The British Uzbek Society held its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, 17 October 2018. The event was attended by some 50 registered members. Another 22 members who, for various reasons were unable to participate in person, voted electronically. It was a friendly, constructive and in every way enjoyable event. The evening began with a warm and supportive address from one of the founders of the British Uzbek Society, Dr Hartley Booth (Chairman July 2002-June 2017). He outlined the history of the Society, and expressed satisfaction at the way it has developed since he stepped down in June 2017. A statement on the Society’s financial performance in the current year was read out by Nadir Nuritidinov, on the basis of the accounts prepared by Richard Wilkins.

Next, Dr Shirin Akiner summarised the major developments that the Society had witnessed during the past year. First, in autumn 2017, there was the launch of a regular lecture series, covering a wide variety of topics. The second was the creation of a dedicated website, to carry information as well as reports on aspects of Uzbek history, culture and social life; some items have been viewed over 1,000 times by the global public! Several topics have, since independence, acquired significance in the country’s foreign relations (see, for example, ‘Foreign War Graves in Uzbekistan’; the ‘Lutheran Church in Tashkent’; and ‘Links between Uzbek Nauruz and the UK Financial Year’). The third development was the introduction of Corporate events with the participation of high-ranking Uzbek officials, either members of visiting delegations, or via video conferencing with Tashkent. The fourth achievement of the year, and in many ways the most difficult, was the holding of the first-ever open elections for Officers of the British Uzbek Society. Democracy is never an easy system to implement: if there were shortcomings this time, we shall learn from the experience and do better next time.

There were two sets of elections: the first for new members of the Executive Committee, the second for a new Chairman. Throughout the evening, there was active audience participation. The first session was moderated by Jonathan Aves (EBRD). Questions from the floor were clear, searching and pertinent. The candidates for the Executive Committee – Evelina Fisher, Rosa Vercoe and Vesna Petkovic – gave excellent presentations and all three were confirmed as members of the Executive Committee. The second session was moderated by Iain Fergusson (FSU Law). Two candidates had originally intended to contest the post of Chairman, but Nigel Peters chose to withdraw his candidacy on the day of the ballot. This left the field open for Dr Louis Skyner, who gave a powerful exposition of his vision for the strategic development of BUS in the coming year. Members pressed him to give detailed explanations on several key points. This degree of engagement was encouraging: an indication that the post of Chairman of the British Uzbek Society was no sinecure. Dr Skyner won with a clear majority, gaining the support of over half the membership (including those who were present in the hall and 16 e-votes). The votes were counted by two tellers: Anna Kerod (Kerod & Co, Specialist Translators) and Babur Yusupov (HUBX Capital), while Dr Harun Yilmaz (St Antony’s College, Oxford) took the Minutes. Zhantuar Zhumanalin (Secretary, British Kazakh Society) was the External Observer who monitored the proceedings.

After the formal proceedings, Ambassador Alisher Shaykhov read out an exceptionally warm and friendly letter from HE Abdulaziz Kamilov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, congratulating Dr Akiner on her 75th birthday earlier this year. Minister Kamilov praised her academic achievements, thanked her for contributions to Uzbek British relations, singled out her work for the British Uzbek Society and, on a personal note, recalled their decades-long friendship. Ambassador Shaykhov presented Shirin Akiner with a superbly carved wooden platter – a masterpiece of Uzbek craftsmanship. The gift was encased in a most beautiful box lined with fine blue silk. There were tributes from the floor, including flowers and some moving words from Kath Rees, who has spent many years working with women’s organisations in Uzbekistan. The evening ended with a feast of plov and other culinary delights, accompanied by laughter, multilingual jokes and much photograph taking.

Dr Shirin Akiner, BUS Chairman June 2017 – October 2018