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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

Category Archives: central asia

Last week I attended the Barcamp in Almaty.  Again it was a lively and informal gathering of enthusiastic digital natives from all over Central Asia.  On this videoclip (6.30 min.) some of them share the digital tools they use most and probable also love most.


For me the International Filmfestival Rotterdam (IFFR) 2009 was:

The Hungry Ghosts (NYC): entertaining citystories

Blind Pig who wants to fly (Indonesia): surrealistic, wonderful disorientating, puzzeling visual poetry. Quote:  ‘Schiet met je boog, maar niet in mijn oog. Want mijn oog is voor iedereen, en mijn hart alleen voor jou.’ I just called to say I love you by Stevie Wonder will never sound innocent again.

Also see Dana Linssen’s excellent review about this weird film.

The Fixer, The taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (VS): not one second of fiction, a great journalistic documentary. ‘ Truth is much stranger than fiction’ (Mark Twain)

Jalainur (China): nice scenery of Mongolia, lots of snow and steaming trains, still do not have a clue what the story was about

Native Dancer (Kazakhstan): magical film about some crooks (petrol dollar gangsters) and a healer. The story is based on an real character who lives about seven kilometres outside Almaty. An intense story, with a heart breaking ending: neither happy, nor sad. Director Gulshat Omarova witnessed several rituals (seldom without blood) and told in the Q&A she sincerely believes in the power of this witchcraft. Currently Omarova lives in Rotterdam: ‘a great city to write scenarios’ and she travels to Kazakhstan three, four times a year. In 2006 she was asistant director of The Mongul.

`This year Ruhnama, which stands for Treatise of Spirituality, will be taught not as a separate course but together with other courses on history, political science, economics and Turkmen renaissance.

Published in 2001, Ruhnama was the main ideological product and a basis of political propaganda under the first president Saparmurat Niyazov. Ruhnama was considered a source of universal knowledge and gained the title “holy”.’

Mandatory course on the “Holy Ruhnama”, a philosophical and historic book of the first president Saparmurat Niyazov, is abolished from 1 September, in all universities in Turkmenistan according to the newsagency

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The Ruhnama (book of the soul) is in the West an unknown book. But for most youngsters in Turkmenistan it is the only book they know, sometimes even by heart. It is taught on every school and is supposed to be the most important and most of the times only schoolbook.  Every student should have read the book several times, according to Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, late president-for-life of Turkmenistan.  The book describes his life and experiences. Pages are filled with advice for the right Turkmen lifestyle according to the president and of course according to Allah.  Former president Turkmenbashi processed his biography along with his ideological ideas in this book. After his death, the personality cult and the strange rules he set hardly diminished.

Last year I attended the screening of Shadow of the Holy book at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) . The film of investigative journalist Arto Halonen shows that companies such as Nokia, Siemens and John Deere have to organize a translation of the Ruhnama in their language, in order to get approval for doing business in Turkmenistan.  The film exposes the immorality of international companies doing business with the dictatorship of oil-and-gas-rich Turkmenistan. English, French and German translations of the book exist but would there also be a Dutch edition, I wondered. After some half-heartily search on the internet, the question vanished to the background.

Until two weeks ago……

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A general frustration in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are the fast increasing prices for food and oil. But also water – and therefore electricity – is becoming a huge problem in the region. During July and August Kazakh farmers had to slaughter parts of their cattle, as continuously dry weather poses serious threat of losing the entire livestock. The winter of 2008 promises to be the hardest in decades as Kyrgyzstan is getting prepared to massive energy cuts in autumn and cold winter. Low river and reservoir levels and the need to save energy forced the government to introduce energy cuts in August and prohibit using electricity for heating.

Read more:

Water could lead to fire, Radio Free Europe

No more Kyrgyz electricity to Ferghana Valley, NewEurasia

Kyrgyzstan denies using regional water resources,

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After his return froma three-week long trip through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Ben Paarmann – co founder and editor of the blogging network NewEurasia – found the scariest part the road between Bishkek and Balykchy ashore the Issyk Kul. (…) : ‘The recipe seems simple: Too many cars, police too sparse on the ground or too corrupt to enforce speed limits, and of course absolutely reckless driving.’ Unfortunately he is so right, I experienced during my last visit in July.

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Although I did not visit Osh this year I can report a short follow up to the story on Solomon’s throne, published July 2007.

Last year the mayor of Osh planned to build a lift on Solomon’s Rock. A lift could bring more people to the top in a more comfortable way. There were several protests against the plan: it is said Central Asian muslims consider visiting this rock three times, equal to the hadj to Mecca. Also there was a lively rumour the rock was on the Unesco World Heritage list. It was of course pretty easy to find it was NOT on this list. Altogether I was convinced the last word had not been said about this.

Last week, during my dutytrip for Hivos, I met reporters from the youth portal Kloop. After some fact checking, amongst others anaylzing Unesco’s criteria, they found the rock was on the Unesco nomination list. Definitely the mayor will have to redefine his plans because a lift will be out of the question.

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