09/04 06:07

Shamsh Kassim-Lakha: “Magnanimous Kyrgyz people that created such a great epic as “Manas” have a promising future”.

 Shamsh Kassim-Lakha: “Magnanimous Kyrgyz people that created such a great epic as “Manas” have a promising future”.

The guest of Saturday page, Mr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha: “Magnanimous Kyrgyz people that created such a great epic as “Manas” have a promising future”.

Our guest today is Mr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Diplomatic Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in the Kyrgyz Republic and Executive Chairman of the Board Executive Committee of the University of Central Asia. Our conversation was about the organization he is leading, which has been working in Kyrgyzstan for 15 years, and culture and traditions of Kyrgyz people.

- Mr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, people in Kyrgyzstan are well aware of the activities of AKDN in the country. Nevertheless, could you please provide brief information on your organisation’s activities in the country for the last 15 years?
-First of all, I would like to thank “Kabar” News Agency for inviting me to be a weekend guest. I hope that our collaboration will contribute to the development of Kyrgyzstan.
We started our programs in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 and this year we celebrate 15 years of our work in the country. However, I should note that we started some of our activities in social and economic development in the country even earlier.

The first time I visited Kyrgyzstan, as a member of His Highness the Aga Khan’s delegation, was in 1995. In the 1990s, the AKDN provided humanitarian aid to people of Murgab and Gorno-Badakhshan Oblast of Tajikistan as these areas faced economic hardships at that time. This aid was transported across the territory of Kyrgyzstan. During that first visit of His Highness to Kyrgyzstan, the country’s leadership requested the AKDN’s assistance to Kyrgyzstan. When we asked what kind of help is needed, the Kyrgyz authorities requested our assistance in education and economic development. Therefore, in 2002 the Aga Khan School in Osh city was established. Today this school has a good reputation among the local community and the Ministry of Education as an institution providing high quality education to young generation of the country. Thereafter, Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank (KICB) was founded with its headquarters in Bishkek and operations in all regions of the country. Additionally, the First MicroCredit Company (FMCC) was launched with its head office in Osh and country-wide operations. Then, an idea to establish a regional University with campuses in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan emerged. When the charter (an International Treaty) of this University was ratified by the Parliaments of all three countries and registered with the United Nations, the land for construction was provided and feasibility studies were conducted.

-As the result of your 15 years of activities, this year the University Central Asia in Naryn will admit its first cohort of students, as announced…
-Yes, I am glad to share this good news through your news agency that the University, which is being constructed in three countries, will start classes in its Naryn campus on 5th of September. Thanks to the support we have received from the local and central government authorities of Kyrgyz Republic as well as all necessary conditions in place, the construction of the first University campus has been progressing on schedule.


-Overall, how many phases of construction will there be and how much funds have already been spent?
-The campuses will be built in four phases with US$ 90 million spent for the Phase 1 by the AKDN. Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank the Government of Kyrgyz Republic for its support of this project through fiscal benefits and land allocated for it. The Charter of the University, signed in 2000, is an International Treaty. In accordance with its Charter, the University operates on non-profit basis, as non-denominational educational institution that will admit students on their merit and regardless of their economic conditions.

-People say that UCA will be a Harvard in post-soviet area. Thus, could you please about about the quality of education?
-Thank you for such a positive question. But, we should be very humble. For Harvard it took 300 years to reach its current level. But, I hope that over time our university can become a world class institution given our focus on quality of students and faculty. We in the AKDN have gone through such an experience before. For example, the Aga Khan University in Pakistan educates specialists of international quality and has campuses in 7-8 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

- Many international investors tend to work in Bishkek. What is the reason for you to select the mountainous Naryn Oblast with a small economy?
- You have asked a very good question. During the planning phase, the Presidents of all three countries suggested to construct the University in their respective capital cities. However, we understood that given that there were many universities in the capitals there was no need for one more. Since our main goal is to support economically-underdeveloped regions, we came to the conclusion to construct the universities in its chosen locations. This is common in all mountainous regions of the world and not unique to these three countries. The higher the altitude in which people live, generally the poorer they are. In such circumstances, often people are more vulnerable to radical ideas. If they are educated, they will contribute to the economy. Naryn, Tekeli and Khorog cities need such help.

Over time, these three locations will become “university towns” and contribute to economic development throughout the region. Even today, some international companies expressed their interest in cooperating with us. For example, one international private company is willing to establish its representative office in Naryn and considering hiring IT specialists from our University graduates. Recently, the Prime Minister of Kyrgyz Republic, Mr. Temir Sariev, during his working visit to Naryn with a delegation of university rectors and school directors stated that the University Central Asia will shape the face of the region.

-What regions will your students and faculty members be from?
- At the moment, the undergraduate admissions process is on-going with the deadline for submission of applications April 15th. We are currently planning to admit 70 students for the upcoming academic year and so far we have received 450 applications. Applicants are from not only Kyrgyzstan, but also Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. About 40 percent of applicants are from Kyrgyzstan – from Naryn, Osh and of course Bishkek.

As for the faculty members, we thought about it in advance. Four years ago, we selected 35 young scientists from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian countries and sent them to Universities in Russia, China, Germany, United Kingdom and Canada to acquire post-graduate degrees. They are now coming back having completed their studies and will form the core of our faculty. We will also try to attract talented specialists from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan who are currently working abroad.

- As you have mentioned earlier, will graduates of the Aga Khan School in Osh graduates be able to apply to UCA?
- Of course. But everyone will be admitted on merit. Graduates of the Aga Khan School will go through the admission process and take exams like everyone else from other schools.

- What is the projected number of students and faculty members at the University?
- During the first phase, each campus will educate 150 students. By the end of the fourth stage, each campus will have 1,200 students so that the total number of University students will be 3,600 students.
There will be over 100 faculty members in each campus, and our student-faculty ratio is 9 to 1. I should note this year we are enrolling students only for the University undergraduate programmes. However, 10 years ago, in 2006 we established a School of Continuing and Professional Education in Naryn. Today, this school is operating successfully, providing short-term vocational training courses. We have similar schools in 11 different locations in Central Asia and Afghanistan and so far 85 000 students graduated from our courses.

- What will be the language of instruction at UCA?
- The primary language of instruction is English, but Russian will also be taught. Certainly, in every country we will teach the national languages as well.

-As a guest of Kyrgyzstan, living here for many years how would you assess traditions and culture of Kyrgyz people? You have a lot of national souvenirs and pictures in your office…
- I am delighted to be and happy to work in Kyrgyzstan. It is sad that people outside this region are not sufficiently exposed to the beauty of the country and warmth of the hospitality of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan. I have had the great fortune of enjoying the good hospitality of so many peoples from Kyrgyzstan and I find it very easy to relate to them. In terms of culture, I have lots of affinity, in terms of religion, we have the same religion. I see there is a lot of pride of local people about their culture, language, literature, the famous writer Chingiz Aitmatov and great Manas epic, for example. I like it when the nation has the pride in its own roots. It’s a small country, but has a rich historic heritage. I also admire the openness of the society, the democratic traditions that this country has demonstrated. It is setting a good model for other countries.

- This year World Second Nomad Games is going to take place in Kyrgyzstan. What do you think about this event?
- This is a great idea. By holding the Second Nomad Games, people of Kyrgyzstan demonstrate their ancient history, rich culture and traditions to the world and this will help raise the future generations in this spirit.

- Do you like the Kyrgyz national dishes, for example, Beshbarmak?
- Yes, I like Beshbarmak very much. I also like roasted lamb prepared in a traditional manner, which is very delicious. I tasted it recently during my visit to Batken. Local fruits and vegetable is also of a high quality, especially the sweet apricots of Batken. In Batken we took part in Sumolok cooking with the townsfolk during which I enjoyed a very pleasant conversation with some elders. Certainly, I would like to visit this region once again and see the blossoming Aigul flower, the fortress of Khudayar Khan and other historical sights of this wonderful place.

Interviewer: Emilbek Momunov.

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