What comes to the mind of you, the Tajik people, when hearing the word “Japan”? People may name Japan’s tradition and culture such as sushi, samurai, and kimono, or its high-technology, pop-culture like robots, bullet-trains called shinkansen, and anime.

Japan, traditionally called the “Land of the Rising Sun”, is located far east from Tajikistan.  You may not be familiar with our country.  I, however, want to remind you that the Japanese were and still are one of your old friends.

Current “Central Asia” region has been a pivot of the Silk Road, and the “Crossroads in Eurasia”, where people, goods and cultures went back and forth for more than 2,000 years.  Civilizations and cultures had spread to the east, west, south and north via Central Asia, in which present Tajikistan is located. In the ancient capital of Japan, Nara, there is an Imperial treasure house, Shoso-in, which still holds a good collection of precious goods from abroad. We can name variety of musical instruments, cloths, swords, and tableware. People tend to think that the east end of the Silk Road was Chang’an (present Xi’an), China.  However, the Silk Road extended further to the east – Nara.  Recent studies suggest the possibility that some goods remaining in Japan were made by the Sogdians, and even more, some Sogdians came to Japan.  Studies are still on-going.  For Japanese people, Tajikistan is such a place that takes them to the imaginary world of traces and achievements left by the ancient people, and excites their historical romanticism.

When Tajikistan declared its independence in 1991, Japan promptly established diplomatic relationships with the country.  Since then, Japan has been cooperating with Tajikistan to support the nation-building of this “old” and “new” friend.  I have one important story on a Japanese.  Do you know the name of Dr. Yutaka Akino, former Civil Affairs Officer of the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT)?  He devoted himself to the national reconciliation of Tajikistan and lost his life in a very tragic incident.  Tomorrow is the day of 20-year commemoration.  Together with the people of Tajikistan, I would like to recall his contributions and to reaffirm the preciousness of the peace.

Dr. Aino is third from the right

Dr.Yutaka Akino was an expert for international politics, specializing in Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia.  On July 20, 1998, he and three other colleagues of UNMOT met with a tragic end at present Nourobod District.  He was 48 years old.  By then, he was engaged in peace keeping activities in the Mission.  Responding to the request from the Government of Japan, which paid great attention to Dr. Akino’s knowledge and language skills, Dr. Akino took a temporary leave from teaching at Tsukuba University and joined the Mission.

On the day, Dr. Akino, two military observers Major Ryszard Szewczyk (Poland) and Major Adolfo Sharpegge (Uruguay), and Mr. Jurajon Mahramov (Tajik translator and driver) finished a negotiation with anti-government groups on the shore of Kuli Kabud (Blue Lake) in present Sangvor District.  Then, on their way back by the UN vehicle, they were ambushed and shot dead in the mountainous area of Nourobod District.

Dr.Akino was known as a “political scientist who is always acting” in Japan.  He was not a person who stays only in a lab all the day.  On the contrary, he focused more on fieldwork-based research, taking advantage of his strong body trained by Rugby and Judo.  In the UN mission, he valued exchanges with local people and had a sense of humor.  He was loved by them. He said in his e-mail message from Tajikistan to his friend in Japan two months before he passed away:

“It rains often here and is not hot as I feared.  This is a problem.  The Government of Japan expects me to sweat a lot to show that Japan provides not only monetary means, but also human resources who sweat to realize a peace and prosperity on the Silk Road region. …  I’m very good at sweating. I intend to be a “Flying-about UN Officer” in my mission.”

Sr. Akino is second from the left

I recognize his strong sense of mission, together with a sense of humor, which was expressed in his e-mail message. I cannot help feeling the greatest regret whenever I think of his mortification. He lost his precious life before witnessing his goal.

All people who know Dr. Akino in his lifetime say he was also an “educator who also acts”. They say he was a genuine teacher who did not only convey his knowledge to students, but also put his heart and soul into fostering the youth bearing future.  Twenty years has passed since he passed away, and now the time has come that the people of Tajikistan could enjoy the peace, and young people could actively take part in and play important roles in every kind of useful activities.  Bearing the educator Akino’s will in mind, the Government of Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, will continue to cooperate with the people of Tajikistan in their effort to create bright future here.

On behalf of the people and the Government of Japan, I express my greatest respect to Dr. Akino, Major Adolfo Sharpegge, Major Ryszard Szewczyk, and Mr. Jurajon Mahramov, who dedicated themselves to the peace in Tajikistan.  I also extend my heartfelt condolence again to their family members.  My condolence also goes to all the people of Tajikistan who suffered and/or even lost their relatives or friends during the civil war in the country.