“Turkmen Idol” and a missed opportunity for sms-democracy
Cross-regional and Blogosphere, Culture and History, Media and Internet, TurkmenistanOne Comment
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.