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Turkmen on the turntables: let the masses be heard?

Written by on Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Media and Internet, Politics and Society, Turkmenistan

Editor’s note: NewEurasia’s Khan returns to talk more about Turkmenistan’s Hip Hop scene, and with a novel interpretation: with all the intense boredom of the Turkmen youth, could Hip Hop provide not only an emotional release, but a way for the government to get a sense of what the rising generation wants? [Read our entire series, "Turkmen on the turntables", by clicking here.

When I last posted on NewEurasia, I introduced readers to the brief history of Turkmenistan's Hip Hop scene. I now want to talk more about the political potential of the music, which is really there.

But first, I gotta say that I don't mean revolution. I can't think of any Hip Hop singer in history who's ever had either the balls or the actual power to overthrow a government. Yeah, there's a lot of talk of political violence in Western Hip Hop lyrics, especially the “underground” stuff in America and France, but it's just bluster, guys beating their chests and acting tough. Actually, in Yemen Hip Hop's a force against political violence.

Besides, most of us Turkmens -- including the rappers -- don't want to destroy our government. The older generation went through that already in 1991, and all we young guys have to do is look over at Kyrgyzstan or Syria to see how messy it can get. That doesn't mean we aren't angry or things couldn't blow up one day, because they could. Here's why:

Obviously, our government is extreme and strict, but Westerners and Russians writing about it always focus on the acts of oppression -– this journalist arrested, that businessman exploited, etc. etc. -- but never the effects. The outside world thinks we Turkmens live in constant terror of our government. Actually, not always; a lot of us don't even realize anything's wrong. No, most of the time, we're just bored, bored, bored.

No, really, think about it: the only things allowed in the newspaper, on the tv, on the radio is praise about our president. There aren't a lot of good jobs available outside of a few municipalities (and not even many good jobs inside those), and it's not easy to go work overseas [Ed.: although many Turkmen do find their way to Turkey]. So, the young generation literally has got nothing to do. Which is why they love Hip Hop. It’s a music form that does so many things for them: help them relax, dream about big money, feel independent, feel tough. Yeah, it’s fantasy and escapism, and a çyraçy is definitely not a revolutionary. … But maybe there’s a fine line between the two.

The way I see it, a lot of those young guys who kicked Akaev and Bakiev out of Bishkek were also a çyraçy at heart: they wanted to show how tough they were, that they were real men. Their thought process may have been: “No jobs, no wives, no prospects, then fuck it, fuck this government and all its empty promises.” The çyraçy ideal may be lousy, but like any ideal, it’s really an expression desires and realities: in this case, it reveals the awful material and spiritual conditions of most young men’s lives.

It’s ironic, because our government wants to censor Hip Hop, but not because of this political potential; instead, for cultural and moral reasons. Officials see it as having a “bad influence” on the character of the young generation, not as adding oil to a lit ember.

But the government should not censor Hip Hop, and here’s why: not for the sake of liberalism, which they don’t even believe in anyway, but for its own long-term survival. You see, even though it talks a big game about democracy, our government’s really afraid of it [Ed.: e.g., see here and here]. I think they recognize the power of a real vote: it can inform a leadership, but it can threaten a leadership, too. But ironically, maybe if our officials took a little while to listen to our Hip Hop music, they could learn something about the young generation’s desires without without having to take the risk – and then maybe start changing things.

Anyway, that’s my manat. What do you think?

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