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Protected: An injection of Dr. Habermas’ medicine on the Turkmenet?
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The Turkmenet’s not over until the fat lady sings!
Written by , Monday, 27 Feb, 2012 – 14:45 | 3 Comments

Editor’s note: Google and Opera appear to have been blocked in Turkmenistan — or have they? neweurasia’s Annasoltan explores the mix of censorship, incompetence, and terrible infrastructure that constitutes the “shoddy omnipotence” of government digital control, and why this is both a source of distress and hope.

There’s more funny business going on in the Turkmenet. Recently I heard many Turkmenetizens complaining increasingly about this or that Google service not working. Google Analytics went out of service for a little while, and now Gmail seems to be down on Android-enabled smartphones, while remaining accessible via the UC browser. Google’s Android smartphone also appears to have been affected. However, what’s more worrying is that the Opera mini-browser also appears to be blacked out for the past five consecutive days.

Opera is a major player in the CIS. Since 2010, its regular browser been the most widely used means for surfing the Web in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, while its mini browser for mobile platforms claims 350,000 Armenian users and a monstrous 70% of all Russian mobile Internet users. For those of us interested in the freedom of information, this is reason to celebrate, for neweurasia learned back in June, as a result of Kazakhstan’s WordPress ban, that Opera’s regular browser’s “turbo” function serves as a kind of accidental proxy server. Meanwhile, Opera mini has been used as a cost-effective method to access sites that are either blocked or access to which is expensive because of telecom rates or difficult because of low quality desktop computers, such as Facebook — and for the cherry on top, there is now also a hacked version of Opera mini with a built-in proxy.

So, how can all these blackouts be possibly explained? Since the Turkmen government keeps its restrictions on telephone and Internet communication in the country secret, the picture is often not immediately clear. Further complicating the situation are neverendingly conflicting reports about access itself (remember the huge debate when neweurasia‘s Schwartz told Al Jazeera that Internet cafes in Turkmenistan require passports to enter?) So, instead of trying to diagnose these specific incidents with Google and Opera, I think it’s more worthwhile to fit them into a bigger diagnosis of the general cyber-disease in my country: a combination of censorship, incompetence, and terrible infrastructure.

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Hack the Turkmenet!
Written by , Wednesday, 2 Nov, 2011 – 1:00 | 12 Comments

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.

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Computerization comes to Turkmen first-graders with a vengeance
Written by , Thursday, 1 Sep, 2011 – 12:30 | 2 Comments

Last Friday, schools opened across Turkmenistan to some remarkable good news: according to official sources, around 100,000 first graders were provided with free Chinese-made Lenovo laptops. Reportedly worth 26 million USD in total, the laptops are said to be a “gift” from the President, which in turn is reportedly based on a grant from China. The laptops are intended for to be used at school only.

This is truly an ambitious project on the part of the Turkmen government — possibly too ambitious, since most teachers in my country have little in the way of computer skills (I wonder how computer literacy will be integrated into teaching traditional literacy). Nevertheless, this is potentially a huge moment for my nation’s history.

There have been rumors about this project going back to January. At the time, two users on Teswirler.com bitterly remarked,

T.R.: “Nothing should be free. Only education should be free. I also want to study in Turkmenistan, but free of charge. I am asking the authorities: Shall my children also have to pay bribes to study in higher institutions of education? I can pay the laptop myself, but what I need is free education.”

M.O.: “If there is that much money, it should be spent on computer labs, physics and chemistry labs and table tennis rooms to play during the breaks.”

However, Mergen, a computer developer from Ashgabat, stated his belief to me that the new laptops shall be key to helping the overpopulation overcome its native technophobias by shaping the rising generation. Actually, I’m inclined to agree with him, and in fact I think it may have other (probably unintended) consequences: the opening up of my homeland to the rest of the world.

Chrono-tm.org fires back
Written by , Wednesday, 20 Jul, 2011 – 17:38 | 2 Comments


Farid Tukhbatullin, head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), of which the Chronicles of Turkmenistan (chrono-tm.org is the press service, has sent the following statement to journalists:

On 18 July in the morning the website of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” was hacked.

The website has been operating for about six years. Throughout these years it has posted thousands of articles, news casts and photos from Turkmenistan — the country where it is extremely difficult to obtain unbiased information.

During the days when the arms depot explosions occurred near Ashgabat, our website remained the only source of information providing coverage of the developments. Despite the risks of repressions by the Turkmen special services, our correspondents gained information from Abadan and forwarded it along with photo and video materials, which were subsequently posted on the website “Chronicles of Turkmenistan”.

Under the circumstances where the Turkmen authorities did not give any coverage of the explosions, Russian, European, US and other foreign media published our materials referring to the information from our website.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry made statements about “disseminating deliberately misleading information”, implying our materials. Special service agents paid daily visits to the house of the website editors’ mother, who lives in Turkmenistan, exerting serious psychological pressure on the elderly woman. Now the website has been hacked:

[Quote of letter received by neweurasia from hacker "00 fx"]

If the Turkmen authorities had arguments, refuting our publications, they would need neither public statements, nor covert repressions and other actions designed to suppress freedom of speech. They do not have any arguments, nor can they realize that one can fight against freedom of speech but cannot defeat it.

The TIHR is making all efforts to restore the website as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the chrono-tm.org site appears to be trying to re-establish itself (see: screenshot).

ALERT: tm-chrono.org has apparently been hacked
Written by , Monday, 18 Jul, 2011 – 6:47 | 3 Comments


This morning I received the following e-mail from “00 fx”:

Dear press,

I have 2 news for you, one good, one bad.

First bad:
You will no longer be able to access the chrono-tm.org website! OMG NOoo!! :-((

Good news is, we are releasing their database, including list of subscribers, email addresses of comment authors, unpublished comments, etc etc…

Here is the first part, enjoy!

Stay tuned, we’ll have more good and bad news for you!!

I checked both the URL the individual provided and it does indeed appear to be subscription lists. I also checked the Chronicles of Turkmenistan website (http://www.chromo-tm.org), which is currently down (see: screenshot above/quote below). Clearly, a cyber-attack is underway.

íå ìîãó ñîåäèíèòñÿ ñ áàçîé!
Benutzer ‘chrono_tmorg’ hat mehr als ‘max_user_connections’ aktive Verbindungen

Needless to say, given the situation for free thought and free press in Turkmenistan, the subscription lists for the Chronicles are definitely very sensitive materials. Many activists and Turkmenistan observers could be in danger.

Perhaps this is crossing the line from detached journalism into activism, but neweurasia is advising all Turkmenistan observers to check their security procedures immediately. As a basic precaution, be sure to change your passwords.

“Blogs can be blocked in two clicks”: return to samizdat in Turkmenistan
Written by , Monday, 18 Jul, 2011 – 1:00 | No 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:

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Who am I to speak for Turkmenistan?
Written by , Saturday, 16 Jul, 2011 – 1:00 | 10 Comments
Who speaks for normal Turkmen? Photograph by Flickr user oletommyp (CC-usage).

Who speaks for normal Turkmen? Photograph by Flickr user oletommyp (CC-usage).

Two days ago, after my most recent appearance on al-Jazeera, I received the following very forthright e-mail from “Tony from San Francisco, California”. I’ve edited out some of the more sensitive data:

My name is —– and I am a Turkmen immigrant in —-. I am a [residency card] holder and reside in the —– but go to Turkmenistan every year. I am a medical student in —–

The reason I am writing you today is to correct your (negligent and shameful) remarks about Internet use in Turkmenistan which appeared on AJStream. Firs of all, YOU DO NOT NEED A PASSPORT to use internet in the internet cafes. A driver license or a college ID is enough. WHen i was there, I always used my —– college ID at the internet cafes and they never made a problem about it. Same applies to TURKMEN and FOreign citizens. Last time i was there (—– 2010), I met 2 Students from —– who were tying to use internet at the cafes and needed help to communicate with the person in charge ( usually a high school graduate) not a POLICE or anything. So i helped those 2 young ladies from —- and all they used was their ID from —–, NOT PASSPORT.

As an educated person, I urge you to research something before you TALK and make any strong statements. I understand all those exaggerations on the internet about TM, and I admit all the mistakes and wrongdoings of our government ( which I am not proud of) as well. However, if you are going to be continuing your NEWEURASIA project, I suggest YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT and ABLE TO PROVIDE PRECISE SOURCES.

At the age of information, I think MISINFORMATION is as much shameful, dangerous and harmful as any other crime. Once again, shame on you

Then, yesterday, a Turkmen colleague whom I deeply respect also criticized the way in which I framed the Abadan event: “sometimes it feels like you are overdoing it with turkmenistan, commodifying the issue.” My colleague had been in Ashgabat when the explosion happened and pointed out to me that they had full Internet access as well as satellite television, following the story via Russian news: “do you know that electricity and water were out for half a day not as long as it was reported? do you know that worse things happened there? and we all knew before you,” adding, “chris, really don’t fetishize the turkmen, don’t overdo it please, i know it’s very common and modernist thing to do.”

Oh boy, there’s a lot going on here, from different cultural and socioeconomic styles of communicating to the whole problem of Orientalism. However, I want to focus on this key point: who am I to speak for Turkmenistan? This is the question/criticism that’s really at stake here, encompassing both the credibility of social media-based citizen journalism and my own credibility as the managing editor of this website and as a journalist, as well as the conceptual issues brought up by these two Turkmen.

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Turkmenet’s first e-witness to Abadan explosion speaks again
Written by , Friday, 8 Jul, 2011 – 15:09 | No Comment

First e-witness spoke again. Cannot confirm his statements but he was cited by Annasoltan. He has spoken again today:

“I escaped death at the last moment, running away and making an accident with my car, but the car is nothing. [The bomb] fell 15,20 meters close to me. I was almost dead, all the people were covered in blood, they didn’t escape, they all died, there were no survivors to come out from there.”

When asked where the bombs and rockets fell, he answered:

“They fell everywhere.”

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Turkmenet shines during Abadan explosion
Written by , Friday, 8 Jul, 2011 – 13:24 | 11 Comments
Composite image from Russian media and the Chronicles of Turkmenistan.

Composite image from Russian media and the Chronicles of Turkmenistan.

Editor’s note: The still-mysterious explosion in Abadan was met with logic and courage by everyday Turkmens who were able to get online. neweurasia’s Annasoltan recounts both the struggles and discoveries of the Turkmenet during the crisis, including an important eyewitness account and the many netizens who were willing to challenge the official version of events as well as comfort and calm each other during a moment of terror.

We should note that at the moment we do not yet have the ability to investigate fully the individuals involved or confirm their statements made on Teswirler. However, readers are invited to review one of the areas where discussions took place: http://teswirler.com/index.php?q=microblog&page=6 (as of 08.07.2011 13:47 GMT).

Lately it seems the whole world is talking about the power of social media to get out news, not to mention its power to make normal people actually make the news themselves. neweurasia‘s Chris and I attach special importance to the use of social media to cast light upon on-the-ground realities in extremely closed societies like my nation, Turkmenistan, as well as a way to engage the citizens of these societies with new ideas. Yesterday’s explosion in Abadan is a perfect example.

So, the official story at the moment is that hot weather had detonated fireworks at a storage facility in the town and that there were no casualties. The opposition news organization Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported chaos in the streets of Abadan and a small-scale military intervention to keep the peace. They claim that this photograph is of smoke arising from the blast:


As Catherine Fitzpatrick remarks in a comment on Chris’ original post, the armory may have been a ticking time bomb:

[The armory appears to be] right next to apartment buildings and roads, not far from the center of Ashgabat. So you have to wonder if either a) the Turkmen authorities are so careless and inconsiderate that they’d put an arms depot right next to residential ares (always possible) or b) it isn’t an arms depot, exactly, but just a bunch of warehouses where maybe arms, but maybe fireworks were stored. The buildings look like dilapidated warehouses with lots of space around them for trucks to pull in, and piles of what look like logs

Last night, some chat friends and I were in teswirler, trying to figure out what may have really happened. Internet connections with Ashgabat were down for several hours, yet Turkmenetizens were sharing whatever they could of fragmented information coming from the Internet, television, and word of mouth. Then suddenly around 1 a.m. Turkmenistan time, the connections were restored. Almost immediately, a survivor of the explosion appeared online and volunteered to tell the amazing story about how the event unfolded:

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