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      What was the ancient Silk Road?

      The so-called Silk Road, a term coined in the 1800s, was a web of trading routes that spanned the Eurasian landmass and was active from the 2nd century to approximately the 15th century. It was a multi-directional trading route that had its end nodes in China, India, The Levant, Asia Minor and Europe. In the middle of this highway of commerce we find Central Asia. Today the region is comprised of several countries: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.

      Along the road…

      Who controlled the Silk Road?

      There were basically two categories of actors in Central Asia concerning the Silk Road. One were the settled people who lived in cities and besides doing the trading itself, they also provided all kinds of ancillary services, such as money exchange, accomodation, food, warehousing, etc. The second category were the nomads, whose main roles consisted of raiding the caravans, as well as protecting them from other nomads for a fee- essentially a protection racket. If we do an ethnic breakdown of who was who, one could say that the ancestors of the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Uyghurs were the settled class of people in the cities and towns and the ancestors of the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Turkmen were the nomadic raiders and protectors of the caravans. In reality, of course, there was, as always, a lot of overlap, especially in certain regions, such as the Fergana Valley, where the nomadic Kyrgyz lived a partially settled life or in remote areas of today’s Uzbekistan where nomadic tribes roamed the desert.

      How did the Silk Road affect people?

      All in all, the Silk Road made Central Asia very important in those years and a lot of wealth, knowledge and development flowed into the area. The cities of Samarqand, Bukhara, Khiva, Turkistan, Kashgar and all the rest “made their bones”, to use Mafia parlance, back in those days. Knowledge from all over the ancient world would coalesce over there -mathematics and science from the Middle East and India, secret craftsmanship in silk and ceramics from China, various methods of forging metals, innovations in finance and many other things that left their mark forever on the cultures of the people that live there.

      The ancient Silk Road city of Khiva.

      Why did the Silk Road go into decline?

      Once the European powers figured out a way to sail directly to the source of what interested them the most, namely silk and spices, which were mainly to be found in China, India and Southeast Asia, the intermediator regions of Central Asia and the Middle East fell into decline. There were many other reasons that accompanied this, such as deseases, fragmentation of local empires, wars, etc, but in the end, the lost economic opportunities pulled everything else down with it. That being said, a lot of the knowledge and know-how remained and that is most visible today in arts and crafts. The way that master potters in Rishtan create their amazingly intricate plates is the exact same way that they were doing it back in the good old days of the Silk Road. The method of creating silk, cotton fabric, carpets, dying technologies, such as ikat, the painting of miniatures on mulberry paper and many other things that are still a daily habit in Central Asia are done exactly the same as they were when the region was the global center of trade and when the highest quality wares in the world were to be found in the bazars of its cities.

      What remains of the Silk Road today?

      The trade routes themselves also remained to a certain extent. I am personally connected to one of them, as my great grandfather, Imanaly, was a trader along one of the routes that went from northern Kyrgyzstan to what is today the Uzbek portion of the Fergana Valley. He mainly traded in livestock and textile, moving his flock through the treacherous mountains to the city of Andijan, returning home with carpets. So in the end the Silk Road has never dissapeared, it just became fragmented an not as international.

      Somewhere along the Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan

      What is the future of Central Asia and the Silk Road?

      Today the Silk Road is being revived in bits and pieces. China has big plans to use Central Asia as its intermediary once again and already a lot of goods that flow from East Asia towards Russia many times find their way to their buyers through Central Asian bazars like Dordoi in Bishkek, the largest such place in the region and a veritable new age Silk Road marketplace. There are also those companies like Silkway Bazar that are looking to connect people from all over the world who know how to appreciate quality craftsmanship with the artisans and master craftsmen of Central Asia. There is something special about owning a piece of craft that you know was completely handmade, only used local materials and was created by a master who learned the trade from their mother or father who was also just one more in the long line of ancestors who passed the trade down from generation to generation. It is not uncommon to come across craftsmen who can trace their lineage back to when the ancient Silk Road actually existed.

      Silkway Bazar’s role

      Silkway Bazar is not just a business, it’s not just a store. I would like for it to also be a platform of knowledge where people will learn about Central Asia and its peoples. Believe me, there is a lot of good things to discover.

      Samarqand, a city that trade built

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