By Rosa Vercoe, BUS Communications Director

On 13 December 2019, British-Uzbek Society held its annual dinner at the historical, early Victorian surroundings of the University Women’s Club, in the heart of London’s Mayfair. The event was attended by members of the British-Uzbek Society (BUS) as well as invited diplomats, MPs, media, representatives of business, academic and cultural circles – all sharing interest to and love for Uzbekistan. It was a nice occasion to raise awareness of the activities led by BUS in promoting Uzbekistan in the UK, welcome a number of people who work with or in Uzbekistan, and encourage more people to join the Society.

At the outset of the event, the BUS Chairman, Dr Louis Skyner addressed the audience with a warm welcome and greetings for the upcoming New Year. He also welcomed the honoured quests: Dr David Mitchell, his grandchildren Christian and Celine Akiner-Mitchell, Dr Harun Yilmaz and Miss Shirin Jalilova.  Louis Skyner was followed by HE Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United Kingdom Said Rustamov, who praised British-Uzbek Society for its integral role in promoting and supporting cultural and social relations between the two countries.

Shirin Jalilova – a professional dancer, choreographer and a teacher from the State Academy of National Dance and Choreography flown from Tashkent specially for this evening – set a festive atmosphere of the event with a brilliant performance of traditional Uzbek dances demonstrating Bukharan, Fergana and Khorazm (Lazgi) styles. The Lazgi dance was the highlight of her performance as just a day before the event, UNESCO announced its decision on inscribing Khorazm Dance, Lazgi on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Shirin’s performance was received by the audience with amusement and admiration thanks to her artistry combined with the beauty of the colourful costumes complementing unique regional features of each dance.

Following the dance performance, everyone was invited to join the dinner at the dining room. The guests were happy to dedicate some time during the dinner to the memory of Dr Shirin Akiner, former BUS Chair and a dedicated member of the Society since its inception, who sadly passed away on 6th April 2019. Dr David Mitchell, Shirin’s husband, gave a very moving and heart-warming speech about Shirin: her family of a mixed heritage, her international upbringing and the various interests she pursued since her youth, her passion for life, knowledge and education, her amazing bravery in the most extraordinary circumstances, her strength and consistency in following her principles and beliefs, and her inexhaustible passion and love for Central Asian studies.

Dr Harun Yilmaz shared his reflections on Shirin as a Scholar, Expert, and Mentor – Shirin played a very important role in Haruns’ own academic formation and achievements. In his speech, Harun cited Shirin’s achievements and some fascinating facts about her life, research and academic work.

Shirin’s grandson, Christian Mitchell delivered a reading, written by Colonel Nick Kitson DSO, who could not attend the event himself. The reading was dedicated to Shirin Akiner, who together with her husband David Mitchell, provided an unconditional, all rounded support to Nick throughout a very difficult period of his military service in Afghanistan. The reading and the full texts of both speakers – Dr David Mitchell and Dr Harun Yilmaz – can be read at the end of this report.

On the whole, it was a very successful and enjoyable evening – we have received a number of requests to join the British-Uzbek Society. It is worth noting that all BUS members were given their membership new badge, made specially for the Annual Dinner. With this positive outlook, the BUS Society is heading to the year 2020 with some exciting new ideas and plans following its ambition to develop and deepen further British-Uzbek cooperation along varied directions.

Ibrat Jumaboyev, the BBC Uzbek journalist summarised  the main features of the event, including interviews of the BUS Directors, in his video-report which can be viewed on YouTube.