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February 24 2014

February 21 2014

February 19 2014

February 14 2014

“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 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”.

January 29 2014

‘Good Girls’ Don't Use Social Media Sites in Tajikistan

Sexist bullying and harassment of girls and women is widespread on social media sites in Tajikistan, according to Radio Ozodi [tj] (Tajik service of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). The problem has to do with a strongly-held stereotype that female social media users are sexually promiscuous. On Odnoklassniki, the most popular social network in the country, girls routinely encounter abusive and sexist comments, Radio Ozodi reports. As a result, female users change their real names and profile images to fake ones, limit what the public sees about their profiles, or leave the social network altogether. 

Interestingly, comments under the report show that many Internet users in Tajikistan believe that “good girls” should not use social media. In a comment typical of many others, Nurik writes [tj]:

Хубтараш духтархои точик, однокласникро истифода набаранд.

It would be better if Tajik girls did not use Odnoklassniki.

January 24 2014

“Real Patriots Choose Patriotic Names” in Tajikistan

In the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, a person's name is no longer a private matter. The country's authorities insist that a name is also an indication of the degree of patriotism of its bearer.

Slavic-style surnames

When the Soviet union disintegrated in 1991, the majority of people in Tajikistan had Slavic-style surnames ending in “ov” and “ev” (or “ova” and “eva”) and patronymics ending in “ovich” and “evich” (or “ovna” and “evna”). In 2007, however, in an attempt to emphasize a break with the Russian cultural dominance, Tajikistan's president Emomali Sharipovich Rahmonov dropped the patronymic and the “ov” from the end of his surname, becoming Emomali Rahmon. He also urged the country's parents to register their children with “proper” Tajik names. Many officials followed Rahmon's suit, dropping patronymics and Slavic endings from their last names.

2005,_Tajikistan_Passport

Many Tajiks who dropped Slavic-style endings from their surnames in passports have now gone back to those surnames. Wikimedia Commons image.

Many ordinary Tajiks, however, have been reluctant to part with the Slavic-style surnames. Some people did not see the need to change their names. Others felt that changing a name required too much bureaucratic hassle and under-the-table payments.

Besides, many of those who dropped their surname endings soon regretted doing so. One to 1.5 million Tajiks work in Russia, sending home money that is essential for keeping at least half of the country's population out of poverty. As competition for vital jobs in Russia increased and harassment from police and immigration officials became a norm, Tajik workers did not fail to notice that those of them who kept the Slavic “ov” endings were treated better [ru] than those who changed their names. This prompted [tj] many Tajiks to go back to their Slavic-sounding names.

“Unpatriotic” surnames

It appears that the Tajiks’ unwillingness to embrace the “authentic” national surnames continues to worry the authorities. In a recent report, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General Sherkhon Salimzoda claimed [tj] that people's reluctance to drop Slavic endings in their surnames demonstrated “low levels of national consciousness and patriotism”. Salimzoda's report, published in the official government newspaper Jumhuriyat on January 18, notes that during the past three years, more than 500 students in three Dushanbe-based universities went back to Slavic-style surnames, while only two students chose to drop Slavic-sounding names. It is worth noting that Salimzoda himself was known as Salimov before be changed his surname in 2007.

The official's statement caused a stir among the country's social media users. Most netizens felt that Salimzoda went too far by suggesting that a surname cleansed of an “alien” ending is a sign of patriotism. Blogger Rishdor wrote [ru]:

Кто-то может ему наконец объяснить чем именно должен заниматься прокурор и чем он не должен заниматься? Вообще куда эти чиновники лезут? Как называть детей это решают родители и семья. У государства никто не спрашивает. Они итак все на свете регулируют. Может еще издадут приказ со списком патриотичных имен из которых родители должны выбирать? Не будет такого никогда. Выбирать имя себе и ребенку это наше право.

Если ты поменял свое имя и стал вместо Салимов Салимзода то это не значит что ты стал патриотом. С чего ты взял что условный Салимов или даже Иванов не может быть больше патриотом, чем Салимзода? Фамилия не показатель ничего. Поставь себе фамилию хотя Хайям хоть Рудаки хоть Сомони от этого ты как человек не изменишься. Дерьмо остается дерьмом даже без окончания “-ов”.

Will someone please clarify for him [Salimzoda] what a prosecutor's job is and what he should not get involved in? What are these officials trying to mess with anyway? It is up to parents and families to decide how they name children. Nobody asks the state for advice on this. They regulate everything anyway. Would they perhaps issue a decree listing all patriotic names that parents must choose from? This will never happen. It is our right to choose names for ourselves and our children.

Changing your name from Salimov to Salimzoda does not make you a patriot. What makes you think that someone named Salimov or even Ivanov cannot be a truer patriot than someone named Salimzoda? A surname does not really indicate anything. You can change your surname to Khayam [Persian scholar and poet] or Rudaki [Tajik-Persian poet] or Somoni [founder of the first Tajik empire] but this will not change you as a human being. Shit remains shit even without an “ov” ending.

Many Internet users were surprised by the fact that the statement came from an official whose responsibilities have little to do with naming. In the comments section on ozodi.org, Rustam asked [tj]:

Прокурори генерали ба номгузори чи кор дошта бошад ??? Охир ин ба салохияти прокурор ягон рабте надорад ку ? Ва баъдан бигзор хар фард чи тавре, ки ба худаш махкул аст хамон тарз номгузори намояд, чаро мо ба кори шахсии у дахолат кунем?..

What does the prosecutor general have to do with naming??? This matter is totally unrelated to his scope of work, isn't it? Besides, every individual can choose whatever name he or she likes. Why should we interfere with an individual's private matter?..

Meanwhile, many netizens appeared to sympathize with the official's dislike of “alien”-sounding surnames. Responding to Rishdor, Kholiknazar opined [tj]:

гапатон дуруст аст, ин кор кори прокурор нест. лекин ман уро мефахмам, у гами миллатамон аст. мо иван нестем ва худо хохад хеч вакт иван намешавем. номхои кухнаву зебо дорем, ва бояд аз ин номхо истифода барем, на аз номхои рус. фамилия хам айнан хамин тавр. точике ки худашро ихтиром мекунад ва аз таърихи хазорсолаи миллатамон фахр мекунад фамилияи ки буи рус дорад намегирад.

Your are right, it is not a prosecutor's job [to be concerned with naming practices]. However, I understand him. He is worried about our nation. We are not Ivans [a common Russian name] and, god willing, we will never become Ivans. We have ancient and beautiful names of our own, and we should use these names rather than the Russian ones. The same applies to surnames. A self-respecting Tajik who is proud of our thousand-years-long history will not carry a surname that has a Russian smell.

Naimjon added [tj]:

Ватандустони асил номхои ватандустона интихоб мекунанд.

Real patriots choose patriotic names.

And on ozodi.org, D. Dovudi suggested [tj]:

Бояд Конун дар бораи номгузори бароварда шавад, ки барои хамаи навтавалудшудагон хатми бошад. Меъерхои номгузори муайан карда шаванд, онхо бояд точики бошанд ва пасовандхои ов ва вич конунан манъ карда шаванд. Ин ягона рохи чори кардани номгузории точики аст.

They should write a naming law which would be mandatory for all newborns. They should design naming standards based on Tajik names and prohibit the endings “ov” and “vich”, This is the only way to put in place a system of Tajik naming.

The discussion about “proper” naming practices continues on two popular news websites, news.tj [ru] and ozodi.org (here and here) [tj]. It reflects larger debates within the country about what an “authentic” Tajik national culture should look like and what it means to be Tajik in general. Some Tajiks believe that the country should make a clear break with the Soviet past and its Russian-influenced culture, including by returning to a Persian alphabet and cleansing the Tajik language of all “impurities” adopted during the Soviet period. Others suggest that the country should keep the elements of Soviet or Russian culture that characterize the modern Tajik nation. There are also many other nuanced opinions about what a new Tajikistan should look like. These opinions often surface in social media discussions about holidays (both old and new), monuments, history, and national symbols.

December 19 2013

“Tajikistan is not the Center of the World”: Rewriting of Country's History Spurs Ridicule

Ever since Tajikistan's independence 22 years ago, historians in the Central Asian nation have been busy rewriting its history books. Searching for the “more ancient roots” [pdf] of the Tajik people and fitting ancient history to the current political agenda were key to this process. However, as the country's historians seem to be in a race to move the origins of the nation as far back in time as possible, netizens are increasingly distrustful of the updated history.

Fake “discoveries”?

On November 2, 2013, one of the leading newspapers in the country published an article titled “Rewriting History?” [ru]. Based on interviews with foreign historians, the article alleged that a number of recent “discoveries” which made several regions in Tajikistan appear much more ancient than had been previously thought were fake. For instance, the country celebrated the 2,700th anniversary of Kulob in 2006 and is preparing to mark the 3,000th anniversary of Hisor in 2015, although historians outside the country argue that the available evidence suggests that these towns are significantly younger.

Commenting under the article, Joseph suggested [ru] that some historians claim they made significant “discoveries” to boost their careers and earn material benefits:

Не стоит забывать и о том, что за описание и дальнейшее документальное оформление таких псевдо исторических памятников вполне возможно претендовать на получение каких-то академических бонусов или степеней.

We shouldn't forget that by describing and documenting these pseudo-historical [discoveries], one can seek to earn academic degrees and bonuses.

Meanwhile, Farid opined [ru] that given the conditions in present-day Tajikistan, it made little sense for its people to portray themselves as an ancient nation:

Очень сильно завышать возраст нашей цивилизации вредно, так как могут спросить, почему за эти тысячи лет у нас нет никакого прогресса, почему мы живем как в каменном веке, и свет у нас горит только 9 часов в сутки и почему каждый 4-й житель работает в России? Наоборот будут смеяться, что прошло тысячи лет, весь мир ушел вперед, а у нас ничего не изменилось.

Arguing that our civilization is much older than it actually is makes little sense because one can, then, ask us, why we haven't made any progress in the past thousands of years, why we still live in what looks like the stone age, why we have electricity for only 9 hours a day, and why every fourth resident [of Tajikistan] works in Russia. [If we do make such claims], they would laugh at us, saying that the rest of the world has mover forward over the last thousand years, while we still remain where we were then.

History writing and Freud

LiveJournal user Icekandar proposed [ru] a Freudian explanation for Tajikistan's search for the “more ancient roots:

Историю своей страны знать необходимо…
Но одно дело заниматься написанием реальной истории, основанной на фактах и археологических открытиях, и совсем другое это придумывать историю в угоду каким-то политическим проектам. К сожалению, в последнее время историки в Таджикистане занимаются последним. Единственное, в чем они преуспевают, так это в фальсификации истории нашего народа, в представлении его более древним и более значимым, чем он есть на самом деле. Постоянно обновляется возраст городов. Оказывается, каждый город еа территории нашей республики в разы древнее Самарканда и Бухары. Вот только историки и археологи из других стран крутят пальцами у виска и спрашивают: “Что они там в Таджикистане курят?”.

It is necessary to know the history of your country…

However, writing a real history which is based on facts and archaeological discoveries is one thing, while making up a history to serve political objectives is a different thing altogether. Unfortunately, it is the latter that historians in Tajikistan have recently been busy with. The only practice in which they succeed is the falsification of the history of our people, and its portrayal as more ancient and more significant than it really is. The age of our cities is constantly revised. It turns out that any town in [Tajikistan] is several times more ancient than Samarkand and Bukhara [important centers of Tajik culture, now in Uzbekistan]. However, historians and archaeologists from other countries [think we are insane] and ask, “What do they smoke there in Tajikistan?”.

He continued [ru]:

У меня есть всего одно объяснение тому, что происходит – ярко выраженный комплекс неполноценности. Психологи давно доказали, что мужчины, наиболее усердно рекламирующие свои огромные *пардон* пенисы, на самом деле жутко комплексуют, считая их очень короткими.

Вот так и у нас с историей. “Историки” и те, от кого они получают директивы, похоже жутко комплексуют по поводу того, что мы малюсенькая страна, не преуспевшая ни в чем, кроме объемов коррупции, трафика афганского героина и уровня нищеты в обществе. Поэтому и сочиняются эти сказки про “древнейшие” центры мировой цивилизации на территории Таджикистана.

I see only one explanation for what is happening – a severe inferiority complex. Psychologists have proven that men who tirelessly praise their large *pardon me* penises have a severe complex, considering [their penises] to be too short.

We have the same thing with history. “Historians” and those who give them orders seem to have a complex about us being a tiny country which has not succeeded in anything except the scale of corruption, volumes of Afghan heroin trafficking, and poverty levels. This is why all these fairy tales are created about the “most ancient” centers of world civilization found on the territory of Tajikistan.

4,000 years

Another recent story [tj] that social media users in the country have found hard to believe claimed that Farkhor, a small town in southwestern Tajikistan, had a 4,000-year-long history. The story was based on an interview with Rahim Masov, a controversial Tajik historian, serving as Director of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Ethnography in the Academy of Sciences.

Commenting under the article, Mavzuna R. refused [ru] to believe Masov:

Какая глупость! Мы уже праздновали 2,700 лет Куляба, насмешили весь мир. Может хватить выдавать желаемое за действительное? Таджикистан не пуп земли, и совсем не здесь зародилась человеческая цивилизация. Хотя я уверена, что Масов скоро “найдет” доказательства тому, что это произошло именно здесь.

This is really stupid. We have already made the entire world laugh by celebrating Kulob's 2,700th anniversary. Maybe we should stop engaging in wishful thinking? Tajikistan is not the center of the world, and it is not here that the human civilization was born. Although I am confident that Masov will soon “find” evidence suggesting that that occurred [in Tajikistan].

On Twitter, several Tajikistani users ridiculed Masov and his new “discovery”:

Farhor is older than 4,000 years? Looks like Masov has forgotten than he is a scholar, and scholars are not supposed to bullshit http://t.co/T8aohKcpBS

If we continue this way, we will soon claim that [Tajikistan] dates back to the dinosaurs. And Kulob [a town and region in southern Tajikistan from where most of the country's political elite comes] was their capital.

@BachaiSako I have devised a title for Masov's new book: “Kulob, the Holy City of the Dinosaurs” (:

I have just returned from Farkhor. [It looks] no different than any other village. But it turns out that it is a very ancient town :-D http://t.co/qSXwxvYoCR. Masov kicks ass.

Some netizens believe in these “discoveries”, however. Under the both articles, and in comments to Icekandar's blog, they defend Tajik historians and the process of rewriting the country's history. These debates are part of a broader discussion within society about the proper place of the people of Tajikistan in the region's political and cultural history.

December 17 2013

Misuse of National Flag Causes a Stir in Tajikistan

The controversial photo. Image by Ahrullo Dadaboev, used with permission.

Controversial photo of the Tajik flag. Image by Ahrullo Dadaboev, used with permission.

An image of a Tajik flag thrown on the ground and used as an improvised dustpan is causing a stir among social media users in Tajikistan. Ahrullo Dadaboev, the person who took the photo and posted it on Facebook, said a street cleaner had used the flag to collect trash in Khujand, a city in the country's north.

Many netizens who saw the image felt insulted by the misuse of the national symbol. Reacting to the post, Ruslan Ruslan wrote [tj]:

ХАМИ РИДАНШОН НАМЕРАСИД ЭЭЭЭЭЭЭЭ ВОЯ

Ohh, the only thing they didn't do to the flag was [defecate] on it.

Ozod Orzuyev said [tj]:

Ин хузновар мебошад. Сад дарег..

This is very saddening. It's really sad.

But Amrullo Faizullozoda suggested [tj] that the person who had taken the photo should have done more than just press a button on his camera:

Ватандусти асил дар ин холат парчамро гирифта, тоза карда мегирифт, ин аз руи эхтироми парчам, ватан ва милат аст.

A real patriot in this situation would have lifted the flag from the ground and cleaned it, out of respect for the flag, the motherland, and the nation.

The image has also made its way to Twitter, where Mardikor asked [tj]:

Is this “our beloved country” [a phrase from the national anthem]? Is this patriotism? If the national flag is under feet, isn't the place of the nation also under feet?

Khairkhoh, who also shared the image on Twitter, wrote [tj]:

Oh, Allah, ohh… If we do not respect ourselves, who will respect us???

And Bachai Sako mentioned [ru] another instance when the national flag was used improperly:

@mardikor I have recently seen a group of young athletes in Ayni [a big village in northern Tajikistan] wearing shorts that were made of flags left in excess after a visit of [President Emomali Rahmon]. The useful stuff should not be wasted.

Tajikistan's tricolor flag was introduced in 1992. The authorities have since successfully popularized the flag as part of their efforts to strengthen patriotic sentiment. Tajikistan boasts the world's tallest flagpole and has attempted to break the world record for the longest flag. However, a number of bloggers have recently suggested that the country should change its flag and other national symbols to better reflect the country's changing character.

December 14 2013

VIDEO: Young Men Are Forced to Join Army in Tajikistan

As Tajikistan's military faces a struggle to get enough volunteer conscripts, recruitment officers often rely on illegal practices in drafting military-age men into the army. One of the most common among such practices is “oblava” which involves “military press gangs making sweeps of city streets, bazaars and bus stations, rounding up young men who meet the desired criteria [to serve their compulsory two-year-long service]“.

Blogger Rustam Gulov (aka Teocrat) has posted a mobile phone video which shows how “oblava” typically works:

In the video, a recruitment officer wearing a military uniform is aggressively trying to force a young man to go with him. The young man lies on the floor, while an older woman (presumably his mother) defends him and shouts at the officer, saying (in Tajik) that the young man is “ill”.

Over the last two years, Gulov has written much about “oblava”, condemning the practice, explaining that it is illegal, and telling young men what they need to do to avoid being forcefully drafted into the army.

November 07 2013

Tajikistan: The Elections Boycott That Wasn't

After the only genuine opposition candidate pulled out of the presidential race in Tajikistan, the outcome of the November 6 polls was foretold. Out of the six candidates whose names were put on the ballot papers, one was the incumbent leader ruling the country for 20 years, while the other five individuals were virtual nobodies. In the absence of a real choice, the country's main opposition groups chose to boycott the polls and called on their supporters to stay at home on the election day.

Boycott on Platforma

Many social media users have also said they would boycott the vote. Platforma, the largest Facebook group for the discussion of politics in Tajikistan, took the lead in popularizing the idea of a boycott among its participants. One day before the polls, the group even replaced its cover photo with the one reading, “Boycott. Nobody to Choose From”.

Platforma cover page since November 5..

Platforma cover page since November 5. “Boycott. Nobody to Choose From”.

One of the group's moderators also wrote [ru]:

Как настроение, друзья? Столько я ждал этот день – 6 ноября 2013 года, и вот он наступил, а теперь и не знаю зачем я его ждал. Такое разочарование… Ежу понятно кто будет “победителем” этих “прозрачных и демократических” выборов. Понятно, что ваш голос украдут вне зависимости от того, пойдете вы завтра на голосование или не пойдете. И все же, чтобы у вас была чистая совесть, прежде всего, перед самим собой не ходите завтра на голосование. Просто останьтесь дома, синоптики обещали дождь, сидите в тепле и смотрите ТВ…  Это не конец. Не расстраивайтесь. Все будет хорошо.

How is your mood, friends? I was long waiting for this day, 6 November 2013, and now when the day has come, I don't know why I was waiting for it. Such a disappointment… We all understand who will be the “winner” or these “transparent and democratic” elections. It is clear that your vote will be stolen whether you go to the polling station tomorrow or not. Still, in order to keep a clean conscience, do not go to the polls tomorrow. Stay home, particularly because the weather forecast suggests it will rain; stay at your warm place and watch TV… This is not the end. Don't be disappointed. Everything will be fine.

Many memes urging Tajikistanis to boycott the vote have been posted on Facebook over the last two months. 

“Are you electing a slave owner for yourself? No elections. Only the boycott! Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

“Hey, Tajik! Don't forget that you are a human being! Do not go to vote for a wolf”. Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

“Don't go! Don't vote! Don't believe! Don't wait! They will not make things better! Don't recognize!” Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

This image shows the head of Tajikistan's election commission, saying “Stay home! We will fill in [your ballot paper] for you”. Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

Almost identical posts and images were also circulated through the “Group-24″ page on the Russian-language social network Odnoklassniki. The page is run by the supporters of Umarali Quvvatov, the leader of the exiled opposition movement Group-24. Many journalists in Tajikistan believe that Facebook-based Platforma is run by the same people that administer the Odnoklassniki-based “Group 24″ page.

Beyond Platforma

Discussions of the boycott were much less frequent outside Platforma. On ASIA-Plus, an anonymous individual wrote a blog titled “Why I Am Going to Boycott the Elections” [ru]. The blog counters an argument made by Rahmon's campaign officials that the veteran leader's rule has ushered in an era of economic prosperity in Tajikistan. It suggests that economic stagnation, underdevelopment, and missed opportunities characterized Rahmon's 20-years-long presidency:

Единственной преградой к экономическому чуду Таджикистана является нынешняя система власти, и поэтому я не иду на эти выборы и призываю всех бойкотировать их ради процветания и достойной жизни следующего поколения!

The only obstacle standing in the way of Tajikistan's economic miracle is the current system of power. This is why I am not going to vote in these elections, and I am urging everyone else to boycott the elections for the sake of prosperity and dignified life of the next generation [of Tajikistanis].

On Twitter, too, some users said they were not casting their votes on November 6. For example, after Jasur Ashurov asked his followers whether they knew which candidates ran in the elections, Parviz Khamdamov responded [ru]:

i think there are six candidates. i know emomali rahmon and don't know anyone else. i will not vote in the elections. [why would i]?

The boycott was also heavily discussed in the comments sections of the most popular news websites covering political developments in Tajikistan.

Has boycott failed?

According to the official estimates [ru], almost 87% of eligible voters went to polling stations on November 6. This shows that the idea of boycotting the polls was not very popular with the voters. Obviously,there are major doubts about the reliability of official statistics:

The elections are over, with the turnout exceeding 80%. I find this hard to believe because so many people were going to boycott the polls http://t.co/r0h66pBYlp

On Platforma, Shokir Fayzulloev asked [ru] on the day of the elections:

Пока ЦИК не объявил результат, как думаете какую цифру назовут? Явка 93%, за Рахмона 75%, Коммунист 8%, Гаффоров 6%, еще двое по 4% один 2% и 1% против всех…. А реальные цифры сами знаете…

Before the [Central Elections Committee] announces the results, what numbers do you think they would give? Turnout 93%, 75% of votes for Rahmon, 8% for the Communist, 6% for Ghafforov, another two candidates will get 4% each, one candidate 2%, and 1% will be against all… And you all know what happens to the real results…

Only a handful of netizens have shared images of spoiled ballot papers (one of the tactics advocated by those calling for the boycott) on Facebook.

Ballot paper with the names of all six candidates crossed out.

Ballot paper with the names of all six candidates crossed out. The name of the person who shared this image on Facebook is withheld on his request.

Despite the possible faults of the official results, observers of the election agree that the majority of voters did go to the polling stations to cast their votes on November 6. Therefore, the boycott did not happen, and those netizens that stayed home or spoiled their ballot papers failed to influence the outcome of the polls. Perhaps the major reason why the boycott failed was that the idea was not very popular in the country. Even on the Facebook-based Platforma and its Odnoklassniki-based twin – the main spaces where the idea of the boycott was discussed – support for the “stay home” campaign was limited, most likely because netizens distrusted the motives of those who ran those groups.

November 06 2013

Tajik Elections Debate: Either Rahmon or “Cannibalism”

Prior to Tajikistan's presidential elections, the website of the opposition Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) published a story titled “Will Emomali Rahmon Remain President or Not?” [tj]. The story drew hundreds of comments, triggering a heated debate between those who thought it was time for the incumbent president to step down and those who believed he should continue running the country. The website has now published all comments [tj] posted by readers, providing a rare perspective on how some Tajikistanis imagine a future without Rahmon:

Агар Ҷаноб интихоб нашавад, донед ки шумо хуб 1 ё 2 соли дигар катагӣ мекунеду баъд одамхурӣ мешавад…

Ҷаноби мо дар вақташ деҳқон буд, бинед Худои меҳрубон, ки хост, ӯ Ҷаноби Олӣ шуд.

Ватани мо танҳо бо Эмомалӣ Ш. Р. Зебост…

If [Emomali Rahmon] is not re-elected, you will have fun for another year or two before cannibalism begins…

[Rahmon] used to be a farmer. Don't you see that God wanted him to become [president]?

Our Motherland is beautiful only with Emomali [Rahmon]…

Tajikistan Votes in “Imitation” of Presidential Elections

President Emomali Rahmon casting his vote today. Photo by president's press service, part of public domain.

President Emomali Rahmon casting his vote today. Photo by president's press service, part of public domain.

Tajikistanis went to the polls today (November 6) to cast their votes in the presidential elections. Although the process is still formally called “elections”, what is happening in the country is better understood as a procedure designed to extend the two-decade-long presidency of the incumbent, Emomali Rahmon, for another seven years.

Kirguzbek Kanunov wrote [ru] on Facebook today:

Я долго думал, как правильно назвать сегодняшнее политическое мероприятие и, по-моему подобрал более подходящее название. Выборами это назвать нельзя, по той простой причине, что выбирать не из чего. Назначением тоже это не назовешь, так как у <…>  народа, нет таких полномочий, и уж тем более в Таджикистане…

…Тогда давайте называть вещи своими именами. У нас не выборы, а очередной ритуальный обряд по утверждению президента Рахмона…

I have been thinking about how to best describe today's political event. I think I have come up with an accurate categorization. This cannot be called an election for the simple reason that we do not have [a pool of real candidates] to elect from. We cannot also call this an appointment, because <…> people do not have the power to do so [appoint a president], particularly in Tajikistan. 

…Let us then call a spade a spade. What we have is not an election, bur rather another ceremony to validate Rahmon's presidency…

Rahmon vs. five unknowns

The main reason why there was not even a modicum of suspense or intrigue in today's elections is that the voters had to choose between the president who had been in office since 1993 and five virtual unknowns. Over the last three weeks, Jasur Ashurov was asking his Twitter account followers and the participants in the largest Tajikistani groups on Facebook whether they knew of candidates running for president. What he has found out is that most voters in Tajikistan did not really know any candidate other than Rahmon. On October 30, he concluded [ru]:

the main conclusion is that the majority of voters next week will be surprised when they see the ballot papers. https://t.co/Env3W1WKMm

but it will not be difficult for them to make a choice because there will be one candidate that everyone knows [the incumbent president]. https://t.co/Env3W1WKMm

Cartoon depicting a voter standing near a ballot box with a ballot apper in his hand, and wondering:

Cartoon depicting a voter standing near a ballot box with a ballot paper in his hand, and wondering: “OK, I know Rahmon. Who are these other people?”. Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

This image shows a made-up ballot paper with the names of the six candidates. A voter leaves comments next to each candidate's name. The comments show that the voter has not heard of a single candidate except Emomali Rahmon. Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

This image shows a made-up ballot paper with the names of the six candidates. A voter leaves comments next to each candidate's name. The comments show that the voter has not heard of a single candidate except Emomali Rahmon. Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

Mainstream media has also arrived at a similar conclusion after interviewing people in Dushanbe. On the videos below, journalists talk to people in the streets of Dushanbe, asking them if they could name the presidential candidates or if they saw candidates’ campaign materials. The majority of people could name only one candidate, president Emomali Rahmon. The videos are in Tajik and Russian, with English subtitles:



As Tajikistan Monitor suggests, the authorities have been busy over the last several months, making sure that voters in the country know that the incumbent president is the candidate everyone should vote for. Other candidates’ campaigns were so low-profile that they looked more like an imitation of campaign activity. Candidates toured selected regions of the country, meeting with small groups of voters. Tomiris shows [ru] how a typical “meeting with voters” looked like:

@jashurov Funny. I went to a meeting with representatives of presidential candidates today. They made teachers to attend the event and read out speeches.

@jashurov This was a performance. Everyone was sleepy, including the representatives. And everyone, including the representatives of other candidates, praised Rahmon, 

Jasur Ashurov responds [ru] to this observation:

@tomiristj This confirms my conviction that there will be no real elections. There will be an imitation of elections instead.

Therefore, the overwhelming majority of voters that came to the polling stations today had only known of one candidate running for president, the country's incumbent leaders. Tajikistan Monitor explains why in this situation Tajikistanis voted for the only candidate whose name they recognized on the ballot paper:

When I run out of beer, I go to the nearest beer shop to buy more. If I arrive at the shop and find that there is only one beer I know of (let it be Carlsberg lager) and five other brands I have never heard of, it is most likely that I will end up stocking up on Carlsberg. I might choose to try a different beer on a different occasion, but I will most probably want to stick to the familiar stuff if I am buying supplies for the next seven years. President Rahmon will win the elections because he is that familiar Carlsberg lager in a shop full of exotic and unknown beer brands.

Outcome foretold

Although the authorities have been working hard to imitate genuine elections, social media users noticed that Tajikistan's government knew in advance who would lead the country during the next seven years. While the outcome of the vote has not been formally announced yet, the incumbent president's office has already put together his meeting and travel agenda for part of the next year.

The elections do not happen until tomorrow? This is strange, because we are already printing invitations for a huge event in which [Emomali Rahmon's] will participate in January 2014.

@mr_parvizon I was in [Gornaya] Matcha district. People there are actively preparing for Rahmon's visit in spring. They are building facilities he would open and stock up on his portraits.

Some netizens suggest that even outside the country, there is little doubt about the outcome of the vote. Dastan Bekeshev tweeted [ru] yesterday:

It is likely that many countries have already drafted letters congratulating Emomali Rahmon.

Violations

Although the incumbent president is assured of an easy victory, the ballot was marred by widespread violations. Radio Ozodi shows [tj] several videos documenting the routine use of multuple voting, perhaps the most common violation of the election law in the country. Another video shows (at 0:39) an older man voting for several people:

Twitter discussion also confirms that multiple voting has been a recurrent problem.

Besides, the authorities have not taken down some of the tens of thousands of Emomali Rahmon's portraits, although the law suggests that all campaigning should end 24 hours before the voting. 

Turnout 

According to the official reports [ru], more than 80% of registered voters cast their votes by 18:00 pm Dushanbe time, about two hours before the closure of polling stations. On Twitter, some users have ridiculed turnout reports:

Over 80% already? They should be more careful, otherwise with that pace they can easily reach 200%. http://t.co/jvIbh0Z9sJ

Young people crowding to cast their votes in today's presidential poll in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

Young people crowding to cast their votes in today's presidential poll in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

People carrying national flags on the election day in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

People carrying national flags on the election day in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

After the elections

Few people expect much change in Tajikistan after today's elections. Mardikor writes [tj] on Twitter:

So, another election is over. Has anything changed? No. We have another seven years of playing democracy ahead.

Bachai Sako is more optimistic [ru], however:

Everything is going to be fine. We have lived with him [Emomali Rahmon] for 20 years, so we will make another seven years with him. One day there will be light at he end of the tunnel.

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

October 31 2013

Halloween in Tajikistan: Devil Worship or Innocent Fun?

If Halloween is not at the very bottom on the long list of celebrations observed in Tajikistan, it is certainly very close to the bottom. Most people in the country have probably never heard of the festival. However, as Global Voices reported last year, even rare Halloween fun raises eyebrows in the Tajik society.

This year the “alien” holiday continues to divide people in the country. On October 26, Tajik police detained [ru] several young men after a Halloween party at a night club in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It is not clear what prompted police officers to detain the men wearing Halloween masks. Yet, as one of these men later wrote on Facebook, police officers scolded them for celebrating an “alien holiday” in a Muslim society.

At this Halloween party at a night club in Dushanbe most people did not even wear costumes. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

Halloween party at a night club in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

The incident polarized the small Tajikistan community on Twitter. Tomiris posted a link to a news report about the incident, asking [ru]:

Do we live in an Islamic republic or what? Has our police been transformed into the morality police? http://t.co/dtDCsV2pka

Bachai Sako responded [ru]:

@tomiristj No, [we do not live] in an Islamic republic. However, we should clearly see a line separating our culture from the strange culture. Otherwise we can lose our culture.

Mardikor weighed in, asking [tj]:

@BachaiSako @tomiristj [Our country] has become independent, but we still celebrate alien holidays and turn our backs on national festivals. What is the reason?

He adds [tj]:

@BachaiSako @tomiristj This is the devil worshipers’ holiday. We should explain to children what the consequences of celebrating it are.

Young woman wearing a Halloween costume at a party in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

Young woman wearing a Halloween costume at a party in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

Tomiris then responded [ru]:

@mardikor @BachaiSako What “devil worship”? What are you talking about? Young people are having fun. Normal young people, not some kind of satanists. Why should this be banned?

@mardikor @BachaiSako For these young people, Halloween is not even a holiday, but rather an opportunity to get together and have a good time.

She has failed to convince, however:

@tomiristj @mardikor Still, there are other opportunities to get together and have fun. Other opportunities should be used.

A similar discussion has taken place in the comments section on news.tj, under a report about the incident.

Rustam wrote [ru]:

А на самом деле зачем они празднуют этот праздник? У нас свои хорошие и интересные праздники есть без всяких привидений и монстров. Меньше надо западные кино смотреть.

Really, why do [these young people] celebrate the holiday? We have good and interesting holidays of our own, without ghosts and monsters involved. They should watch Western movies less.

Simka added [ru]:

…бестолковая молодежь…

…stupid youths…

But Aprel disagreed [ru]:

пусть молодежь отдыхает ,они же просто веселиться и при чем тут вера…почему у нас принята всегда напоминать о вере , что на новый год ,что на другие мало мальские праздники .у каждого есть родня пускай они и беспокоятся о религиозном составляющий свох чадов..

let the young people have fun. they are just having fun. what does their faith have to do with it? why are we always reminded about the faith, for example when we celebrate the new year's eve or other holidays? all people have families, let their families care about the religious upbringing of their children.

Yet some readers thought that the real problem that the incident highlighted was the unprofessional police. Ali wrote [ru]:

уважаемые товарищи, наша милиция является выходцы из сельской местности. Поэтому для это чужда, вот они и ловять тех уто справляет западный праздник. Пршу не обижаться на них…

Dear friends, our police officers come from rural areas. Things like that are alien to them, this is why they detain those who celebrate this Western holiday. Please, take no offence….

A part of the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan became independent 22 years ago. Since then, Islam has come to play a much more important role in the everyday life of Tajikistani society, and there has been a greater emphasis on the “national” cultural heritage. Yet the continuing disputes about holidays, monuments, and national symbols demonstrate that there is still little agreement in society about what it means to be “Tajik” and what role religion has to play in the country.

Alexander Sodiqov has contributed to this report.

October 24 2013

Singing Presidents and Singing Against Presidents in Central Asia

Presidents of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries like to be regarded as strong, paternalistic leaders. They look down on their populations from millions of portraits and instruct them from TV screens and newspaper pages. Some of them are immortalized in statues and monuments. Yet sometimes these ”fathers” and “leaders” of their nations like to remind their populations that they, too, are human. They dance and sing.

Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, a video of the country's president Emomali Rahmon dancing at his son's wedding went viral in May 2013. While some netizens criticized their leader for his joyful behavior at the wedding, others thought the video showed that the president was “a real, normal man” after all. 

One segment of the controversial video shows Rahmon singing with a popular Tajik singer. They sing in Tajik, praising the beauty of their country, while several senior officials dance to the song:

Commenting on this video, one person writes [tj]:

зур месарояд неки. хаккатан зур. агар президент намебуд, ситораи эстрада мешуд, дар туйхо баромад мекард.

He sings well. Really well. If he wasn't president, he could have become a pop star and sing at weddings.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's “leader of the nation” Nursultan Nazarbayev not only sings, but also plays a musical instrument.

Netizens reacting to the video apparently like the way Nazarbayev sings. Under the video, Farida Salmenova comments [ru]:

Ya priyatno udıvlena!!! ne znala, 4to on tak klassno poyet!!!

I am pleasantly surprised!!! I didn't know he was such a good singer!!!

Uzbekistan

Islam Katimov, the veteran leader of Uzbekistan prefers not to sing in public. He does dance, however:

Yet his dancing apparently fails to impress the country's netizens as most comments under the video are very critical. For example, Kate Malayev writes [ru]:

Urod. Vsyu stranu iskalechil. Narod v nishete sidit a on plyashet.

Freak. He has crippled the whole country. Yet he dances while people are in poverty.

While Karimov does not sing in public, people who disapprove of his regime sing against him. An English-language song that was recently uploaded on YouTube urges the “king of kings in the cotton land” to leave the office:

October 23 2013

Tajik Official Plagiarizes Story Extolling President

Social media users in Tajikistan have caught an education official-cum-ardent supporter of the incumbent president plagiarizing. In his recent article “Why I Am Voting for [President] Emomali Rahmon” [ru] Ilkhomjon Khamidov extolled the country's veteran president who is seeking to secure a re-election in the November 6 vote.

After the article was shared online, netizens were quick to detect that its author had borrowed quite a number of sentences from recent speeches by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On October 23, Khamidov admitted [ru] that he had used parts of these leaders’ speeches in his article literally and without attribution. A Deputy Dean at the Tajik National University, he apologized [tj] on Facebook, noting that, “young people sometimes makes mistakes”. 

Dozens of netizens have since reacted to Khamidov's confession by suggesting that his doctoral dissertation should also be checked for plagiarized content and that he should be banned from teaching at a university.

Parviz Khamdamov tweets [ru]:

Shame on Khamidov. “Sorry, I am young” – is this an excuse? People like him should be fired by the university and their academic degrees should be revoked.

While blogger Shukufa argues [tj] that this case indicates the ability of social media users to hold the authorities accountable:

This is a good lesson for Khamidov. If you have nothing to say, do not speak about issues that you have nothing to say about. In general, however, this is a very instructive case. It shows that in the age of the Internet and Google, it is difficult for the authorities to [fool] ordinary people. It is so because these people have access to sources of information that the authorities cannot control.

October 22 2013

Tajiks Note that “Moscow Has Changed”

As Russians try to make sense of ethnic riots rocking Moscow, these developments are also carefully watched in Tajikistan where more than half of the population depends on money that their relatives working in Russia send home. Halil Qayumzod who lived in Moscow in the 1990s suggests [tj] that over the past decade the Russian capital has grown extremely hostile to the nationals of former Soviet countries:

Moscow has changed. Everyday our fellow-nationals face problems and lack of legal protection there. Is the Moscow I loved gone? Where are you, the Moscow I used to love? I do not recognize the present-day Moscow…

October 17 2013

After a Fatal Car Crash, Tajik President is Told to “Get His House in Order”

There are not many netizens in Tajikistan that have remained silent about a recent car crash in Dushanbe involving a relative of President Emomali Rahmon. The incident has demonstrated once again that powerful and well-connected individuals are above the law in the country. But it has also shown that simple technological devices and social media can help expose the wrongdoings of the elites.

Blogger Temur Mengliev summarizes [ru] the incident and the role played by social media in preventing the powerful family from covering it up:

Рано утром 9 октября БМВ с номерами “20-20 РТ 01″ на огромной скорости врезалась в другой автомобиль в центре Душанбе. В результате трое человек из второго автомобиля погибли сразу, и еще трое оказались в больнице с тяжелыми переломами. Из ночного клуба по соседству с местом аварии выбежали люди, которые вызвали скорую помошь и сняли произошедшее на мобильные телефоны.

Дальше все развивалось по принципу “такое возможно только в Таджикистане”. На следующее утро представители милиции заявили, что за рулем машины, устроившей аварию, находился племянник Амонулло Хукумова, зятька президента и раиса железной дороги. Эта версия наверно так и осталась бы официальной, если бы молодные люди, ставшие свидетелями аварии и запечатлевшие все на мобильные телефоны, не стали писать в Одноклассниках и на Фейсбуке, что за рулем автомобиля на самом деле был сын Хукумова, Расул Амонулло. Об этом говорили и выжившие участники аварии. Отмазать этого хукбача было невозможно еще и потому, что он сам на своей странице в Интсаграме выкладывал фото с автомобилем БМВ с номерами “20-20 РТ 01″ и хвастался, что разгоняет его до 300 км в час. 

Early in the morning on October 9, a BMW with number plates “20-20 PT 01″ driving way over the speed level crashed into another car in central Dushanbe. As a result, three passengers in the second car died immediately, and another three passengers ended up in a hospital with serious injuries. People soon ran out from a night club near the site of the crash, calling the ambulance and recording [photos and videos] of the incident on their mobile phone [cameras].

Since then things have developed based on the principle “it is only possible in Tajikistan”. The next morning police announced that the car which caused the crash had been driven by a nephew of Amonullo Khukumov, a [relative] of the president and head of the [Tajik] railroad company. This version would have probably remained official if it wasn't for young people who witnessed the crash and recorded it on their mobile phone [cameras]; these people stated on Odnoklassnili [Russian-language social networking service] and Facebook that the car had actually been driven by Khukumov's son, Rasul Amonullo. Individuals that survived the crash said the same thing. Also, they could not help this piglet [Rasul Amonullo] escape punishment because he himself had posted photos on Instagram with the BMW, number plates ”20-20 PT 01″, and bragged about driving the car at 300 km per hour [about 186 mile per hour].

Three people died and another three are in hospital after the deadly car crash in Dushanbe. This photo from the scene of the crash has been circulating in social media.

Three people died and another three are in hospital after the deadly car crash in Dushanbe. This photo from the scene of the crash has been circulating in social media.

The photos the blogger mentions and screen captures of Amonullo's comments have since been publicized by many independent media outlets in Tajikistan (see here and here, for example). Some of these photos depict the young man holding a pistol or smoking a hookah with the pistol lying on the table beside him. 

The blogger continues [ru]:

Затем было еще интереснее. Милиции пришлось признать, что виновником аварии действительно был Расул Амонулло, но вот родственники пострадавших почему-то отказались писать заявление против него в милицию… Милиции также пришлось признать то, о чем пользователи Фейсбука уже давно рассказали: что сам Расул немедленно после аварии вылетел за рубеж. Оказалось, что хукбача лечит руку в Германии. Теперь милиция заявляет, что не могли его задержать, так как ему всего 16 лет. А вот в Фейсбуке и в Одноклассниках снова поправляют: не 16, а 18, так что судить его нужно по полной. 

What has come afterwards is even more interesting. Police had to admit that the crash was Rasul Amonullo's fault, but the relatives of the victims have for some reason refused to file complaints against him. Police also had to admit what Facebook users had been telling earlier – that Rasul left the country immediately after the crash. It turned out that the piglet is getting medical treatment for an arm injury in Germany. Now police states that they could not detain him because he is only 16. But Facebook and Odnoklassniki users correct them again: he is 18 rather than 16, so he should face the punishment to the full extent of the law.

Police has admitted that Rasul Amonullo was responsible for the deadly car crash. This photo served as Amonullo's profile image on Instagram.

Police has admitted that the deadly car crash was Rasul Amonullo's fault. This photo served as Amonullo's profile image on Instagram.

“Tajikistan does not have the law…”

The crash has dominated social media discussion in Tajikistan over the past five days. Netizens have criticized the authorities, including the country's president, for letting the wealthy and the well-connected to escape punishment. They have also criticized law-enforcement agencies for turning a blind eye to offences committed by the elites.

Below are just a handful of comments that are typical of hundreds of posts left on social networks and news forums during the past several days. 

Anis Kodirov writes [tj] in the comments section on ASIA-Plus:

Конун надорад точикистон хамаш сумай(пул)мо шохиди бисйор аваряхо хастем одам мурдестай болотаракош бизнес пулчам кадестан…

Tajikistan does not have the law. Money is everything. We have witnessed many car crashes [like this]. Ordinary people die while the powerful continue making money…

Umar adds [ru]:

Еще раз убедился, что в Таджикистане законы принуждают соблюдать только бедному народу, а авторам этих законов, он не писан в том числе сыновьям чиновников и прочим руководителям этой коррупционной страны…

This has reinforced my conviction that only the poor people in Tajikistan are forced to obey the law. Those who write our laws, including the children of senior officials and other leaders of our corrupt country, are above the law…

On Facebook, Parvina Khamidova highlights [ru] the role of social media users in disallowing the authorities to cover up the accident and compares life in Tajikistan to a reality show:

Спасибо социальным сетям за историю с Хукумовским отпрыском – киллером на колосах. Благодаря им мы узнали стопроцентно чья была машина и сколько она стоила. Своими глазами увидели, что делает с человеком, даже совсем молодым, безнаказанность и вседозволенность…Я  так понимаю если родители в суд не пойдут, убийца так и не сядет? Если это так, то каждый выход на улицу для “простых смертных” прошу приравнять к эпизоду шоу на выживание “последний герой”. С той только разницей что игра ведется всерьез. Когда в стране не работает закон. Ну вообще никак. Она превращается в джунгли а жить позволяется только тем, кто пройдет естественныйй отбор.

Thanks to social media for [publicizing] the real story of Khukumov's offspring, the murderer in a car. Thanks to [social media] we have learnt who actually drove the car during the crash and how much the car cost. We have also seen for ourselves what permissiveness and impunity do to people, even the younger ones… Do I understand correctly that if the parents [of the victims] do not take the issue to court, the murderer will not go to prison? If this is so, then each time we leave our homes should be considered equivalent to an episode of survival show “Last Hero” [Russian reality show, based on the American "Survival" show]. The only difference is that our game is real. When a country's law does not work, the country turns into a jungle where only those who survive the natural selection process are allowed to live.

Responding to Temur Mengliev's blog post, “Advokat iz Dushanbe” [Lawyer from Dushanbe] suggests [ru] that the authorities need to get some facts straight:

На мой взгляд, ключевым в этой истории является возраст Расула и именно в этом нужно разобраться. Если Расулу действительно 16 как сейчас утверждают, то он всего лишь ребенок. Да, испорченный, наглый, обнаглевший, но ребенок. В данном случае в отношении него должны применяться более мягкие меры, чем те, которые предусматривает уголовный кодекс. Но если ему 18, то конечно он должен понести наказание как взрослый человек, по всей строгости УК. В любом случае, нужно теперь разобраться в том, почему ему разрешили покинуть страну после совершения преступления.

In my view, the key question in this whole story is Rasul [Amonullo's] age, and this is where we need to get our facts straight. If Rasul is really 16, as they claim now, then he is just a child. Yes, a spoiled, pushy, and impudent child, but still a child. In this case, he should face milder punishment than the one provided for by the Criminal Code. But if he is 18, then certainly he should face the punishment as an adult, to the full extent of the law. In any case, we now need to find out why he was allowed to leave the country after committing an [alleged] crime.

Many netizens argue that Rasul's parents, particularly his influential father Amonullo Khukumov, should be held responsible for their underage child's wrongdoings. Netizens demand action under the Parental Responsibility Law which was initiated by President Emomali Rahmon and adopted in 2011. In a further comment to Mengliev's blog, Fariza writes [ru]:

ну а если ему 16 то наказание должны нести его родители, не так ли? мы ведь приняли закон об ответственности родителей, сам президент столько за него выступал. тогда отвечать должен хукумов. у него нужно спросить: 1) почему его несовершенолетний сын в 2 часа ночи разъезжает на машине? 2) где его несовершенолетний сын взял деньги на бмв? 3) как его несовершенолетнему сыну удалось получить права? 4) где его сын взял пистолет с которым он понтуется на всех фото? 5) почему его несовершенолетний сын курит (все есть на фото)? 

If [Rasul Amonullo] is 16, then his parents should bear responsibility for his actions, shouldn't they? We have adopted the parental responsibility law for which the president advocated personally. In this case, [Amonullo] Khukumov should be held responsible. He should be asked the following questions: 1) Why does his underage son drive a car at 2 a.m.? 2) Where did his underage son get the money to buy a BMW? 3) How did his underage child get a driving license? 4) Where did his son get the gun that he displays on all his photos? 5) Why does his underage child smoke (it is all on the photos)?

President “should get his house in order”

Fariza also recalls that Khukumov's older son, Rustam, had been imprisoned in Russia for 10 years on charges of narcotics trafficking. After his release from Russian prison and return to Tajikistan, Rustam sued a newspaper that speculated about the reasons why he was freed. 

She proposes [ru]:

эти вопросы должен первую очередь задать сам президент, тем более хукумов ему родственник. это уже не первый раз этот мразь позорит нашу нацию. все забыли что его старшего сына посадили в россии за героин? этот случай как тревожный звонок президенту что ему нужно навести порядок в своей семье.

The president himself should be the first to raise the above questions, particularly because Khukumov is his relative. This is not the first time that this scum is dishonoring our nation. Have you all forgotten that his older son was jailed in Russia for heroin [smuggling]? This accident should serve as a warning call to our president that he should get his house in order.

Marat agrees [ru] on ASIA-Plus:

Что скажет наш уважаемый президент по этому поводу ? Самое время прилюдно наказать обнаглевших родственников. От этого зависит его будущая репутация и уважение народа к нему.

What will our respected president say about this? It is time for him to punish publicly his insolent relatives. His reputation and whether people will continue respecting him is at stake here.

October 16 2013

Tajikistan Introduces Controversial “Ethics Code” For Internet Users

A set of “ethical” guidelines for the users of internet services and personal electronic devices has been developed in Tajikistan. The “Ethics Code for an e-Citizen”, presented in Dushanbe on October 11, seeks to provide the country's information and telecommunication technology (ICT) users with a moral framework for using familiar ethical standards while talking on the phone or surfing the internet.

Tajikistan Monitor has translated the document into English:

We, the members of digital information society, adopt the Ethics Code for an e-Citizen and urge [everyone] to follow in virtual space ethical standards they use in real life.

The norms of this Ethics Code apply to instances of communication via a mobile phone and on the world wide net…

  1. When using information and communication technologies (ICT), public interest should prevail.
  2. Positive thinking, positive communication, and positive action should prevail in virtual space, irrespective of time and location.
  3. It is mandatory to follow and respect human rights and freedoms, national law, and international legal norms in virtual space.
  4. Ethical standards of interpersonal communication should be upheld when using ICT; users should introduce themselves and then state the reason of their address [obrashchenie] in a brief and intelligible manner.
  5. It is mandatory to follow the law and ethical standards applicable to original content when using ICT.
  6. It is mandatory to respect the norms of the state language and national values in virtual space.
  7. Talking on the phone and other communication devices loudly and for long periods [or "without need"] is inadmissible in public places.
  8. The use of unpleasant (coarse) sounds and unprintable [necenzurniy] words in ICT, as well as playing loud music in public places is inadmissible.
  9. ICT should be used in a way that does not disturb other people and is not harmful to their health.
  10. Equipment [oborudovanie] and technological devices belonging to other users cannot be used without their permission.
  11. Personal data is inviolable in virtual space; the use of personal data without a user’s consent [or "without a sanction"] is inadmissible.
  12. It is mandatory to respect intellectual property; plagiarism in ICT is prohibited.
  13. The words and information attributable to another person (user) should not be distorted and/or shortened.
  14. ICT should not be used to disseminate spam.
  15. The use of ICT for harassment, dissemination of offensive content [oskorblenie] and slander, provocation, triggering of panic, as well as for reasons of greed [koryst'], regionalism [mestnichestvo], and other improper reasons, is inadmissible.
  16. Discrimination of users on the basis of nationality, language, religion, race, and sex in virtual space is prohibited.
  17. Taking advantage [zloupotreblenie] of inadequate technological knowledge and skills of other users is inadmissible.
  18. Protecting the rights and interests of minors and those in need [or "disabled"] is a priority in ICT.
  19. Posting of unethical and illegal comments to information posted by other users is prohibited.
  20. Every person (user) shall be held responsible for the information she or he is disseminating.
  21. Every person (user) shall be held responsible for violating ethical standards in the virtual space of ICT.

The document was developed jointly by the president's office, state-run telecommunication agency, organizations representing the country's internet and mobile service providers, and several NGOs. According to Radio Ozodi [tj], a working group including representatives from these organizations will shortly put together a commentary to this brief document.

Although mainstream media in the country have largely ignored the presentation of the Ethics Code, netizens did notice the document. On Twitter, several Tajikistani users have discussed possible consequences of the adoption of this document.

An “Ethics Code for an e-Citizen” has been discussed in Dushanbe http://t.co/QRubDp2iQA #Tajikistan

Is this a joke or what? How are they going to make people aware of this code? How will they punish those who do not observe [it]? http://t.co/QRubDp2iQA

Jasur Ashurov suggests that the authorities might have developed the ethical code in order to justify the blocking of websites that are used to disseminate content critical of the government. He recalls that Tajikistan has blocked access to several websites, including Facebook and YouTube, over the recent years:

@du15yak30 They see that the opposition is actively using Facebook and Odnoklassniki [Russian social network service] and now all this hustle. They will now block websites due to their being unethical.

He also revisits a recent story when Beg Zukhurov, the director of the country's state-run telecommunications agency, invited Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to visit him and discuss the reasons why the social network was blocked in Tajikistan:

@du15yak30 Or Beg [Zukhurov] will be calling Zuckerberg and asking him to delete certain users’ profile for not observing the code (:

This image portrays smiling Tajik President as saying,

This image portrays smiling Tajik President as saying, “Have you read the Ethical Code? It was written by Beg [Zukhurov]“. Image from Digital Tajikistan blog, used with permission.

On this image, Tajikistan's infamous telecommunications agency chief Beg Zukhurov is portrayed as saying,

On this image, Tajikistan's infamous telecommunications agency chief Beg Zukhurov is portrayed as saying, “Have you seen this Facebook? It is totally unethical”. Image from Digital Tajikistan blog, used with permission.

Digital Tajikistan suggests that the development of the Ethics Code reflects a broader trend in Tajikistan:

@jashurov @du15yak30 Overall, the authorities are now paying much closer attention to the internet. Now we have to be more careful about what we say. The big brother is watching us!

Some netizens do not know what to make of the Ethics Code given that it tries to regulate so many things at once. Arzanda writes:

This document looks like a salad, with everything mixed in it, from ‘Thou shalt not be loud when speaking on the phone’ to ‘Thou shalt speak Tajik’ to ‘Thou shalt not plagiarise’.

Yet some believe that the country does indeed require such a document. Zukhra comments [tj] on Radio Ozodi:

Бисьёр хуб мешуд, одоби муомилаи интернетиро ба тартиб меовардед, хеле беодобихо бисьёранд, ин хел муомила миллати точикро хеле ба пасти мезананд, баъзан чунон хакоратхои кабех ба назар мерасанд, умед дорам чорахои бехтарин ба ин хел инсонхо насиб мегардад!, ки дар оянда чукуртар фикру андеша карда баъд менависанд.

It will be very good if you create some order in discussions on the internet. There are many uneducated [impolite] people there. Their discussions bring shame onto the Tajik nation. Sometimes they use terrible swear words. I hope [these] good measures will be to such people's benefit and will cause these people to think carefully before writing [content on the internet].

On this image, Tajik president is portrayed as telling a boy using a computer,

On this image, Tajik president is portrayed as telling a boy using a computer, “Before you open Facebook, read the Ethics Code”. Image from Digital Tajikistan blog, used with permission.

It is not clear at the moment whether and how the authorities are going to use the ethics code. Tajikistan Monitor concludes:

It remains to be seen what the authorities are going to do with this document. The code is not a law, which means that netizens cannot be formally penalized for not observing it. Yet, in Tajikistan with its unpredictable way of reacting to criticism on the internet, you never know.

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

October 11 2013

‘Politics is a Men-Only Game': Female Candidate Quits Presidential Race in Tajikistan

Those who celebrated the nomination of the first ever female presidential candidate in Tajikistan woke up to a sad news on October 11. Oynikhol Bobonazarova who was described as “the only serious opposition candidate for the November [6] election“ has failed to register. Despite the support from the country's two main opposition parties, Bobonazarova could not gather 210,000 signatures needed to enter the presidential race. Talking to media this morning, she blamed the government for this failure, claiming that the “whole state machine” had been mobilized against her.

‘Real tragedy’

Given all the buzz sparked by Bobonazarova's entry into the presidential contest this September, it is not surprising that her unexpected departure from the race has generated another buzz in social media. Many netizens are genuinely saddened by this turn of events. Tomiris, who had praised [ru] the female candidate's presidential bid, tweeted [ru]:

#Bobonazarova does not participate in the elections. This is a real tragedy for the country! #Tajikistan

Uguloy Mukhtorova suggested that without Bobonazarova, presidential elections are now “meaningless” [en, ru]:

Meaningless election! http://t.co/kvrHlwDEYN Oinikhol Bobonazarova is out of the electoral competition.

Bachai Sako had a similar opinion [tj]:

Unfortunately, as Bobonazarova leaves, the “intrigue” [puzzle] of the election also leaves.

Tomiris comes back, however, saying that Bobonazarova's attempt to run for president was important in itself [ru]:

On the other hand, she made an attempt at least. Someone had to make an attempt. #Tajikistan

On her blog, Tomiris has [ru] more to say about the implications of the female candidate's departure from the contest:

Я очень хотела, чтобы Ойнихол Бобоназарова участвовала в выборах. Я знала, что у нее не было ни малейшего шанса на победу. Но иногда само участие это уже само по себе победа.

Таджикистан так и не отважился на первую женщину кандидата в президенты. Это поражение для всех женщин. Это еще одно подтверждение тому, что всем в нашей стране заправляют мужчины. Грустно. Мечта так и не осуществилась. Покойся в мире, мечта.

I was eager to see Oinikhol Bobonazarova participating in the election. I knew she did not have a slightest chance to win. But participation is sometimes a victory in itself.

Tajikistan has not had the courage to have its first ever female presidential hopeful. This is a defeat for all women. This re-emphasizes the fact that men are in charge of everything in our country. It is sad. The dream has not come true. Rest in peace dream.

Oinikhol Bobonazarova at a press conference where she announced that she failed to collect the required number of signatures. Screen capture from a YouTube video uploaded on October 11, 2013, by Kayumars Ato.

Oinikhol Bobonazarova at a press conference where she announced that she failed to collect the required number of signatures. Screen capture from a YouTube video uploaded on October 11, 2013, by Kayumars Ato.

Bleak future?

On Platforma, the largest public group on Facebook dedicated to discussion of politics in Tajikistan, many participants warned of a bleak future for the country after the withdrawal of the only genuine challenger of the incumbent president.

Bejan Mahmud wrote [ru]:

“Поздравляю” гражданина Рахмона с победой на выборах. Если вы понимаете о чем я.

I would like to “congratulate” [Emomali] Rahmon [incumbent president] on his victory in elections. If you know what I mean.

During the forthcoming elections, Rahmon is expected to win another seven-year term in office by a landslide. Although he has recently been ridiculed by some Tajikistani Facebook users, he also appears to have support from some netizens in the country.

“Umniy Biznes” [Smart Business] announced [ru]:

Потеряна последняя надежда на мирные перемены в Таджикистане…

The last hope for peaceful change in Tajikistan is lost…

And “Moderator Platformy” [Platforma Moderator] posted [ru]:

Еще 7 лет разрухи, беззакония, стыда и спада всех отраслей жизни? За что нам такое наказание?

Another seven years of destruction, lawlessness, shame, and degradation in all spheres? What have we done to deserve this punishment?

In the comments section on the ASIA-Plus news website, many readers had similar opinions. For instance, “Klon” [Clone] wrote [ru]:

Жаль конечно, я подумал было и до конца верил, что она пробьется, ведь женщина, но увы, все палки в колеса. Так обиднь за народ свой, аж ком в горле, к сожалению, снова придется жить в нищите и беззаконности, за что? Когда же придет судный день, когда, для тех, кто грабит и унижает мой народ :-(

It is a pity. I thought for some time – and I believed till the end – that she [Bobonazarova] would make it, because she is a woman. Alas, [the authorities have prevented her from running]. I have so much pity for our people that I want to cry. Unfortunately, we will have to live in abysmal poverty and lawlessness again. Why? When will the judgement day finally arrive for those who rob and humiliate my people ? :-(

Boycott the elections?

Aware of the fact that the outcome of the November 6 vote is foretold, some netizens say they will boycott the election. A person writing under the alias “Izbiratel'” [Voter] on ASIA-Plus announced [ru]:

Очень плохие новости АП. Я гражданин РТ ОБЯВЛЯЮ БОЙКОТ этим выборам, я не пойду голосовать, так как за не кого. Я уговорю всех родственников и друзей не ходить на выборы. Я считаю эти выборы и их результат ( который мы уже все знаем) нелегитимными. Для меня и моих детей нет будущего в этой стране. Собираю чемоданы.

This is a very bad news. I, a citizen of [Tajikistan], announce my intention to BOYCOTT this election. I will not cast my vote, because there is nobody to vote for. I will convince all my relatives and friends not to cast their votes too. I consider this election and its outcome (which we all know already) illegitimate. There is no future in this country for myself and my children. I am packing up.

Daler Boy posted this image on Platforma. It reads,

Daler Boy posted this image on Platforma. It reads, “I boycott these elections”. Image is used with permission.

Both on Facebook and on news forums, many Tajikistanis said they intended to boycott the vote. Yet some netizens suggest that boycotting the election will not make much difference. Zarrina wrote [ru], for example:

Мне кажется, что даже если не идти голосовать, то наши бюллетени все рано заполнят в пользу Рахмона. А если идти голосовать, то не за кого. Тупик. Остается одно, – уезжать самим и отправлять подальше своих детей отсюда.

I think that even if we do not cast our votes, the ballots will still be filled in in favor of Rahmon. And if we do decide to vote, there is nobody to vote for. [It is a] deadlock. Only one option is left – [which is] to leave the country and to send our children somewhere far from here.

And for some netizens, Bobonazarova's departure from the race signaled that politics remains a male domain in Tajikistan. Commenting on Tomiris's blog, Jakhongir wrote [en, ru]:

Welcome back to reality как у нас говорят. Политика это игра только для мужчин.

Welcome back to reality as they say here. Politics is a men-only game.

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