U.S. Library of Congress and Institute of Manuscripts Preserving Turkmen History via AFCP Manuscript Grant

Ashgabat, May 8, 2023 – On May 5, Merrion & Smith (in conjunction with the Library of Congress of the United States) and the National Institute of Manuscripts under the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan (hereinafter the Institute) concluded the first mission focused on the conservation and restoration of 80 ancient manuscripts and lithographically printed books. The delegation that travelled to work on the manuscripts consisted of Mr. William Bradford Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of Merrion & Smith, Ms. Yasmeen Khan, Head of the Book Conservation Department at the Library of Congress, and Ms. Tamara Ohanyan, Senior Specialist of the Book Conservation Department at the Library of Congress. The mission was made possible by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) – an annual grant competition established and administered by the U.S. Department of State to cooperate with countries on cultural heritage projects and promote mutual understanding. The Institute successfully completed two prior AFCP grants to conserve and restore Turkmen manuscripts.

The two week-long mission began with a series of trainings by Ms. Khan and Ms. Ohanyan introducing the Institute’s experts to new conservation and restoration methodologies. These trainings include disinfection, de-acidification of pages, de-binding, and restoring leather and lacquer bindings. Both parties believe the books and manuscripts are national treasures and an important part of Turkmen heritage, containing important information related to Turkmenistan’s history. For that reason, Ms. Khan and Ms. Ohanyan will conduct additional trainings in future missions to assure Institute experts continue to build the expertise needed to slow down the natural aging of the manuscripts. Together with the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Smith, Ms. Khan, and Ms. Ohanyan also delivered a donation of conservation supplies to the Institute.

In addition to their work at the Institute, Mr. Smith, Ms. Khan, and Ms. Ohanyan conducted workshops and presentations at the Institute of Culture of Turkmenistan and the Ashgabat American Center. Ms. Khan’s presentation entitled “Overview of Preservation at the Library of Congress” introduced students to the organizational structure and collections of the Library of Congress. Ms. Ohanyan’s workshop entitled “Construction of Islamic Bindings” exposed those same students to best practices for ancient Islamic books and manuscripts. Lastly, Mr. Smith’s presentation entitled, “Music and Museums: Ethnomusicology in Washington D.C.” gave American Center visitors a chance to learn about the study of music and music-based cultural projects Mr. Smith conducted in Turkmenistan.

This project to conserve 80 manuscripts and early books that facilitated Mr. Smith, Ms. Khan and Ms. Ohanyan’s visit to Turkmenistan is phase two of an exchange program grant that the U.S. Embassy awarded to Merrion & Smith. Phase one took place in 2020 and brought Institute scholars to the United States for research and image gathering at the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum, and Yale University. Phase three will take place soon and bring back those same Institute scholars for a 23-day visit to other major U.S. institutions with manuscript collections.

Since its inception in 2001, AFCP has supported over 1,000 cultural preservation projects in more than 130 countries worldwide. To date, the AFCP has funded 30 projects in Turkmenistan worth close to two million U.S. dollars, which makes Turkmenistan the leading recipient in AFCP awards worldwide.

For all media inquiries, please contact the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan at USEmbassy-Ashgabat-PAS@state.gov.