Seattle Celebrates an Unusual Friendship

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Reception for the 40th Anniversary of the Seattle-Tashkent relationship

Think back, if you can, or imagine, if you cannot, what the world was like 40 years ago. It was a chilling time. The United States was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The United States’ war with Vietnam was winding-down. The world was different and scary place.

But in the midst of those difficult years, there was at least one bright and hopeful move. For, in 1972, during a dinner at the 10-year-old Space Needle, Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman suggested a sister-city relationship to his counterpart, the mayor of Tashkent.

The next year, against all odds, that sister city relationship became a reality. This agreement incredibly was formed 18 years before Uzbekistan became an independent republic. It would mark the first U.S.-U.S.S.R. sister-city affiliation.

That decades-ago tie has stretched into an enduring relationship. It survived intense pressures in 1982, when many urged Seattle to dissociate with Tashkent due to the Soviet War in Afghanistan. But Seattleites, being Seattleites, bravely refused to terminate the relationship.

And, while we maintained and enhanced that friendship, Uzbekistan became an independent republic in 1991 and the United States opened its embassy in Tashkent shortly after, in 1992. In 2002, Uzbekistan opened their honorary consulate general’s office in Seattle.

And now, 11 years later, I had the rare honor to travel with a delegation to commemorate our important relationship and celebrate Uzbekistan Independence Day.

The relationship is an odd one in that Tashkent is ancient city with a 2000-year-old history, as compared to Seattle, a city of less than 200 years. Situated on the legendary Silk Road that connected China and Europe for 13 Centuries, Tashkent is the largest city in Central Asia, and the capital of Uzbekistan.

Our delegation was extended visas and was warmly welcomed into the country — the Mayor even greeted us at the airport. That’s a contrast to the time in 1973 when Seattle first adopted its sister city. For that first trip, Mayor Uhlman had to resort to help from the late Sen. Warren Magnuson to allow a delegation from Seattle to travel behind the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City relationship made many headlines. In 1983, for example, when the association was only 10 years old, Seattleites traveled to Tashkent as part of an effort (called Target Seattle) to deliver 42,000 signatures that expressed a desire to avert nuclear war.  In response, Tashkent citizens collected 120,000 signatures on a peace letter of their own.

In 1988, hundreds of volunteers from Seattle traveled to Tashkent to build a Seattle-Tashkent Peace Park, another effort promoted by Seattle’s sister city organization.

Stayed tuned — next week I’ll post a blog recounting my travels to Tashkent.