By Shahida Yakub, freelance journalist & Rosa Vercoe, BUS Communications Director
On 17th January 2020, British-Uzbek Society in collaboration with Uzbekistan Embassy in London held a joint talk by two very different but equally outstanding scholars of Central Asian studies.
Dr Paul Wordsworth, Research Fellow from the University of Oxford presented the highlights of his fascinating research on caravanserais (roadside inns) in Karakum desert, which stretches between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Paul received his PhD from the University of Copenhagen on medieval Central Asian trade routes and travel.
This area of research in the history of Central Asia is not well explored by archaeologists and historians. Paul dedicated his research to those areas of the Silk Road that often get overlooked: areas that were difficult to reach creating many challenges for adventurous travelers and traders of the Silk Road.
In his presentation, Paul Wordsworth demonstrated a number of images which, he suspects, represent early caravanserais as well as nearby water reservoirs. According to Paul Wordsworth, studying the ways, in which water was collected and preserved in the desert at that time, is very important given the current climate change challenges. We can learn a lot from the experience of the past inhabitants of Karakum desert, and apply their strategies of survival in extremely harsh weather conditions to modern days.
The second presentation was given by Dr Christopher Fort, Lecturer in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Michigan University, USA. Chris presented his latest work – a translation of the early 20th-century Uzbek author Abdulhamid Cho‘lpon’s Night and Day, which was recently released with Academic Studies Press.
This is the first ever English translation of this novel and one can only applaud Christopher Fort’s endeavor. In his presentation, Christopher spoke at length about the historical context of the book, Cholpon’s own life, his subsequent death in the hands of the Soviet secret service, and the lost second part of the novel “Day”. “Day” was confiscated by the secret service and, as Christopher believes, most probably burnt. It is important to mention that the Embassy of Uzbekistan in London provided all the necessary practical support and assistance with this project, which resulted in publication of Chris’ book in November 2019.
Chris’ interest in studying Russian and Uzbek languages goes back to his PhD years while he began translating from both Russian and Uzbek into English. His command of both languages is remarkable: for example, he gave an interview to BBC News in Uzbek language which can be viewed on YouTube.
His future translation projects will include some of the classics of Uzbek Socialist Realism, including G‘afur G‘ulom’s The Mischievous Child (1934) and Abdulla Qahhor’s Tales from the Past (1966). Chris impressed the audience with his knowledge of Uzbek language, literature and history.
Both presentations were received by the audience with a great interest leading to a vivid discussion during Q&A session. Following the talk, both speakers and all guests, present at the event, were invited to a reception with plov, generously hosted by the Uzbekistan Embassy. It was a truly enjoyable and intellectually stimulating event.