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February 25 2014

Tajik Court Fines Journalist for Calling Docile Intellectuals ‘Shit’

A court in Tajikistan has found a local journalist guilty of “insulting” three state-appointed intellectuals and ordered that she pay them 30,000 somoni (over 6,000 US dollars) in “moral damage”. The court has also ruled that Asia-Plus, one of the country's few independent newspapers, must apologize for publishing the “insulting” content.

Olga Tutubalina. Image from her Facebook page, used with permission.

Olga Tutubalina. Image from her Facebook page, used with permission.

Olga Tutubalina, an editor and columnist of Asia-Plus, wrote a column [ru] in May 2013, criticizing the members of the intelligentsia for their “cozy relationship” with the government of President Emomali Rahmon. In that column, Tutubalina quoted the first Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin who had once referred to intellectuals in the service of the state as “shit”. 

A number of state-appointed members of the intelligentsia and creative unions then chose to feel insulted. Shortly after Tutubalina wrote her column, three individuals, the Academy of Science, and unions of writers, artists, composers, and architects filed a joint lawsuit against the journalist. On February 25, after almost a year-long trial, a court in Dushanbe ruled in their favor.

The initial reaction to the verdict among Twitter users was one of shock, disbelief, and anger.

News: The court has ruled in “Intelligentsia vs. Asia-Plus”

The United States Embassy in Dushanbe has issued a brief statement criticizing the verdict. US Envoy tweeted:

Shame on Tajikistan! Shame on its entire judicial system! Shame on all that shit which watched Tutubalina's trial in silence.

It is clear that Olga [Tutubalina] is being drowned. But there is one advantage: we now know for sure who shit is [in the country]. The court has confirmed it.

Overall, there is little doubt among social media users in Tajikistan that the journalists's trial was part of a broader campaign to silence critical journalists and independent media. Few netizens believe that the court's verdict was fair or impartial. After all, judges in Tajikistan are frequently compared to prostitutes catering to those in power.

February 24 2014

“We Are Not an Anomaly or Disease”: Gay Bloggers Speak Up in Tajikistan

Tajikistan, a conservative Central Asian nation where over 95 percent of people are Muslims, has been described as “hell for gays”. However, social media is increasingly enabling the members of the country's LGBT community to argue against homophobic attitudes. 

There has recently been a string of media stories and blog posts about LGBT issues in Tajikistan. In late January, Radio Ozodi (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tajik service) published a story about gays in the country, in Russian and Tajik. Then, in early February, Russian-language weekly Avicenna published [ru] a material about the first sex-change surgery in the country. These stories have drawn hundreds of comments, mainly homophobic in nature, with many comments suggesting that homosexuality is a “psychiatric” disease or “deadly sin”.

The debate has since shifted to social networks and the blogosphere. Gay rights blogger Drugoi [Different] reposted stories by Radio Ozodi and Avicenna on Blogiston.tj, triggering multiple reactions and counter-posts. Below is a brief overview of the debate that has taken place on the blog.

Responding to Drugoi's post [ru] about the closeted life of homosexuals in Tajikistan, Ant commented [ru]:

Эти люди прокляты Богом

These people have been cursed by God.

Rustam Gulov wrote [ru]:

давайте вещи называть своими именами – “гомосексуализм” – это слово придумано не для “науки”, а для продвижения этой мерзости! как и “сексуальные меньшинства”, “гей”.

на самом деле есть самые нормальные и прямые понятия – пидараст, гомик, педик, содомит, ку…е, в конце концов!

и нечего их защищать! вслед за ними голову поднимут зоофилы, потом некрофилы всякие, а потом глядишь о своих “правах” вовсю будут горланить педофилы!

Let's call a spade a spade. “Homosexuality” is not a “scientific” word; it has been invented for the promotion of this filth! the same goes for words such as “sexual minorities” and “gay”.

In reality, there are more direct and ordinary words – pidarast, gomik, pedik, sodomit, [kunte] [Russian and Tajik pejorative terms equivalent to English "faggot"].

They should not be defended! They pave the way for zoophiles, all sorts of necrophiles, and even pedophiles!

Mir Aziz agreed [ru]:

Вот именно Рустам Ака нечего этим психам помогать !!! Их вообще нужно истреблять , чтоби остальние прежде чем вступить в эту хрень подумали своей башкой которая им не для красоты дано !

Exactly, Rustam. We should not help these psychopaths!!! They should be eradicated so that other people think twice before becoming part of this filth!

Emir responded [ru]:

Мир Азиз, а башка Вам для чего нужна? Для насилия? или для фашистских призывов??? Думайте головой, вы в открытую призывайте к дискриминации, насилию прежде всего Людей!..

Mir Aziz, and why do you need the head? For violence? Or perhaps for fascist slogans??? Think about it, you are calling  openly for discrimination and violence against other human beings!..

Another reader added [ru]:

я понимаю вашу позицию, ребята, и даже почти во всем с вами согласен. но есть такая проблема. геи у нас есть, они живут в нашем обществе и скрывают свою ориентацию. многих заставляют жениться, и они делают еще и своих жен несчастными. что делать с такими людьми? не совсем ведь человечно заставлять их всю жизнь молчать и скрывать правду от окружающих. 

I understand where you stand, guys, and I agree with most of what you say. But the problem is there. We have gay [men], they are part of our society and they hide their [sexual] orientation. Many of them are forced to get married, which makes their wives unhappy, too. What should we do with people like that? It is not very humane to force them to remain silent and hide the truth from everyone for the rest of their lives. 

Drugoi responded [ru] to criticisms:

Вы все слишком агрессивно настроены. Гомосексуализм уже тысячи лет запрещали и преследовали. За это долгое время было предусмотрено уголовное наказание. Неужели для вас не урок то, что все это ничего не изменило? Некоторые люди рождаются с другой сексуальной ориентацией и этого не изменишь. А “психологи”, называющие гомосексуализм психическим недугом, кретины-недоучки.

You are all too aggressive. Homosexuality has been banned and persecuted for thousands of years. There was even criminal persecution of homosexuals. Isn't the fact that all this persecution has not changed anything a good lesson for you? Some people are born with a different sexual orientation, and this cannot be changed. As for “psychologists” that call homosexuality a psychiatric disease, they are poorly-educated idiots.

Some netizens suggested that homosexuals should not be considered part of Tajik society. Firdavs wrote [tj]: 

Мардум илтимос калимахои Точик ва Точикистон набьерен вакте ки дар бораи педико сухбат меравад. Онхо точик нестану аз точикистон не. Магар хар як хайвона точик гуем мо?

People, please, do not use the words “Tajik” and “Tajikistan” when you talk about faggots. They are neither Tajiks nor from Tajikistan. Should we call every animal Tajik?

Benom agreed [tj]:

Man Firdavs kati 100% roziam. In kunteho tojik neand. Ino odam ham neand.

I [fully] support Firdavs. Those faggots are not Tajik. They are not human beings, either.

A group of netizens has condemned the very discussion about gay issues in Tajikistan. Under Radio Ozodi's story, for example, several readers asked the editors to remove the material from the website in order to “save the image” of the country. On Blogiston.tj, Vali ibn Vali said [tj]:

Hamin bahsoya bas kuneton, bacho! Gomiko hamash haroman. Va agar kase tarafoshona megiradu ghamashona mehurad unam harom hisob meshad. 

Stop these discussions, guys! Faggots are all haram [sinful, unclean]. When someone supports them or cares for them, this person is also considered haram.

Responding to more criticisms and suggestions that gays should “keep it to themselves” and seek psychiatric treatment, Drugoi wrote [ru]:

Вы поймите, что мы существуем, мы не аномалия или болезнь, мы такие же люди, как и вы все. И мы имеем право на достойную жизнь.

You should understand that we exist; we are not an anomaly or disease; we are human beings just like you. And we have the right to a dignified life.

February 21 2014

Tajikistan's Tastiest Blogs

Tajik plov. Image from vk.com/taomtj, used with permission.

Tajik plov. Image from vk.com/taomtj, used with permission.

There are three blogs in Tajikistan that are a must read for anyone interested in Tajik cuisine.

Tajik Restaurant [Tarabkhonai Tojiki] [tj] shares cook-it-yourself videos and recipes of popular Tajik dishes. Suhailo's Cooking Diary [Daftari pukhtu-pazhoi Suhailo] [tj] teaches its readers to bake pastries popular in the country. Finally, Osh Khona [ru] offers detailed reviews of the best places to eat plov in Tajikistan. 

There is also the Tajikistan Cuisine [Taomhoi millii Tojikiston] [ru] public page on VKontakte, where hundreds of users share yummy recipes, pictures, and videos.

Warning: when you access these sources, be prepared to see much, much meat as Tajik cuisine is not for vegetarians.

Kyrgyz MPs Explain Themselves Over a Prayer Room in Parliament

The recent opening of an Islamic prayer room in the Kyrgyz parliament has triggered a heated online debate about the boundaries between the state and religion in the Central Asian country. Responding to criticisms, MPs designed and circulated among journalists and bloggers a six-page document suggesting that prayer houses in parliament or government buildings were common across countries.

Kloop.kg provides [tj] the full text of the document, claiming that it is the “first time” that the country's parliamentarians make such an effort to explain themselves publicly.

February 20 2014

“They Fell Our Souls and Memory”: Felling of Trees Draws Anger in Tajikistan

Whenever the authorities in Dushanbe launch a new redevelopment project or simply repair a road, they start by felling trees. Over the last decade, Tajikistan's capital has lost thousands of trees, mainly decades-old sycamores. The big trees once lined Dushanbe's major walkways and roads, providing much-needed shade in the city where summer temperatures often reach 40 degrees Celsius. In an apparent attempt to give the capital a more “modern” look, municipal authorities are replacing the felled sycamores with ornamental trees and small conifers.

The felling of trees has accelerated since mid-2013 as the authorities launched a major redevelopment effort in central Dushanbe. This has angered many social media users who feel that decades-old trees are an important part of the city's outlook and its ecosystem. 

Sobir Kurbanov, one of the individuals affected by the development, wrote [ru] on the Facebook page “Ya Dushanbinec” [I am a Dushanbe Resident] on December 15:

[Не]когда тенистая и красивая, украшенная высокими чинарами улица Чехова полностью уничтожена дорожными строителями. Специальную технику даже завезли. Ни одного дерева не пожалели, все вырубили под молчаливое согласие жителей столицы. Никто даже не пытался выражать несогласие. Когда там закончат однозначно приступят к парку вокруг оперки и вырубят все деревья у прилегающих улиц вокруг оперки, и так далее. А последним аккордом станет уничтожение деревьев по проспекту и улице Рудаки. И тогда превратится наш город в пустыню с широкими новыми улицами. Не дай Аллах мэрии города решить начать ремонт улицы там где вы живете, хотя всех это коснется рано или поздно…

Road workers have fully destroyed the once shady and beautiful Chekhov Street [in central Dushanbe], which was once lined by high sycamore trees. They used the special equipment [to fell the trees]. They didn't pity a single tree; they cut each and every tree with a silent consent of people living in the capital. There was not a single attempt to resist that. When they finish their job [on the Chekhov Street], they will certainly start felling trees in the park surrounding the [Opera and Ballet Theater] and will cut all the trees along streets adjacent to the theater. Their last move will be to fell all trees along the Rudaki avenue. This will turn our city into a desert with new and broad roads. God save you from the city mayor's office deciding to repair a road on your street, although this will affect all of us sooner or later.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Chekhov Street in Dushanbe after all the sycamores that lined it were cut. Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Image by Shah Mardon, used with permission.

Artyom Geivandov commented [ru] angrily:

Вот дэбилы! Они хотят превратить Душанбе в пустыню?!

Such idiots! Do they want to turn Dushanbe into a desert?!

Chekhov Street is not the only part of central Dushanbe affected by redevelopment and deforestation. Parvina Ibodova writes [ru] about a similar situation affecting another neighborhood in the city:

…месяц назад к нам (ул.Турсунзаде, напротив роддома №1) пришли ответственные лица Хукумата и сказали, что будут обустраивать наш двор, то есть будут строить спорт и детскую площадку.радости нашей не было предела. но потом, как и водится, пришло огорчение. для того что б построить эти прелести, оказалось нужно было вырубить все наши деревья, чинары, которым по 25-35 лет. мы пытались предотвратить это, ходили и в мэрию города и к председателю нашего района. потом они приходили к нам, ругались, доказывали и т.д. но они говорят одно “Это Генплан и ничего не изменить”… 

мы даже решили отказаться от этих планов у нас до дворе, что б спасти деревья, но…дошло до того, что в минувшую субботу кроме всех чиновников и работников, переворачивающих наш двор с ног на голову, также направил наряд милиции человек 10-12) что мы не мешали рубить деревья…

…about a month ago representatives from the [Dushanbe mayor's office] came to our neighborhood (Tursunzade Street, across the First Maternity Hospital) to tell us that they were going to redevelop our yard and build a new athletic field and a playground there. we were happy. but the happiness was gone soon. it turned out that in order to build all those facilities, they had to fell all our trees, the sycamores that were between 25 and 35 years old. we tried to prevent them from doing so. we went to talk to the mayor's office [and other officials]. then, they came to talk to us, argued with us, tried to prove their point… they all said one thing, “This is part of the General City [Reconstruction] Plan. Nothing can be changed”…

we decided to protect the trees in our yard. but last Saturday, in addition to all the officials and workers rebuilding our yard, they sent a group of police officers (10 to 12 persons) to prevent us from interfering with the felling of trees… 

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Sycamores cut on Tursunzade Street in Dushanbe. Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Image by Parvina Ibodova, used with permission.

Contributing to the discussion on Facebook, Said Negmatulloyev suggested [ru] a way to stop the felling of trees:

Если посадить один саженец, то будет больше на одно дерево. 
Если посадить одного лесоруба, рубящего незаконно, то будет больше на сотню деревьев. 
А если посадить одного чиновника, позволяющего рубить деревья незаконно — будет больше на тысячи деревьев. 
Сажайте правильно!

If you plant one sapling tree, the number of trees in the world will increase by one.
If you put in jail one lumberjack cutting trees illegally, the number of trees will increase by one hundred.
And if you put in jail one official who allows others to cut trees illegally, the number of trees will increase by thousands.
Plant [put in jail] the right way!

[Note: word play here; Russian word "sazhat'" means both "to plant" and "to put in jail"]

Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan blog suggests [ru] that the felling of trees is part of a much broader project by the authorities aimed at remodeling the country and its citizenry:

А ведь это не просто преображение одной отдельной улицы. Посмотрите на ландшафт Душанбе в общем, на то, как он изменился за последнее десятилетие. Город лишили его гордости – тысяч чинар, которые когда-то дарили душанбинцам летнюю прохладу и свежий воздух.

Что у нас остается? Остается уродливый город, ни чем не отличающийся от других городов бывшего Советского Союза. Да, есть много новых помпезных зданий, наляпанных китайцами многоэтажек – но все это не красит город. Старые здания, благодаря которым Душанбе был уютным местом, тоже под снос. В завершение ко всему переименовали все улицы…

Новые памятники, новые названия, безликая архитектура…

This is not just a transformation of a single street. Look at the landscape of Dushanbe and the way it has changed over the last decade. The city has been deprived of its pride, thousands of sycamore trees that used to provide the residents of Dushanbe with fresh air and summer shade.

What do we have left? We have an ugly city that is no different from other cities of the former Soviet Union. Yes, there are many new and pompous buildings, multi-storey houses [built] by the Chinese – but these do not adorn the city. The old buildings that made Dushanbe such a cozy place are also being demolished. On top of this, they have renamed all the streets…

New monuments, new names, faceless architecture…

The blog adds [ru]:

Они не просто вырубают чинары. Они не просто меняют ландшафт города. Они лишают Душанбе его души. Они хотят поменять нас, сделать из нас других людей, с другими идеями и ценностями. Они лепят из нас, как из глины, новых людей нового Таджикистана. А все, что осталось от того Таджикистана, который мы знали и любили, они выжигают каленым железом.

Вырубая чинары, они вырубают наши души и память. Они вырубают старый добрый Таджикистан.

They do not just fell the sycamores. They do not just alter the city's landscape. They deprive Dushanbe of its soul. They want to change us, turn us into a different kind of people, with a different set of ideas and values. They are molding us, as if we were clay, into a new people of a new Tajikistan. And they root out mercilessly all that is left from the Tajikistan we used to know and love.

By felling sycamore trees, they fell our souls and memory. They fell the good old Tajikistan.

February 19 2014

Soviet-era Monuments and Slogans in Tajik Capital “Should Stay”

Over the last two decades, the authorities in Dushanbe have dismantled most of the Soviet-era monuments and huge political slogans on rooftops which had all been an important feature of the cityscape before 1991. However, as Radio Ozodi reports [tj], Tajikistan's capital has preserved a handful of Soviet statues, slogans, and signs [see all photos].

Blogger writing on Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan suggests [ru] that these “remnants” of the Soviet period should stay:

I believe that all these symbols, monuments, bas-reliefs, and signs should be preserved. More than that, we need to take a good care of them and ensure their proper maintenance. It is not about some kind of nostalgia or love for the Soviet past. No. It is more about the fact that all these “remnants” of the Soviet epoch could become important tourist attractions.

The blogger also proposes to keep signs with the Soviet-era street names in the capital and place the monuments that have been dismantled in museums.

And under Ozodi's story, Mansur comments [tj]:

The symbols and signs left from the USSR should not be taken down, for they are important historical evidence reminding us of our great past…

The President That Could Not Stand His “Stan”

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev wants to rename his country Kazak Yeli (Kazakh People), dropping a “stan” suffix synonymous with obscurity, human rights abuses, post-Soviet corruption and Borat. 

According to the “Leader of the Nation”, one of the many titles the 22-year president has had bestowed on him by a pliant political elite, such a shift will change international perceptions of the country and distance it from its poorer, less secure stan-ending neighbors.

During a working visit to Atyrau last week, the president was quoted as saying [ru]: 

В названии нашей страны есть окончание «стан», как и у других государств Центральной Азии. В то же время иностранцы проявляют интерес к Монголии, население которой составляет всего два миллиона человек, при этом в ее названии отсутствует окончание «стан». Возможно, надо рассмотреть со временем вопрос перехода на название нашей страны «Қазақ елі», но прежде следует обязательно обсудить это с народом

In our country's name, there is this ‘stan’ ending which other Central Asian nations have as well. But, for instance, foreigners show interest in Mongolia, whose population is just two million people, but whose name lacks the ‘stan’ ending. Probably, we ought to consider with time the issue of adopting Kazak Yeli as the name of our country, but before that, we definitely need to discuss this with the people.

But discussing things with the people is not Nazarbayev's speciality. In June Last year Global Voices reported on an innovative online reaction to state attempts to increase the pension age for women, a move that came as a nasty shock to female citizens. Last week the country announced a 19% devaluation in its national currency, the tenge – another unpleasant surprise to the average Kazakhstani. Small protests against the devaluation have resulted in arrests.

Changing to Kazakh Eli on the stamps will certainly cost money.  Moreover, in light of Kazakhstan's recent decision to devalue the national currency, the stamp will be worth less than it was before.

Changing “Kazakhstan” to “Kazakh Eli” on postage stamps will certainly cost public money. Moreover, in light of Kazakhstan's recent decision to devalue the national currency, the stamp will be worth less than it was previously (Wiki Commons).

Territorially Central Asia's largest republic, Kazakhstan is rich in oil. The country has consistently been the subject of human rights organizations’ criticisms, with Human Rights Watch recently accusing president Nursultan Nazarbaev’s regime of torture, censorship, and the persecution of political opponents. (Less serious accusations may now emerge from Mongolia, a country Kazakhstan almost borders, and one whose population is actually closer to 3 million people than 2 million.)

Nazarbayev has spent a sizable cut of the country's oil wealth on improving the country's image, especially in the wake of the 2006 release of British-American mockumentary/comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The movie, which was filmed in Romania, enjoyed massive commercial success in the West, portraying Kazakhstan as a country where people drink horse urine and where national pastimes include rape, incest and shooting dogs. The film also highlighted the republic's sibling rivalry with another notorious stan, Uzbekistan. One of Kazakhstan's most famous image-makers has been former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

A done deal?

To listen to politicians in the country's weak parliament, one might think the “Kazak Yeli” public discussion referenced by Nazarbayev had already taken place. One MP in the Kazakh Majlis, Jumatay Aliev, said [ru] the president and the people's voice were one: 

 Если что-то президент говорит, он опирается уже на сложившееся мнение. Народ этого хочет, и мы должны идти к этому, иначе нельзя. Это желание народа.

If president says something, he bases on the existing opinion of people…People want it, and we need to move to that direction, otherwise it is impossible. This is the will of people.

Commenting under the article quoting Aliev, kzp-astn begged to differ [ru]:

Откуда вы берете это – “Народ этого хочет”? Кого то конкретно спрашивали? Меня, тебя, твоих родителей, братьев, сестер, может кого то из ваших коллег? Может сосед ваш пришел и сказал, мое мнение спросили я ответил что согласен! Лично я против переименования, и все мои знакомые тоже против!

Where do you get this – “People want it”? Did they ask anybody specifically? Me, you, your parents, brothers, sisters, maybe some of your colleagues?  Perhaps, your neighbor came and said he had been asked for an opinion and had agreed! I personally am against renaming, and all my acquaintances are as well!

Another user of popular Russian-language social network VKontakte Artur Pilipets, tried [ru] to get a feel for the suggested name:

-Откуда ты?
-С Казах ели.
-Где это???
-В Казахстане.

- Where are you from?

- From Kazak Yeli.

- Where is it???

- In Kazakhstan.

While regional commentator @randomdijit tweeted mischievously:

@pashab05 went further, offering new names for Uzbekistan, based on the stage name for President Islam Karimov's pop star daughter, and Kyrgyzstan, based on the country's Manas epos:

Humor aside, the re-brand proposal earned a mixed reaction from the person on the street when Radio Free Europe's Kazakh service  began Nazarbayev's promised public discussion on the dictator's behalf. Some people saw the need to dump “stan” but didn't think Kazak Yeli had much of a ring, while a Russian-speaking citizen objected to Kazak Yeli on the grounds that it further emphasized one nationality in this multinational Central Asian state.

Mostly, support for the change has come from patriots who see it as an opportunity to make a clean brake from the Soviet Union. One netizen, Саят (Sayat) led the rallying cry [kz]:

Шет елдіктер Стан дегенін талай естігенім бар. Қашанғы Стан боламыз , ойланайық ағайын . Алға Қазақ елі!

I heard many times foreigners calling us Stan. For how long shall we remain Stan, let us come to our senses, gentlemen. Forward, Kazakh people [Kazak Yeli]!

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

February 14 2014

Kazakhstan Gets Its First Medal in Sochi

Kazakhstan got its first-ever Olympic medal in figure skating, with Denis Ten taking the bronze in Sochi today. Ten finished third in men's figure skating, behind Patrick Chan of Canada and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. With this bronze, Kazakhstan has become the first Central Asian nation to win a medal at the Sochi Olympics so far.

Here are some of the initial reactions to Ten's medal on Twitter:

Hooray! Congratulations to @Tenis_Den and the entire Kazakhstan on this bronze!

Ten! Our first medal! Hooray!

Denis!!!! Kazakhstan!!!! )))))) Well-done!!! I am wordless.

Kazakhstan is triumphant! Finally! #patriot #Kazakhstan

We are proud of Denis Ten) Thanks a lot! We believe that only gold [medals] will come in future. Go Kazakhstan!

Well-done, Denis Ten. Kazakhstan is proud of you!!!

Congratulations on your big victory! Third place is a big victory. Thanks from all of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan took bronze in figure skating!!! I am sooo happy that I can't believe myself))) This is what the Motherland means!)

So, we have the first medal! Who comes next? #GoKazakhstan

Congratulations to Kazakhstan on its first medal… Well-done, Denis… We believed in you))))

Kazakhstan is not sleeping! Kazakhstan is celebrating and feeling triumphant! Good that it is Saturday tomorrow.

I didn't watch [Ten's] victory today, but thanks to Instagram and Twitter, I can feel the happiness that has united all of Kazakhstan.

Borat references

Many reactions from Twitter users outside the country have included references to Borat, a 2006 mockumentary comedy film that introduced millions of people around the world to Kazakhstan.

Despite Bans, Central Asians Observe Valentine's Day

Central Asian countries have a special relationship with Valentine's Day. While some nations in the region embrace the holiday that has become popular in recent years, other countries ban or try to replace it with more “authentic” local celebrations.

Global Voices has reported about social media debates related to Valentine's Day in Tajikistan, where one third of people celebrate the holiday according to a recent survey. Below is a brief overview of how Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have observed February 14 this year.

Kazakhstan

The authorities in Kazakhstan are generally much more tolerant towards new holidays and traditions than their neighbors in the region. Kazakhs are free to celebrate Valentine's Day as they wish. As in many other countries, however, social media users argue about whether the holiday should be celebrated. Responding to frequent portrayals of Valentine's Day as a holiday that contradicts Islam, blogger Ainura Rai asserts [ru] that the holiday has a “secular character” and, therefore, does not run against any religious conviction. Another blogger, Kuanushbek Zhakparov, agrees that “the day of love” is a secular holiday but contends [ru] that Valentine's Day is an “evil” capitalist phenomenon promoted by companies that make money by selling cards, flowers, and other love-themed products. Other bloggers discuss [ru] inexpensive gifts that people could give their loved ones on February 14.

Meanwhile, in the northern Kazakh city of Kostanai, traffic police has used the holiday as an opportunity to improve its image among drivers:

In Kostanai, police officers presented drivers with Valentine's Day Cards.

An unusual group of police officers was on duty at the Abay Avenue, near TSUM, today. Drivers did not expect such a surprise from police officers.

On the Day of Love, [police officers] gave drivers Valentine's Day Cards and gifts from insurance companies.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has joined the list of “enemies of Valentine's Day” this year. Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a member of Kyrgyz parliament (who has been calling for a ban on Valentine's Day for several years now) recently called February 14 a “holiday from the devil”. The authorities in the southern city of Osh have banned the observance of Valentine's Day in schools, arguing that the “holiday of love is a bad influence on children’s morality.” Education officials have suggested that schoolchildren should instead observe the Family Day on February 15.

This has not stopped young Kyrgyzstanis from celebrating, however. Blogger Bektour Iskender reports [ru] that students in several school in Osh did organize Valentine's Day events. Similar events were held in many schools and universities across the country. On kloop.kg, blogger Darya Solovyova shares [ru] gift ideas for Valentine's Day.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has been more aggressive than its neighbors in trying to root out celebrations of Valentine's Day. For several years now, the country's authorities have been trying to convince people to celebrate February 14 as the birthday of Mohammed Zahiriddin Babur, the Uzbek people's “great ancestor”. 

The birthday of Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur is celebrated today.

This year, the authorities have stepped up their campaign against Valentine's Day. Officials at a number of universities in the country have forced students to sign contracts affirming that they will not observe “the day of love”. A traditional February 14 concert by a popular Uzbek pop singer has been cancelled. In many mosques throughout Uzbekistan, mullahs have denounced Valentine's Day during Friday sermons as a “harmful holiday that contradicts both Islam and local traditions”.

Despite these restrictions, however, some people in Uzbekistan have celebrated Valentine's Day. On Facebook and Odnoklassniki, many Uzbekistani users congratulated their followers or shared love-themed images and electronic cards. 

“Celebrating Valentine's Day Is a Direct Way to Hell” in Tajikistan

According to a recent survey [tj], one out of three residents of Tajikistan are celebrating Valentine's Day today. Although these findings seem a little bit exaggerated for the country as a whole, they do appear to be accurate for the country's main cities. Over the last two decades, many young Tajikistanis have embraced the tradition of giving their loved ones cards, red roses, and other love-themed presents.

However, similarly to some other holidays such as Halloween or New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day struggles to gain broader acceptance in Tajikistan. During the week before February 14, social media users in the country argued about whether or not “the day of love” should be celebrated.

Many Facebooka nd Odnoklassniki users in Tajikistan have shared this image today. The text reads:

Many Facebook and Odnoklassniki users in Tajikistan have shared this image today. The text reads: “Comprade! Don't give in to the bourgeois crap! February 14 is an ordinary day!”. The image originates in Russian-language social media.

Some netizens contend that the holiday has no place in a Muslim society. For instance, on blogiston.tj, Vatandust writes [tj]:

Бародарону хоҳарони тоҷик. Нодониста намонед ки ҷашн гирифтани валентин роҳи рост ба ҷаҳаннам. Боре дар бораи кӯдакотон фикр кунед. Имруз шумо валентин ҷашн мегиред – фардо онҳо бо хайвонот алоқаи ҷинсӣ мегиран.

Tajik brothers and sisters, you should know that celebrating Valentine's Day is a direct way to hell. Think about your children. Today you celebrate Valentine's Day – and tomorrow they will have sex with animals.

Siyovush adds [tj]:

Иди занону валентину ва гайра хамаш як сафсата каме нест!!! Чаро лубой иди гарбиву русиро чашн мегиред??? Идхои точики исломи дорем бас нест??? Агар форадатон брен ба Москва ё Амрико ва унчо чашн гирен чизе ки хохен. Диндорои точик бояд ба мардум фахмонан таърихи валентин чиву маънош чи. Хукумат бошад бояд фуруши валентинкахову хар як бозичахои дилдорро манъ кунад.

Women's Day, Valentine's Day – these are all nothing but nonsense!!! Why do you have to celebrate every western or Russian holiday??? We have Tajik and Islamic holidays. Aren't they enough? If you want, go to Moscow or [United States] and celebrate whatever you like there. Tajik religious leaders should explain the history and meaning of Valentine's Day to people. The government should ban the selling of love-themed cards and toys.

Under an article on ozodi.org, Muhammadi claims [tj]:

Вокеъан, агар ҷавонони тоҷик ки будани Валентинро медонистанд, аз тачлили ин рӯз даст мекашиданд.

Indeed, if Tajik young people only knew who [Saint] Valentine was, they would not mark this day.

While Sham asks [tj]:

Магар хамон кавми Валентину Иванову балову бадтар идхои моро чашн мегиранд, ки шумо ба онхо пайрави мекунед??? Боре дидаед,ки онхо иди рамазону курбон чашн гиранд???

Why do you imitate Valentine and Ivanov [common Russian surname] folks when they don't celebrate our holidays??? Have you ever seen them celebrating Idi Ramazon [Eid al-Fitr] or Idi Qurbon [Eid al-Adha]???

On Twitter, @onlytajikistan mentions some stereotypes associated with the holiday:

However, many people in Tajikistan do not see a problem in celebrating Valentine's Day. Khusrav sees [tj] the holiday as part of a global culture:

Мо хохем ё нахохем дар ин дунёи глобали одату маданияти гарб ба расму одатхои мо таъсири худро мерасонанд. Хозир давраи озодии фикру рафтор шудааст ва на мулло ва на вазири фархангу маърифат пеши ин корхо шуда наметавонад.

Whether we want it or not, western culture and traditions have an impact on our cultural practices in this globalized world. We live in the time of freedom of thought and freedom of behavior, and neither mullahs nor Minister of Culture can prevent this.

Mila writes [tj]:

Charo ki in ruzro jash nagirem? Kase oshiqu mashuq hast marhamat metawonand jakdigarro dar in ruzi oshiqon khursand namoyand, wa mekhostam dinro ba in mawzu omekhta nakuned!

Why shouldn't we celebrate this holiday? Those who are in love can make each other happy on this day. I would also like to [ask everyone] not to link this topic to religion.

Meanwhile, on blogiston.tj, netizens put together [ru] lists of best romantic movies to watch on Valentine's Day and discuss [ru] different ways of celebrating the day. Tomiris congratulates the readers of her blog, writing [ru]:

Всех с этим замечательным праздником! Любите и будьте любимыми! Любовь делает этот мир прекраснее!

I would like to congratulate everyone on this wonderful day! Love and be loved! Love makes this world a better place!

Tajikistan is not the only country where debates about the appropriateness of celebrating Valentine's Day have occurred. Some countries have banned the holiday. In the neighboring country of Uzbekistan, the authorities force students to sign contracts affirming that they will not celebrate the holiday. In Kyrgyzstan, officials in the southern city of Osh have banned the celebration of the holiday in schools. A Kyrgyz MP has even called [ru] Valentine's Day a “Devil's Holiday”.

February 13 2014

Did Turkmenistan Get Cold Feet Before the Sochi Winter Olympics?

There were many plans to send a team from Turkmenistan to the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, but none of them materialized.

“We will certainly take advantage of the Russian invitation to take part in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, for which it is necessary to begin the appropriate preparations already today,” President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov said back in 2007. 

In the event, Turkmens awaiting the appearance of their national team in Sochi saw only their president at the star-studded opening ceremony. 

CA all

President Berdymuhamedov (top left corner) greets Kazakh athletes.
Caption from BBC coverage of the opening ceremony.

Turkmen netizens have been fairly active in their discussion of the Sochi Olympics. On etir.com, a micro-blogging service, many expressed a sense of envy towards the President, as well as surprise not to see a single participant from Turkmenistan. ‘A MEMORY' comments [tr]:

Ýa nesip!

Lucky him!

Berdymuhamedov, who has taken a back seat in the sporting stakes ever since an infamous face-plant took the sheen off an otherwise uncontested victory in a horse race back in Ashkhabad, pleased many by attending the games in a business suit rather than a sport suit. NepesX joked [tr]:

yarysha gatnasmasa bolyala

as long as he doesn’t participate in the race, it’s alright

At the same time visitors to the opposition website chrono-tm stressed the deterioration of the country's youth as the main reason for the absence of Turkmen athletes at the Olympics.

‘Sochustvushii’ [Сочувствующий] comments [ru]:

А кого посылать вся молодёж сидит на норкате тесты на употребление допинга из туркмении никто не пройдёт

There is no one to send [to the Olympics]. All young people use drugs. No one in Turkmenistan will pass the doping tests.

Turkmenistan had built a fine winter stadium in 2011, and seemed on the cusp of entering their first winter games, so their non-entry is even more perplexing.

Jorabay asked [ru] hopefully:

Pochemu turkmenskix hockeistow ne otpravit’ w sleduyuschiy raz — w 2018 godu?

Why not send Turkmen hockey players for next Olympics in 2018?

And ‘lale' took solace [ru] in the country's hotter climate:

Zima y nas teplaya …vot pochemy nety spotsmenov k zimney Olimpiade,

Our winter is warm…this is why we have no winter athletes.

‘Anonim’ [Аноним] disagrees:

скоро подрастут фигуристы и хоккеисты …. а так больше не вижу ни в каких вида спорта переспектив

 Soon our figure skaters and hockey players will come of age…Other than that I don't see any other promising types of sports [for us].

Turkmenistan has a sport and health-oriented public policy. The country is preparing to hold the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and is building an Olympic Village. The country’s ambitions also include hosting the Asian games and Olympics in 2023.

These occasions would certainly give the country with the fourth largest gas reserves in the world a chance to show off its wealth, but one gets the impression that for all the records he has won in his own country, what President Berdymuhamedov craves more than anything else in the world is that elusive Turkmen Olympic medal. So far the republic's forgettable record at the games reads: Entered 5, Won 0. 

February 12 2014

An “Increasingly Uncertain” Future for Central Asia's Fergana Valley

On the Caravanistan blog, Cycloscope writes about radioactive landfill sites in the Fergana Valley, a region “absurdly divided between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan”:

Unaware of the dangers of radioactivity, the locals take the equipment in the old abandoned mines and sell them as scrap, risking not only their own lives but also the spread of radioactivity. A further problem is the use of rock from landfills as a building material for houses and roads.

The threat coming from radioactive waste is aggravated by unsettled borders, water scarcity, and a history of ethnic riots, making the future of the region “increasingly uncertain”.

February 11 2014

“Vegetarianism Equals Evil” in Tajikistan

It is one thing when locals tell about their cuisine. It is a completely different thing when people visiting a country share opinions about local food. 

A foreigner tweeting under @onlytajikistan has become popular among Tajikistanis and people interested in Tajikistan on Twitter since his first post in October 2013. In addition to describing things this person finds strange or unique about the country, @onlytajikistan tells his followers about Tajik food and about the way the country has changed him from a vegetarian to meat eater.

Below is just a handful of tweets by @onlytajikistan. For more, follow him on Twitter.

Note: All images are used with the author's permission.

Tajik Team at Olympics Opening Ceremony Included a Russian “Tourist”

Following the Olympics opening ceremony, many people in Tajikistan were shocked to find out [ru] that one of the individuals who walked into the ceremony in Sochi alongside Tajik athletes under their nation's flag had little to do with the country. Vladimir Vladimirov, a Russian entrepreneur and member of a municipal assembly, wore the Tajik team's outfit and waved the country's flag as he walked into the stadium where the event was held with an athlete and several officials from Tajikistan.

In an angry outburst on LJ, Icekandar writes [ru]:

Pardon my French, but this is a total f**k-up!!! Letting some foreigner walk with our country's athletes behind our flag is much worse than all that crap that everyone ridicules us for. Only a very miserable country could stoop so low. We always feel insulted when they laugh at us, and when Russian media portray us as uneducated savages. But perhaps we deserve such treatment? Which other country showcases foreign tourists instead of its own athletes at the Olympic Games? Which mother-f**ker gave a Tajikistan team's outfit to this Russian? And why the f**k did this all happen under the president's nose as he waved his hand at our athletes with a happy smile?..

“Dreamlike Kyrgyzstan” As Seen by a Photographer

Kloop.kg presents [ru] a collection of photos from “dreamlike Kyrgyzstan” by Russian photographer Danil Korzhonov.

Image from kloop.kg, used with permission.

Image from kloop.kg, used with permission.

February 10 2014

Tajik Bloggers Ask to Meet With President

Every year, the president of Tajikistan meets with selected members of the national intelligentsia in Dushanbe, in late March. These meetings normally feature long speeches by the president followed by endless praise of his work and his answers to carefully scripted questions from the audience. 

As the authorities begin [ru] putting together a list of “intellectuals” to attend this year's meeting with the country's leader, Tajikistani bloggers ask to be invited, too. Shukufa writes [ru]:

We should try and push [the officials] to send invitations to a couple of bloggers who would ask the president real questions. We could discuss the list of real and most pressing questions here [on blogiston.tj], on Facebook, [or other social media sites]. Bloggers are a real force, although the authorities do not understand it yet. We should help them understand this.

Russian Chronicles of Tajikistan, Tomiris, and Digital Tajikistan have supported Shukufa's initiative by re-posting her call on their blogs.

February 09 2014

Tajikistan: Welcome to the “Facebook Republic of Pitzostan”

A government committee in charge of enforcing language regulations in Tajikistan has recently caused many laughs by insisting that the word “pizza” should be replaced with “pitzo” on restaurant signs in the country's capital. According to the committee's chair, “pitzo” sounds more “Tajik”.

The announcement has earned the committee a lot of ridicule from social media users. Facebook users have even launched a new public group, “Pitzostan,” where users ridicule language innovations and funny mistakes on signs and advertisements. They also discuss a possibility of creating “the independent Facebook Republic of Pitzostan”.

February 08 2014

“What the Hell Is Tajikistan? Why Do They Even Exist?”

Tajikistan is a small and relatively young country unknown to many people throughout the world. Tajikistan Monitor writes:

The opening ceremony for this year’s Winter Olympics gave me an opportunity to monitor people’s online reactions to watching team Tajikistan enter the Sochi stadium. Below are just some of the most typical reactions, in English and some other languages… These tweets show that Tajikistan is still an obscure “one-of-those-stans” or “it-is-Russia-right?” countries for most people in western countries.

The blog features several dozen of such tweets, including the likes of “What the hell is Tajikistan?” and “Why do they even exist?”.

Meanwhile, NagaBlogging offers five reasons why people outside the country should know about Tajikistan. 

Note: Tajikistan Monitor blog is run by the author of this story.

Patients in Uzbekistan “Have Nobody to Rely on Except for God”

On Registan.net, Gulnoza Saidazimova paints a bleak picture of the healthcare system in Uzbekistan (part onepart two):

[The system is so inadequate and outdated that] a wealthy few head to foreign countries for medical treatment, drawing on their own savings and often those of their close relatives, whereas the majority poor can only hope not to get sick. They have nobody to rely on except for God.

Three Main Blogging Platforms in Kazakhstan

Mr Wow! introduces [ru] the three most popular domestic blogging platforms in Kazakhstan:

A decent and law-abiding blogger in Kazakhstan inhabits one of the three reserves: Yvision [yvision.kz], Gonzo[gonzo.kz], or Horde [horde.me]. 

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