“Blogs can be blocked in two clicks”: return to samizdat in Turkmenistan
Media and Internet, Politics and Society, TurkmenistanNo Comment
Editor’s note: neweurasia continues to explore the aftermath of the Abadan explosion and the ways Turkmen are resisting the official line. The “Alternative Turkmenistan News” is an e-mail newsletter claiming 1300 recipients among a wide cross-section of professional Turkmen society. It’s a perhaps surprising example of the continuing utility of the e-mail in our new era of rapid social media. neweurasia’s Schwartz reports. “The impression one gets is actually of a very active and fertile secret world of electronic samizdat-like communications,” he writes. “Call it ‘e-zidat” or ‘Turkmenizdat’.”
Shortly after neweurasia appeared on al-Jazeera last week, we received the following communiqé from “Alternative Turkmenistan News” (Альтернативные новости Туркменистана) in Russian and English:
Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear friends!
On July 7-8 the city of Abadan of Turkmenistan shook from a series of blasts. The arms deposit exploded, according to human rights defenders, hundreds of people died… The government at first did not admit the casualties but later had to do so because this information became available to the world, against the government’s will of course..
We have this appeal. Its goal is to make aware the largest number of people possible. Perhaps action would follow afterwards…
If you find it important to share, please do so. You can learn more about the events in Abadan on the Internet.
Alternative Turkmenistan News
WE, THE CITIZENS OF TURKMENISTAN, FOR THIS OR OTHER REASON TEMPORARILY LIVING OUTSIDE OF OUR MOTHERLAND, ENJOYING EQUAL RIGHTS AS ALL CITIZENS OF TURKMENISTAN, IN RESPONSE TO INCOMPETENT, ANTINATIONAL, COWARDLY REACTION OF THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKMENISTAN AND PERSONALLY PRESIDENT GURBAGULY BERDYMUHAMEDOV ON THE TRAGIC EVENTS IN THE CITY OF ABADAN ON 7-8 JULY DEMAND:
FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKMENISTAN:
1. PUBLICLY REFUTE DECEITFUL STATEMENTS OF THE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND SUBORDINATE TO IT EMBASSIES, IN PARTICULAR THE EMBASSY OF TURKMENISTAN IN UZBEKISTAN, MADE IN THE NIGHT OF 7-8 JULY;
2. ANNOUNCE THE REAL SCALE OF THE TRAGEDY IN ABADAN ON 7-8 JULY 2011, INCLUDING THE DEATH TOLL, NUMBER OF INJURED PEOPLE, DAMAGED PRIVATE AND OTHER PROPERTIES;
3. GIVE OUT THE BODIES OF THE DEAD TO THEIR RELATIVES AND ALLOW THEM TO PAY THEIR LAST TRIBUTE TO THE DEAD IN AN APPROPRIATE MANNER;
4. ORGANIZE HOTLINES IN CONNECTION WITH THE TRAGEDY; GIVE PEOPLE AN OPPORTINITY TO FIND EACH OTHER;
5. PAY DECENT COMPENSATION TO THE FAMILIES OF THE DEAD AND INJURED;
6. LIFT RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS TO THE INTERNET AND IMMEDIATELY STOP PERSECUTING THOSE WHO IN THIS OR OTHER WAY COVER THE REAL EVENTS IN ABADAN;
7. CARRY OUT OBJECTIVE AND PUBLIC INVESTIGATION ON THE REASONS THAT CAUSED THE TRAGEDY IN ABADAN;
8. BRING TO JUSTICE THOSE RESPONSIBLE IN THE DEATH OF MILITARY AND CIVILIAN POPULATION;
9. ALLOW INDEPENDENT EXPERTS, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND JOURNALIST, INCLUDING FOREIGN, HELP AND MONITOR THE INVESTIGATION;
10. GIVE LOCAL RESIDENTS (OF ABADAN AND ASHGABAT) AN UNIMPEDED AND UNCENSORED ACCESS TO STATE TELEVISION IN ORDER TO SPEAK OUT ON THE TRAGEDY;
11. ANNOUNCE THE COMING DAYS THE DAYS OF MOURNING OF THE DEAD;
12. CANCEL POMPOUS CELEBRATIONS OF THE INDEPENDENCE DAY OUT OF RESPECT TO THE DEAD AND INJURED PEOPLE AS WELL AS THEIR FAMILIES.
WE CALL UPON DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD, INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND OTHER FORCES, OUT OF RESPECT TO THE RELATIVES OF THE DEAD AND INJURED AS WELL AS IMPASSIVE CITIZENS OF TURKMENISTAN: DEMAND FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKMENISTAN STRICT IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED POINTS.
IN CASE OF NON-FULFILMENT OF THESE POINTS: BAR THE TOP LEADERSHIP OF TURKMENISTAN FROM ENTERING THE TERRITORY OF DEMOCRATIC STATES; SUSPEND ALL POLITICAL CONNECTIONS WITH THE CURRENT REGIME OF TURKMENISTAN, FREEZE BANK ACCOUNTS AND ASSETS OF TURKMENISTAN’S LEADERSHIP IN FOREIGN FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS; BRING THE LEADERSHIP OF TURKMENISTAN TO CRIMINAL LIABILITY FOR CONCEALMENT OF THE REAL SCALE OF THE TRAGEDY IN ABADAN, INHUMANE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE FAMILIES OF THE LOST.
In my line of work, you get used to receiving e-mails from all and sundry. I forwarded it onto my Turkmenistan team to evaluate but I thought that would be the end of it — and then the man behind the communiqué contacted me, and it turned out there was something of an interesting story to tell about the many ways in which Turkmen are resisting the official line about their society. These days we’re accustomed to thinking of “new media” as the really new medias of online social networks and blogs, but we forget that the old-fashioned e-mail can be just as cutting edge.
The author, or more properly-speaking the redactor of ATN goes by the pseudonym “Adalat seeker”. I cannot verify his specific claims, but they do not seem unreasonable to me to significantly doubt. It is also likely that his is not the only e-mail newsletter circulating among Turkmen professionals and intelligentsia, or Turkmen society in general. The impression one gets is actually of a very active and fertile secret world of electronic samizdat-like communications — in this particular case, tamzidat, literature published abroad (там, tam, “there”). Call it “e-zidat” or “Turkmenizdat”. };-)
What’s also interesting is how, just like the samizdat of the Soviet era, not everyone who receives the material evinces anti-government positions, although it’s hard to say whether they’re being sincere or just trying to protect themselves. I don’t share Adalat seeker’s skepticism for blogs, particularly where general knowledge of them among the population is concern (neweurasia‘s Annasoltan has been reporting a lot about how that situation is rapidly changing). Nevertheless, his thought process is sound, particularly his point on the self-regulating effect of fear.
neweurasia: Please tell us about your publication and your role in it.
Adalat seeker: I began it in February 2010 and have run it ever since, sending out news to people inside Turkmenistan from prohibited websites. I don’t write; I collect news from different sources, compile and deliver them. Also, I get feedback from people, facts, observations, etc. I do write some of my own stories occasionally.
neweurasia: Are you in any way compensated for the newsletter?
Adalat seeker: I run it purely out of my own initiative. It is neither a paid job nor donor-supported.
neweurasia: How many readers do you have and who are they?
Adalat seeker: They are approximately 1300 and include activists, government officials, foreign diplomats, students.
neweurasia: But are any of them actually inside Turkmenistan?
Adalat seeker: I am positive some are. What makes you think they are not there?
neweurasia: What makes you think they are?
Adalat seeker: I know some of them. Some of them are even blacklisted by the Immigration service [Ed.: meaning that they are on an official list banning them from ever leaving the country]. Of course, not 100% of my contacts are in Turkmenistan, but I would gauge around 90%.
neweurasia: Your format sounds more suggestive of a blog than a newsletter. Why operate this way? Why not blog instead?
Adalat seeker: Blogs can be blocked in two clicks.
neweurasia: E-mails can be traced.
Adalat seeker: Hardly. Many use security software to communicate with me, as well as safer mail providers. Besides, I can give you a bunch of reasons why we shouldn’t use blogs: 1. The Internet is not developed at all in our country; 2. People simply don’t know what blogs are; 3. fear; 4. fear; 5. fear.
neweurasia: What do you think is gained from this newsletter?
Adalat seeker: 1. People gain up-to-date of information about Turkmenistan; 2. People share facts with me or send complete stories; 3. People are becoming less afraid to speak out. Why do you think there was so many facts about the explosions in Abadan?
neweurasia: Were you actively facilitating the flow of information when it happened?
Adalat seeker: I was facilitating, of course. But newsletter was just one tool; other services were also used.
neweurasia: The audience you have are already those who are critical of the government, so isn’t this preaching to the choir? If not, or even if so, what is the service you’re providing them?
Adalat seeker: What do you mean by “preaching to the choir”?
neweurasia: I mean people who are already online and who already agree with you.
Adalat seeker: 1. Some of my recipients have courageously spread the news I have provided to them verbally inside Turkmenistan; 2. Not all of my contacts were initially against the government or critical of it. Some even argue with me that what I do is wrong and all who write and read the newsletter are traitors and that they need to be executed, hung and buried alive.