Turkmenistan’s education ministry has revived a practice from the days of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov to make the current leader’s written work a mandatory text in schools.
Passages and quotations from “The Fount of Wisdom” by Gurbanguly Berdymukhmedov are now to be included in the school curriculum, according to a report by the foreign-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan.
Niyazov’s own two-volume Rukhnama, which was described in state media as a holy text, has been gradually phased out of the classroom. But "The Fount of Wisdom" is not a wholly dissimilar work. The book is a compendium of proverbs and sayings that, as state media puts in, “reflect the people’s spiritual universe, world view, philosophy, moral principles and beliefs.”
This is far from Berdymukhamedov’s only contribution to school curriculum, as the Chronicles of Turkmenistan points out. Pupils in the seventh grade also have to study a novel by the president.
And the president has countless other works under his belt too.
There is his work extolling the virtues of tea, which was published earlier this year.
“Every Turkmen knows there is nothing tastier than tea brewed in water from a mountain stream and boiled on an open fire in a traditional teapot,” reads one passage cited by AFP news agency.
Kazakhstan’s Culture Minister caused a diplomatic row with Kyrgyzstan earlier this year after unwittingly insulting Kyrgyz citizens working in Russia.
Now, Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly is facing accusations of sexual harassment and corruption.
The charge was advanced by a former student of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Arts (KazNAI), Enlik Sydykova, in a YouTube video posted on October 9. The young woman said that in 2011 she had been hoping to sit an entrance exam for the college but did not make it in time. Mukhamediyuly, who was rector of the institute at the time, offered to assist in resolving the problem against a $3,000 bribe, Sydykova claimed. But when she said she did not have that kind of cash at her disposal, Mukhamediyuly proposed an alternative arrangement, Sydykova accused.
“Mukhamediyuly said to me: ‘You can come over to my place, we can drink wine, dance, chat and have fun.’ I was shocked. I did not expect to hear such things from such an upstanding figure,” Sydykova said in her video account.
Despite refusing the then-rector’s alleged advances, Sydykova made it into KazNAI all the same. At a later juncture, according to Sydykova, Mukhamediyuly entered a lecture hall in an inebriated stated and forced female students to sing before him. Sydykova said she was not the only student to face harassment from Mukhamediyuly.
When students in Uzbekistan returned to school and universities earlier this week, it was to classes devoted to the life and deeds of the late President Islam Karimov.
After reluctantly admitting to Karimov’s demise on September 2, authorities are now laboring to create a virtual demigod aura around the late leader.
In scenes that repeated themselves up and down the country, days began with school assemblies and a ceremonial laying of flowers before portraits of Karimov. Pupils then filed into their respective classes.
Students were given explanations in class about the life and works of the late leader and shown a film titled “The Future is For Us.”
The film, which was dedicated to Karimov, opens with a series of questions: “What is peace?”; “what is freedom?”; and “what is happiness?” Each question was answered with footage of Karimov speaking. The movie ended with the late leader saying: “I fear nobody. Our nation is on the true path. We are moving toward a great future.”
Some classes were attended by district heads and city government officials, at the instruction of the presidential administration in Tashkent.
The classes were really interesting. Teachers cried when they talked about the death of President Islam Karimov. And the film … was moving too. It was a kind of instruction from the leader of the nation,” Iroda, a teacher in the Ferghana Valley area, told EurasiaNet.org. Iroda’s surname has been withheld.
A student quoted in Uzbek language newspaper 21 Asr (“21st Century”), Mohigul Abdusalomova, said she would use Karimov’s words as an example in life.
With the referendum out of the way, Tajikistan is back to usual business: banning things.
On May 24, Education and Science Minister Nuriddin Said issued a decree abolishing the cherished tradition of the “final bell,” wherein graduating secondary school students celebrate their last day of class.
Terms ends this year on June 7, but instead of the usual merriment, students will simply attend class and then presumably be expected to forlornly file home.
According to Said, failure to enforce this new order will result in punitive measures against education ministry officials and headmasters.
Unaccountable as it may seem for a country’s whose educational system is so riddled with shortcomings, the final bell has become something of an obsession. Every year has brought new amendments and restrictions.
In 2007, the name of the final day was changed from “final bell,” as it is known across most of the former Soviet space, to “bell of maturity” and the date pushed back from May 25 to June 6. That provision was intended to dampen the ardor of revelry and was accompanied by a ban on parties in restaurants, whip-rounds for graduating students, gift-giving and mass outdoor gatherings.
Typically, the day begins at 8 a.m. with a 45-minute assembly at students bring balloons, dance and sing. Diplomas, medals and awards are handed out.
The ban on grand last-day celebrations is based in part, it would seem, on concerns that some parties can on occasion get out of control. Some students mark the day by riding in cars, often recklessly and great speed, around their neighborhoods and on occasion cause fatal accidents.
College students in some of Uzbekistan’s largest cities will start their holidays early this year.
Staff at colleges in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand and Urgench were told this week that summer holidays will start from June 9 to make way for preparations ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization heads of state summit scheduled for June 23-24. Semesters normally finish on June 30.
In order to make up for the lost time, courses will be accelerated and graduate theses have to be handed in early. Exams are also being brought forward, which means there will be a lot of cramming to do.
“Students that have not already finished their thesis will have to be helped by the lecturers. By June 10, students from the regions will be required to vacate their institutes. This means we will have to work through the weekends,” a lecturer at a pedagogical institute in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org.
Students appear to be taking the news in their stride and some are even happy since this means they will get to go home earlier. Discount tariffs on train and plane tickets are being provided for students having to return home.
This situation will affect most of the country’s 74 institutes of higher learning — 34 of which are in Tashkent.
The government is working flat out to prepare for the SCO summit.
An employee with a bank in Tashkent told EurasiaNet.org that since Uzbekistan is experiencing a period of liquid shortages, the bulk available ready cash has been going toward completion of roads and other infrastructure in preparation of the summit. Tashkent has been seized by a flurry of reparation works and tree- and flower-planting to prepare for the event.
Uzbekistan has for the first time in its history opened a college devoted exclusively to the study of Uzbek language and literature.
The Alisher Navoi University, which was created at the behest of President Islam Karimov, will be constituted of three faculties teaching Uzbek philolology, Uzbek literature and language, and Uzbek and English translation.
The UzA state news agency reported that the university would help to improve the quality of Uzbek language instruction and teaching materials.
Such efforts should be understood as a slowly evolving undertaking to inculcate a distinct national identity that has been evolving since Soviet times.
Uzbekistan adopted a law elevating Uzbek to the official state language back in 1989, when it was still constituent republic of the Soviet Union.
Independence only intensified the adoption of the Uzbek, a process that was accompanied by the gradual displacement of not just Russian but also the Cyrillic alphabet. In September 1993, a law was passed to formalize an Uzbek alphabet, which was based closely on the Latin script. That alphabet was fine-tuned in 1996 and remains in use to this day.
That was only the latest of many chapters in the convoluted history of the written language in Central Asia, however — one that has had the unfortunate of repeatedly rendering large sections of the population functionally illiterate. The written word in the region, before the Soviets codified what came to be identified as the Uzbek language, was transcribed in Arabic script. The Latin alphabet was brought in by the mid-1920s only to give way, under Russian influence, to Cyrillic in 1940.
Russia’s soft power influence over Uzbekistan has increased in recent years with the soaring number of students looking to enter Russian universities.
Looking to capitalize on that, a group of universities have been holding educational fairs in three cities of Uzbekistan — Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara — over the past week. The final two-day fair will conclude in Bukhara on April 27.
Russia’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, Vladimir Tyurdenev, said that more than 4,000 Uzbek students had entered institutes of higher education in Russia in the 2016 academic year, according to a report by Sputnik on April 22.
Opening the Tashkent fair, Viktor Shulika, the head of the local branch of Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian state agency ostensibly intended as an analogue of USAID, said that interest among Uzbek youths wanting to study in Russia has been increasing fast.
There are currently 21,642 Uzbeks studying in Russian colleges. In 2015 alone, 24 colleges in Russia admitted 10,572 pupils from Uzbekistan. Almost 2,000 have received Russian state scholarships.
Russian colleges do admittance tests directly in Uzbekistan and the competition is intense.
Vladimir Vasilyev, rector of the St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics, told EurasiaNet.org that fees at his college cost 50,000 rubles ($700) per year, or 65,000 rubles for those doing their studies long-distance. But strong performers in admittance tests can qualify for financial support.
“Those that get scholarships can get stipends worth around 15-16,000 rubles per month,” said Roman Savchenko, a representative for the St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics.
In a noteworthy backtrack, education authorities in Kazakhstan have ordered a revision of school textbooks to ensure that they do not show Crimea as a part of Russia.
Mektep, the publishing house that creates history and geography textbooks used in schools in Kazakhstan, sparked a diplomatic row in September when it appeared to endorse the annexation of the peninsula by Russia.
But the Education Ministry said in a painfully worded press release on September 30 that Mektep had erred in how it assembled its facts.
“It was noted that the authors did not apply the entire range of factuality in objectively composing the given material,” the statement said, according to an Interfax report. “The publisher and authors did not fully reflect the position of Kazakhstan or that of the international community in its treatment of the Crimea issue.”
It remains to be seen how the Mektep textbooks will now endeavor to characterize the status of Crimea.
When it issued its protest over the books on September 25, Ukraine’s embassy to Kazakhstan was clear.
The suggestion that Crimea should be part of Russia “contradicts the position of the international community and the leadership of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which has more than once stated its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the embassy said in its statement.
Uzbekistan is taking increasingly drastic measures in the fight against college admission exam cheats by ordering cellphone companies to disable some of their services temporarily.
Local news website Gazeta.uz cited three major mobile providers — Beeline, Ucell and UMS — as saying that they temporarily suspended messaging services for five hours on August 1. The time coincided when school-leavers take their all-important tests that decide their long-term future.
The message-blocking practice is now carried out annually and is intended to thwart crafty students hoping to get assistance from accomplices outside the exam hall.
Rampant cheating has been a feature of exam-taking across the former Soviet Union for many decades. Educational authorities appear to be taking the matter more seriously, although some creative souls try to slip through.
Earlier this year, a student in Kazakhstan schemed to help his girlfriend ace her exams by dressing in her clothes and taking her place. The black wig, skirt, eye makeup and pink lipstick were not enough to fool the invigilators, however. Police were called in, leading to the young man facing charges of fraud.
Exam-takers in Uzbekistan are, like most places in the world, forbidden from bringing in their phone, but that has not deterred the ingenious in the past.
One website, Uz24, explains how some students have circumvented the ban by taking their mobile phones apart and distributing the components in various pockets for later assembly. Others simply hide their phones in toilets or tape them under conveniently located tables, if they know in advance where they are to be seated.
A new website aims to help Central Asian scholars enter the academic mainstream.
Launched in early April, the Central Asian Analytical Network, or CAAN, is the brainchild of the George Washington University’s Central Asia Program. The website’s goal is to make it easier for scholars in the region to publish and distribute their work. It will post commentaries and academic papers on a daily basis, as well as provide a digital library to facilitate research.
“Young scholars [in Central Asia] often complain that they have limited opportunities to publish their work, either due to higher academic standards set by western journals or censorship issues in their home countries,” Aitolkyn Kourmanova, CAAN’s chief editor, told EursasiaNet.org in an email interview.
“The idea is to connect local researchers, academics, policymakers, NGOs and media through one regional networking platform which provides equal opportunities for all to speak up on hot issues, initiate debates, or publish their work,” added Kourmanova. [Editor’s Note: GWU’s Central Asia Program receives funding from the Open Society Foundations. EurasiaNet.org operates under OSF’s auspices].
CAAN additionally plans to produce a regular digest in Russian of English-language academic resources that focus on Central Asia. It also hopes to conduct trainings to improve regional scholars’ writing skills to increase their chances of getting published in outside journals.
“We seek to establish partnership with most think-tanks in the region to keep everyone informed about their work, projects, publications or events,” Kourmanova said.
Jessica Gisondo is an editorial associate at EurasiaNet.