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#SilkRoad to be revived in four Eurasian countries

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The Turkic Council, a relatively new international organisation, comprised of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, is determined to revive the ancient Silk Road. The Council designed a tour package and expects 1 million tourists from around the world to visit the destinations in the package until 2023. This new route promises a unique experience for tourists interested in cultural tourism and alternative safe destinations, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

The Turkic Council created a tour package, which will be commercialized and online sales will start very soon. Already two Fam Tours were organised in April and May, with tour operators and journalists coming from across Europe, Asia and America. The tour goes through İstanbul, Konya, Nevşehir, Kayseri, Gandja, Sheki, Qobustan, Baku, Almaty, Turkistan, Shymkent, Taraz, Bishkek, Naryn, Issyk-Kul and Tash Rabat.

The tour package makes use of several public and private sponsors in 4 countries for 14 days. There are 11 tour operators in the organisation of the tour, which are coordinated by a Turkish operator. The Turkic Council is leading the negotiations with airlines and hotels to obtain competitive prices.

The secret of the success of the tour will be its unique formula, which allows tourists to pick and choose and design their own tour online. People would be able to combine their destinations and are not obliged to join all the steps of the tour. The tour will be full board and will offer a lot of flexibility, with different options for hotels which appeal to the taste of the middle-income tourists as well as upper-class tourists.

One of the aims of the project is to boost the economy, employment and social development of in the region while allowing Member States to decrease their dependence on oil and to diversify their economy.  According to the Secretary-General of the Turkic Council Ramil Hasanov: "Akin to Italy and Spain sharing a common Latin heritage, the four Turkic Council member states have common roots, language, culture and traditions.” Hasanov adds that these common traits may be instrumental in resolving regional conflicts and shall be seen as an opportunity for the future stability and peace in the region.

The organization plans to strengthen its ties with other Turkic-speaking countries, such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Silk Road may be the first step for the rapprochement of these nations, which were isolated and alienated from their Turkic roots during the Soviet era.

The Turkic Council currently collaborates with the UNDP, UN Office for South-South Cooperation, UN World Tourism Organization, UN Alliance of Civilisations on several projects, including projects dedicated to young people and prevention of radicalization.

According to the Deputy Secretary-General of the Turkic Council, Ömer Kocaman, the Silk Road connects China with Europe, with a daily trade volume of 1 billion dollars, expected to reach $3-4 billion in the near future. By promoting the Central Corridor of the Silk Road passing through the Caucasus and Central Asia, the organisation is aiming at connecting infrastructures and developing new routes to bring the East and West together.

Azerbaijan saw a huge transformation with new ports, railways, roads etc. since 2006. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will follow suit, increasing the connectivity in the region. The new railway project Baku-Tbilisi-Kars to be materialised soon is an important example to the fast modernisation of the region.

Ali Faik Demir, Professor at Galatasaray University and one of the participants of the Silk Road Fam Trip, says: “The Silk Road will be a road from heart to heart. There is everything: Culture, history, religion, nature, gastronomy.”

The Silk Road is inspiring and magical, stretching from Turkey’s Erciyes Mountains to Kazakhstan’s celestial Tian Shan Mountains, from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Issyk Lake in Kyrgyzstan.The journey starts with a boat tour on the Bosphorus, goes on with a hot air balloon flight over the fairy chimneys in Turkey, a train journey through the Kazakh steppes and a camel ride in Azerbaijan’s Naftalan, and ends with a horseback riding adventure in mountainous Tash Rabat region of Kyrgyzstan.

It is a special destination for cultural and historical tourism, which is unspoiled and undiscovered. From Khodhja Ahmed Yasawi to Rumi, the Silk Road is home to numerous mystics. At the crossroads of Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrimage routes, traces of shamanism and Zarathustrianism can also be found along the Silk Road. Moreover, the visitors can travel through history by tracing the footsteps of their ancestors through the oldest cave paintings in the world in Qobustan in Azerbaijan and petroglyphs dating 2000 BC to 400 AD in Cholpon Ata in Kyrgyzstan.

The Silk Road is coroneted with writers and poets, such Nizami Ganjavi, Azerbaijani writer of the oriental version of Romeo and Juliet- Leyla and Mecnun. Chingiz Aitmatov, whose books, such as Jamila, The First Teacher and The White Ship were translated into 150 languages, is the pride of Kyrgzystan as is the Manas epic poem, which holds a Guinness record for the longest poem in the world. Great scientists, such as the Turkish Nobel prize-winner in chemistry Aziz Sancar and Al Farabi, are among the jewels of the region.  It goes without mentioning painters, such as Abilkhan Kasteev, the father of Kazakh art, who is painting realist scenes of nomads in yurts, milking horses and making cheese, and musicians such as Azerbaijan’s Vagif Mustafazadeh, who is credited with fusing jazz with mugham.

One can do nothing but admire the splendid nature and architecture along the Silk Road stretching from the Bosphorus Strait of Istanbul and mysterious geological formations of Cappadocia to Kyrgyzstan’s pristine alpine lake Issyk, 7000m snowy peak Kan Tengri, ancient Burana Tower, from Kazakhstan’s endless steppes decorated with ethno villages such as Alasha and Taj Mahal-esque love temples, such as Aysha Bibi, to the green hills of Azerbaijan’s Sheki famous for its khan’s palaces to the land of fire and wind, Baku and its ever-burning mountain Yanar Dag.

Travelling from one caravanserai to another, which are usually at a 40-km distance from one another, as this was seen as a maximum distance a camel could walk for 9 hours a day, makes visitors travel in time. Falcons and gold eagles of Almaty, camels of Naftalan, snow leopards of Naryn and horses of Cappadocia accompany the tourists through this ones-in-a-lifetime journey. While the trade of ancient Silk Road goods such as silk (Sheki) and horses (Kochkor) is still alive, one can also shop for ceramics in Cappadocia, felt carpets in Kochkor and traditional hats in Almaty’s Green Bazaar.

One of the most important and distinguished features of the Silk Road is its nomadic people, who still lead a semi-nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan’s Tash Rabat region, for instance.  It is a unique experience to spend a night in a yurt, decorated with colourful carpets, blankets and chests. Sitting on a floor table in a yurt camp, one can taste regional specialities, such as kumis (fermented mare milk), camel milk and horse meat.

Cappadocia’s Ürgüp region is also known for its authentic cave hotels and home restaurants.

Other gastronomical wonders one should absolutely not miss on the Silk Road include beshbarmak (Kazakh and Kyrgyz ravioli with meat called ‘five fingers”), beef or sturgeon with pomegranate sauce, walnut jam, meat and chick pea meal called ‘piti’ of Ganja (Azerbaijani specialities) and Turkish specialities such as sarma (stuffed wine leaves), dolma (stuffed pepper) and tas kebabı (a special sort of kebab).

By offering these out-of-the-box tourism destinations, the Turkic Council Modern Silk Road Joint Tour Package will bring tourists together with the unique cultural, spiritual, historical and gastronomic life of the traditional Silk Road, which was a source of inspiration for famous travellers, including Marco Polo.

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EU imposes sanctions on Russians linked to Navalny poisoning and detention

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Council today(2 March) decided to impose restrictive measures on four Russian individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as widespread and systematic repression of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and freedom of opinion and expression in Russia.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Igor Krasnov, the Prosecutor-General, Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard, and Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service have been listed over their roles in the arbitrary arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Alexei Navalny, as well as the repression of peaceful protests in connection with his unlawful treatment.

This is the first time that the EU imposes sanctions in the framework of the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime which was established on 7 December 2020. The sanctions regime enables the EU to target those responsible for acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses such as torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions.

The restrictive measures that entered into force today in follow up to discussions by the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 February 2021 consist of a travel ban and asset freeze. In addition, persons and entities in the EU are forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly.

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Nine EU-supported films compete in the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The 71st Berlin International Film Festival began on 1 March, this year in its digital edition due to the coronavirus pandemicnine EU-supported films and series, three of which are competing for the highest prize, the Golden Bear: Memory Box by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Nebenan (Next Door) by Daniel Brühl, and Természetes fény (Natural Light) by Dénes Nagy. The EU supported the development and co-production of these nine titles with an investment of over €750 000 that was awarded through the Creative Europe MEDIA programme. Targeted to film professionals and media, the Berlinale film festival is hosting the European Film Market, where the Creative Europe MEDIA programme is active with a virtual stand as well as with the European Film Forum. The Forum that will take place online on 2 March will gather various professionals from the industry to discuss the future perspectives for the audiovisual sector in Europe. The Berlinale will run until 5 March, when the winning films will be announced. The second round of this year's festival, ‘The Summer Special', will take place in June 2021 and will open the films to the public and host the official Award Ceremony. More information is available here.

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Yemen: €95 million in EU humanitarian aid for people threatened by conflict and famine

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission is allocating €95 million in humanitarian support to address the most pressing needs of people in Yemen amid record highs of child malnutrition, an imminent threat of famine and renewed fighting. More than 2 million children as well as over 1 million pregnant women and mothers are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, while escalating hostilities are forcing thousands of families to leave their households.

The new funding was announced by the Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, at the high-level pledging event for Yemen on 1 March co-hosted by the United Nations, Sweden and Switzerland. Commissioner Lenarčič said: "The EU does not forget the dire situation of people in Yemen who are once again on the brink of famine after bearing the brunt of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. New EU funding will be essential in maintaining life-saving aid for millions of people, exhausted  after a disastrous year marked by fighting, COVID-19 and further economic collapse. Parties to the conflict need to facilitate the access of humanitarian organisations to those most in need and avoid further civilian suffering. Now more than ever it is crucial that International Humanitarian Law and unrestricted access to those in need are upheld.”

In 2021, EU humanitarian aid will continue to provide food, nutrition and healthcare, financial assistance, water and sanitation, education and other lifesaving support to the conflict-displaced and those in severe need. The press release is available online.

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