Uzbekistan is a country filled with interesting cultures and traditions, famous tourism destinations and renowned UNESCO heritage sites. Uzbek cuisines are also prepared traditionally with recipes that have been handed down for many generations. In a recent interview with Top 10 of Malaysia, H.E. Ravshan Usmanov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Malaysia talks about the rich cultural heritage of Uzbekistan and how Malaysia and Uzbekistan could work together for mutual benefits in the spheres of economy, education and tourism.
Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1978, H.E. Ravshan Usmanov graduated from the University of Birmingham, England in 2003. Fluent in Russian, English, French and Spanish, the ambassador started out as the Referent, Attaché, Third Secretary of the Department for Cooperation with European Countries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the year 2000.
In 2005, Ravshan Usmanov was appointed as the Head of the division of the Department for Cooperation with European Countries and in 2007 and he became the Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Spain. Three years later, he was appointed to be the Head of the Department for Cooperation with European Countries and NATO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In 2012, Ravshan Usmanov became the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uzbekistan to France, Italy, and Portugal while residing in Paris. He also became the First Deputy Chairman of the State Committee for Tourism Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017.
“The culture of Uzbekistan is vibrant and unique. It was formed over thousands of years, incorporating the traditions and customs of the ancient Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Chinese and Turkic tribes who have contributed to Uzbek culture,” says the ambassador excitedly. The traditions reflecting the multinational nature of Uzbekistan are omnipresent in its music, dance, painting, applied arts, language, cuisine and clothing.”
Ravshan Usmanov emphasises that Uzbekistan perceives Malaysia as a country with very high status in South-East Asia and the Muslim World. “This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and Malaysia. I am pleased to note that today our countries enjoy long-term cooperation both bilaterally and within the framework of international organisations,” says Ravshan Usmanov with a sense of happiness in his voice. “We will be working to further strengthen our mutually beneficial cooperation with Malaysia in three pillars, which is the economy that includes trade and investment, education and tourism spheres.”
“Our country is the biggest exporter of goods to Malaysia among Central Asian states, we are in the top 5 among the Commonwealth of Independent States countries with the largest population and consumption market in the region,” says Ravshan Usmanov. “Uzbekistan can open the door for Malaysian industrial players and service providers in exporting their products to the emerging market of Central Asian countries thanks to its strategic location, developed transport infrastructure, and existing Free Trade Agreements with these states. While Uzbekistan could be a gateway to Central Asia, Malaysia could likewise be its door to South East Asia.”
Malaysia is the largest educational hub in South-East Asia and quality education is provided at a reasonable price. This factor is attractive to Uzbek students when it comes to choosing public and private universities in Malaysia. “We are encouraging and attracting Malaysian universities to set up their branches and faculties in Uzbekistan, so students from Uzbekistan, Malaysia and Central Asian countries could pursue their education in these universities.”
Tourism in Uzbekistan has always drawn people from far and wide and can become an attractive destination for Malaysian tourists. “Our country is well-known for its bright colours, intricate patterns, rich flavours and friendly people. There are traces of remains of great empires that have long since been blown away by the sands of time, while modern life evolves in new directions,” he says. “Whether you plan to put up a night in the soothing serenity of a remote mountain village or take a walk through the streets of history, Uzbekistan will not disappoint.”
“Uzbekistan is one of the most fascinating countries in Central Asia and famous for its Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. It is home to four significant UNESCO World Heritage sites and ten UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage listings,” says Ravshan Usmanov with pride. “There is Samarkand, the former home to some of the finest architects credited with creating the masterpieces of Registan Square and Gur-Emir Mausoleum while Bukhara is more intimate, with holy sites and historical landmarks around every corner. Khiva is an open-air museum that captures the exotic atmosphere of the Silk Road with its winding alleys and bustling bazaars. However, don’t miss out on the less famous yet equally impressive destinations like Termez, a Buddhist centre on the southern border, or Shahrisabz, the birthplace of the great statesman Tamerlane. Uzbekistan also presents a huge number of recreation areas, camps and tourist bases located in the picturesque foothills.”
Traditionally prepared Uzbek cuisines are known worldwide. For thousands of years, diverse recipes of dishes were created by the people in Uzbekistan,” he says enthusiastically. “Food in Uzbekistan is a way of life. You will get astounded to learn that some of the Uzbek recipes are centuries-old. They even have different traditional rituals and ways of cooking. There are about 1,000 different dishes including national drinks, cakes and confectionery products.”
“The basic ingredients of Uzbek dishes are flour, meat (usually mutton), vegetables, herbs and spices, and in almost all of the food, a considerable amount of oil such as cottonseed, sesame or sunflower oil are used to make Uzbek food highly nourishing and rich in calories,” says Ravshan Usmanov. “Some of the Uzbek dishes are cooked only by men, while others exclusively by women. The cooking of some special dishes is connected with particular holidays and festivals, important events and beliefs.”
“In Uzbekistan, you can try hot flatbread and tandoor samsa, oriental pasta (lagman), barbeque (shashlik), manti, different soups such as mampar, shurpa and many others,” says Ravshan Usmanov. “Uzbekistan’s signature dish, which is also my favourite dish is palov (also spelt pilaff, plov, pilav, polow, pulaw, osh) and it is included in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. Palov can be considered as an everyday dish as well as a dish for solemn and great events like weddings, parties and holidays. Rice is the most important ingredient of pilaf and special spices, raisins, or peas will be added to give it extra flavour. Salads are also served along with pilaf.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected various aspects of life in many countries and disrupted economies. “Although the government of Malaysia imposed the Movement Control Order, our embassy continued to operate in a professional manner. However, diplomats had to acknowledge the techniques and skills needed for virtual diplomacy,” says the ambassador. “Videoconferencing has become a new norm, and therefore, virtual diplomacy opened a range of new opportunities. The principles of diplomacy still serve as the tool for establishing friendly relations with foreign partners, promoting the interests of Uzbekistan and protecting the rights of Uzbek citizens abroad.”
Ravshan Usmanov successfully maintains a good work-life balance. “It depends on setting priorities properly, making strategic decisions in advance and using your time efficiently,” he says. “I think if a person does what he loves then he achieves a balance between professional and personal life. An important thing that underlies any successful endeavour is confidence in yourself and your goal.”
“However, I would like to note that the life of a diplomat is not so easy. Because we would always need to travel from one country to another. Sometimes it is difficult for our family members, especially our children. They would have to change schools, make new friends and adapt to different communities. But on the other hand, it helps them learn new foreign languages and also different cultures and traditions of other countries.”