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February 25 2014

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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 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?..

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.

February 07 2014

Russian Commentator Mistakes Uzbekistan for Tajikistan at Olympics Opening Ceremony

Although this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi have just kicked off, social media users in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are already angry at Russia, the country hosting the Games.

Thousands of people in the two Central Asian nations turned on their TVs earlier today to watch the opening ceremony for the Olympics shown live on ”Russia-1“, a state-owned Russian television channel (available via satellite in the both countries). As athletes from Uzbekistan were walking into the stadium behind an Uzbek flag, renowned Russian sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev [ru] announced, “Tajikistan”. He thus confused the two countries that were once part of the Moscow-dominated Soviet Union and have had a strained relationship over the last decade.

“That moment when Uzbekistan was called Tajikistan”. Image circulating widely on social media sites.

It did not take too long for angry reactions to appear on Twitter. Below are just a select few from hundreds of tweets posted by netizens from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many of these tweets are addressed to Guberniev (@gubernievd), shaming the commentator and demanding an apology.

Calling Uzbekistan Tajikistan? Guberniev, go perform harakiri [kill yourself]!

Guberniev, burn in hell

I hope, I believe that the commentators will be takes to a ravine nearby and executed [shot dead] any minute now

[Text in the image reads, "Here is Tajikistan". "It is Uzbekistan, you idiot!"]

Guberniev, I wish I could give you a globe and put you behind a school desk so that you learnt not to confuse Uzbekistan for Tajikistan #sochi2014problems

The commentator made a mistake when athletes from Uzbekistan were entering [the stadium]… he introduced them as being from Tajikistan… I think he should apologize!!!

@gubernievd You have to offer an apology to Uzbekistan, Dmitry. We are not Tajikistan, with all due respect to our neighbours.

What the hell is Guberniev saying? Uzbekistan is not Tajikistan! He should offer Uzbekistan an apology now!

What an opening for the Sochi Games! D. Guberniev, apologize to us, to Uzbekistan! UZBEKISTAN IS NOT Tajikistan.

@gubernievd You should at least learn your Russian Cyrillic letters. When a word ends in “-istan”, it does not always mean “Tajikistan”!

@gubernievd You called our country Tajikistan rather than Uzbekistan although the correct name was there, written in three languages.

What an idiot could confuse the national team of Uzbekistan with that of Tajikistan?

This is offensive! Uzbekistan, not Tajikistan!

Russians urgently need to study geography and flags in order to learn to tell Uzbekistan from Tajikistan. Is this the country that wants to rule [Central] Asia?

February 05 2014

Surname Change As “National Duty” in Tajikistan

Following a controversial assertion by Tajikistan's Prosecutor General, senior officials in the country continue claiming that citizens whose surnames end in “-ov” or “-ev” are not patriots. Speaking to journalists today, Gavhar Sharofzoda, the head of the Tajikistan Language and Terminology Committee, said [ru], “Getting rid of Russian endings in surnames is a national duty of every citizen of Tajikistan”.

Kharsavor responded [ru] in his blog:

“National duty”? What kind of “national” duty? When will our ignorant officials finally realize that only the constitution can define what a “national” duty is? Serving in the army is, for example, a duty for guys. While a decision regarding how to write one's surname is something private.

When will they finally understand that Tajikistan is home to people from different [ethnic backgrounds]? I am an Uzbek, for example, and every fifth person here is an Uzbek. There are also Pamiris, Russians, Kyrgyz. Why in the world do officials define for us which surnames are “national” or “patriotic”? They have already renamed all villages and streets. Do they now want to do the same to people?

As with previous similar statements, Sharofzoda's comments have also triggered a wave of angry reactions on Facebook.

February 04 2014

Tajikistan Is “Besieged by Snow”

A massive snow storm has hit Tajikistan. Over the last three days, the country has been getting record-breaking amounts of snow, causing a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people. 

The authorities have closed schools, universities, and kindergartens throughout the country. Two major airports, in Kulob and Qurghonteppa, have been shut down. Many flights have been cancelled at the airports in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and Khujand. The snow has also left some parts of the country cut off from the rest. Avalanches have been reported across the mountainous nation.

Snow in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission,

Snow in Dushanbe. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission.

The snow has also left Dushanbe “at the edge of a collapse” [ru]. The municipal authorities have been unable to remove snow from all but several main streets in the city. As a result, the public transportation system has all but stopped, leaving thousands of people unable to get to work or hospitals. Multiple car crashes have further paralyzed the city's roads. The snow has also caused frequent power cuts in the city where nine out of ten residents rely on electricity to heat their homes.

One blogger wrote [ru]:

Душанбе – в снежной осаде. Это красиво, даже в чем-то волшебно, но очень неудобно.
Шла сегодня с работы домой пешком. Около часа. Транспорта нет, да и ездить на том, что есть, опасно.

Dushanbe is besieged by snow. This is beautiful, even somewhat magical, but very inconvenient.
I had to walk home from work today. It took me about an hour. There is no [public] transportation, and whatever transportation is available is too dangerous to ride.

Municipal services in Dushanbe are short of special equipment and rely on street cleaners to remove snow from the city's roads.

Municipal services in Dushanbe are short of special equipment and rely on street cleaners to remove snow from the city's roads. Image by ASIA-Plus, February 3, 2014, used with permission.

On Facebook, a prominent Tajik journalist wrote [ru] (in a post that has got more than 120 likes and has been shared by users on various pages):

Думаю в какой же отсталой стране мы живем: 
снежный покров в 14-16 см великая проблема для городских служб; 
спецтехника, включая “Скорую помощь” ограничена в движении, следовательно десятки (если не сотни) людей не получать помощь; 
тысячи людей не добрались на работу, учебу…; 
общественное питание самоограничилась; 
мобильные операторы не обспечивают скорость Интернета; 
и что еще хуже: НИКТО и НИ ЗА ЧТО не отвечает! ((((

I think that we live in a very backward country:
- 14-16 centimeters of snow is a huge problem for municipal services;
- special services, including ambulance service, is limited in terms of the places they can reach; as a result, tens (or even hundreds) of people will not get the assistance they require;
- thousands of people have been unable to get to work or [schools and universities];
- [restaurants] have closed down;
- mobile service operators fail to ensure fast Internet service;
- and, what is worse, NOBODY is responsible FOR ANYTHING! (((

On social media sites, many Tajikistani users share pictures of snow-hit Dushanbe and wonder whether this winter is going to be as bad as the winter of 2008.

See more images and videos from snowy Dushanbe here and here

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 27 2014

“There Are No Other Problems” in Tajikistan Besides Name Games

More than a week after Tajikistan's Prosecutor General made a controversial statement about “unpatriotic” surnames, Internet users in the country continue debating whether the ending of one's surname is a good measure of the person's level of patriotism. Many netizens, however, are angry about the fact that the Prosecutor General has been so vocal on seemingly trivial issues while remaining silent on high-profile cases that fall under his mandate.

The following image is widely circulating among Tajikistani users of social networks Facebook and Odnoklassniki:

patriot

Anonymous image circulating online.

The text at the very top and the very bottom of the image reads ironically, in Russian: “The Prosecutor General is worried about people changing surnames. If your surname ends with “ov” or “ev”, you are not a patriot. There are no other problems in the country!”. Smaller images and texts behind the Prosecutor General's photo relate to cases that the official has apparently failed to address. These images (staring with the bottom-left image, moving clockwise) point to: a deadly car crash involving a son of a well-connected official (text reads, “Murderer”); newly-built plant emitting hazardous coal dust in the country's capital (“Ecology is dead”); recent death of an opposition activist in prison, apparently of torture (“Murdered”); recent jailing of an influential businessman-cum-opposition politician on dubious charges (“26 years in prison”); and the fact that at least a million of Tajik citizens work outside of the country to keep their families out of poverty (“Migrant”).

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.

January 23 2014

New Year's Eve is Past but Debates Continue in Tajikistan

Although the New Year's Eve is past, social media users in Tajikistan continue debating over the appropriateness of the holiday which many Tajiks see as a remnant of the “alien” Russian culture. On NewEurasia.net, Loki suggests that the very discussion about whether the New Year's Eve should or should not be celebrated has in itself become an annual “tradition” in Tajikistan. 

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 (both old and new), 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.

Goodbye Alexandros Petersen, Prodigious Guide to China in Central Asia

With a sprinkle of humor, Alex slipped seamlessly and gracefully into a region of stories and storytellers, abundance and poverty, toasts and toast-makers. 

The 29 year-old go-to-scholar and commentator was eloquent and big-hearted in everything he did. 

It was with great shock that I comprehended the loss of Alexandros Petersen, co-author of the excellent Eurasian affairs blog ChinainCentralAsia.com, in a suicide bomb attack carried out by the Taliban at a restaurant in central Kabul on January 17, 2014. 

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

This is not an obituary.

Alex was so well-traveled and well-affiliated that compiling his biography would probably be a task beyond any single person, and certainly the author of this post. A great number of people knew Alex in a great number of capacities, all of whom lost something in this brutal, highly coordinated and premeditated attack.

America-born to a Greek mother and a Danish father, he had friends and admirers across the world, with a notable concentration of both in lands sandwiched between the shores of the Black Sea and the sands of the Taklamakan desert.

As an occasional journalist, I had known ‘Alex the source’ – always reliable for an astute and erudite quote – for some time before I knew Alex the person.

While the first Alex will leave a gaping hole in the rolodex of many analysts and reporters covering Central Asia and the Caucasus, it is the second Alex, known by family, friends, colleagues and students, that will be missed even more. 

As a noted expert in energy politics, Alex's scope was global, yet like many that have traveled through, lived and worked in, or wrote about the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, there was a specific set of countries he found infectious. As he emphasized in his book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and later through the ChinainCentralAsia blog and book project, this is a region that western policy-makers ignore at their peril.

Many people that knew Alex, even as briefly as I knew him, will know that he had an aptitude for anecdotes. Through the warm fuzzy memory of one of several excellent dinner evenings at a well-known Georgian restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a dash of the Caucasus in Central Asia) I can still hear his tale of the duplicitous Azerbaijani ambassador that summoned him for a dressing down after he had written a critical article about that country, only to promptly stop, smile, and break out a teapot and tea cups. The dressing down, it emerged, had been recorded for the benefit of a political high-up in Baku, while the teapot and tea cups were symbols of the perennial hospitality with which any visitor to the region rapidly becomes familiar. 

On a good night, Alex could reel off a dozen such recollections from his years traveling through countries in Europe and Asia, nearly all of which were outrageously funny. A Petersen punch line could leave your ribs hurting from laughter, a potent and particular gift that the Taliban stole from the world.

China in Central Asia

Through ChinainCentralAsia.com, one of the most readable English-language blogs covering geopolitics in the Eurasian region, Alex had begun in combination with co-writer Raffaello Pantucci and photojournalist Sue Anne Tay, to document what he was convinced, with good reason, would be one of the stories of the 21st century, namely China's giant economic push through the countries lying west of its own restive Xinjiang province. These countries, cobbled together as “the stans” by the western media, lie at the historical heart of some of the greatest land empires the world has known, but are now isolated states increasingly shorn of options. Hamstrung by geography, corruption and various other internal problems, they have few reasons to reject Chinese largesse, and even fewer means to resist it.

Belatedly the chronicle of exponentially increasing Chinese trade and investment in Central Asia has started to turn heads beyond the region and its regular gaggle of foreign observers. Last September, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's whirlwind tour through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan raised eyebrows across the world by virtue of the sheer size of the deals struck for oil, gas and other giant infrastructure projects in the region. For Petersen, Pantucci and others, this is a plot that has been bubbling for some time, and one that is increasingly central to the epic that is China's rise towards superpower status.   

While Alex diligently tracked every stretch of pipeline built by the Chinese in the region, he also knew that China's influence in Central Asia could not be measured in kilometers of road, barrels of oil, and cubic meters of gas alone. Many of the articles on ChinainCentralAsia.com are enjoyable to read precisely because they gather the testimonies of ordinary Central Asians being affected by the changes that have accompanied China's expanding clout; from university teachers observing the installation of Confucius Institutes in their places of work, to local businessmen whose bank accounts have been swelled by trade with China, and villagers who believe the roads Chinese companies are building in their country – paid for by cheap Chinese credit – are designed to support the weight of Chinese tanks in a future military invasion.

The practitioners of Beijing's westward pivot, and the protagonists in the emergence of what ChinainCentral Asia.com has labelled China's “inadvertant empire” are also human beings rather than mere pawns on a chessboard, a fact Petersen captured in an October article in the Atlantic: 

These actors include Chinese owners of market stalls in Central Asia’s largest bazaars. One I spoke to had lived for years in a shipping container he shared with four other men at the back of a clothes market in Kazakhstan’s largest bazaar. A multi-millionaire, he provided for his children’s Western education, multiple apartments in Shanghai, and even overseas property investments. To him, Central Asia is the land of opportunity. These actors also include Chinese teachers sent to staff the many Confucius Institutes sprouting up around the region. Some I spoke with missed home, but many said they preferred the exciting “frontier life.” CNPC engineers across the region know that they are in for the long haul, as their company and its many subsidiaries build imposing structures in every Eurasian capital. The immense pipeline network CNPC is threading through the region consists of infrastructure set to last half a century.

Alex the Guide

Beyond his writing Alex also inspired as a teacher, and it was during his semester-long stint at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that I got to know him on a personal level. Among the juniors and seniors in the International and Comparative Politics department (many of whom have written articles for Global Voices) that took his elective courses, and freshmen of all departments undertaking the First Year Seminar, Alex was a universally admired guide and friend, as well as a teller of fantastic stories. To both students and colleagues at the university, he was open, approachable, and a great person to bounce ideas off.

We are thinking of his family.  

A man of many temporary homes, Alex was in Kabul to embark on another research and teaching stint at the American University of Afghanistan. Writing to him a few days before he died I told him I was looking forward to a new series of dispatches on the nature and shape of Chinese influence in this fascinating, beautiful, tortured country. Now those dispatches will never be written and the students he was teaching will miss out on the tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience and color he brought to a classroom. When the Taliban cut his life short so brutally, it was fellow Afghans they punished. 

As his friend and writing partner Raffaello Pantucci communicated via email, “a bright light has gone out.”

Chris Rickleton manages the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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