Posts Tagged With: Dushanbe

Hissar — expedition out of Dushanbe

This view of the reconstructed fort is from inside the fort, not the view one normally sees on the travel brochures.

We have thoroughly touristed Dushanbe, including our last venture outside of the city to the Hissar Fort. Almost any website associated with tourism in Tajikistan will feature the reconstructed gates of the 18th century fort, used until 1924 and destroyed by the Red Army. Behind the gates, you can climb through the foundations of what remains of the real fort and up some hills for good views of the surrounding mountains. It was a hazy, winter day so many of our photos do not reflect the gorgeous snow-covered mountains that we could see.

After you are done clambering around the fort, you can cross the street to the 16th century medressa, now a museum. A 17th century medressa is also across the street, deserted now. And behind them is a mausoleum for Makhdum Azam, a 16th century Sufic teacher.

The adventure of all this is that we managed independently, without speaking Russian or more than a few words in Tajik. First, we walked about two blocks to Rudaki Avenue and stood on the street (about 3 minutes) until a #8 shared taxi came by and took us to the Zarnisar market on the west side of town, not far from the US embassy. (While there are the taxis we are used to, Dushanbe also has a system of numbered taxis that run specific routes. They are three somonis [60 cents] per person for anywhere on the route. Although they are more expensive than the buses and the maruschkas [vans], they are a lot more comfortable since the top number of passengers a taxi can hold at a time is four.)

At Zanisar market, which is also a gathering place for lots of transportation, you find another shared taxi to take you to the town of Hissar, which is 30 km (18 miles) to the west of Dushanbe. We found one who gave us what we thought was a reasonable price (60 somonis, $6 each) and we didn’t have to share the ride. Plus, he took us all the way to the fort, which is another seven kilometers from Hissar. To get home, we first took a two somoni ride back to the town of Hissar, and then got a taxi to take just the two us back to the Zanisar market in Dushanbe for only 25 somonis ($2.60 each. I think we got “robbed” for the ride out.) Then, back home on a #8 taxi.

While on the subject of taxis, let me praise the taxi drivers and other drivers in Dushanbe. I heard that they were “crazy,” But except for one young man today who tried to drag race against another taxi on our way to Zanisar market, they have been good drivers who drive at reasonable speed and respect pedestrians and other cars. They may take a few risks passing slow vehicles on a major road on a curve, but that’s nothing compared to what I have seen in China, Indonesia or Italy. And, as a pedestrian, I feel safe crossing the street and cars have even stopped to let me by.

Since there is nothing left of tourist interest in Dushanbe until the spring when the open-air tea houses and bars are in full swing and trips out of town to some gorges for good scenery are worthwhile, we are ready to get going to Khujand. May it please be soon.

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Journalists

Tajik journalists Abdullah Ashurov, Jamila Mirbozkhonova, Aslam Muminov, Marhabo Azamatovna

One of the good things about being a journalist in Tajikistan is that you have a lot more independence that those working in government, say the four journalists I chatted with recently. As an example, one of them showed me a full-page story she wrote about her trip to Jaipur, India.

I met the four through a contact in Dushanbe. Aslam Muminov is an economics editor and also reports for the only daily newspaper in Tajikistan, Imruz News. I haven’t seen a copy of it, so I don’t know if both words are in Cyrillic or if News is spelled with the Latin alphabet. Imruz means “today’s” and the four joked that one word is in Tajik and the other in English. Abdullah Ashurov, who went to university in Russia as well as Tajikistan and who has worked for a Russian newspaper and the Russian publication AsiaPlus (English version at news.tj/en) now works for a youth program on Radio Liberty. Marhabo Azamatovna is the chief editor of the Russian Language Program for the National Information Agency of Tajikistan “Khovar.” Jamila Mirbozkhonova is a political and feature reporter for the weekly newspaper Ozodagon. All have Tajik university education in journalism, history or economics and all are full-time, professional journalists, between their late twenties and forties (I am guessing their ages, based on their appearance.) Asia Plus is a popular news source in Tajikistan, for those who have Internet access.

In this blog post, I am summarizing what they told me, but have not been able to verify it — not because I tried and couldn’t get verification, but because I have not yet talked with anyone else about these topics and I can’t read Cyrillic, let alone Tajik or Russian. So all the comments below are from their perspective – working in a language that is not their own, but that they speak moderately well. Plus, you will notice that they talked only of print journalism.

Another good thing about being a journalist, they told me, is that journalists can help poor people. People with problems come to them and ask them to write about it, and then people in the government see the stories and sometimes help. When I interviewed a broadcast journalist in China 10 years ago, I was told the same story. The people came to the journalists for help, rather than the government, because with the publicity, the government is more likely to remedy the situation.

The conversation quickly moved to some of the aspects that are not good for Tajik journalists.

Running a newspaper is expensive. An independent (from the government) newspaper makes its money through circulation and advertising. The advertising market is quite small in Tajikistan. Circulation of most newspapers is also quite small, perhaps 2-3,000 for most of them. Newspapers cost 1.5 to 2 somoni (about 30-40 U.S. cents), which is expensive for most Tajiks. We were speaking in the American Corner in Dushanbe – two rooms full of computers and information about the US run by the embassy in one of the university buildings – and I noticed that the three newspapers Jamila brought to show me were quickly snatched up by onlookers to be read while the five of us talked.

A big expense for newspapers is the newsprint. The Freedom House site (www.freedomhouse.org) reports that the government controls newsprint distribution. However, my four colleagues disagreed and said the government does not control any of the companies that import the newsprint from Russia (none is manufactured in Tajikistan), but the paper is expensive. So is printing, although there are numerous printers in town. But, they continued, the government does assert some control on circulation through the mail. Independent publications must pay relatively high postal rates while government sponsored publications are posted at a much lower rate.

Another way that the government influences news content is that access to information can be difficult for a journalist working for an independent news source. The laws do not require ministry officials to give information to journalists or to the public. The government officials will frequently ignore requests and give what information they do want publicized to the government supported media.

The lack of technology is another problem for the Tajik journalists. The newspapers cannot pay for phone use or laptops for their reporters, although they may have computers in their offices.

The print media are technically free (although I believe the television broadcasting stations are government owned, or at least heavily government regulated). However, government officials can still harass journalists who become too critical of the President or of other political or economic doings. Not that my four friends are afraid that they would be put into jail, at least not longer than a few months, but they and their newspapers can be harassed in other ways, such as having their taxes raised and eventually being forced out of business.

I read on the Reporters Without Borders site (www.en.rsf.org) that Dodojon Atovulloev, a Tajik journalist who founded the first opposition newspaper after Tajikistan’s independence and who was forced out of Tajikistan in 2001, was stabbed in the stomach while at a restaurant in Moscow last month. He was badly hurt, but survived. Atovulloev now lives in Hamburg and Moscow and maintains editorial offices there.

The last problem that Jamilia, Abdullah, Aslam and Marhoba talked about was journalists’ pay. They work hard for little pay and many journalists have other jobs to make ends meet. This would mean that they have less time to do their reporting jobs.

I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that these four busy journalists gave me on that winter afternoon and hope to learn more about their profession in Tajikistan as well as keeping in touch with them. The fact that they said I could report what they said using their names shows that Tajik journalism is different from the time of the Soviet Union.

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Back in the U-S-S-R

ImageThe photo was taken by David Sears. If you look close, you can see me saluting in the middle.

We won’t be here in the spring, so we tackled Victory Park on Saturday, where the view of Dushanbe is supposed to be terrific from the hill. It’s only a few blocks from our apartment on Bekhzod. When we get there, the funicular was closed for the season, so rather than walking all the way around and take the main road up into the park, we headed straight up the jalan tikus (an Indonesian word  meaning “mouse roads” for neighborhood small streets and alleys), through a poor residential section clinging to the side of the steep hill. I was surprised we ran into so few people. Since the larger streets in Dushanbe are full of potholes and in this weather, snow and mud, I was not at all surprised to see these pathways not paved and covered in slush and mud and gravel.

We made it to the park itself and the top of the funicular, where during another season, one can grab a beer or coffee or soda pop and admire the city and the mountains that surround it. Best photos would be in the morning, but it was afternoon and although sunny and warming, hazy. But David took some photos for us to remember what we saw that day.

Now that we are on the park’s main road, we climbed higher to the Victory Monument itself. It is practically an arena – a space for rallies and May Day celebrations. I climbed the stairs to the red star, and as I was sitting, looking over the monument from above and the city, it dawned on me.

I am in the Soviet Union.

I’ve been referring to Tajikistan as being in Central Asia, one of the former Soviet Union soviets. But on Saturday it struck me hard – I am actually in the Soviet Union. The boogey man of all the propaganda I was fed growing up deep in the Cold War. The country that I learned about in the mid ‘60s and realized in seventh grade that I was being fed propaganda, and my nascent skepticism of official teaching lead me to a life of doubting official stories and histories. (Although I probably didn’t then have in my vocabulary words like “nascent” and “propaganda.”)

So, here I am, in the (former) Soviet Union.

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Numbers and Days

Dushanbe means Monday. The city is “artificial” in that the Soviets decided it would be the capital, and it was just a little crossroads with a Monday market. As a result, many of the roads are in a grid and there is a planned look to the place because of the color scheme of the buildings.

I started to learn the numbers, and as a result, learned the days. Friday is Juma. Saturday is Shanbe (pronounced shan-bay). Sunday is Yukshanbe, yuk means one. Monday is Dushanbe, du means two. Tuesday is Seshanbe, se means three. I bet you have figured out the pattern by now. Wednesday is Chorshanbe and chor means four. Thursday is Penjshanbe, five. Of course, all these names are in Cyrrilic, which I am learning bit by bit to read. I get practice when identifying streets and reading labels in our grocery store.

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National Museum of Antiquities

Here are a few other photos from the National Museum of Antiquities, including the scabbard with the lion and “dear” and an example of how some of the items are displayed on styrofoam

National Museum of Antiquities, Dushanbe, Akinak's scabbard with lion & deer, ivory, Takhti Sangin 6-5th c BC

Many of the small items in the National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe are mounted on styrofoam, including these items from ancient Bunjikat.

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Big Buddha in Dushanbe

The largest Buddha in Central Asia is reclining in a museum in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He assumed his title when the Taliban dynamited the two standing Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in March 2001.

The National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe has exhibits from the many archeological sites in Tajikistan. Most of the good stuff, however, can be found in museums in other countries. But there are some lovely pieces – like a scabbard with a lion and “dear.” The main draw is a 13 meter long reclining Buddha. It is the largest Buddha in Central Asia, thanks to the Afghanistan Taliban (damn their hides) who blew up the two standing Buddhas in Bamiyan in March 2001. Our Buddha boy in Dushanbe was found in 1966 in Ajina Teppe and dates back about 1500 years. He seems to have been damaged either before or during the move and is missing much of his clothing and outer decorations, as well as a good portion of his face. He may be big for Central Asia, but he has brothers in China and Thailand that are much bigger and in better shape.

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Update from Dushanbe

For those of you who are following this blog — I have not deserted it. I will be posting a substantive post soon. Right now we are in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, arrived Jan. 16. We are having to extend our three-month visa into a six-month visa and that is taking some time, so we are marooned here until the bureaucratic wheels grind. That will take several more weeks, and then we fly to Khujand. I will prepare a post on our laptop, so next time I have access to wifi I can post. Pictures of a big Buddha and lovely, pastel buildings along Rudaki Ave. are coming up.

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