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Photo of possible fatality and video of crowd storming the government
Written by , Wednesday, 7 Apr, 2010 – 14:34 | No Comment

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I’ve seen with my own eyes such people in the main square today. This picture was taken from the personal blog of Elena Skochilo; the rest can be seen here and on Demotix.  Plus, the video above shows gunfire exchange between the military and protesters, culminating in the destruction of a military vehicle.

Alert: violent protests in Talas, Bishkek
Written by , Wednesday, 7 Apr, 2010 – 10:36 | No Comment
Photograph by neweurasia.

Photograph by Asel Kuttubaeva

Photograph by neweurasia

Photograph by Asel Kuttubaeva.

Large and violent protests have erupted in Talas and Bishkek, reportedly due to anger toward fuel prices and the president himself.  Yesterday demonstrators in Talas briefly took the local governor hostage while another 500 surrounded the local police headquarters.  They have also attacked special forces police and are burning effigies of Bakiyev. neweurasia’s Kyrgyz division has stunning video, commentary (in English and in Kyrgyz) and photographs:

All of which has been cross-posted on Demotix.  Check out the LiveJournal of Elena Skochilo, neweurasia‘s former Kyrgyzstan country editor, for timelines.

The protests are being led by the opposition movement.  The government has reportedly been retaliating by arresting activists, journalists, and shutting down the web.   One activist, Totkoaim Umetaliyeva, vowed to Reuters,

The government is clearly trying to prevent further opposition rallies. But we will hold them anyway.

neweurasia‘s Kyrgyzstan division will continue to follow events as they unfold.

A digital bloom five years later
Written by , Wednesday, 24 Mar, 2010 – 17:35 | 3 Comments

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.  Future historians will debate just how revolutionary the event actually was, but the people of Kyrgyzstan are already well ahead of them in skepticism.  Nevertheless, at the time it was a big moment, both for the country and for me, and as I will explain below, it may remain important, if not for its material results, but for its ultimate symbolism.

At the time I was working with Ben and Ollie on neweurasia‘s predecessor website, Thinking East.  When Elnura Osmonalieva e-mailed us her remarkable and exclusive photos of the events in Ala-Too Square and her account of what happened, my jaw dropped.  We had our first-ever scoop! And quite an exclusive it was, replete with all the prerequisites for great journalistic drama — a popular uprising, the toppling of a corrupt political leader, and high hopes.

But it was immediately obvious that more was at stake than just Thinking East‘s journalistic chops.  For one, Elnura was not a professional photojournalist.  For another, I learned that some of our contacts, who were members of the KelKel movement, had participated in the street protests and direct action that resulted in Akayev’s flight from the country.  Conceptually-speaking, clearly something more complicated, interesting, and powerful was going on than just “mere” journalism.  Thus was my first encounter with citizen-based new media, face-to-electronic-face, spontaneous, and history-making.

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“My people have been hypnotized”
Written by , Monday, 8 Mar, 2010 – 12:29 | 5 Comments

Editor’s note: neweurasia’s Annasoltan, our chief blogger for Turkmenistan, has been interviewed by France24 for an article on Turkmenbashi’s legacy.  She explores the deep-seated metaphysical effects of a regime that is nothing short of Stalinist.

It’s a bit strange to be on the receiving end of an interview since I’m usually the one asking all the questions.  It’s also a bit sad that the West can’t seem to get over its fascination with Niyazov.  But then, so much of my own work here on neweurasia has been in the shadow of this man, so I suppose it’s understandable.

The quote used in the article is only an excerpt of a larger e-mail that I wrote to them.  If you’re interested, click the “Read More”; the questions are by Andres Lievano.  To read the article, click here for English, et ici pour le français.  I’ve also included some stills from the documentary, Shadow of the Holy Book, which is about the Ruhnama.

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Movie Review: Gift to Stalin (Подарок Сталину) and Interview with Cast
Written by , Monday, 22 Feb, 2010 – 22:50 | 3 Comments

This is not an easy movie to see.

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Nevertheless, watching this movie is to understand what it means to be human.

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The movie is about Sashenka  Pozner (played by Dalen Shintemirov) who is about 8 or 9 and on a train to Kazakhstan to live in exile with his grandfather while his parents serve hard labor time in Siberia for crimes against the state. What this almost certainly means is that they were arrested because they were Jews. His grandfather dies on the train, and Sashenka escapes from the train to survive in the vast steppes with the help of a Kazakh man, Kasym (Nurzhuman Ikhtimbayov) and other Russian exiles including Katya (Ekaterina Rednikova), a Russian woman whose husband in Siberia and Ezhik, a Pole (Waldemar Szczepaniak).

As the grown-up Sasha, narrating from Jerusalem, notes the steppe is a freedom that is constrictive and oppressive in its expanse. He leads an extremely hard life as he struggles to adapt to his new life in the sleepy backwater Kazakh town, with Kasym taking on the role as his caretaker in a very touching and extremely skilled performance. The movie was perfect in almost every respect.

Most importantly, it captures the era of that time, the early 1950s under Stalin’s rule, down to a T. (For a further look at the era, you can read the book Sashenka, which I reviewed.) One of the moments that struck me the most was the sound of the Internationale as the background noise to Kasym’s salat. Everything in the movie resonated with what I’d absorbed from my family about how the Soviet Union was, and as I watched, I got extremely strong pangs of both recognition and pain, because most of what the Soviet Union was, was pain and unfairness. Everything was so very Soviet, down to the dresses Katya wore and the way the sycophantic and cruel Bulgabai tried to adapt to the regime. Additionally, I think it describes well the nomadic loneliness and Soviet backwater atmosphere that pervaded Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics  in the 1930s.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I do want to say that I was blown away by the enormity and weightiness of this movie (the first for the studio that produced it.)  Here’s a small clip from when Sashenka first comes to the village:

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I cried at the end of the movie, something I haven’t done since I saw Under the Tuscan Sun (to be honest, I was single and very emotional at the time. Those damn sunflowers were so colorful). What was most amazing to me was that, after the movie, the festival staff worked hard to get the actors and producer to come from Kazakhstan to speak.

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L to R, Aliya Uvalzhanova, producer, Ekaterina Rednikova (Katya), Boris Cherdabayev, Producer; Nurzhuman Ikhtymbayev (Kasym); Yerkin Khanimolda (Aldongar Productions)

I especially was excited to see Nurzhuman Ikhtymbayev, who played Kasym so well. They spoke about many topics of the film to the audience, which I captured on video.

Aliya talks a bit about producing the movie:

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Nurzhuman Ikhtimbayov and his acting career:

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A bit about Yekaterina Rednikova:

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How they cast Sashenka:

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A big thank you to the Washington Jewish Community Center for giving me press tickets to see the movie.

Originally posted here.

Kanat Saudabayev speaks at Atlantic Council
Written by , Saturday, 6 Feb, 2010 – 2:38 | No Comment

On Wednesday February 3, Kazakhstan’s Secretary of State and Foreign Minister, Kanat Saudabayev spoke to a group of journalists and foreign policy community specialists at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. (transcript in English and MP3 in Russian here). This talk comes on the wings of Kazakhstan chairing the OSCE this year.  Saudabayev is in Washington for several weeks talking up Kazakhstan’s achievements in his capacity as OSCE chairman (RUS).

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Barcamps of 2009 – Phew!! (a year in review)
Written by , Monday, 14 Dec, 2009 – 9:00 | No Comment

It’s been a big year for barcamping in Central Asia.  There was, of course, the mother of all barcamps in Almaty in the Spring, organized by neweurasia‘s own Yelena.  Another one was pulled off in the Fall in Kyrgyzstan, followed-up by a training seminar in Bakten — trailblazing the digital frontier — not to mention EduCamp back in Almaty.

But when 2009 started, no one could have imagined that there would be barcamps in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (consider this post by neweurasia‘s Vadim from a while back).  Yet, the impossible has happened in both Tashkent and Dushanbe.

The attached video is a short story about an amateur tour for Kyrgyz during the event in Dushanbe (and when I say “ameteur”, I really mean it).  If you watch closely you might catch some familiar faces from neweurasia et al.  Enjoy! ;-)

Turkmen on the turntables: “It should be about life”
Written by , Wednesday, 9 Dec, 2009 – 11:45 | 4 Comments

Editor’s note: Turkmenistan may be second only to North Korea in its self-imposed isolation, but this hasn’t stopped the global phenomenon of “urban culture”, especially in the form of Hip Hop, from arriving there, writes neweurasia’s Annasoltan.  Read her previous entry in this post series here.

Due to its sexually explicit lyrics, tendency to glorify violence, and promote radical political views, Hip Hop has long been a subject of controversy in the West.  However, precisely because of its gangland origins and lo-tech requirements, Hip Hop has also long been indefatigably grass roots.

So, it’s initially hard to imagine its sudden bloom in such a closed and strictly controlled country as Turkmenistan.  After all, this a country where, as part of an extensive personality cult, the official state media broadcasts only songs in praise of the country’s leadership.

But the rigidities of Turkmen media culture are precisely why Hip Hop is suddenly popular: Turkmenistan’s youth are finding refuge in their own subculture and seeking new forms of expression.

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Turkmen on the turntables: “Palestine”
Written by , Tuesday, 13 Oct, 2009 – 9:00 | 11 Comments

Turkmen rap songs are gaining speedy popularity among the Turkmen youth.  New rap websites are popping up left and right.

“Palestine”, a song about Palestinian children killed by Israeli security forces by Zumerchas of the rap group Darkroom Posse, has been rapidly making the rounds among listeners.  Darkroom Posse has toured in Turkey and includes rappers from Turkmenistan, Russia, Canada, and the United States.

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Rahmon misses the 8 AM ride on the Migrant Express
Written by , Saturday, 3 Oct, 2009 – 0:44 | One Comment

On his way to this year’s United Nations summit, long-ruling president of poor Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, first stopped over in Moscow, then in Croatia.  Hmmm it’s not really clear to anyone which national interests he was trying to bargain in either place, especially Croatia.  Maybe he just felt like visiting a pleasant fellow, exchanging a few kind words, and ticking off one more country on his “countries visited” checklist.  Is he under the impression that our tax money is his to spend on holidays?

But let’s get to the point: during one of the roundtables at the UN summit, Rahmon made a speech in the Tajik language emphasizing the importance of constructing hydropower plants.   Okay, so I concede a positive outcome from this rather odd vacation/business trip, but let’s face it: the odds of anything good coming out from this speech are slim to none.  For that matter, I highly doubt that this is anything more than a continuation of his evidently blind reading of newspapers and manifestly careless attitude with regard to the critical problems facing his nation these days.

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