UNESCO, in cooperation with the Japanese Government, has launched several cultural heritage conservation projects along the Silk Roads. Two projects in China (the Longmen Grottoes and the Kumtra Thousand Caves), and three projects in Central Asia (the site of Fayaz Tepe in Uzbekistan, the Otrar project in Kazakhstan, and the Krasnaya Rechka, Chuy Valley sites project in Kyrgyzstan), are already in progress. The recently approved project (April 2005) for the preservation of the Buddhist Monastery of Ajina Tepe in Tajikistan is the last project within this special UNESCO/Japan FIT Silk Roads programme.
The Buddhist site of Ajina Tepe, which dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries, is an earthen site situated in the south of Tajikistan. It was considerably damaged during decades of neglect after the excavations carried out in Soviet times and in dire need of emergency consolidation work. The site possesses great educational potential thanks to the discovery of a very large reclining Buddha statue measuring 12-meters high, among other priceless objects, now displayed in the Tajikistan National Museum of Antiquity in Dushanbe. The physical structure of the Monastery also remains intact.
The project's main objectives are as follows:
- A major documentation and research component will be included in the project's implementation. This is clearly lacking in ex-Soviet archaeology and conservation, and will provide much-needed information for the better understanding of the importance of the Buddhist Monastery of Ajina Tepe within the context of the Silk Roads. It will also train Tajik experts in the field. This work will be primarily undertaken in cooperation with the Tokyo Research Institute.
- Conservation work at the Monastery, which is the centerpiece of the project, will include the survey and protection of the site and its surroundings, landscaping, and public awareness-raising. This part of the work will be entrusted to Saitama University in Japan, and with Aachen University in Germany.
- Establishment of a Master Plan for the Buddhist Monastery of Ajina Tepe and for its maintenance may lead, eventually, to the inscription of Ajina Tepe on the World Heritage List.
- A training and capacity-building component for Tajik conservation specialists in the conservation of freshly excavated sites, which, perhaps most importantly, will teach archaeologists and conservationists to effectively work together on a major project.
- Promotional and public awareness-raising related to Ajina Tepe's important cultural heritage will be undertaken during the project implementation.
The first International Scientific Steering Committee meeting, composed of representatives from the Tajik National Commission for UNESCO, the Ministry of Culture, the Academy of Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, UNESCO, the Japanese authorities, and international and national experts who will lead the project, is scheduled to take place in Dushanbe in September-October 2005 to launch the project officially, so that operational field work can begin by spring 2006.