A weekend symposium in Istanbul discussed the cultural and historical heritage of the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan as well as its deep-rooted ties with Turkey.
The event on Saturday, "Uzbekistan: A Civilization Beyond Time," brought together many academics, scholars, and craftsmen, as well as experts at the Bahariye Mevlevi Lodge in the Eyüp district.
Held under the auspices of the Turkish Presidency, the symposium gave participants an opportunity to take a closer look the at ancient cities of Uzbekistan, civilizations in the region of Turkistan, a vast Central Asian region around the Turkic peoples' homeland, as well as the missions of Uzbek dervish lodges in Istanbul and Turkey
In his opening speech, Turkish calligraphy and marbling artist Uğur Derman, a self-described lover of Uzbekistan, talked about Uzbek lodges and ties with the Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara during the Ottoman era and gave a slide show of vintage photos.
"The institutions that did the most to establish ties [between the two nations] were Uzbek dervish lodges. The largest one that I know is the one in Üsküdar. There's also one in Eyüp Sultan and one near Kadırga [in Istanbul's Fatih district]," Derman said.
Derman quoted Necmeddin Okyay, a regular participant in the Uzbek dervish lodge in Üsküdar, as saying, "If Uzbek pilgrims at that time didn't visit Istanbul and Eyüp Sultan along their hajj pilgrimage route, they saw their hajj as unfinished."
The remains of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad after the migration to Medina in 622, are interred at a mosque in the Eyüp Sultan district.
Ancient cities of Bukhara, SamarkandFor her part, Seda Yılmaz Vurgun, a scholar of Turkistan and Turkish history at Bilecik Şeyh Edebali University, called the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan an important "hub" for Turkish, Islamic and world civilizations.
"The city may not have a sea, but it was like a coastal city. Muslim traders often went to the region," she said.
"Qutayba ibn Muslim, [a commander of the Umayyad Caliphate] established a mosque in Bukhara. Thereafter the city became an important base for Islam."
Indicating how the famed Uzbek city of Samarkand is described as a "center of Central Asia," she said: "The first thing when you talk about Samarkand is its fertile soil. It's also important politically. It's the home of important works of art."
The most important feature of both Samarkand and Bukhara is their madrasa Islamic schools, Vurgun stressed.
"[Opening] a madrasa was a tradition at that time. Every wealthy person wanted to open a madrasa. It was a kind of donation."
In recognition of their history, cultural legacy, and architectural heritage, both Bukhara and Samarkand are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Touching on the Uzbek dervish lodges, Seda said: "The founders of these dervish lodges were Bukhara and Samarkand sheiks. They were people who transmitted culture between the countries."
"Uzbek dervish lodges worked as consulates between the two countries. They were praying for the Ottomans to beat their rivals during wars," she said.
There are some 17 Uzbek dervish lodges across the world, said the scholar.
Boosting bilateral ties
For his part, Mustafa Budak, a historian at Istanbul University, explaibned how in the 15th century the center of Islamic scholarship in the Turkistan region shifted to Istanbul.
"The Turkistan region was a center of Islamic sciences and culture until the mid-15th century. After the 1453 conquest of Istanbul, the direction [of scholarship] changed with the encouragement of [Ottoman Sultan] Mehmet the Conqueror.
"Scholars in Turkistan came to Anatolia and Istanbul, and the center of scholarship in Turkistan shifted to Istanbul," he said. Budak proposed three projects to help strengthen relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan.
"I think the Hajj route of the Bukhara-Samarkand-Istanbul-Mecca previously used by Turkistan pilgrims needs to be revived," he said. The historian also proposed establishing a joint Turk-Uzbek university.
"Until the mid-15th century, the center of scholarship was Turkistan and then it shifted into Istanbul. To boost relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan, a joint university should be established," he said. A language-centered joint newspaper or a book should be published to support common language activities between the two countries, Budak suggested.
Participants at the symposium also praised an art exhibit in the same building spotlighting Islamic civilization and the Turkistan region. The exhibition with the same name as the symposium will be open through June 30. A follow-up symposium will be held in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, on Sept. 7-15.