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.
In my last post, I wrote a bit about the scene for Turkmen Pop singers at the moment. Now I want to delve a bit more deeply into their professional conditions. It’s not great, even considering the decent income that some of them can earn from weddings.
Editor’s Note: NewEurasia’s Khan continues his coverage of the Turkmen contemporary music scene, this time focusing his lens upon Pop. The scene is still in its infancy, but its not doing badly for itself. And it helps that weddings are so popular in Turkmenistan…
Turkmen believe that music feeds the spirit. There’s nothing superstitious about that. Western scientists have proven the effects of music upon the mood of listeners, and even plants. Pop Music in particular is quite powerful. The style’s basic chordal structure of A-A-B-A (lyric, chorus, lyric, chorus, bridge, chorus, climax) appears to have real neurological impact, digging itself deep into the brain, pretty much regardless of this or that specific instrumentation. Everyone’s susceptible to it, even people in the most repressed societies like North Korea or my own. That’s why such regimes are even more nervous about Pop Music than about alternative styles like Hip Hop: they know that they cannot ban it, but they also cannot let the Pop singers lyricize unregulatedly.
Of course, Turkmenistan is a direct inheritor of the Soviet censorhip legacy. But this legacy can be complex. In the Soviet era itself, to an outside observer, it would seem very paradoxical that despite the restrictions, the Turkmen SSR nonetheless produced a free spirit like Atabay Charygulyyew (Atabaý Çarygulyýew). Today, controls are actually much tighter.
Editor’s note: Turkmemistan’s president was recently awarded a black belt in Karate, sending NewEurasia’s Annasoltan into fits about the abysmal state of her country’s athletics. She reviews some of the more tragicomic sports-related elements of totalitarianism.
Our beloved “Arkadag” boasts a seventh dan black belt in Taekwondo. He also recently won the tenth dan black belt in Karate. This impressive feat was enshrined in a diploma awarded by the World Traditional Shotokan-Karate Fudokan Do Federation “[in] recognition of the importance of large scale activity in Turkmenistan regarding physical fitness and sports”, according to Turkmen state media.
Such an accolade seems absurd in light of our country’s abysmal performance at the Olympics this year. In almost all categories, Turkmen competitors were behind their rivals, scoring at the bottom in most sports, and generally doing the worst of all the Central Asian countries. Not even the kind of sport we should be good at, like wrestling or weightlifting, did we perform even a smidgen well.
The Olympic games were broadcast to the people of Turkmenistan via our nation’s official sports channel, but no amount of censorship – possibly our nation’s only true Olympic-level speciality – could cover up the humiliation.
The fiasco was topped by the outlandish performance of a Turkmen boxing judge presiding over a 56 kg boxing match between Azerbaijani and Japanese competitors. Although the Japenese boxer had clearly won, the judge declared the Azerbaijani the winner, sparking a scandal. His ruling was overturned in an appeal, and the judge was consequently disqualified and sent back home.
When the world thinks about the Turkmen, what comes to mind? Natural gas, carpets, and Akhal-Teke horses, and maybe most of all, the dutar. One can’t think of Turkmen art and culture without thinking about the dutar. This post is intended to introduce readers, especially from outside of Central Asia, to the instrument.
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.
This was originally posted by NewEurasia.net partner Kanal PIK.
The U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan announced Aug. 31 that it was closing the Peace Corps program in the country and the remaining 18 volunteers would be making their way out of the country this month.
The move was hardly a surprise given that volunteers regularly faced difficulties in obtaining visas and it was well-known that the closed country was uncomfortable with the presence of the well-meaning outsiders. Furthermore, the program had already left Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan is now the only Central Asian country with an ongoing program.
Editor’s note: A chance discovery of a Niyazov-era piece of propaganda in a Western university library sets off NewEurasia’s Annasoltan. “Propaganda has ceased to be just something that our government produces,” she writes. “It has become a way of life.” [Photos by NewEurasia's Schwartz, CC-permission.]
The other day, Schwartz found a little piece of my country’s propagandic history in the social sciences library of his university and sent me some photographs of it. The book, published in 1999, is entitled, “Turkmenistan: Eight Years of Independent Development”. The colophon says that it was a production of the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s National Institute of Statistics and Forecast, and that 3000 copies (“examples”), probably mailed to governments and academics all over the world.
NewEurasia’s readers will know that from time to time we like to publish Turkmen propaganda (e.g., here, here, here) partially for a laugh’s sake, partially to prevent the regime’s informational excesses from being forgotten, even if they deserve to be (which is also why we also reveal what should be remembered, e.g., Turkmenistan’s brief flirtation with independent media in 1992). But the sight of ths book somehow twists my stomach more than usual.
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.
Editor’s note: Last week, MTS returned to Turkmenistan two and a half years after its mysterious departure. But will this prove to be a Second (Tele)Coming? NewEurasia’s Annasoltan is skeptical.
In the first hours of August 30th, Turkmen who still possessed MTS SIM cards,
two one and a half years after the company was mysteriously and unceremoniously booted out of Turkmenistan, reported receiving a signal. The long-awaited return of MTS to Turkmenistan has been greeted with widespread joy — and jokes.
Our state provider, Altyn Asyr, could not deal with the demand, although they did make strenuous efforts to prepare by offering a new variegated tariff regime with names like “100″ and “Go”. Yet, I’ve heard jokes about Altyn Asyr circulating in Turkmenistan. For example:
Re: “100″, “You try 99 times and only once you succeed in calling.”
Re: “Go”, “Rather than calling somebody, you better ‘go’ visit them, instead.”
Still, MTS is apparently rewarding loyal customers. Between August 30 and September 30, they are offering to old clients who have kept their SIM cards a 20% bonus on their accounts, plus 30 free minutes of calling within the MTS network every day.