The Young Scholars on the Silk Roads interview series seeks to empower young people, by giving youth a platform from which to transmit their voices. Via this series young scholars hailing from different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will be interviewed to share their research and reflections on the ancient Silk Roads.
Sosan grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, but at the age of 16 left Kabul for Kyrgyzstan to continue her education. She enjoys community service and has volunteered in projects like Cultural Diversity Project, in women empowerment movements such as Every-woman Everywhere and has served as a team leader in AIESEC, a youth leadership NGO. She is currently studying for her Master’s degree in Literature and Culture in China.
What do the Silk Roads mean to you?
Sosan: From my perspective, the Silk Roads are the foremost intercultural connecting route that united and shared diverse traditions, languages, and religions through the trading of goods, building a bridge of exchange from the East to the West.
What role has Afghanistan and your hometown, Kabul, played in the Silk Roads historically?
Afghanistan geographically lies at the very heart of both Asia and the Silk Roads, henceforth it has played an important role in all processes of exchange. Goods from China had no choice but to first pass through Kabul on their route Westwards, and similarly on their return from the West to China and other regions. Afghanistan was ultimately a land that connected Asia with Europe, making it an essential part of the Silk Routes exchanges.
Are the Silk Roads important to Afghanistan today? How so?
Recently the government of Afghanistan has implemented a number of initiatives to rebuild connections back to the Silk Roads. In October 2017, Mayors from various countries across the Silk Roads were invited to Afghanistan and hosted the 12th Silk Road Mayors Forum to discuss the significance of building business connections with other Silk Roads countries. The citizens of Afghanistan support the initiative as much as the government and hope for the country to build better relations with Silk Roads countries.
How do you understand the concept “Intercultural dialogue”?
Sosan: For me, intercultural dialogue is any dialogue that takes place between different cultures, regardless of nationality, race and language. Language is key here, since it helps us to communicate with diverse groups of people. I’ve always seen learning new languages as a great way to enhance the circle of human life, as every new language helps us expand our understanding of a new culture and grow as individuals.
I very much agree – language played a huge part in spreading cultures and building connections across Eurasia. I know you have a passion for languages, which languages do you speak and how did you come to learn them?
Well, Dari is my native language, it is the common language that we speak and is less formal, whilst Persian is the formal language, which we use in school and in written form. I also learnt Hindi, mainly by watching Bollywood movies, which has been always a part of Afghan culture. I speak English, which has grown increasingly important in Afghanistan. Having completed my Bachelor’s degree in Kyrgyzstan, where people mostly communicate in Russian, I also learnt Russian. I can’t say my desire to keep learning new languages has been satisfied, and I am currently learning Chinese!
That’s amazing, especially considering most people would be content to speak just one or two additional languages to their mother tongue. What do you think sparked this love for languages?
I would say the process of learning languages was part of my upbringing and also part of Afghanistan’s culture. As a result of the diversity of cultures and ethnicities in Afghanistan, in different regions people talk in different languages, including Pashtu, Turkmen, Uzbek, Balochi, Nuristani and many more. All of these Indo-European languages were essential to communication and trade along the ancient Silk Roads, and no less important today.
I know you studied journalism and mass communication in Kyrgyzstan, and are also interested in documentary film-making. Have you carried out any interesting cultural projects?
During my Bachelor's I produced a video project about Afghan immigrants living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I focused on one family that I came across who ran an Afghan restaurant in Bishkek. My short documentary portrayed their daily lives but also gave them a platform to discuss their journey of how they came to Kyrgyzstan and life as immigrants. Actually, like many Afghan migrants in Kyrgyzstan, they were being supported by the United Nations.
How can young people get more involved in activities relating to the Silk Roads?
I think nowadays there are many ways for youth to interact with the topic of the Silk Roads and understand its importance. Participating in Silk Roads related forums and conferences such as the Youth Forum on Creativity and Heritage are a good way for them to learn and engage.