On 11 December 2017, a unique occasion took place to celebrate Uzbekistan’s Constitution Day and the Christmas Festival. The Reception and the BUS Annual Dinner was organised by the British-Uzbek Society (BUS) with full support from the Uzbekistan Embassy in London. A beautiful historical building, the University Women’s Club in Mayfair provided a perfect setting for the festive atmosphere and for the invited guests to mingle, meet, greet, eat, sing and talk.

The Reception was commenced by the Guest of Honour, H.E. Senator Sodyq Safoyev, introduced by the BUS Chairman, Dr Shirin Akiner. Mr Safoyev underlined the future importance of British-Uzbek relations and declared an open welcome to Britain to visit Uzbekistan soon to explore new opportunities in the country, which is offering a very new stage of country development. The Senator was accompanied by a Delegation comprising top level officials from the Parliament of Uzbekistan, the Development Strategy Centre, National Television and Radio Company and the Ministry for Information and Press: Mr Abdullaev, Mr Burkhanov, Mr Saidiev, Mr Ergashev, Mr Pulatov, and Mr Murodov. The Development Strategy Centre (DSC) officials, in particular, were visiting the UK on a Study seeking strong new links and ideas in the UK. Contact with DSC should be maintained closely by those interested.

Following the introduction and welcome speeches, the members of the Uzbek Delegation had the opportunity to socialise with a broad range of guests, including EBRD, informally, exploring the guests’ interests to and connections with Uzbekistan. The atmosphere was full of excitement in anticipation of the special evening dinner and celebratory speeches. You could hear guests talking in English, Uzbek and Russian, exchanging their news and business cards.

Guests then moved on to the main hall where the Annual Dinner was set for about 90 guests in a beautiful room lit by bright crystal chandeliers. The dinner started with a speech by Ambassador, H. E. Alisher Shaykhov who gave a specific overview of the Uzbekistan Constitution. Dr Shirin Akiner illustrated how the key point of the Constitution regarding tolerance and respect for others works in practice and shared her personal memories about visiting some Christian communities in Uzbekistan and witnessing their preparations to celebrate Christmas, with two well-chosen Christmas Carols. There were other speakers throughout the dinner which maintained the interest of everyone throughout whole evening.

One of the event’s highlights was an instant evening raffle, in support of a charity, special school in Tashkent that helps disabled girls to learn the skills that will enable them to live independent lives. The raffle was a particular success and raised over £ 400.00; this was doubled by a matching offer from Lord Sheikh to support the small charity in Uzbekistan. Wonderful gifts including beautiful Uzbek silk ties and scarfs, fruit baskets and wine flown-in from Uzbekistan caught everyone’s attention, and were particular incentives to encourage guests to buy many raffle tickets in support of the charity. Prizes for raffle winners had been kindly donated by: Uzbekinvest International Insurance Ltd, Lord Sheikh (House of Lords) and the Embassy of Uzbekistan in the UK.

A solo performance by an Uzbek born opera singer, Lola Ganzarolli, enthralled guests with two famous Russian and Italian songs. Eminent Guest Speaker, Professor Tim Williams of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who has spent many years working on sites in Central Asia, addressed the audience with his own personal insight, ‘Uzbekistan and the Silk Roads’. It was a succinct but incredibly passionate and inspiring excurse, without any reminder notes, into the history and meaning of the Silk Road calling listeners to appreciate the wealth, depth and diversity of the contribution made by the whole of Uzbekistan and not just the famous sites, in the material, cultural and scientific heritage of the Silk Road.

What a magnificent evening providing a perfect venue for meeting new people, learning about new projects, and, hopefully, generating new ideas and collaborations for strengthening future British-Uzbek relations!

John and Rosa Vercoe

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