fully paid-up members in June 2017 to close on 100 members today. As a result, our bank balance has gone from ‘the edge of bankruptcy’ to a fairly stable position. This sudden (and of course very welcome) expansion involved a huge increase in the workload for our Treasurer, Richard Wilkins. He has dealt with it single-handedly – a remarkable feat, especially in view of his many professional commitments. I am sure I speak for all of you in offering him our sincere thanks.

Institutional Members

A section devoted to our ‘Institutional Members’ has recently been added to the website. The first ‘Business Briefing Lunch’ for institutional/corporate members was held on 31 May. Senator Sodyq Safoyev and four other senior Uzbek government officials joined the discussion session via video- conferencing. The general opinion was that it had been a very useful session; more sectoral business meetings are planned for 2018-19.

Website and Logo

The website was created in September 2017, thanks to the help and generosity of our Executive Committee member Ramil Minullin and our talented Tashkent-based web designer, Artur Abdurakhmanov. The website is an important channel of communication, information and outreach. It gives running RSS news feeds on Uzbekistan, with emphasis on economics, culture and sport. The regular addition of longer reports on a variety of topics refreshes and broadens its content.

Recent items have included ‘Foreign War Graves in Uzbekistan’ (particularly relevant in view of Polish Senator Anna Maria Anders visit to Tashkent in June 2018), and ‘Suzanis – Gems of Uzbek Decorative Art’ (we hope to have a lecture on this subject in 2019). Some of these reports have had over 1,000 views!

Artur also developed our new logo. The aim of the logo is to establish our unique identity and to protect the Society’s integrity. Please note that the logo should only be used with the written permission of the Chairman.

Another of Artur’s innovations was to introduce direct online membership applications, in addition to the standard off-line applications. This has greatly simplified the whole procedure for registering; see http://uzbek.org.uk/membership/individual-membership/

Annual General Meeting

The Society’s first-ever open AGM was held on 25 October 2017. Treasurer Richard Wilkins presented an account of the Society’s financial position and Hartley Booth, Richard Wilkins and Shirin Akiner were re-elected as Directors. Shirin Akiner, who was confirmed as Chairman, outlined plans for the coming year. The Ambassador of Uzbekistan, HE Alisher Shaykhov, gave an overview of the current state of British-Uzbek relations. Members voted to re-confirm the current Directors of the Society. The event was followed by a lively, well-attended reception.

Administrative and Constitutional Matters

One of the most pressing administrative issues this year was the revision and updating of our Articles of Association. This was kindly undertaken by Richard Barham (Executive Committee member with responsibility for governance issues); after detailed scrutiny by Committee members, the document that he presented was accepted and duly registered with the appropriate authorities (see attachment).

As Chairman, I have stressed the need for the British Uzbek Society to be scrupulously careful in maintaining its independence. We do not have grants or subventions from any government body or institution. Instead, we rely on the subscriptions we receive from our members. We have friendly and mutually respectful ties with the Embassy of Uzbekistan but it is a ‘strategic partnership’ – we work together in matters of common interest and concern but we have our own priorities and goals. Our Uzbek partners understand this and I am glad to say that we have excellent working relations.

One important aspect of our independence is that we ‘pay our way’ by making a modest, but not insignificant contribution to cover the cost of hospitality and use of Embassy premises. (Ambassador Shaykhov has informally assured me that our contributions are ring-fenced for charitable purposes, generally for the benefit of the Uzbek community in the UK.) Another consequence of our independence is that we are not automatically invited to Embassy events (so do not be disappointed if you are not always included in their guest list). Regarding events that we host jointly with the Embassy, priority is given to our Society members and guests.

Lectures

A regular programme of lectures was launched in November 2017. Topics ranged from ‘Early Soviet Uzbek Avantgarde Art’ to the revival of the national sport ‘Kurash’ (an ancient form of wrestling); other lectures covered ‘Women’s Organisations’, ‘Trends in Tourism’ and ‘Uzbekistan’s Dynamic Millennials’ (given by Temur Yusupov, a brilliant young Uzbek graduate from the Westminster University in Tashkent). See website for details of the lectures.

Annual Dinner

Held on 11 December, this was a joint celebration for Christmas and for Uzbekistan’s Constitution Day. It took place in the University Women’s Club, Mayfair; this historic institution was founded in 1883 and for many years it has provided a space for friendship and debate. The Guest of Honour was H.E. Senator Sodyq Safoyev who, despite an extremely tight schedule, made time to spend the first part of the evening chatting with our members; in a brief address he highlighted the importance of British-Uzbek relations and spoke of the new opportunities for collaboration currently opening up. The Senator was accompanied by a delegation of senior Uzbek Parliamentarians, high-level members of the Development Strategy Centre, the National Television and Radio Company and the Ministry for Information and Press – they remained with us throughout the evening and mingled with our members.

Our Eminent Guest Speaker was Professor Tim Williams of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who spoke engagingly about his personal insights into ‘Uzbekistan and the Silk Roads’. There were also brief interventions from other speakers, including Ambassador Shaykhov on the Uzbek Constitution and its emphasis on religious tolerance; and Shirin Akiner on Christmas celebrations in Uzbekistan, especially among the Tashkent Lutheran community which she knows well. There was a lovely solo performance by BUS member Lola Tursunova Ganzarolli, an Uzbek-born opera singer, who enthralled us with Russian and Italian songs; later, she led us in a much-loved Christmas carol. At the end of the evening a Raffle was held in aid of a special school for disabled children in Tashkent (School 52, Khamzinskii raion). The prizes – fruits, wines and beautiful handmade items – were flown in directly from Uzbekistan. The total amount raised was the impressive sum of £1,100.00 – this included additional donations from BUS members and an exceptionally generous contribution from one of our guests, Lord Sheikh. The School has since used these funds to improve facilities for the children. See further:

Many of our members helped to make the Annual Dinner a success, but very special thanks must go to BUS member Vesna Petkovic, who played a vital role in organising the event. As many of you will know, Vesna has also provided invaluable assistance to me in organising the lecture series. I must also thank Executive Committee member Otabek Nuritidinov, for his help in organising the raffle, and BUS member Babur Yusupov for support in developing links with the Tashkent School.

Other Receptions

The traditional Nauruz Party (22 March) was generously hosted by the Embassy of Uzbekistan, who provided wonderful refreshments and the special delicacies associated with this feast … and of course, it was extremely well attended!

The Summer Garden Party (28 June) was another memorable event. It was attended by an international gathering of members and friends from all over the world, and from many different walks of life. Along with superb dishes and delicious beverages (including quality wines from Uzbekistan), there was a large and beautifully decorated cake, presented by Uzbekistan Airways. Welcoming speeches were made by Ambassador Shaykhov, Baroness Alison Suttie (House of Lords) and Shirin Akiner. Highlights of the evening included a performance of popular and classical Uzbek music by the famous singer Guljahon Hurramova, who flew over from Sweden specially for this event; also, there was a fashion parade of clothes by contemporary Uzbek designers, stylishly presented by elegant young models from Uzbekistan. Live and recorded music continued late into the evening, and under the stars people laughed and danced and sang, reluctant to leave the party …!

As always, there are many people to thank for making this event so special. However, there were a few truly indispensable people without whom it could not have happened. In particular, I am grateful to Dinara Dultaeva and Yuldosh Juraboev, who organised the programme and undertook the travel arrangements for the performers (no simple matter!); Sukhrob Makhammadiev of the Izgara Restaurant, who provided the sumptuous feast; and the staff of the Embassy of Uzbekistan for their unstinting support and patience. Also, I was delighted by the generosity of documentary maker Wasi Mumtaz, who organised the filming of the event; for a report and short clip.

Looking Ahead

I am used to the academic convention of the year running from October to September, so this chronicle covers that period for 2017-18. Our next Annual General Meeting, marking the beginning of a new session, will be held in mid-October. I shall inform you as soon as the details have been confirmed. At the AGM I shall be stepping down as Chairman and handing over responsibility to my successor, whom you will elect at that meeting. My decision to resign is largely motivated by personal considerations (health and pressure of academic work). However, I think it is in any case a good idea to have regular changes of the members of the Executive body – i.e. Chairman and Committee – in order to refresh and re-invigorate the Society. I shall shortly be sending you details of the election procedures and key dates; I shall also invite members to come forward and stand for election. Please remember – this is your Society and it is for you to help shape its further development. As you will have seen, it has some potential … …!

All good wishes, Shirin

Dr Shirin Akiner (Chairman)
1 September 2018, London

See also: