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February 13 2014

Did Turkmenistan Get Cold Feet Before the Sochi Winter Olympics?

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

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

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

CA all

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

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

Ýa nesip!

Lucky him!

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

yarysha gatnasmasa bolyala

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

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

‘Sochustvushii’ [Сочувствующий] comments [ru]:

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

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

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

Jorabay asked [ru] hopefully:

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

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

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

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

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

‘Anonim’ [Аноним] disagrees:

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

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

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

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

January 23 2014

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.

September 07 2013

“Central Asia is Watching [Syria] Too”

As the United States and Russia spar over the way ahead in Syria, the governments in Central Asia are following the situation closely, writes Nathan Barrick on Registan.net:

Russia chooses to focus on the perspective that the Syrian government is fighting a battle against Islamic extremists and this message likely resonates with Central Asian governments.  Official silence from Central Asia on Syria should not disguise the real sympathy with Russia’s perspective…

…Central Asia is watching too… not because they will seek to develop and acquire chemical weapons to use against their populations, but to note how much confidence they can place in a security partnership with the United States, or even if they should re-evaluate and partner more closely with Russia.

August 27 2013

Kyrgyzstan to Become a ‘Beam of Light’ in the ‘Dark’ Region?

Blogger Bektour Iskender suggests [ru] that “free” Kyrgyzstan should allow citizens of the less free nations in Central Asia, particularly Turkmenistan, to stay in the country visa-free:

OK, we have [visa-free regime] for citizens of 44 developed nations. This is great.

However, I believe that Kyrgyzstan as the most free country in Central Asia should become something more than just a beautiful country visited by tourists from the West.

It should become the center of knowledge and freedom in the region…

We should understand that we are surrounded by nations that are not free. And we have to become a beam of light in the dark for citizens of these nations. We should become a place where people facing persecution will dream to move…

We should first of all pay our attention to Turkmenistan… [Kyrgyzstan] should become the second home for [persons facing persecution in Turkmenistan].

August 12 2013

Turkmenistan's “Book of the Soul” Facing Difficult Times

Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's first President-for-Life, once suggested that reading his “Ruhnama” (“The Book of the Soul”) three times would be enough to guarantee a person's place in heaven. But with the isolated republic now ruled by a different strongman, eager to put his own stamp on Turkmen life, the Ruhnama's place in society is looking ever less prominent.

Despite Turkmenistan having an 80% Muslim population, the Ruhnama, a book on public mores that Niyazov, who died in December 2006, supposedly authored, was once promoted by state officials as being an equal of the Holy Koran. Mass media regularly quoted the book, as did schoolchildren, foreign investors and anyone that wanted to pass a driving test.

President Niyazov (right) authored the Ruhnama, but the book seems to be getting in the hair of President Berdymuhamedov (left), despite Berdymuhamedov kissing the text at his inauguration. Remixed image published on the Turkmen Chronicles news blog.

When it was first published in 2001, the book was portrayed by the government as a source of spiritual guidance and national identity for a society still struggling with the ideological vacuum left behind by the Soviet Union. As its role grew, however, it quickly came to be viewed as just another cog in Nizazov's personality cult, a personality cult that rivaled Stalin's, Mao's and Kim Jong-il's in pomp and audacity.

Although many historians dispute the accuracy of the book's vision of Turkmen history, the message from President Niyazov on the inlay leaves little room for interpretation:

The Ruhnama has absorbed the five thousand year history of our nation, the pearls of its wisdom, philosophy, mentality, its dreams and aspirations, unique culture and lifestyle, as well as its rich inner world.

The Rise and Rise of the Ruhnama

Within a couple of years of the Ruhnama's release it had become national dogma. Vilages and streets were named after the text, and a large statue of the book was built in the center of the capital, Ashkhabad. Every Saturday was proclaimed the day of Ruhnama and September 12 was celebrated as Ruhnama Day, one of the most important in the pantheon of Turkmen public holidays.

Furthermore, foreign investors such as DaimlerChrysler, Siemens and Bouygues International began promoting and translating the Ruhnama into foreign languages in order to curry favour with Niyazov and gain access to the Turkmen market. The producers of Shadow of the Holy Book, a 2007 documentary on the Ruhnama, asked the same question to several of the world's largest multinational companies: Why support a dictatorship by translating a book that oppresses its own population? [Watch full documentary here]. The book has now been translated into 41 languages.

Schoolchildren and university students in particular were forced to study the Ruhnama every day. As Surat Ajdarova recalled in an opinion piece on Fergana news:

It was mandatory to read the Ruhnama in schools, universities and governmental organizations. New governmental employees were tested on the Ruhnama at the job interview and even at [their] driver’s tests.

Is Turkmenistan waving goodbye to its soul?

Copies of the Ruhnama are still widely available in Turkmenistan, but as Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, Turkmen president since Niyazov's death and self-appointed “protector” of the Turkmen people has sought to bolster his own public profile [GV] the Ruhnama is no longer the omnipresence it once was. In 2011, for instance, Eurasianet.org reported that the Turkmen government had decided to remove the requirement to pass an exam in Ruhnama knowledge for secondary school students.

A statue of the Ruhnama in  Turkmenistan (Wikimedia commons)

While at the beginning of this month, The Times of Central Asia reported a further blow to the book's status:

A new curriculum prepared by the Turkmen Education Ministry for secondary schools for the coming school year does not include the study of Ruhnama…It means that from September 1, Turkmen school students will no longer study the “sacred book” written by Saparmurat Niyazov, late President for Life of Turkmenistan.

For the most part, the news was received positively by commentators on the diaspora-run Turkmen Chronicles News blog, a reader called Turkmen rejoicing [ru]:

Слава Аллаху!!! Хоть что-то полезное от Аркадага!

Praise Allah!! This is at least one thing that The Protector has got right!

Another user, Leto, waxed philosophical [ru] over the possible legacies of personalized rule in Turkmenistan:

как потом нашим потомкам изучать эпоху туркменбаши? или ее не было? или стыдно будет перед потомками что вообще такое было и теперь продолжается

How will our descendants remember the era of Turkmenbashy [Father of the Turkmen - Niyazov's favourite title]? Or perhaps it never happened? Or will we be ashamed before our descendants that such [an era] even existed and that it continues on to this day?

Anonymous suggested [ru] sarcastically that a host of recently published books connected to the current president could soon be appearing on school syllabi, reflecting the transition from one cult of personality to another:

будут изучать «Верный сын Родины. Дело всей жизни Мяликгулы ага», «Педагог, воин, гражданин. Жизнь-подвиг Бердымухамеда Аннаева», «Имя доброе нетленно», «Ахалтекинец — наша гордость и слава», «Туркмения — страна здоровых и высокодуховных людей»

Now they are going to learn “True Son of the Homeland. The Life Works of Mayalikgul Aga” [a biography of President Berdymuhamedov's grandfather], “Teacher, Soldier, Citizen, The Life of Burdymuhamed Annaev” [a biography of President Berdymuhamedov's father], “A Good Name Doesn't Perish” [a novel purportedly written by Berdymuhamedov], “Akhal-Tekke Horses – Our Pride and Salvation” [Berdymuhamedov's book on the famous horses that hail from his home region], “Turkmenistan – a Country of Healthy and Spiritually Advanced People” [Berdymuhamedov's Ruhnama-like treatise on Turkmen culture and traditional knowledge].

In yet another move that can be perceived as aiming to dilute the influence of the Ruhnama, Berdymuhamedov has repeatedly stressed Turkmenistan's debt to Magtymguly Pyragy, an 18th century poet and spiritual leader born in what is now northeastern Iran. Commenting under an article about the president's promotion of Magtymguly over the Ruhnama on RFE/RL's Turkmen service, a user called Rayat welcomed [Tkm] the “rotting away” of a text that once dominated everyday existence in the country:

Fa$istba$ynyñ absurt ruhnamasyda ozi yaly cüyräp gider. Halk hakykaty bilyar.

Fascist-bashi's [reference to Niyazov] absurd Ruhnama ideology is rotting away just as he himself decays into the ground. The people will discover the truth.

 

July 22 2013

Turkmenistan's Internet Blues

Turkmenistan is infamous for its tightly controlled media, and is one of the world's greatest Internet Enemies by Reporters Without Borders’ estimations. With the average Turkmen finding his or her Internet access intermittent, slow, and tightly circumscribed, it is perhaps unsurprising that cyber-optimism among Turkmen internet users is running at an all time low.

Turkmenistan has had official access to the Internet since 1997. Non-mobile internet services are dominated Turkmen Telecom, while mobile services are provided by Russian mobile operator MTS and its Turkmen competitor, Altyn Asyr. (A host of smaller independent Turkmen Internet Service Providers were strong-armed out of the market at the turn of the century). Altyn Asyr and Turkmen Telecom are both overseen by the Ministry of Communications, and are thus unflinchingly loyal to the country's body politic. Censorship is ubiquitous and extensive across the country.

Those lucky enough to have access to Altyn Ayr's service consent tacitly to blanket surveillance and selective access to non-Turkmen websites. Reporters Without Borders conveys [ru]:

Оппозиционные сайты, такие как XpoHo.tm и Gundogar, а также региональные информационные сайты по Центральной Азии – Ferghana или EurasiaNet.org – заблокированы. Доступ к YouTube и LiveJournal стал невозможен в конце 2009 года, с целью помешать туркменам вести общение в блогах или отправляать видео за границую Facebook и Twitter до сих пор заблокированы.

Opposition websites such as Chrono-TM and Gundogar, and regional news sites covering Central Asia such as ferghana.ru and Eurasianet, are blocked. YouTube and LiveJournal were rendered inaccessible late in 2009 to prevent Turkmen from blogging or sending videos abroad. Facebook and Twitter are also blocked.

Under a Voice of America article about censorship in Central Asia in November last year, Аноним [Anonym] vented [ru]:

Цензура в Туркменистане это вообще полный крах. Закрывают не только сайты новостей, но закрыты: ютуб, фэйсбук, а также все распространенные месенджеры. На сегодня закрыты: whatsapp, Jabber (все что работают на его протоколе), Viber, iMesege и куча других. А потом удивляются что так хреново развивается интернет в стране… Да нафиг он кому нужен если там ничего не открывается и не работает?

Censorship in Turkmenistan is awful. Not only [independent] news sites but YouTube, Facebook and all the usual messengers are closed. Nowadays whatsapp, Jabber, Viber, iMessage and others [are closed]. And then we wonder why the internet that develops in the country is so shitty… who needs it at all if none of these things work?

In fact, YouTube, and the Russian social network Odnoklasniki are two sites that Turkmen netizens can currently access, but the slow speed of the average Tukmen internet connection renders this “access” hypothetical. Another anonymous commenter complained on fergananews [ru]:

Все равно ютуб со скоростью 33-44кб/с невозможно смотреть.

Anyway, YouTube at 33-44 Kb/s is impossible to watch.

What’s up with netizens?

State censorship over the internet is cynical, but not shocking to most Turkmens. The regular internet using demographic is school teenagers and university students who study both inside and outside the country. Thoughts and comments expressed on most Turkmen websites regarding the internet are usually negative. Some users such as as muslimah, writing on a privately owned forum Ertir.com, conceive the internet as an infectious disease, and are actively looking for a remedy to recover and be well again [tm]:

 Salam,shu internetden nadip ayrylyp bolyaray?ine okuw bashlandy,okap bashlamaly welin hich internetden ayrylyp bolanok,erte okarn diyyan her gun,ka wagt bolya yarym sagat oturayyn diyyan welin ondan buna girip butin gun otyranyny bilman galyan :(

Hi, how can I set myself free from the internet? A semester starts, and I have to study, but I cannot separate myself from internet, it is an obstacle and addictive that I spend my whole day without knowing the passage of time :(

First-graders

First graders risk “Internet Disease”. Photo form Golden Age of Turkmenistan (state-controlled media) shared via Eurasianet.org's Sifting the Karakum blog.

Feya gives a prescription [tm]:

Internet keseli mana-da on degdi, hiich ayrylyp bilemmokdum. indi beyle dal. Men pikirimcha hemme zat adamyn ozine bagly. Bir zady chynyn bilen islesen shony basharyp bolya. Internede girmejek bolsan gyzykly kitap oka, wagtyny bashga zada sowjak bol son owrenship gidersin, we mohum at dal bolup galar.

Once I was also infected with internet disease, i couldn't get well for a long time. Now I have recovered. Everything is in your hands, you can do it too. Read some interesting books, and do some other activities. Then, the Internet would seem not such an important thing in your life.

For females, internet-use can be regarded as immoral and against Turkmen tradition. Another internet user, posting as Skynet on RFE/RL's Turkmen service,  expressed [tm] his thoughts under an article ‘Internetde oturýar’ adyny alasym gelenok [I do not want to be called an "internet user"]:

Internet gyzlary sheylebir uytgetdi edil oglanlary uytgedishi yaly.erbetlige tarap uytgetdi.hazir yashlar inet bn dem alyalar.ahli adamlar internet kerebine(shol sanda menem) cholashyp chykyp bilenoklar.adamzadyn ahli dunyasi,ekonomikasy,politikasy,medeniyeti,mashgala durmushy yitip yok bolmaga bashlady.munun dine bir gunakari bar olam internet-skynet

Internet also changed our girls as it previously did boys. and it changed them in negative way. They breathe through the internet. Now all people are trapped in the internet's web (including me). It starts eradicating all our social, economic, political, and family life. So we do not need it.

Turkmenistan's internet blues can be attributed partly to the limited and “homegrown” nature of the Turkmen internet and partly to a lack of education about cyberspace and technology as a whole. Although the government marked the first day of the 2012 school calendar by giving free net-books to all first graders, there is an acute shortage of tech-savvy teachers to help them use their new toys.

Ruslan T, a blogger and journalist at the independent, diaspora-run Turkmen Chronicles news website wrote in a blog titled “Useless Gift”:

It should be noted that the majority of elementary school teachers have attended training sessions at computer centers and acquired [basic] computer literacy skills. However, only a few of them have managed to pass these skills on to their students. It is just [not within] the professional competencies of teachers.

July 05 2013

J. Lo’s Performance at Birthday Bash Prompts Criticism of Turkmen President

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov got a fine 56th birthday present at the end of last month in the form of a concert starring Jennifer Lopez held at Turkmenistan's $2 billion state palace. But many ordinary Turkmens registered disgust at the display of opulence in a country where the average salary hovers around $200 per month.

Turkmen singers also performed at the June 28 concert. Performers thanked the leader for his tremendous accomplishments and the refrain “Arkadaga şöhrat!” (Great Majesty Protector!) was repeated again and again during the celebrations. For her part, J-Lo screamed “TURKMENISTAN” into the microphone and sang Happy Birthday Mr. President. Several outlets reported that her presence was paid for by one of China's leading energy companies China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) in their attempts to woo the gas-rich republic. Lopez later denied knowledge of Turkmenistan's appalling human rights record via her publicist.

 

 

Among commentators on the Turkmen Chronicles newsblog, a site run by Turkmen exiles, the harshest criticism  was reserved not for J-Lo but Berdymuhamedov and his alleged use of public assets for personal pleasure.

Pippa commented [ru]:

Гореть этому Чурбангулы в огне за то,что ворует народные деньги.А певцам продажным эти деньги счстья не принесут…

That Gurbanguly should burn for stealing public money. And this stolen money will not not bring happiness to these singers…

Another commentator, “halk” expressed indignation [tm]:

halkin sheydip dashari yurtlarda sürenip yör sen utonman doglangünü lopezi çagir . eşiden üssünden gülyar görümsüz . sen utanmasanam men utanyanm sen hakinda gürrün edilende.)

The [Turkmen] people are having a hard time finding work and studying abroad, but you have no shame in inviting Lopez to your birthday. Everyone is laughing at us. If you don't feel ashamed, I will feel ashamed for you. )

One popular rumor is that J.Lo was paid $1.5 million for her short performance. Anonim posted [ru]:

1,5 МЛН.$ ЕЙ ДАЛИ ГОВОРЯТ.

It is said that she was payed $1.5 million

It has also been assumed here, here and here that J-Lo's Turkmenistan debut was sponsored by China's energy giant CNPC, a state-owned company that has already invested billions of US dollars on gas extraction in the eastern part of the country.

Jlo

Jennifer Lopez (image via wikimedia, creative commons)

While some netizens were comforted by the idea that J-Lo's performance was coming out of CNPC's pocket, rather than Turkmenistan's budget, many others felt sure that it was just a way to secure an even larger stake in the country's gas sector at a knockdown price.

Atsyz supported [tm] the decision to get J-Lo on board:

Kakoyta bir guramanyn Turkmenistana beryan bahasy hic kime gerekdal , Oz yurtlaryny onarsynlar ! … CNPC getiren bolsa name erbet zady bar !)

All these organizations that criticize Turkmenistan should focus on their own country! If CNPC sponsored [the performance], why worry – what is bad about this !)

Generalitet responded [tm]

(CNPC turkmen halkynyn etini iyyp, shol puly 10 gezek kopeldip alayr! Berdy…bolsa shona yol beryar.)

(CNPC sucks our blood, and it will get 10 times more money back! [President] Berdy closes his eyes to that fact.)

Another Atsyz got mad at what the first Atsyz wrote and tried [tm] to make it clear that in the final reckoning, the money to pay for J-Lo was still coming out of Turkmenistan:

(CNPC on ucin cykaran puluny esselap ogurlap alar. makow bolma bu zatlan name ucin edilyandigini bilenokmy)

(CNPC will get several times that money back. do not be stupid. why can't you see the motives behind this action)

George Camm, who blogs at eurasianet.org, analyzed why CNPC might offer J.Lo as a bribe to the Turkmen leader. China is enormously dependent on external sources of energy, writes Camm and Turkmenistan sits on the fourth-largest known gas reserves in the world. For Turkmenistan, China is an excellent option to diversify gas exports.

Camm added:

Importantly for Berdymukhamedov, the [CNPC sponsored] pipeline helps him diversify: Previously most of Turkmenistan’s gas infrastructure pointed toward Russia, where it was bought at discount rates.

Unlike western states, China also helps the Turkmen government by ignoring Ashkabad's flagrant human rights abuses, manipulated elections, restricted freedom of speech, and serious issues with the rule of law.

Over at the Turkmen Chronicles news blog Aman aga concluded [tm]:

Atsyzjan ilki bir sol aydymcylary arkayyn otyryp dinlar yaly dereja yetmelimika diyyan ya yalnysmyka men pikirim,hazir bize geregi yok onyaly shagalan, halk ucin edilmeli zat kop, asla aydym sazyn wagty dal)

We are not ready for listening to music in Turkmenistan right now, we have many serious issues that must be dealt with, and if you understand reality, you will know it is not a time to throw parties.

On July 4 Human Rights Watch suggested Jennifer Lopez should donate the proceeds from her part in Berdymuhamedov's birthday bonanza to charity. The singer is yet to respond to the offer.

‘Celebrities for Hire’ in Central Asia

On Registan.net, Aijan Sharshenova explains why ‘celebrities for hire’ (including pop diva Jennifer Lopez) entertaining the authoritarian leaders of post-Soviet Central Asian republics unwillingly improve their image among domestic audiences.

June 27 2013

The End of Dual Citizenship in Turkmenistan?

Being a Turkmen citizen is big on drawbacks and small on benefits, which is why many Turkmen citizens took advantage of a 1993 agreement between Turkmenistan and Russia that enabled them to hold passports belonging to both countries. But with the government releasing a new version of the country's main travel document, dual passport holders may be forced to choose their side.

The 1993 agreement was unilaterally revoked by Turkmenistan in 2003, but remains in force in Russia. Up until now, dual citizens were able to exploit the legal limbo and travel on both passports, the Russian one subject to fewer restrictions.

The current Turkmen passport is now in its tenth year, and will expire on July 10. All Turkmen citizens will be required to have the new passport to go abroad by that point. Ordinary Turkmen fear the government is simply trying to achieve more leverage over the citizenry. The Turkmen side revoked the agreement in 2003 as part of a wider crackdown after the mysterious attempt reported on former ruler Saparmurat “Turkmenbashy” Niyazov's life the year before.

Trust in deeds, not words

Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov himself promised that the changing of travel documents would apply to all Turkmens equally, and that dual passport holders – many of whom are ethnically Russian – would not be caught in a “zero-sum” game:

… I, as the President of the country and guarantor of the Constitution …
Every citizen of Turkmenistan, regardless of ethnicity, gender, origin, proprietary and official status, language, creed and political belief, will be given a new-type passport of Turkmen citizen without fail.
…the constitutional rights and freedoms of those who had dual citizenship and then chose Turkmen citizenship will be respected, regardless of ethnic, religious or other affiliation

But state authorities have changed their mind in the past, and the roughly 100,000 dual Russian-Turkmen passport holders don't seem thrilled about the decision. They note that the introduction of the new passport gives the government a perfect opportunity to make them get rid of their Russian passports.

Turkmen-Russian Passports

Scanned image of Turkmen and Russian passports.

Moreover, despite Berdymuhamedov's utterances many Turkmen citizens with dual citizenship say they are already finding it hard to obtain a new Turkmen passport. Natalia Shabunts, interviewed by IWPR is one of those whose application for a new Turkmen passport was turned down.

Another anonymous source interviewed by Refworld, the news agency of UNHCR is also expecting difficulties:

My old Turkmen passport expires in 2013, and then I'll have to apply for a new one and become a citizen of just one country, … it is tremendous strain.

According to a report by ДОЖДЬ Оптимистик Channel LIVE [Dozhd Optimistic Channel Live] an independent Russian news channel, staff at the Turkmen Ministry of Internal Affairs staff were asked to declare their Russian passports if they held them. Five fairly senior officials confessed to their Russian passports and were promptly fired. Interviewed by Dozhd, Daniil Kislov, editor of Fergana News noted that Turkmen leaders are following previous leader Saparmurat Niyazov's program of trying to achieve ethnic homogeneity and total control over the republic.

In a comment on the Turkmen Chronicles newsblog, run by Turkmen diaspora, Rais wondered [ru] whether officials further up the Turkmen political chain would suffer the same fate:

У министра иностранных дел Туркменистана господина Мередова вся семья с двойным гражданством. Интересно,они будут отказываться от российского гражданства,или уедут в Россию???

The whole family of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Mr. Meredov has dual citizenship. I wonder if they will give up their Russian citizenships, or leave for Russia??

Dual citizenship – freedom and security

People with dual citizenship feel more freedom and have more chances to travel and work than their fellow countrymen possessing only Turkmen citizenship.

Speaking to Refworld, an ethnic Russian man from western Turkmenistan says that his second passport allows him to visit relatives abroad without obstacles, while his neighbor, also ethnically Russian, only has Turkmen citizenship. He says:

 She had to wait six weeks before she could obtain a [Russian] visa, while all i have to do is a buy a ticket and go.

A man from Ashghabat commented in the same article:

Officials from law enforcement and the Ministry for National Security treats them [dual passport holders] more cautiously … if you have dual nationality, they will treat you differently.

While an IWPR interviewee stressed:

Dual nationality gives you some security and the sense of that you are not alone, that you could seek protection in Moscow.

 

People with a second citizenship seem to experience security advantages outside Turkmenistan as well. Nadia, a Turkmen citizen with dual citizenship shared [ru] her experience in a comment on the Turkmen Chronicles newsblog:

…В свое время уехала из др. страны где происходили военные действия, Оттуда РФ своих и граждан СНГ эвакуировала. в Москве всех встретили представители из их стран, НО ГДЕ ТУРКМЕНские?…

Once I had to leave a foreign country where a military conflict was taking place. Russia evacuated its citizens and the citizens of other CIS citizens countries. In Moscow, everyone was met with representatives from their respective countries to make sure their well being was secured, BUT WHERE WERE THE TURKMEN REPRESENTATIVES?

The expiry date of the old passports is getting closer and closer. Dual passport holders will hope that the current status quo remains in place, but their government seems determined not to let mixed loyalties interfere with their grip over the Turkmen state.

May 31 2013

Central Asia's ‘Weird, Sad’ World Records

As Turkmenistan celebrates a recent Guinness World Record award for the highest density of white marble buildings, Caravanistan writes about the “weird, sad, and revealing” world records held by other countries of Central Asia.

May 30 2013

Turkmenistan's White Marble-Clad Capital

Turkmenistan already has a record-breaking president and ever-rising wheat harvests. But this is not enough for the oil-rich country. Don Croner reports that Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, has recently been awarded a Guinness World Record for the world's highest density of white marble buildings.

May 10 2013

Turkmen Pop Music: Make Love, Not Politics

In Turkmenistan, pop musicians tread a difficult path between carving out a distinctive image for themselves and ensuring they don't fall foul of the state. (more…)

May 03 2013

Central Asia: From Zhirinovsky With Love

Despite being the major destination for Central Asian migrant workers, Russia is famous for regular intolerance towards ‘non-Russians’ residing within its borders. Hate crimes based on race and ethnicity are not rare in the multinational federation, and migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus are the usual victims [ru] of racist sentiment. Aware of deepening anti-migrant feelings, many of Moscow's politicians look to boost their capital among voters by promoting right-wing policies. But there is always one politician that goes a step further than the rest.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Russia's Liberal Democratic Party, is a combustible MP famous for making statements that are neither liberal nor democratic. Long-accustomed to playing the fool in domestic politics, Zhirinovsky's April performances seemed designed to send the entire Central Asian region into non-comic uproar.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, image from the LDPR's website, used with permission.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, image from the LDPR's website, used with permission.

His assault on the peoples of the area began with a proposal in the Russian parliament to relieve [ru] the Kyrgyz Republic of the Issyk-Kul, a picturesque lake ringed by the awesome Tien Shan range, in order to pay off the large debt the former Soviet republic owes Moscow.The following week he was at it again, ranting [ru] at Central Asian migrants on a political talk show.

While Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs laughed off [ru] the suggested lake-for-debt deal, a number of Kyrgyz internet users failed to see the funny side of the suggestion.

Under a YouTube video of Zhirinovsky's parliamentary speech, bekturel commented [ru] :

Иссык – Куль он захотел. Ни одной кыргызской лужи не получите! Долг мы вернем, только не водой, и не землей, а бумажками.

So he wants Issyk-Kul. You will not get a single Kyrgyz puddle! We will pay off our debts, not with water or land, but with [paper money].

‘They are like slaves…’

Russia's parliament ignored the proposal of the ‘showman of Russian politics‘ and ratified a write-off of the $500 million Kyrgyz debt without confiscating any national treasures. But Zhirinovsky did not stop at that and, a few days later, made another colorful performance [ru] at a political talk show on Rossiya, a state-owned television channel. During the show, Zhirinovsky spoke of the need to introduce visa requirements for nationals from Central Asian states, who currently do not need visas to travel to Russia. He also indulged [ru] in expressive descriptions of Central Asian labor migrants:

Им не надо жилья, страховок. Oни как рабы крепостные, спят в подвалах, едят любую гадость.

They don't need accommodation or insurance. They are like slaves or serfs, sleeping in basements and eating any filth.

Zhirinovsky Banner

Banner of Zhirinovsky-led LDPR, reading “LDPR for Ethnic Russians!” Imabe by Ilya Radnets, used with permission.

The majority of people commenting under the YouTube video of the debate agreed. A user under the nickname ‘nekto1rublik' wrote [ru]:

давно пора уже ввести самый жесткий режим для их въезда вы посмотрите на улицы наших городов скоро на нас уже будут смотреть как будто мы не у себя дома кругом одна чернота сколько можно то уже….а те которые уже приехали нужно в вагоны и желательно грузовые и в Таджикистан!!!!!!

It is high time to introduce the strictest regime for the entry [of migrants from Central Aisa]. Look at the streets in our cities. Soon we will be looked at as if we are not at home, there is blackness everywhere. How much more can we take?… Those who have already arrived should be put on trains, preferably on cargo carriages, and sent to Tajikistan!!!

The comment voted most popular came [ru] from a user ‘CSKA Ultra', whose name refers to the group of right-wing football hooligans supporting the football team CSKA Moscow:

ЗА визовый режим с чуркостанами.

I am for a visa regime with Churkostans ['Churki' is  derogatory slang for Central Asians].

Later during the same debate, Zhirinovsky argued that the Taliban might “trample on Tajikistan” and ”hang [Tajik President Emomali Rahmon] in the center of Dushanbe”. This statement provoked mixed reactions, earning the politician some respite from Tajik internet users who oppose their country's regime. But it led the Tajik parliament to register a complaint [ru] with the Russian ambassador.

‘You all have 15 children…’

Zhirinovsky concluded [ru] one of his anti-Central Asia rants during the talk show with some damning stereotypes:

Все бывшие советские республики живут лучше нас. То есть Россия через 20 лет снова всех кормит. Они все откормленные, все одетые и едут сюда погулять, бандитизмом заниматься, понасиловать. Естественно там у них работы не хватает, но эта причина ваша, это ваша релишия, у вас по 15 детей. Если  у вас как у русских будет один ребёнок, вы вообще не будете думать о России. Пускай все Таджикские семьи имеют два ребёнка в семье и проблемы никакой у вас не будет! Тоже самое узбекистан и весь исламский мир

All post-Soviet countries live better than us. Twenty years [after the break-up of the Soviet Union], Russia feeds everyone again. They are all well-fed and well-dressed, and they come here to have a good time, to do banditry, and to rape. Of course they don't have enough jobs at home; but that is your fault, [the fault of] your religion. You all have 15 children. If you had only one child, like Russians, you would not even think about Russia. Let all Tajik families have only two children and you will not have any problems! The same [concerns] Uzbekistan and the whole Islamic world!

During his long political career, Zhirinovsky has earned the reputation of an eccentric, populist, and nationalist politician. Born in Kazakhstan, the son of a Jewish lawyer, he still has some close friends in Central Asia and remains something of a contradiction in terms. Only 6 percent of Russia's electorate voted for him in the 2012 presidential vote that secured Vladimir Putin's re-election as head of state.

Given these discrepancies, it has often been suggested that Zhirinovsky is a kind of diversion for Putin's United Russia party: a way of soaking up nationalist votes without offering a credible alternative to the ruling elite. That refrain was echoed [ru] by MrFury1984 under a YouTube video of Zhirinovsky on another television show, where he was asked to change his profession:

Да жирик не хочет быть у руля ))) это много ответственности , он часть пирога имеет от бюджета.. и радуется )))

[Zhirinovsky] doesn't want to be in the driver's seat ))) That would be too much responsibility. He is happy getting his piece of the budget pie )))

That is good news for Central Asian migrants in Russia, but the plain fact that Zhirinovsky is supported by thousands of people is a reason to be concerned. YouTube user ‘Anonim Anonimov' writes [ru] underneath the video of the talk-show with Zhirinovsky:

А были ли фальсификации на недавних выборах если Жириновский из передачи в передачу побеждает адекватность с подобным перевесом? Может у нас и вправду с народом просто что-то не то?

Maybe there were no falsifications during the recent elections if Zhirinovsky goes from debate to debate winning with such massive margins? Maybe there is really something wrong with our people?

Turkmen Leader Falls off Horse

On April 28, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan and his horse won a race in Ashgabat. Soon after crossing the finish line, however, Berdymukhamedov's horse stumbled and he landed on the dirt. The footage of the embarrassing incident had been made public by international media, and Turkmen dissidents are using the video as an opportunity to ridicule the ‘record-breaking’ presidentBlog Ruslana T presents several videos which link the Turkmen leader's spill with episodes from popular Soviet and Hollywood films (here, here, and here).

April 25 2013

‘Farmers Know Better’ in Turkmenistan

The president of Turkmenistan has announced [ru] that a district which would grow most cotton and wheat this year in the natural gas-rich country would receive an award of one million U.S. dollars. An exiled Turkmen blogger comments [ru] angrily:

When will [the Turkmen leader] finally understand that the planned economy is not working? In order for the cotton sector to develop, cotton should be grown by private farms. Wouldn't farmers be able to decide better how much cotton they should sow? Does the [president] sitting on a golden toilet in [the Turkmen capital] Ashgabat really know better how much cotton can be grown in the country than a person working on a field?

April 05 2013

Turkmen Citizens Make Their Voices Heard

The writing on this building in Turkmenistan reads: "Hyakim [Governer or Mayor], fix our roads".

The writing on this building in Turkmenistan reads: “Governor (or Mayor), fix our roads”.

(more…)

March 25 2013

‘Foreign Ideas’ as Extremism in Central Asia

On Registan.net, Noah Tucker speculates about what is wrong with the way Central Asian governments deal with religious activity that is not sanctioned by the state:

[I]n former Soviet Central Asia there is little debate that the root problem [of extremist beliefs] is “foreign ideas,” defined so broadly as to become a target of opportunity for both every political purpose and every local policeman or official’s ambition. Any sign of dissent from state policies or ideology <…> can be enough to bring the wrath of the state, sometimes with great violence.

March 06 2013

Harlem Shake Rocks Central Asia

Harlem Shake, the latest global Internet meme craze, has arrived in Central Asia. Neweurasia.net shares a compilation of the best Harlem Shake videos from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Blogger Sanjar writes:

With this cultural virus we clearly see that if people want to have fun, nothing will stop them. Fighting with Western influence or restrictions on YouTube will not  help the authorities.

March 05 2013

Turkmenistan: With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends?

It is always interesting to observe how people in Turkmenistan, one of the least democratic countries in the world, view political opposition. But in the Caspian republic where the political landscape belongs to one man and one man only, there is effectively no opposition to have a view on, a situation that only helps bolster President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's monopoly over the country's political narrative.

The rare members of Turkmen opposition do not reside in the country. Their activities and media appearances are not known inside the republic. State officials ensure that the opposition activists have no access to international events, and some nations which are on good terms with Ashgabat bar the Turkmen opposition from events they host. Thus, the only channel that the opposition has so far had for reaching out to other Turkmen is a series of dissident-led websites and blogs (one of which was repeatedly targeted by hackers last year). However, even this channel is of very little use, since only 5 percent of Turkmenistan's population use Internet (2011 data), and the websites in question are blocked by the authorities anyway.

Domestic opposition

In mid-February, two journalists were released from prison in Turkmenistan. Sapardurdy Khajiev and Annakurban Amanklychev had been jailed in 2006, right before the death of Saparmurat Niyazov. Prior to their release, dissidents speculated on whether the political situation in the country would improve with Berdymukhamedov in power. But things have stayed about the same.

A 2008 Deutsche Welle interview with Turkmen opposition politician Nurmuhammed Khanamov indicates that dissidents blame Western countries for offering vain hopes for change in Turkmenistan. Neweurasia.net provides an insight into the interview:

Khanamov focuses on the policy of the West towards Turkmenistan and criticizes the European Union for an excessively lenient attitude towards Ashgabat as far as human rights are concerned.

Raising the issue of EU-Turkmen relations once again, Khanamov continues:

When you ask during these meetings: why don’t you ask these questions, [despite knowing] it is a dictator’s regime, the Western countries’ representatives would usually respond – we are glad to have managed to establish dialogue. We are afraid to scare Berdymukhammedov, because he might then restore the country’s isolation as was the case during Niyazov’s rule.

However, I consider such attitude as not quite correct.

Marciula, the author of the blog post on neweurasia.net, justifies the EU position on Turkmen issues and questions the impact that the opposition has in the country:

First of all, Western countries must be very careful in their criticism, because if it is too persistent, the Turkmen government will simply limit or withdraw from the cooperation with the West and turn towards Russia or China… Secondly, we must pose ourselves a question regarding the Turkmen opposition. The passivity and lack of unanimity are not its only problems, but also the fact that it does not have any influence [inside] Turkmenistan, where it is completely unknown.

‘Experts’

Turkmenistan is closed off not only to opposition, but also to international experts who find it extremely difficult to study the country.

Cover Page of Volkov's Novel “Turkmenka”

Dissident-run website Chrono-Tm has recently interviewed [ru] Vitaly Volkov, a Russian novel writer. In his latest novel ”Turkmenka” (Turkmen Woman), Volkov writes about the hardships suffered by a female Turkmen journalist who left Turkmenistan for Germany. The author explains that the novel was inspired by his personal meeting with a real Turkmen journalist who suffered the consequences of an attempt on the life of Saparmurat Niyazov, the late former president of Turkmenistan. Volkov says that it is very hard to find any witnesses in Turkmenistan, thus the novel is based on impressions from his rare meetings with Turkmen journalists and scanty news coming from inside the country. Therefore, the novel should not be considered a historical reference, but an image of the regime.

But people reading the interview were less than inspired by the author's opinions. Yulia, for example, commented [ru] sarcastically:

«Эксперт по Средней Азии» ни разу не посетивший Туркменистан… Потрясающе!

A “Central Asia expert” who has never been to Turkmenistan… Fantastic!

But another reader, who preferred to remain anonymous, responded [ru]:

…То что в Туркмении до сих пор средневековое мракобесье: не въехать, ни выехать, то это не вина автора. И потом, если человек к примеру филолог-Шекспировед, десять лет занимающийся данной темой, вы же будете его обвинять в непрофессионализме только за то, что он лично с Шекспиром не был знаком!..

…It is not the author's fault that Turkmenistan remains in the state of Middle Age backwardness – you can't enter the country or leave it. You wouldn't blame a person who has studied Shakespeare for ten years for being unprofessional simply because he is not personally acquainted with Shakespeare!..

These comments appear to indicate that even among the exiles, there is a fatigue that criticisms of the Turkmen regime come from various ‘foreign experts’ rather than from EU policymakers or politicians inside the country.

N.B. in the aftermath of Turkmenistan's Day of Melons we promised to keep Global Voices readers updated on the latest news regarding Turkmen holidays. On February 20 Turkmenistan celebrated the State Flag Day. According to President Berdymukhamedov, the Turkmen flag symbolizes the country's “unwavering commitment to the highest ideals of humanism, peace, and creativeness”.

February 16 2013

Lies, Damned Lies, and Turkmen Statistics

When it comes to statistics, the Turkmen government remains committed to the time-honored Soviet principles of book-cooking, data fudging and avoiding the uncomfortable truth at all costs. Five-year plans exist, and the targets set in them are regularly exceeded, while failures such as the abject performance of the country's youth football team at the 2012 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Cup or the deadly explosions at an Abadan arms depot in July 2011 are simply not reported.

But a more stark exhibit of Ashgabat's reckless attitude to facts and data can be seen in the official statistics on the number of people living with HIV in the country. According to Index Mundi, which compiles country profiles on a host of issues based on multiple sources (in this case, apparently, just one), the last HIV-infected person in Turkmenistan ceased to exist – statistically speaking – in 2008. Even prior to that breakthrough, though, the recording of cases seems to have been somewhat arbitrary, with a preference for round figures: 100, 100, 100, 200, 200, 200, 200…

Index Mundi http://www.indexmundi.com
Turkmenistan HIV/AIDS situation

And while HIV-infected people have dropped off the map, the wheat harvest keeps going up. The government-run Turkmenistan.ru website has reported [ru] triumphantly:

Хлеборобы Туркменистана доставили на заготовительные пункты страны более миллиона тонн пшеницы. Достижение этого результата говорит о том, что земледельцы смогут справиться с главной задачей страды-2012 – без потерь собрать богатый урожай хлеба и доставить в закрома Родины 1 миллион 600 тысяч тонн зерна.

Turkmen grain-growers have delivered to the country's procurement centers more than one million tons of wheat. This achievement suggests that farmers will be able to meet the principal target of the 2012 harvest season, that is, to reap a rich harvest without losses and deliver 1.6 million tons of grain.

Turkmenistan.ru added [ru] boastfully that even Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, said he was envious of the Turkmen grain harvest. Another government-run news website reported [ru] that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov had presented a Cadillac Escalade to the wheat growers of Lebap province, in the north-east of the country.

But back in the ‘real world,’ on the dissident-run media portal Chrono-tm.org, Turkmen netizens are less than impressed with the government's preference for good news over bad. One individual suggested [ru] that despite the ‘rich’ harvests reportedly reaped each year, the price for bread continued to rise.

Several other individuals wondered what the farmers that had received a Cadillac from the Turkmen leader were going to do with it. As one user, Toyli, commented [ru] sarcastically:

Ну и что? Теперь эти хлеборобы будут по очереди ездить на этом Кадиллаке? Ай да Бердымухаммедов!..

 So what? Will all those grain-growers now take turns to drive the Cadillac? Great job Berdymuhamedov!..

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