“Your Highness…The Silk Road Project and I admire you for many reasons. In your cultural work you have created the Aga Khan Prize for Architecture, you have supported and founded Universities around the world, and you are doing important restoration work in cities like Cairo and now Kabul. We are honored to be working with you and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture on this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival” — Yo-Yo Ma, June 26, 2002

Introduction

(Introduction adapted and compiled from article by Lawrence Small in the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Program Book)

Crrowds at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Crowds on the National Mall during the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Silk Road. The annual Folklife Festival highlights grassroots cultures across the nation and around the world through performances and demonstrations of living traditions. The Festival, which began in 1967, occurs for two weeks every summer on the National Mall and attracts more than 1 million visitors. Photo: Jeff Tinsley/ Smithsonian Institution.

For ten days during the summer of 2002, the great geographical and cultural distance that lies between the heart of Europe and the far reaches of Asia was reduced to the length of a leisurely afternoon stroll on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

For the first time in its 36-year history, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival had a single — and remarkably ambitious — theme The Silk Road. The name denotes the network of trade routes, over both land and sea, along which merchants and travelers began to move across Asia and Europe some 2000 years ago. Along those staggering distances lay a wealth of cultures and traditions, which are still there today. They came to life in the heart of the US capital from June 26 through July 7, 2002.

Aga Khan and Colin Powell at 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Silk Roads Festival
His Highness the Aga Khan (left) and Secretary of State Colin Powell touring Samarkand Square, one of the main pavillions set up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2002 to celebrate the Silk Road and its culture. Photo: AKDN / Zahur Ramji
Aga Khan, Colin Powell and Edward Kennedy at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival devoted to The Silk Road
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, His Highness the Aga Khan and the late Senator Edward Kennedy at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Senator Edward Kennedy, in his remarks, expressed deep appreciation of the role being played by His Highness the Aga Khan in the process of education and cultural understanding. “Now more than ever,” said Sen. Kennedy, “his is a voice that needs to heard and understood.” Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji
Musical performance at the Silk Roads Festival
Khongorzul, accompanied by Amartuvshin on the morin khuur, performs at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folkilife Festival, while Secretary of State Colin Powell and His Highness the Aga Khan (right) look on. AKDN/Zahur Ramji

Visitors who made the journey across the Festival site immersed themselves in the energy and larger educational purpose of the Festival: they had an opportunity to travel across continents, centuries, and cultures. They met with a diversity of artists who, through their demonstrations of skill — with silk, jewelry, ceramics, carpets, paintings, paper, calligraphy, food, and, not least, music — did more than merely affirm their cultural traditions. They embodied them. The 2002 Folklife Festival, like, every other, celebrated humanity and breathed a spirit of human engagement.

His Highness the Aga Khan’s Trust for Culture was lead funder and key creative partner of the Silk Roads Festival.

“I also join in welcoming His Highness the Aga Khan who was an early supporter of the Silk Road Project. He is an impressive leader for our time and I commend all that he has done, especially in the field of education and cultural exchange. Now, more than ever, his voice is one that needs to be acknowledged and understood. We are honored to have him with us today.” — Late Senator Edward Kennedy (1932-2009), June 26, 2002

Opening ceremony remarks in US Senate Congressional Record

Little is it known that remarks made by His Highness the Aga Khan, reproduced in full below, and others including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Senator Edward Kennedy and Yo-Yo Ma (see quotes, above) during the festival’s opening ceremony became part of the US Senate’s Congressional Record by unanimous consent, and ordered to be printed in the Senate Record. Dated July 17, 2002, it appears in the 107th Congress, 2nd Session Issue: Vol. 148, No. 97 — Daily Edition. Link to the official text/PDF file of the complete record of statements made at the opening ceremony is provided at the bottom of the post.

Binding people through the force of cultural pluralism

Aga Khan speaking in 2002 at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folklife Silk Road Festival
His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. “A search for new forces of stability,” was how the 49th Ismaili Imam, who is directly descended from Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), described one of the pressing needs in Central Asia. One such force “that seems particularly essential,” he said, “is the validation and vigorous promotion of human and cultural pluralism ….For the new countries of Central Asia, the inherent pluralism of their societies can be an asset rather than a liability. In a wider sense, it can be a means for enlarging the frontiers of global pluralism… This is a goal, with which we can all associate and should all associate.” Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji

By HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

I am here to speak briefly about Central Asia. I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why the theme of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this year is so important. As you know, Central Asia has been an area of considerable concern and instability for the world. Over the past decade, Central Asian countries have come into existence in difficult circumstances. Frontiers have been changed, ethnic groups have been divided, old traditions have been modified by the Soviet presence, and all this has caused considerable difficulty in looking ahead in that part of the world.

This period of deep change at the national and regional levels has prompted a search for new forces of stability. One that seems particularly important, I think, to the United States and to all of us, is the validation and vigorous promotion of human and cultural pluralism. Historically the Silk Route was a link that interconnected diverse aspects of human society and culture from the Far East to Europe, and did so on the basis of mutual interest. This suggests that for the new countries of Central Asia, the inherent pluralism of their societies can be regarded as an asset rather than a liability. In the wider sense, it can be a means of enlarging the frontiers of global pluralism. This is a goal with which we all can and should associate.

The Aga Khan’s remarks continue after photo

Yo-Yo Ma performs at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folklife Silk Roads Festival in 2002
Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble performing at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival with the former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and His Highness the Aga Khan looking on. Photo: AKDN/Zahur Ramji

The remarkable work of Yo-Yo Ma has enthralled audiences, from all the countries of the Silk Route and beyond. By his leadership and imagination he has proved that the force of cultural pluralism to bind people is as necessary, powerful and achievable today as was the Silk Route in history.

It is my privilege and honour to be associated with the founder of the modern Silk Route, a cultural journey that inspires people to unity and joy through art.

Date posted: August 10, 2019.

Before departing this page please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 160 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family.

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