Editor’s note: Is Turkmenistan’s upcoming presidential election really just a totalitarian ploy for false legitimacy, or is it something much more… pitiful? neweurasia’s Annasoltan gives her thoughts.
Speaking as a Turkmen, this upcoming presidential election makes no sense. Really, it doesn’t. I’ve been trying to think: maybe Berdimuhammedov wants to project an image of “modernization” to both international and domestic audiences? The Registan’s Joshua Foust has written:
The only real question [is]: By what margin will tyrant Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov rig the vote? [...] Inexplicably, Berdimuhamedov seems determined to proceed with the trappings of a normal election no one will acknowledge as such. At this point, the only question is what percentage of the vote he will choose to accept. Other Central Asian dictators have not shied away from impossible margins, such as Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan (95 percent) and Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan (88 percent). Will Berdimuhamedov meet or beat his 89 percent from 2007? Will he go higher, to lend the appearance of inevitability to his oppressive regime? Or will he go lower, to try to create the false sense of political dynamism?
Foust’s a sharp thinker, and earlier in January, I also had the same logic as him, but now I’m not so certain. That’s because — and it’s hard to describe why — there’s something crazy about this election.
Editor’s note: Turkmenistan’s upcoming presidential poll is truly a strange creature. neweurasia’s Annasoltan reviews how it has evolved in the last few months, including the role of government-organized NGOs (GONGOs). “For a sham election,” she writes, “trying to keep track of [it] has proven really annoying.”
For a sham election, trying to keep track of Turkmenistan’s upcoming presidential poll has proven really annoying. For one, in early January of this year, our country’s “Arkadag” (Protector), Berdimuhamedov, declared his intention to establish a multi-party system. One wonders what exactly he has in mind.
“The play ‘s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” — Hamlet, Act II, Scene II.
Even fake elections can give strongman dictators a headache when ordinary people actually expect them to mean something. It’s widely expected that Turkmenistan’s elections would be just a pro forma confirmation for another five years of Berdimuhammedov, and the likelihood that he may be declared “president for life” in the near future is high. Yet, holding even moderately contested elections would give Berdimuhamedov some clear benefits, appearing “democratic” and demonstrating that he is in fact “the best for the job”. As it currently stands, though, it seems more likely that he wants to crush any hope for alternative by co-opting the very notion of democratic plurality.
But that’s actually the problem. Even though Turkmenistan is a single-party state, ironically, in a country such as Turkmenistan that has a record of rigged elections and a former president-for-life, too many votes for the incumbent president could cast a dark shadow over the legitimacy of the elections and not vice versa. The headache for our “Arkadag” (“Protector”) is that his “opponents” need to be strong candidates who could pose a danger to his rule. What’s key is not how to defeat his counterparts, but how to make the elections look real. When there is a ballot box but there are no viable candidates, it can become a nightmare for the man who wants to be seen as the modern leader of what he calls “the era of great changes” and in many ways different from his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.
Unfortunately, Berdimuhammedov likes the theatrical. You may remember his appearance as a singing star playing guitar on Turkmen TV? Or during a conference of the Galkynysh National Revival Movement, he gave a speech highly praising the achievements of that movement, only to then declare its termination in the very same breath without any reason? I wonder how much longer before my people are tired of drama.
Corruption in Post-Soviet Central Asia is something very familiar to people living in the region. Without bribing, one is destined to see their case be delayed for a long time, very often beyond time limits defined by laws.
Be it application for a new passport, or registration at a new place of living, or even finding a day care for your kid — bribing is the easiest way to get it all done faster and without a hassle.
Transparency International (TI) has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index 2011 (CPI) that ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. According to TI, it is a composite index, a combination of polls, drawing on corruption-related data collected by a variety of reputable institutions. The CPI reflects the views of observers from around the world, including experts living and working in the countries/territories evaluated.
This year Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have proved that they can also have stablility in something — if not positive and progressive, then at least something not really desirable by leaders of developed countries. That something is the abuse of public power. Read the full story »
Central Asia: Censorship and Control of the Internet and Other New Media briefing paper has been released by International Partnership for Human Rights, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan.
The document explores problems of censorship and control of the internet and other new media in Central Asia. It focuses on the situation in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where the authorities closely monitor and restrict the use of the internet and other communications technologies, filter and block access to undesirable online content, and intimidate and put pressure on websites and internet users who publish or share information that is critical of official policies.
According to the research, the authorities of the three Central Asian countries have sought to justify their repressive approach to the internet and other new media with the fight against ”extremism”, ”destructive” forces and other vaguely defined threats to national “security” and ”stability”. However in reality this fight is used as a pretext for implementing measures to stifle free speech and help preserve the governments’ grip on power. Read the full story »
Editor’s note: The Eurasia Star contest has been envisioned by its organizers in Turkey as a Pan-Turkic pop culture spectacle, but it’s been turning out to be a flop in more ways than one. neweurasia’s Annasoltan reports on how in Turkmenistan in particular it’s become a missed opportunity for direct democracy.
Turkish state television station “TRT AVAZ” is running the first-ever “Eurasia Star” song contest that covers much of the Turkic world, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and the Turkish part of Cyprus. Each country must select a representative to compete at the big international round later. Several countries have already completed their selection rounds, and as of this past week, Turkmenistan has selected its vocal champion: Sohbet Kasymow.
Who? According to the official government website, Kasymow is a fifth-year student of the Department of Theater Art of the Institute of Culture of Turkmenistan. This came as a surprise to many in my country, as the selection process seemed, I suppose quite ironically, totally without accountability.
A missed opportunity for direct democracy…
On 19 November, the Turkmen people were expected to vote for their favorite contestants. There were three finalists: besides Kasymow, Atajan Berdyev and Nuryagdy Redjepov. However, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Turkmen had hoped that one of the popular singers Bilbil Orazowa, Bega or Palwan Halmyradow would win. It should be mentioned that only people equipped with satellite antennas, and therefore who were able to receive Turkish television channels, were even directly informed about the competition (and even among these, few can actually access TRT AVAZ); the rest of the country had to hear about it by word of mouth, if they heard about it at all.
The jury was made up of our government’s favorite singer, Annush Myratduryyev, the head of the Turkmen musicians that participate in official musical festivities, Kerim Ylyasow, and Burak Kurt, a TRT art specialist from Turkey. The candidates had to perform in front of them without the aid of instrumental music. The jurists then voted in a rather blithe manner, by saying simply “yes” or “no” to the candidates (by way of comparison, the annual national music competition, “Yaňlan diýarym”, is decided by a jury of ten people who vote according to a score range of 1-10; the audience, by the way, is totally excluded). Consequently, the contestants had no idea how well they performed vis-à-vis each other.
The vote for the victor was open to the public and conducted via sms. TRT AVAZ did not provide very good instructions for how to do this. I contacted them directly, but their personnel were unable to tell me anything, not even when the voting was supposed to take place. Moreover, no one was able to send their vote directly to the channel; the sms votes were instead collected and counted by the state telecom, Altyn Asyr, and the results then passed onto TRT AVAZ (who, when announcing the victor, very briefly mentioned the final tally). Although just for pop music, this was a lost opportunity to experiment with electronic direct democracy. There wasn’t any transparency to this process, i.e., to confirm that our votes were really obeyed — something we’re used to in Turkmenistan (although, funnily enough, sms-voting is also quite obscure even in American Idol).
Nevertheless, the competition has provided a unique chance for the famous and not-so-famous talents throughout the region. For some of my aspiring countrymen, this has been one of the very few international competitions they’ve been permitted to join, giving them a tantalizing taste of how it would be if Turkmenistan ever ends up participating in the Eurovision contest. And, of course, for everyday people it presented a unique chance for public participation. Perhaps this was all proven illusory, but I nonetheless hope that it will work out better in the future.
…and for Pan-Turkism
Eurasia Star is being organized by Turkey’s largest media group, but undoubtedly it’s proving to be a disappointment as it hasn’t met its target of becoming the Turkic world’s big pop culture event. According to sources within TRT Avaz, it’s been riddled with logistical problems in the arena of information, communication, coordination, and cooperation, not just in Turkmenistan, although our nation’s isolation and official paranoia only complicated matters further.
Turkmenistan’s official news site has been enthusiastic about the competition, and yet, strangely, it’s said not one word about it being organized by TRT Avaz, instead preferring to describe it vaguely as an “international event”. Also odd is the fact that throughout this process so far, there hasn’t been a single joint Turkish-Turkmen television program devoted to the competition. Yet, clips of the candidates were shown on the “Turkmen Owazy” music channel and over the equivalent Turkmen radio channel, while TRT Avaz showed the jury in Turkmenistan selecting the candidates. My own guess is that this was simply bad coordination on both sides’ parts.
As for the rest of the region, TRT AVAZ has not come up with an effective strategy for reaching out to our neighbors, with the exception of Azerbaijan and Cyprus, wherein Turkish TV programs are a normal fixture of media consumption anyway. Although Turkey actually has a lot of experience organizing international competitions, the country’s skills in this arena were not at all evident. The whole thing has been a bungle.
Editor’s note: The Turkmenet may be very small and very young, but it’s certainly developing at a remarkable rate, and not always in ways that can be clearly said to be good or bad. neweurasia’s Annasoltan explores the rise of hacking in this new space and its particularly Turkmen flavor. [The images above are proxy instructions for a Symbian-enabled smartphone from a Turkmen social site. Sensitive information has been removed from them for security reasons.]
Despite the Internet having so little penetration in Turkmenistan – somewhere in the vicinity of 1.6% of the population or 80,400 users according to the World Bank and United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – already it’s exhibiting many of the hallmarks of a much more mature cyberscape, right down to hackers.
The cyber-attack against the Chronicles of Turkmenistan this past summer, not to mention the related e-mail sent to neweurasia, was quite an eye-opener on the Turkmenet’s rapidly increasing capacities for digital misbehavior (although Schwartz suspects that the hacker from that incident, “0fx0”, was a hired gun). Since then, there have been cyber-attacks against the personal accounts of several prominent Turkmen journalists and human rights activists, including against a close friend of mine.
However, far less dramatic has been the emergence of more “mundane” — but no less dangerous — forms of hacking.
Esquire-Russian analyzed UN’s World Population Prospects (2010 revision) and The Economist data and came up with a map that shows a forecast of the extinction of various nations based on the so-called net replacement rate – the average number of girls, delivered by an average woman in a lifetime in a particular country and survived until the end of the reproductive period at these levels.
According to the map, countries which has less than millennium to exist are marked in brown. “Light browned” nations will live in the 3000-3299 years period. “Milky” identifies those who live from 3300 to 3999 years more. “Orange” countries will exist from 4000 to 9999, and those countries colored in “gray” will live for 10,000 or more.
All green countries on the map are the luckiest — they will never disappear, the “immortals.” Read the full story »
Turkmen Journalist Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev (Yazgulyev, Довлетмурад Язгулиев), 43, employed since 2007 with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)’s Turkmen language service Radio Azatlyk, has been sentenced to five years in prison by a court in Kahka (in the Turkmen province Akhal), after only a 2 day hearing.
The reason for his detention?
The journalist was detained on September 27th for supposedly influencing his relative to attempt to commit suicide. He went on trial on October 4th and was just charged with the maximum sentence, under article 106.2 of the criminal code. Family members were forced to sign statements about these false suicide accusations, and when they tried to revoke them in fear of the damage they would do to the detention and trial Dovletmyrat, they were unable to. However, relatives told RFE/RL “…they have “sufficient documents proving that his case is politically motivated.””
The real reason for his detention?
About two weeks ago neweurasia‘s Annasoltan wrote her first-ever post for our old friends and partners, Global Voices Online (GVO): “Turkmenistan: Global Village or Village Behind the Globe?” I’m writing about it now to make sure that it doesn’t just fade into the background.
Annasoltan has become well-known for using digital culture and digital tools to explore Turkmen (and to some extent Turkish) social, cultural and political issues. True to form, her GVO post was prompted by an interesting discussion on social forum Ertir.com about American travelers and Peace Corps volunteers in Turkmen villages. She offers up a bevy of translations, making this post a rich with primary sources on nothing less than the anthropology of nationalism in Turkmenistan.
In turn, Annasoltan’s post prompted a really interesting reflection by a US Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Azerbaijan: “Whispers of the Village: Who Are These Americans?” A lot of the meta-commentary therein really jives with my own experiences, for example:
That these people are expressing distrust and fear isn’t strange. The concept of joining an organization to go live in the largely-forgotten villages of developing countries is a difficult concept for a lot of Americans to understand; even more so for the people we are living with. On my first day here at AccessBank in Lənkəran, one of the loan officers asked if I was FBI or a spy (I informed him that the FBI is domestic). A strong legacy throughout Central Asia and the former Soviet states is an understanding that foreigners are likely spies. You can imagine how this might affect one’s Peace Corps service.
If I ever write a second edition of CyberChaikhana, you can rest assured that this cross-blog conversation shall be included.