Culture and History
Though Christmas celebrations ended more than a month ago worldwide, and Christmas themes are off the season, in Osh oblast of Kyrgyz Republic recently there was an event “Santa-Klaus in Aravan”, informs Ferghana.Akipress.KG. This event was organized by municipal authorities and one of local NGOs with entertainment shows and prize competitions.
It seems that Santa-Klaus events are organized in accordance with the program of the Tourism State Committee, which was adopted after publications that the location of Santa-Klaus would be Kyrgyzstan since it is the geographic center of the world. I think that some people can make fun of this program of popularization of Santa-Klaus in Kyrgyzstan. Most adults know that he does not exist but accept him as the symbol of Christmas and that it came from folklore of Scandinavian people, but not from scientific research. It is just odd that the state agency grabs this kind of news for its serious development program.
In general the topic of Santa-Klaus can become more interesting since it can be seen as religious symbol of Christian holiday, especially if it is promoted in a country, where Islam is considered to be the traditional and the main religion. Without going deeply into religious discussions, I think that Kyrgyzstan could have used its unique location as the Earth center in other ways, perhaps in logistics, telecommunications, and in science.
Former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov was not known for his love of external foreign influences, and his reign saw the republic isolated not only politically but also increasingly culturally, as Turkmenbashi sought to distill the essence of Turkmen-ness.
As part of this process, in April 2001 Niyazov banned foreign opera and ballet. He justified his decision on the grounds that such cultural forms were “alien” to Turkmen culture, rhetorically asking on Turkmen state television
How is it possible to inculcate a Turkmen is a love of ballet if there is no ballet in his blood? … One must not attempt to establish an art form here that is from another place; one must develop one’s own national art form. I do not understand ballet, what do I need it for?
Niyazov’s sudden death on December 21, 2006, and the subsequent ascent of Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to power inevitably brought hope that Turkmenistan might become a more open country. Berdymukhammedov has made some changes, but arguably he has continued to avoid major changes such as allowing an independent media to develop or political opposition. Nevertheless, even piecemeal changes should not be dismissed out of hand, particularly given Turkmenbashi’s legacy.
So, in mid-January the Turkmen State Information Agency reported that Berdymukhammedov had met with “representatives of the creative intelligentsia of the country”. Whilst the President’s complaints about journalists not recognising that Turkmenistan has entered a “new stage of development” and assertion that “the media should reflect the stability that reigns in all spheres of state and civic life” seemed to suggest that major change is still not on the cards, the was some good news:
“It is disappointing,” continued the Head of State, “that there are no good cinemas in Ashgabat. Today the cinemas Vatan, Gurbansoltan Edje, and others are not being used for their direct purpose and are in need of major repairs.” In connection with this the Nation’s Leader proposed repairing and modernising the existing buildings, as well as building a new cinema in the capital that would meet all contemporary standards.
The President of Turkmenistan also spoke in favour of the rejuvenation of national opera and attracting well-known national specialists to work in this area of musical art. “Of course, it will require a certain amount of time, but I believe,” said Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, “that as rapidly as in the next few months Turkmen audiences will see the first opera production”.
Good news in theory, but at this stage no more than words. The news, therefore, on January 30, that Berdymukhammedov had gone ahead and lifted the ban on opera and theatre in the republic, was very welcome, as Bruce Pannier of RFE/RL reports, quoting the reactions of Turkmen artists:
Mommak Kuly, a Turkmen artist who now lives in Germany, tells RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service he hopes Berdymukhammedov’s decision will bring performing artists back to Turkmenistan.
“We are so glad about the news that the ban on opera, ballet, and circus has been lifted,” Kuly says. “I hope that former theater performers will come back to the theater. It was not good to say that our people didn’t understand opera or ballet and ban these arts. It is very important to let the people understand [these things.] This is an art and a culture that help the world understand the nation.”
The announcement of the return of the performing arts was also good news to Akmukhammet Saparov, a well-known singer and composer, who stayed in Turkmenistan despite the fact he was officially unable to perform.
“Like other artistic workers, I continued my work as a singer and composer, without ’turning either to the right or to the left,’” Saparov says. “I have been giving concerts to the people, creating songs, and composing music; helping the [young] singers and musicians who need my assistance.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m tempted to sound a note of caution, or to least wait and see what happens before letting myself feel too optimistic. On the other hand, Laszlo Tenke’s initial comment on Steve LeVine’s somewhat irreverent post on the news, entitled “Turkmenistan Starts to De-Bizarre: Libraries Legalized” is well worth considering:
Berdymukhamedov has just announced that Turkmenistan needs a new ideology. He suggested the new one should be “the state is for the people”. Implicit is the statement that it’s shouldn’t be the other way around. The West now has the choice: it can either be a perfectionist and doubt that call for a change. Or give the Turkmen president the benefit of the doubt and support him. If you are willing to bet on the late Bhutto or even Musharraf, you should definitely bet on Berdymukhamedov.
As the subsequent debate in the comments on the post show, attitudes to the news are ambivalent, with people unsure of its significance and how much weight it should be given in light of more negative reporting on the republic. Commentator Per, or example, points readers to a gazeta.kz article about gas politics and a Eurasianet piece on restrictions on personal satellite dishes (also covered at the start of December by Abdul on the Russian blog) as evidence that one should not read much into it overall, while Natalia Antelava’s BBC article “Fresh Optimism in Turkmenistan” suggests a more upbeat assessment may be in order.
My verdict? Wait and see; actions speak louder than words, as they say.
The Voice of Freedom analytical bulletin of 18 January published an interesting article about Turkmen students studying in Kyrgyzstan who are afraid of tell the truth about the situation in their homeland.
Khalyk Dustyyev (which is not the true name of the author), a Turkmen student and a journalist based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, lists a number of reasons that discourage young Turkmen people from openly discussing the political situation in Turkmenistan despite the fact that they live abroad. Dustyyev reports that the students who e.g. publish critical articles about the situation in Turkmenistan are blacklisted by the border service agency and not allowed to leave their home country once they return to Turkmenistan. Secret service officers intimidate or exert pressure on their relatives. Male students are called up for obligatory military service. Young Turkmen who study abroad are forced into collaboration with the National Security Committee of Turkmenistan (NSC). The author quotes the words of students who…
…in summer of 2005 after they returned back to Turkmenistan to spend their holidays, [...] were summoned to the NSC’s office for the examination. “The NSC’s officers wanted to know what was happening in Kyrgyzstan and offered me to be their secret agent to give information about Kyrgyzstan and students who could be “dangerous” for Turkmenistan. I refused, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t offer the same thing to someone else” [...]
Turkmen students – Dustyyev concludes – have every reason to be afraid to tell the truth about human rights violations in their country and avoid discussions about political issues.
He also writes that there are special secret service officers who read foreign print and on-line media outlets. I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to greet my “guardian angel”. I wish you a pleasant reading and invite you to comment my posts!
Finally, we are warm and happy because the good weather has come to Tajikistan. It is the second day that we have warm weather in Dushanbe and today it was 10 degrees above the zero.
I heard several good news from my friends and colleagues:
Firstly, my friend in Khujand (northern Tajikistan) told me that they also have good weather and the electricity supply had been increased in the city. Previously Khujand was in deadly electricity crisis.
Secondly, the lights were turned on in the streets of Dushanbe. Till yesterday it was dark everywhere due to the electricity crisis. It was dark even near the Presidential Palace.
Thirdly, I heard from several people that the warmth melted the ice in the water pipes in some of building-apartments and they have water now.
However, I know nothing about the other parts of Tajikistan but I hope that they are also enjoying this good weather.
The beloved football team of Uzbekistan Pakhtakor lost in finals of Commonwealth Champions Cup to Azderbaijani football team Khazar-Lenkoran with the score 3:4. The match was hold on January 27 in Russian city St Petersburg. The stadium was full of fans. Even though the match was hold in Russia, there were a lot of Uzbek fans. It is not surprising, as a great part of Uzbek citizens are now working in Russia as migrant workers. In Uzbekistan, everyone was looking forward to watch the match on TV too. Pahktakor is a team that means a lot to Uzbeks. It almost has become a national identity that unites all ethnicities within Uzbekistan under one identity – Uzbekistani.
The match was very interesting, as it was full of passion and willingness of teams to win. And the goals were fantastic! I uploaded a video from Youtube with all the goals of the match for those, who missed the match and could not watch it. Watch and enjoy!
You can watch the whole match here.
For the first time in history there is a Kazakh movie mentioned in the short-list for Oscar. Although the motion picture is actually a joint venture of Russian and Kazakh sides, the nomination was made on behalf of Kazakhstan, where the filming was done, and where nearly half money came from.
Nominations for the 80th Annual Academy Awards were announced Tuesday, January 22, with “Mongol” announced among five other nominees for Best foreign language film of the year. This is certainly a more serious success of the Kazakh cinematographe comparing to “Nomad” (2005), which was perceived by many as a multi-million dollar commercial video ad to promote the image of Kazakhstan, rather than to make a good film. Both movies were directed by Sergey Bodrov, a Kazakhstan-born Russian guru of cinematographe.
[inspic=48,left,,200] On 25 January semi-finals of the Commonwealth Champions Cup of the CIS and the Baltic States took place. Uzbek football team Pakhtakor won Lithuanian Kaunas - 3:1 and thus Uzbeks, current holders of the cup, qualified for the final. Pakhtakor’s final game will be against young Azerbaijani football team Khazar-Lankoran. The match will be held on 27 January at 2 p.m. at Peterburgski SKK stadium.
The Commonwealth Cup has been originally established in 1993 to keep close relations among the football federations of the former Soviet Union. Today it has become a sort of a “fair of the talents”. There are many examples of football players changing their clubs after the tournament. One has to point out though, that not every club sends its best players, and rather prefer to try out their reserve players. 15 federations usually gather in one place, a reason why the FIFA and the UEFA presidents are permanent guests at the tournament. The cup itself is conducted under the patronage of the FIFA.
The tournament has strong political underpinning too.
- Former Soviet republics of the Baltic region are the members of the European Union now. Some of the Russian parliamentarians have made a number of contradictory statements about the sovereignty of the Baltic states.
- Because there are 15 countries playing, there is usually one team invited to make the numbers even. The team remains out of the competition though. Starting from the 2007 such team is invited from abroad – now it is a Serbian football club, OFK of the Belgrade. Russia supports Serbia in Kosovo issue contradictory to the US and EU positions, and plans 15 bln investment in energy sector of Serbia.
- In 2006 Punic of Erevan, Armenia refused to play against Neftchi of Baku, Azerbaijan, and left Moscow, despite strong assurances of the organizers to provide security and safety for the Armenian team. Neighboring countries Armenia and Azerbaijan have a history of an armed conflict and relations remain tense between the countries forcing both to invest heavily in the military.
- In 1999 Uzbekistan officially refused to attend the tournament due to the new rules introduced. Some say though it were rather a reaction of the worsening Russo-Uzbek, or in particular Elzin-Karimov relations at the time. That year Uzbekistan indeed quited the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
- The tournament now takes place in Sankt-Petersburg, not Moscow as it was before.
Some like to call the tournament a sort of a “synchronizing of the watches” or a cup of the political correctness.
Anyway, I would like to wish a good luck to Pakhtakor in the final. Winning the cup in two consequent years would not be bad for their world ranking, I guess.
You may go here to see the photos from the Kaunas-Pakhtakor match.
[inspic=78,left,fullscreen,thumb] The Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior has decided to ban holding festive namaz during Muslim holidays of Orozo Ayt and Kurman Ayt on Alatoo square in Bishkek, reports AKIpress. Kanatbek Murzahalilov, Vice Chair of the Agency for Religion Affairs explained that this initiative was necessary due to security considerations. He also said that in all civilized countries all religious ceremonies are held at mosques. There is no country that allows holding festive namaz in central squares. He also added:
It is good that there is freedom of religion in Kyrgyzstan. The number of Islam followers is growing from year to year. But from another side, such events pose difficulties to the authorities in terms of security aspects. For example, during namaz at central square in 2005, representatives of destructive religious organizations tried to hold political campaign and to use gathered people for their interests. The Ministry of Interior suggested to allot a place for such public campaigns under the mosques and/or territories close to them to ensure public order and safety of traffic in the centre of the capital city.
Kanatbek Murzahalilov said that currently a new central mosque is being built and once it is ready, the problem will be solved. The Agency for Religion Affairs and Religious Board of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan want to ensure safety, order and law by enforcing the new law.
I am sure that the prohibition of performing Namaz in the central square will create lots of criticism. Praying at central square during Muslim holidays has become a tradition in Kyrgyzstan and has been being exercised for many years. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan is trying to declare and confirm its status as a secular state. However, people are used to going to the central square and praying there during Muslim holidays and the tradition has become a part of their life which will be difficult to change.
Photo is taken from Flickr
[inspic=47,left,fullscreen,150]Nadira Alieva, Craig Murray’s Uzbek girlfriend, told the British tabloid press how difficult it had been arriving in the UK with the former ambassador back in December. The story took on some uncharming shades and revealed maybe too much of the couple’s private life.
After overcoming the initial financial hardships that made the couple eat toast for several months on end, Nadira was finally able to take up a course in acting. This has now culminated in her one-woman show in London’s Arcola Theatre, in a show written both by her and Craig. Maybe the tabloid revelations were part of a strategy to fill the ranks of the small East London stage – and those of a bigger West End location should the show move.
For the first time on stage Craig and Nadira tell their own story, as it happened to them. They will tell all: the politics, the dirty tricks, the shenanigans, the journey from ambassadorial palace to rented flat in Shepherds Bush and Craig’s obsession with Dennis the Menace ties. This will be their unadulterated story. Written by them, and performed by Nadira.
Ikea, the world’s largest home-furnishing retailer, plans to invest $500 million opening its first two shopping malls in Kazakhstan as economic growth fuels increased spending in the central Asian country.
One of the giant furniture shops will open in Almaty, the other in Astana. It is a good development for Kazakhstan, although I doubt the products will be affordable for the wider population – something that often sets IKEA apart from its more upmarket competitors in Western Europe.
It will also be a logistical challenge for the multinational to open two shops in Kazakhstan. While the company already has a pretty big presence in Russia, moving into Central Asia will mean much longer transport routes.
But it’s good news for Kazakhstan and for the region: Long considered too remote, too sparsely-populated and too poor – IKEA’s move will have spillover effects and create jobs, and other retail giants will watch closely.
And that all of our flats look the same is something I myself already got used to.