Introduction to Central Asia

Since ancient times, Central Asia has been famous for its crafts: silk and cotton fabrics, fine carpets, exquisite jewellery, wool and leather products, horse and military equipment. Across the Great Silk Road, these precious goods were transported to other countries of Asia and Europe.

In the Soviet era, traditional handicrafts did not receive much state support, since manual labour was perceived as an attribute of a backward feudal system. With the attainment of independence, during the 1990s in the countries of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) there is an increase in people’s self-awareness and a surge of interest in their own national and cultural identity. This process is accompanied by a revival of traditional culture and crafts. The activities of local craft communities and supporting NGOs subsidised by international organizations such as UNESCO, Eurasia, Aid to Artisans, marked the beginning of the handicraft movement in Central Asia. This resulted in the creation in 2000 of the Central Asia Crafts Support Association (CACSA), which united artisans and craft organizations from all five countries of the region.

Today the traditional handicrafts of Central Asia, which are recognised as the intangible cultural heritage of mankind, have become an integral part of the tourism and fashion industry. They are used as an important tool for improving the economic sustainability and living standards of the local population.

Dinara Chochunbaeva,
UNESCO Expert on Intangible Cultural Heritage,