Politics and Society
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.
The Central Asian Pavilion at the the 55th Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia), curators Ayatgali Tuleubek and Tiago Bom would like to invite artists to submit proposals of works to be hosted at the exhibition.
La Biennale di Venezia has for over a century been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Ever since its foundation, it has been at the forefront in the research and promotion of new artistic trends. The 55th Venice Biennale will take place from June to November 2013.
The exhibition’s working title “Winter” is inspired by Abay’s poem. This project aims to address and bring a visual reflection on the complexity of the current socio-political context of the Central Asian region by employing the tools of the poetical and metaphorical language.
Artists from or living in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are invited to propose works that could explore this given context. Young and emergent artists are encouraged to apply.
For more information: http://www.cap2013.net/opencall/
Deadline: 15th of October 2012
This photo, taken by one of the people in the group, shows ethnic Russians in a container yard in Navoiy, en route from Zarafshan to Russia. It was provided to NewEurasia courtesy of Open Central Asia Magazine (OCA), who published it originally on their Facebook page.
These Russians are part of the latest wave of their ethnicity to be making their way out of Uzbekistan for the Russian Federation. According to OCA, most of Russians leaving Navoiy Province are heading toward small and medium cities in the European part of Russia.
Editor’s note: NewEurasia’s Khan returns to talk more about Turkmenistan’s Hip Hop scene, and with a novel interpretation: with all the intense boredom of the Turkmen youth, could Hip Hop provide not only an emotional release, but a way for the government to get a sense of what the rising generation wants? [Read our entire series, “Turkmen on the turntables”, by clicking here.
When I last posted on NewEurasia, I introduced readers to the brief history of Turkmenistan’s Hip Hop scene. I now want to talk more about the political potential of the music, which is really there.
But first, I gotta say that I don’t mean revolution. I can’t think of any Hip Hop singer in history who’s ever had either the balls or the actual power to overthrow a government. Yeah, there’s a lot of talk of political violence in Western Hip Hop lyrics, especially the “underground” stuff in America and France, but it’s just bluster, guys beating their chests and acting tough. Actually, in Yemen Hip Hop’s a force against political violence.
Besides, most of us Turkmens — including the rappers — don’t want to destroy our government. The older generation went through that already in 1991, and all we young guys have to do is look over at Kyrgyzstan or Syria to see how messy it can get. That doesn’t mean we aren’t angry or things couldn’t blow up one day, because they could. Here’s why:
Editor’s note: British student Danny Gordon has been cycling across the world to raise money for UNICEF and Sports Relief, and not long ago, he passed through the southern arc of the former Soviet Union, eventually through Georgia and into Central Asia’s erstwhile cousins in Turkey. Here are his impressions about the two nations’ efforts to Westernize, but do his words reveal more about the Westerner passing through?
The modern, sculpted border crossing between Turkey and Georgia would not have been out of place on the European continent, given the ease with which I passed through. It was so easy, I might even have had a stupid grin plastered to my face on completion. In fact, it seemed in many ways as though Turkey and Georgia were striving to become more like the constituent EU members, and achieve real change. I had found that the defining characteristic of Western-style democracies in Europe was a freedom of thought among the people, and felt that it was towards that at which Turkey and Georgia should aim if their aspirations were serious.
Editor’s note: British student Danny Gordon has been cycling across the world to raise money for UNICEF and Sports Relief, and not long ago, he passed through the southern arc of the former Soviet Union. NewEurasia managed to catch up with him to ask his impressions about crossing borders here…
As I pedaled away from the last security check in the crossing from Georgia to Azerbaijan, I, admittedly oddly, found myself likening the dynamic between these two countries to that which might be found at an awkward cocktail party.
I had fully expected the crossing to be somewhat uncomfortable, as a result of potential tensions arising from the huge cultural and religious differences between Orthodox Christian Georgia and Muslim Azerbaijan. Churches of Georgian cross-dome style that framed beautiful frescoes and murals were abruptly replaced by Azeri mosques dripping in colourful, rhythmic arabesque. The change was so stark; the personalities of the states’ so different, that I wouldn’t have been surprised if, when they met at the border-post, it had been a less than cordial affair. As it happened, I was pleasantly surprised.