In the last three years, the UNESCO Silk Roads Online has been striving to explore the attitudes of young people today towards the ancient Silk Roads. In 2017, the platform presented the ‘Diary of Young Explorers’, which followed the journey of three National Geographic Young Explorers on their 23,000km journey from Venice to Beijing by car. The main takeaways from their expedition can be read here. In 2018, UNESCO then launched its Youth Eyes on the Silk Roads photo competition, which attracted 6,625 submissions from young photographers across 100 countries aged between 14 and 25. The winning photographs from each age category in the competition can be viewed here.
Following the success of these initiatives, this month UNESCO is commencing an interview series entitled ‘Young Scholars on the Silk Roads’. The series seeks to empower young people, one of UNESCO’s core objectives, by giving youth a platform from which to transmit their often-unheard voices. Each interview will be led by Ankur Shah, one of the abovementioned Young Explorers that has worked with UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform. Via this series young scholars hailing from 12 different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will be interviewed to share their research and reflections on the ancient Silk Roads. Rather than presuming the views of youth, this interview series strives to be conducted by, with and for young people.
Each interview will explore the lives and worldviews of young scholars who inhabit, travel and work along the Silk Roads, and position the interviewee’s home-country or hometown along them. More broadly, the interviews will delve into how young people relate to these ancient trade routes today; how they relate to UNESCO’s fundamental concepts of intercultural dialogue and common cultural heritage; and finally, how youth believe they can better engage with the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform.
By sharing the stories and world-visions of young people who embody ‘Silk Road Spirit’, the interview series endeavours to serve as a toolkit to help youth understand how high-level concepts such as intercultural dialogue and common cultural heritage translate into daily life. These themes underpin every aspect of the Silk Roads and many young people may not realise that their own lives reflect the very same tenets. Crucially, the series seeks to show that one does not have to be researching the Silk Roads to practice these ideals or engage with them.
The UNESCO Silk Roads project has long-established its International Network of Focal Points, which comprises 25 representatives worldwide. This interview series thus represents a significant step towards building a network of the Silk Roads youth from major countries along the historical Silk Roads. After being connected by the series, the interviewees will be encouraged to exchange experience and expertise with one another and promote wider dialogue about the shared heritage of the Silk Roads.
Each interview in isolation represents a picture of the Silk Roads painted by one young person at one place in time. However, when observed together, these isolated accounts form a lens with which to analyse how youth evaluate the importance of these routes of dialogue today and how we can better encourage the young people of tomorrow to get involved in the study of the Silk Roads.