Politics and Society
More screen captures from an anonymous citizen-journalist, aaaannnnd guess what? Yep, more Berdimuhammedov. Berdimuhammedov everywhere.
Editor’s Note: NewEurasia’s Annasoltan has come into the possession of screen captures of Turkmenistani state media that reveal the omnipresence of President Berdimuhammedov’s visage, from auditoriums to kindergartens.
Imagine if every poster on the wall, every advertisement on the side of a bus, hanging in the center of every wall in an office, and even overlooking little children playing in kindergarten, was the face of one man. An intrepid citizen-journalist in Turkmenistan has sent me really disturbing screen captures of state television that demonstrate just how pervasive the cult of personality surrounding our president, Berdimuhammedov, a.k.a., “Arkadag” (the protector/guide), has become. Even foreign companies from Russia and Kazakhstan feel obliged to hang portraits of the president in their kiosks during a recent international trade fair.
Editor’s Note: In the last few weeks, the Uzbek Facebook community has been roaring in laughter as a mysterious caricaturist unleashed his satirical vision of Uzbekistani society upon the social network. NewEurasia’s Eisenstein tells the amazing story and shares some of the hilarious art.
The Uzbek segment of Facebook is not the funniest place on earth. The state seeks to control all online social networks, so may users are afraid to use these platforms to speak their minds. But from time to time, there’s an explosion of satire.
The last two weeks, there’s been a craze among active Uzbek Facebook users about the “Uzbekistan Illustrated” page. It was launched on 17 October by an unknown artist, and in such a short time, it has gained enormous popularity. His page now has 2744 “likes”, and it seems that only the lazy aren’t participating in discussions on the page.
What is the basic idea of “Uzbekistan Illustrated”? Well, it’s actually really simple: make a new caricature everyday! Here are some of the choicest bits so far.
Editor’s Note: Turkmenistan’s strongman president has made the fight against drugs a major priority of his regime. How’s he faring? In a rare breeze of good news from the country, NewEurasia’s Annasoltan reports that his actions may actually be faring somewhat well!
Ever since Berdimuhamedov — a former health minister and dentist by training — came to power in 2007, Turkmenistan has been engaged in a very radical struggle. During the Niyazov era, wider availability of drugs combined with a grave socioeconomic situation led to a spike in addiction. It was estimated by a former foreign minister that approximately 50% of the population was involved in either the use or sale of drugs! Almost every family had a loved on doped up on narcotics.
There were even allegations that Niyazov himself had a personal stake in the drug business. These allegations arose from his very weird policies on the issue; for instance, he legalized carrying five grams of opium. It’s almost a certainty that some elements of the government, high or low, are involved in the drug business. After all, our country is located on a major transit route between Afghanistan and Europe. In fact, we lie at the intersection of several consumers, including Iran and (via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) Russia.
Editor’s Note: Счастливого Хэллоуина! Well, maybe not if you’re in Tashkent. Ever since last year, the authorities have banned the holiday. But that hasn’t stopped the party, reports NewEurasia’s Eisenstein. In fact, it seems like some downright cultural resistance is going on as schools and night clubs prepare to persist with Halloween festivities in secret.
This is now the second year in which Uzbekistan’s authorities have unofficially banned Halloween. There are no more witches, pumpkins, candles and the like. Why? Because they will all go to Hell for not being relevant to and conforming with Uzbek culture.
Turkmenistan has celebrated its 21st Independence Day XXI in full martial pomp. Preparations had been underway for several months; I’ve managed to glean some screen captures from official state television for NewEurasia’s readers to see.
Today, Turkmenistan celebrates the life of Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov, father of the president, Gurbanguly. No, wait, today is our Independence Day, the 21st one in fact! What’s going on?
Our nation is not bereft of historical legacies to celebrate. We’re quite possibly related to the Seljuks and the Qajars; legend has it that Atatürk’s mother (Zübeyde Hanım) was a Turkmen, and a step-mother of the Baha’i prophet Baha’u'llah was one (she was simply called, “Turkamaniyyih”). The 18th century poet-philosopher Magtymguly Pyragy is our most well-known contribution to world literature.
But you wouldn’t know any of this if you were in Turkmenistan right now. History has taken a far back step to propaganda, as the regime celebrates “the first year of independence in the Era of Happiness of the Stable State”. The “Era of Happiness”, by the way, formally began after Berdimuhamedov “won” this year’s presidential election. We’re still a few months away from 17 February 2013, the actual one year anniversary, but whatever, what does logic or the calendar matter any more?
Besides, we have more important figures to celebrate than Pyragy; we have Berdimuhamedov’s father, Myalikguly. A few days ago, he gave a speech commemorating a new monument dedicated to the latter’s honor in the village of Yzgant [Ed.: Turkmen news story can be read here]. I should note that nary a word was spared for Niyazov, whose memory (but not his actual legacy) seems to recede that bit more everyday here in Amnesiastan.
Editor’s note: Today is Blog Action Day. This is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers with the goal of sparking discussion and collective action. This year the theme is ‘The Power of We’, and with our new partners at Oxfam, NewEurasia is sharing the story of Arzu Geybullayeva, a prominent Azeri blogger and author of “Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines (http://flyingcarpetsandbrokenpipelines.blogspot.co.uk/).
In rural Azerbaijan, many women shoulder the burden of caring for their families and earning a living while their husbands migrate to Russia to find work. Arzu travelled to Sheki in Northern Azerbaijan to meet another Arzu, Arzu Cabbarova, who defied stereotypes and overcame personal tragedy in order to set up several organisations which empower women to earn an income of their own. This is Cabbarova’s story.
Editor’s note: Turkmenistan’s strongman president has asked his cabinet to consider setting up a new English-language university in Ashgabat. If he’s for real, then for once this is a mega-project, egotistical or not, that we should welcome it, argues NewEurasia’s Annasoltan.
Education, a topic close to my heart and which I like to blog about every year around this time, is one of the most neglected elements of Turkmen society. Corruption is rife among the teachers and administrators, at least in part caused by terrible salaries. Students are frequently pulled from classrooms to attend ceremonial events called “measures” (almost invariably pontifications of this or that grand policy), wasting hours of valuable lesson time under the burning sun or in the freezing cold, cheerfully waving at the Turkmen national flag. Of the approximately 100,000 high school graduates annually, only about 5,700 are capable of passing onto higher education, the key to better jobs and futures. I say capable, because, in fact, slots are limited due to a dearth of viable higher educational institutions.
So, it was with high expectations that the President’s instruction at a recent cabinet meeting to consider establishing a new university in Ashgabat, one that would teach exclusively in English and with a tuition-based payment system. The proposal resembles Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, and say what you will about such an “ego project”, it would be a big change and a big opportunity for our country. If Berdimuhamedov’s for real about doing this, we should welcome it. Certainly, a university is a lot more valuable to our country’s development than the failed Avaza project.
Editor’s note: Turkmenistan has officially created a second political party, thereby formally ending two decades’ worth of one-party rule. But is there substance behind the change? NewEurasia’s Annasoltan thinks not. In fact, the whole thing seems not only fake, but at a deeper level, even somewhat insane.
“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” — Hamlet, Act II, Scene II.
What is to be thought of the recent establishment of a second political party in Turkmenistan? Ostensibly, the idea is to juxtapose the liberal and economic to the democratic and populistic, as the new entity, the Party of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists (PIE), is comprised of businessmen, industry leaders and financers, vis-a-vis the established entity, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (Türkmenistanyň Demokratik partiýasy) (DPT). But more importantly, PIE’s creation has formally brought to end Turkmenistan’s twenty-year-old system of single party rule. The question is whether it’s brought it to an end really, and that remains to be seen.