Tag Archives: Tajikistan

If you want to get ahead, wear a dress

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Lots and lots of Tajik national dresses. (Don’t worry, a cat appears in this post too)

The month of March brings with it the official start of spring, the vernal equinox (this year on 20 March), and in Tajikistan – as with other Central Asian countries – the celebration of Navruz / No’rooz, or New Light/Day. There are multiple spelling variations of what has been classified as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO.

In recent years, celebrations of Navruz in Tajikistan have taken on a distinctly nationalist character as the government seeks to appropriate it as something that embodies the modern Tajik state, shifting the festivity away from its ancient pan-Eurasian and Iranian roots.

Like the other post-Soviet states, Tajikistan has been frantically building an identity for itself as an independent state over the last quarter of a century. This has been done within a framework that is more globalized, placing unprecedented pressures on the formerly Soviet countries in ways never experienced by other ‘new’ countries of the 19th and early-mid 20th centuries. Yet unlike some of the post-Soviet states, Tajikistan and its Central Asian neighbours experienced independent statehood (with their current geographic boundaries) for the first time in the 1990s, making the nation-building imperative even more urgent.

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The men are having a pretty good time too

Thus the celebration of Navruz in today’s Tajikistan becomes something more than an expression of joy at the end of winter and coming of a new harvest season. It separates Tajikistan from its past, when Navruz was banned in Soviet times.

It is a ‘safe’ quasi-religious celebration that does not give too much credence to the official religion of Islam, a source of great stress to the leadership of Tajikistan (where even wearing a beard can get a man into trouble). It is the government’s idea of a good social policy, as it can offer public holidays and festivities around the country.

This year the government is taking Navruz to new highs. In a recent letter to all educational establishments in the country, the Ministry of Education and Science has decided that all teachers and students should wear national dress during March [ru] in honour of Navruz. Why, you might ask? Here’s the answer news agency Asia-Plus gives:

 

В распоряжении отмечается, что данная рекомендация сделана в целях пропаганды и возрождения лучших традиций предков таджикского народа и достойной встречи Навруза.

This recommendation is being made to promote and revive the best traditions of the ancestors of the Tajik people and in honour of the great holiday Navruz.

[Source: Asia-Plus; my translation]

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Told you there was a cat. A well dressed one too, even if it doesn’t have a dress

According to information agency Avesta, this ruling only applies to female students [ru]. Once again, it seems to be the women who get the dress code at university. Apparently, some educational institutions might take this ruling even further. A senior (male) leader at northern Khujand State University said that female students and staff might continue to wear national dress through to the end of the academic year, not just for March. (Or perhaps Khujand State is on a mission to prove it can exceed government targets in Stakhanov-esque fashion.)

This isn’t quite the laughing matter that it appears. As Asia-Plus points out, the cost of a dress made of the ‘national’ material of atlas can be around US$30, or around a third of a monthly salary. A government official in the capital city has already had to issue a clarification to its statement noting that kindergarten/nursery children are not subject to the dress code rule after parents reported rumours that their little ones would also need to be suitably kitted out during March.

You’ll doubtless be relieved to know that the Ministry of Education’s Press Secretary has confirmed that no one in schools or universities will be forced to wear national dress during March [ru]. They are also allowed to wear a ‘pretty dress’ instead…

Let me remind you of the last time the government decided that women should dress differently at university, when it was fairly easy to prove that no, wearing high heels did not in fact make you a better learner. Wearing national dress during March may look great for your school photo, but does it make you more patriotic? Work harder? Think more? I think you know where I’m going with this.

They cared for cattle more than kids -Tajik President recasts the Soviet era

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Whilst popular opinion across the former Soviet Union generally remembers the Soviet period with more than a hint of the rose-tinted glasses – see this summary of an EBRD survey in 2016 or this Sputnik News story on my blog from August 2016 – one man is seemingly on a mission to upend these conceptions. And he’s someone that people have to listen to – because it’s no less than the President (and Leader of the Nation) of Tajikistan himself.

In his annual address to Parliament at the end of 2016, President Emomali Rahmon apparently delivered a blistering attack on reports from the Soviet period, denouncing their claims that education in the country was operating to a high standard as “lies”.

In an article on the address [ru], reliable local news agency Asia Plus reports that the President told the audience that the Soviet authorities were more concerned with increasing livestock and collective farm numbers than with building schools or hospitals. This from a man who worked on a collective farm for around 20 years from the mid-1970s before entering politics and thus knows his cattle.

Meanwhile, Rahmon’s government has built or reconstructed over 2,500 schools over the last 25 years. In 2016 alone, a total of 540m Somoni (US$64.5m) was spent on building/reconstructing 201 schools and providing new school places for 39,000 students. Furthermore, whereas in 1991 there were 13 higher education institutions with 70,000 students, there are now 39 institutions educating 170,000 students. [Put aside, for now, your questions about relative vs absolute growth (the Tajik population has grown continually from 2m in 1960 to 5m in 1991 to over 8m today) and quantity vs quality.]

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Soviet poster from the 1950s (source) comparing education in the USSR favourably to education in the USA. Top caption (with cheerful girl) reads: “In the USSR, school building in urban and rural areas increased by around 70% between 1951-55 compared to the previous Five Year Plan period.” Compare this to the glum American boy facing a closed school at the bottom, where the caption says “The US allocates 1% of its budget to education compared to 74% to military spending. There are more than 10 million illiterate people in the USA and around a third of children do not go to school.” Propaganda at its finest. And obviously there are no connections between the choice of this poster and the issue at hand in this post.

 

 

 

Although the official version of the President’s speech [ru] makes no reference to cattle or explicitly to the Soviet period (perhaps the oral speech was somewhat different from the written address to enliven it?), there is a definite sense that the past is being rewritten in the President’s image. The written version of the speech is littered with statistics that aim to quantify the regime’s achievements. This, arguably, is a common tool employed by political and other leaders and thus unsurprising to see such rhetoric in use in Tajikistan too. Little wonder that the phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics” has gained such purchase over the years. Or to give it its new American name, “alternative facts“.

Lest we digress on to the uses and abuses of statistics and comparison, I will end by drawing your attention to one quote from the written version of the speech (not mentioned in the Asia Plus article). Although it is not connected to education, I think it speaks volumes about the rewriting of Tajikistan’s recent history. If you’re unsure or unconvinced, read this article which emphasizes the multi-faceted and national drivers of the civil war after you read the quote.

В начале 90-х годов прошлого века Таджикистан под воздействием вмешательства некоторых зарубежных стран, осуществляемого под лозунгом демократизации общества, столкнулся с острыми внутренними конфликтами, этот процесс довёл нас до навязанной гражданской войны и братоубийственной трагедии.

[In the early 1990s, Tajikistan experienced an acute internal conflict under the influence of intervention by some foreign countries with their banner of societal democratization. This process brought us to an imposed civil war and fratricidal tragedy.]

 

Paid to protest: More on student protests in Tajikistan

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Grumpy cat may or may not also pay people to protest. Unconfirmed rumours of levity yet to be quashed.

In my most recent post, Protests? What protests?, I discussed recent protests both against and in favour of the government in Tajikistan. Following up on this, I want to share an excellent and highly informative article from Russian-language site Fergana News, which Open Democracy has reproduced with permission and translated into English.

The article, provocatively called Tajikistan’s imitation civil society in English and Не народ, а массовка. Как провластные движения в Таджикистане имитируют гражданскую активность in Russsian gives a great deal more detail about the pro-government “civil society” youth movements that it appears are being mobilized with increasing regularity.

The type of protests we commonly hear about in the news are from groups of people who have come together to demonstrate against a particular issue or idea. This generally happens of their own free will. Indeed, just today, there is news that a series of protests in Poland – another former socialist state – against a proposed change in the law on abortion have been so effective that the government has been forced to think again. So from the point of view of more open political regimes, it might even seem laughable that the Tajik government pays people to go out and “protest” in its favour.

But this is no laughing matter, as the article points out:

It’s dangerous not to be part of the crowd if they want you in it, to go against it. And the student “volunteers”, who never protest if they have no electricity in their flats for days on end, muddy water with bits of sand in it flowing from their taps and their parents and brothers slaving away for years as migrant workers in Russia know this.

…опасно не влиться в эту толпу, если тебя хотят в ней видеть, пойти против нее. И это понимают студенты-«добровольцы», никогда не протестующие, если в их домах сутками нет электричества, из кранов течет мутная с песком вода, а родители и братья годами горбатятся в трудовой миграции в России.

Despite my ongoing attempts to lighten some of what I report on with frivolous cat memes, there is a very serious undercurrent to these “protest” movements in Tajikistan, raising a number of major questions: How does this affect the generation of young people growing up in the country who have never known another leader (sorry, Leader of the Nation and Founder of Peace)? What does it tell us about the prospects for plurality in Tajikistan? There are many other issues that remain both unasked and unanswered.

Protests? What protests? The continuing lack of plurality in Tajikistan

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“Spray bottle” could be a metaphor

News has emerged of a number of connected protests in / relating to Tajikistan. However, if at first glance this appears to be a tiny step towards practicing the freedoms (of speech, to gather in public etc) nominally guaranteed to citizens under Tajik law, don’t get your hopes up.

Leading the story on 23 September, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty made its views clear through the quote marks employed in its headline: “‘Volunteers’ burned a portrait of Muhiddin Kabiri” [ru]. For context: Muhiddin Kabiri is the leader of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), once the only opposition party (and the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia) and now the subject of multiple extremely worrying attempts to suppress its members. The IRPT is not by any means a fundamentalist Islamic party, Kabiri is now in exile, but his family members back in Tajikistan have not been left unaffected by the authorities.

The ‘volunteers’ in question are students at the National University of Tajikistan and the Medical University of Tajikistan, both based in the capital city Dushanbe. This followed a 300-strong protest at Dushanbe’s Pedagogical Institute which claimed that the IRPT could bring Tajikistan back to war, as well as smaller groups of young activists who protested at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Dushanbe offices. One of the university protest organisers, Asliddin Khusvaktov, claims that hundreds of students took part, which were in response to another set of protests also relating to Tajikistan. Asia-Plus reports the same story [en] with slightly different numbers.

So now let’s move to Poland, the stage for the protests our students have taken issue with. Capital Warsaw is hosting the OSCE annual human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.  A handful of people – presumably Tajik nationals – disrupted sessions on 19 September with silent protests, wearing T-shirts showing the faces of opposition figures (politicians and lawyers) who who have been arrested by the state.

Apparently this has led to repercussions for the families of those protestors [en], in a depressingly familiar cycle from the Tajik state. You choose to protest? We choose to pressure you: either you directly, or your family members, or similar.

The student groups who led the protests in Dushanbe are mainly part of an organisation called “Avant Garde” [ru], set up by the government in 2015 to to prevent the spread of extremist ideas amongst young people. This is how Tajikistan does youth policy.

You can only wonder how long the government can maintain this level of oppression in a world where internet access is increasing (and those who are caught behind frequent government bans on websites are able to find alternative ways to access sites that are targeted such as Facebook and YouTube) and where it is easier than ever – albeit with some cash and resources – to travel out of the country. And yet there are no immediate signs that change is on the horizon, protests or no protests.

Faculty blamed for poor standards at Kulob State University, Tajikistan

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An unusually critical article was published recently in Asia-Plus – one of Tajikistan’s last remaining bastions of press freedoms – observing a worrying drop in educational standards at Kulob State University [ru], nominally one of the best in the country.

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A totally irrelevant (irreverent, some might say…) image about knowledge and cats.

Two main causes are identified: the fact that many of the better qualified faculty have left the university (20 instructors last year alone), and the fact that those who remain are not sufficiently qualified to be able to do their job properly.

Even the university rector acknowledges that the brain drain has had a negative impact on quality at the university. As the top posts in Tajik universities are appointed by the national government, it is rare for senior leaders to speak to the press – and rarer still for them to acknowledge that the Leader of the Nation (as President Emomali Rahmon is now known, following a referendum earlier this year) may not have all the answers. Kulob is not far from Danghara, the President’s hometown, and this southern region of Tajikistan has benefited greatly from capital and other investment in recent years. Kulob State University opened its doors to a new “modern and luxurious building” on its campus [en] just a year ago.

Yet shiny new buildings do not educate students: lecturers do. The Asia Plus article is scathing about the lack of qualifications of many of the remaining instructors. Journalist Hamidi Imoniddin draws on the university’s own data showing that nearly 40 lecturers were unable to submit properly written job documents – many of whom are the university’s own graduates. Because of the lack of properly qualified instructors, the university is resorting to newer researchers who do not meet the qualification requirements (generally a PhD) and do not have much by way of work experience. Even after offering a salary raise last year, university staff in Kulob are underpaid and this is certainly contributing to the outflow of more suitable candidates for faculty leadership roles.

All of this suggests an alarming downward spiral, where students can’t get a decent higher education because the staff don’t have the skills, experience or resources (textbooks and the like) to support them, and the staff who could be inspiring the next generation are leaving the town or even their profession in the hope of a better future.

As one of the comments on the article points out, this isn’t just a problem being faced by Kulob State University. There are nearly 40 universities in Tajikistan and the challenges fleshed out in Imoniddin’s article are common the most of them. System-wide reform of the higher education system would be the main step towards making positive change, but this needs to be accompanied by a reaffirmation of the value that higher education can bring for individuals and the population as a whole for any reforms to be truly successful.

A new phase for Central Asian higher education begins

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After many years in the pipeline (just do a quick search on my blog if you want to check the archives!), the University of Central Asia (UCA) has today welcomed its very first undergraduate students. True, they are a select few: just 71 students selected from the three UCA countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it’s also true that just one of the three envisaged campuses is up and running… but nonetheless, this is quite some achievement. Creating any new organisation is a challenge, but UCA has deliberately added to the complexity by working over three countries and physically building campuses in somewhat remote mountainous areas of those countries.

The university also grapples with other challenges such as dealing with endemic corruption in the region, raising awareness of and interest in an American style English-language education, proving that a good higher education can be obtained at home as well as abroad and more. Some of these issues are not specific to UCA but are issues all institutions in the region must deal with. Having worked for UCA (in a different guise) nearly 15 years ago when it was in the early stages of development, I sense that some of the great creativity and genuine innovation in earlier versions of the undergraduate curriculum have been lost or overtaken by other ideas and needs. Time will tell how the UCA offering is received and whether the concept will catch on.

For today, though, I would simply like to pass my congratulations to everyone involved in the grand UCA project, and to wish the students, staff and faculty all the very best of luck. An exciting adventure awaits!

The ironic fate of Soviet nostalgia

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Poster for the Soviet classic, “The irony of fate”, where the big joke is that all cities share the same street names

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the Soviet Union, for the days of free education, jobs for life, and street names that were the same in every city, then it seems you’re not alone.

Sputnik News today reports the results of a poll of over 12,000 people across 11 countries of the former Soviet Union who were asked whether life was better in the USSR than after it collapsed in 1991. On average, over 50% of those aged 35-64 agree that life was better before. This compares to an average of just under 30% of those aged 18-24 who felt the same – though how they might know this without having been born during the Soviet Union escapes me.

The breakdown of the results by country is interesting, particularly looking at unlikely outliers Uzbekistan and Moldova. In Uzbekistan, apparently almost no one misses the good old days, in stark contrast to its extremely economically successful neighbour Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan purports to have similar levels of nostalgia as Kazakhstan, despite enjoying a reputation as “Central Asia’s most stable state”. I’m not saying that political and economic success/stability as an independent country necessarily affects results, but I do feel surprised by the lukewarm response from older Tajiks based on my own extensive research and contacts in the country.

Comments on the Sputnik News website express a similar range of confusion and scepticism. Indeed, Sputnik News – a Russian government spin-off – is regularly accused of spouting Russian-friendly propaganda. Certainly, the way the statement is worded is highly subjective: why not flip the question and ask whether life is better now than it was during the Soviet Union? And why are the voices of those who weren’t even born when the Soviet Union collapsed given equal weight to those who lived a good part of their life with a different passport – and where are the over 65s?

Revitalizing the idea that times were better in the old days is not new – just look at the ongoing “ostalgie” stories about East Germany. If you have the time to explore this further, I strongly recommend Alexei Yurchak’s absolutely beautifully named 2005 book, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More. It focusses on the 1960s-1980s, the many paradoxes of Soviet life and telling the story of the last Soviet generation – the very same people who now seem to be so nostalgic…

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(c) Sputnik News, August 17 2016

 

Gender gaps in higher education across Central Asia

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After a recent blog post I published on Women in higher education in Central Asia, I was approached by University World News to write more about why it is that some women in Central Asia – particularly those in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – are doing so much better (better even than the world average) in getting to university than their counterparts in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

This led to some fascinating further research trying to understand more about this conundrum.

I am hugely grateful to Aksana Ismailbekova, Albina Yun and another researcher who chose to remain anonymous for their expert insights and support for this article, which I am delighted to say has now been published:

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20160707140807406

I would love to get your comments on this important issue, and ideas / practices from elsewhere in the world that might support greater gender equality in the parts of Central Asia where opportunities to enter higher education are not (yet) as accessible for women.

It’s hard to be a punk in Tajikistan (repost)

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Ostensibly about punk and heavy metal cultures in Tajikistan, the article I’m reposting today from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting also serves as a fascinating insight into the ways that individuals and states respond to change from the outside.

Think about the conscious choices that individuals who have adopted punk or heavy metal are making in living their lives in ways that are not usual in Tajikistan or indeed the “norm” (whatever that is we’re measuring against) in most societies.

Think also about the choices that the Tajik government is making in both formally and informally responding to expressions by individuals and groups in society that do not conform with their (increasingly strictured) ideas about how Tajik citizens should live their life. The recent mass arrests following the Indian Holi-inspired colour celebrations in Dushanbe [http://news.tj/ru/news/v-dushanbe-posle-indiiskogo-prazdnika-kholi-byli-zaderzhany-deti-i-vzroslye – ru] are indicative of the state response.

Here’s the article, which is (c) IWPR. The original is at https://iwpr.net/global-voices/its-hard-be-punk-tajikistan:

It’s Hard to be a Punk in Tajikistan

Economic troubles and official disapproval takes its toll on a dwindling subculture.
By IWPR Central Asia
  • Bike Opening 2016: Bikers ride along Dushanbe's avenues with Tajik flags. (Photo courtesy of Tajik bikers)
  • There is a tiny community of about 50 punks in Tajikistan. They are mostly based in the capital Dushanbe. (Photo: Maina Schwarz)
  • A rock gig in Dushanbe. (Photo: Maina Schwarz)
  • Punks, heavy metal heads and rockers get together in a handful of bars and clubs. (Photo: Konstantin Parshin)
  • Jack Rock is one of Tajikistan's few remaining "monsters of rock". (Photo: Konstantin Parshin)
  • Not many Tajik youngsters are into alternative music like punk and rock. (Photo: Maina Schwarz)
  • Bike Opening 2016: Bikers ride along Dushanbe's avenues with Tajik flags. (Photo courtesy of Tajik bikers)
    Bike Opening 2016: Bikers ride along Dushanbe’s avenues with Tajik flags. (Photo courtesy of Tajik bikers)
  • There is a tiny community of about 50 punks in Tajikistan. They are mostly based in the capital Dushanbe. (Photo: Maina Schwarz)
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People stare when Mahina walks along the streets of Dushanbe.

Dressed in denim and black leather accessoried with studded jewellery and facial piercings, the punk look cultivated by Mahina and her friends is a rare sight in the Tajik capital.

“Our style is very unusual, even a bit frightening for our country,” she said. “Many passers by tell us they have no idea where this alien culture has come from.”

Half the population of Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest state, is under 30. But most young people in this predominately Muslim nation live according to conservative, patriarchal traditions.

The few hundred, mostly in the capital, who have broken out of society’s conformist mores are immediately noticeable.

Punks, heavy metal heads and rockers get together in a handful of bars and clubs, while the odd breakdancing or parkour team can be spotted practicing in the streets.

“Music spiritually empowers us, it gives us hope for a better future,” said Mahina, who plays in a band and estimates that there are about 50 fellow punks in the capital.

“I wish people wouldn’t fear so much; we are not as scary as we seem.”

But stalwarts of this already tiny alternative scene say that an economic crisis fuelled by social pressures mean that their ranks are dwindling.

One Tajik heavy metal musician, who goes by the name Jack, said that there was only a handful of what he described as “monsters of rock” left in Dushanbe.

Many popular bands had recently split up, with no sign of a new wave emerging.

“Fewer people have been attending rock concerts lately,” he continued. “Two years ago at least 200 people could be expected to show up to a gig. Nowadays it would be great to attract 50 people.”

Fred, a stalwart of Tajikistan’s breakdance and parkour scene, agreed. Breakdancing first appeared in the country some 20 years ago and truly took off in the early 2000s, he explained.

“There were many [breakdancing] teams back then and championships took place several times a year,” Fred said. “We taught ourselves, learning from videotapes and clips.

Enthusiasts still gather in parks and other urban spaces to learn new tricks from each other. But out of the dozens of breakdancing posses in Dushanbe a decade ago, only a handful remain, he said.

As for the local music scene, it’s dominated by Tajik language pop and folk music, with religion and national values as prevalent themes.

“I wish there were more alternative people in Tajikistan, and somewhere to hang out together and create,” said Roman, a graffiti artist. Everyone, he said, “eventually gets tired of fighting against the system”.

Simply making a living remains the priority for most young people. The national somoni currency has plunged by 52 per cent in the last year, a situation exacerbated by the economic crisis in Russia, where many Tajiks travel to find work.

(See Russian Crisis Continues to Bite for Labour Migrants).

Social pressure demands that young people settle down, get married and start a family by the time they are in their early twenties.  A job that would allow time to pursue a hobby – let alone make money out of music – remains a distant dream.

Then there is the growing problem of Islamic radicalization, linked to poverty, unemployment and low levels of education. According to official data, 700 young people have so far travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq, with the real number likely to be even higher.

(See Tajikistan’s Jihad Tourists).

Some young people say that the government’s cultural conservatism doesn’t help the fight against extremism.

“The authority’s attitude, that they ignore or ban anything in the sphere of modern youth culture, risks turning the young generation into a resource for radical Islamic propaganda and unrest,” said a graphic artist and alternative music fan who asked to remain anonymous.

Official bodies responsible for granting permits for artists to use state-owned premises are said to generally ignore requests from performers from the alternative scene.

Martial arts such as wrestling and judo are wildly popular in Tajikistan, with state-sponsored classes and competitions. Tajik sportspeople do well on international level, bringing home medals in the last two Olympics.

However, more niche pursuits are off the state’s radar.

“There are many boxers, football players, wrestlers [in Tajikistan] – but what about our cultural development?” asked Bakhtiyor, a music producer and veteran of the Tajik hip hop scene.

He said that rap had the potential to be huge in Tajikistan, with several dozen recording studios already active in the capital.

SOR, one of the local scene’s most recognised and respected artists, explained that young Tajiks were familiar with hardship. The country went through civil war in the 1990s and has experienced one financial disaster after another ever since.

“Our young people identify with the music,” he said, adding that he had funded his own first recording by shifting cement sacks at the market.

SOR also argued that modern music could also be an outlet for patriotism, even if performers chose not to use the Tajik language.

“I began rapping in English to make Tajikistan known abroad and enter an international market. Some people serve their country through diplomacy, some through scientific contributions and some through art, creativity,” he said.

Bakhtiyor agreed that the alternative scene was making a vital contribution to the country’s development.

“Culture is as important as air, without it our young people degrade,” he said. “They thrive though self-expression and self-development. We are not a very rich country, and many people here had difficult childhoods, so we must help find ways to entertain, educate and develop in a positive way.”

This article was produced under two IWPR projects: Empowering Media and Civil Society Activists to Support Democratic Reforms in Tajikistan, funded by the European Union, andStrengthening Capacities, Bridging Divides in Central Asia, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

Higher education in the high mountains of Central Asia

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Regular blog readers will know that I am passionate about higher education and about Central Asia. You may also know that I have been following the trajectory of some of the region’s newest institutions with great interest, in order to better understand the motivations behind the creation of these universities and to observe what these institutions mean for the people who are directly affected by them (through being students, faculty or staff there) or those with more indirect connections (local communities, employers, families of students etc). How do these universities change the societies around them? How do the societies around them change the institutions?

One project I have a particular attachment to is the University of Central Asia (UCA), which I first learned about in the early 2000s when I worked in Tajikistan for a path-breaking project that has now become linked to UCA. After an arduous journey – which is still only just beginning – UCA will admit its very first undergraduate students this autumn/fall and the buzz around it is steadily growing. The idea behind the university is to bring high quality higher education to three remote and mountainous regions in three countries of Central Asia: Tekeli in Kazakhstan, Naryn in Kyrgyzstan, and Khorog in Tajikistan. Whilst the mountains tell much of the story, there is also an undercurrent of social and economic justice: this is also about bringing three diverse but neighbouring states together and about creating opportunities for these regions and the states they are in to prosper in the 21st century.

In this post I would like to share a recent lecture by Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, UCA Board Executive Committee Executive Chair, given in London to share the university’s vision. The webcast of the lecture is below. If you enjoy that (or don’t have time to watch it in full), take a look at this 5 minute BBC news story and UCA’s photo reportage of the lecture.

We need to find opportunities, and that comes out of the intellectual application of minds, creating research and fostering socio-economic development of Central Asia’s mountain based societies, and helping societies preserve and draw upon their rich cultural heritage.

Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, May 2016