Thursday, August 16, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: which news to believe

I find the media coverage of Turkmenistan quite interesting. There's the obvious interest since I am here much of the time and ongoing events can potentially affect me. However, the disconnect between some of what is reported and what I can personally see and gather from the people I talk to is what I find most fascinating. Obviously it's not all sunshine and rainbows here, but the compelling question you should always ask yourself when reading anything is "Why should I believe the accuracy of this information?" Why should you believe anything I write here? Do we have a closer personal relationship built over many years that leads you to believe most of what I put forth? Do I seem genuine and interested in finding the "truth" of a situation? Is my writing crisp and professional (which it is obviously not) and thus carries more weight? I hope it is not the last one. A silver tongue is not the same as being truthful and honest.

A story about the abuses of the political leadership (original source) sounds very plausible. It follows with what you can reasonably expect in terms of behavior in a weak "democracy" and it matches with what you can hear "on the ground" from what people are willing to share. Of course, with no reasonable way to publicly quote sources without fear of reprisals, journalism cannot be as forthcoming.

I have seen a couple different articles (and now cannot find links!) discussing what how the Avaza (or Awaza) holiday resort area near Turkmenbasy along the Caspian coast is a failure and mostly empty. Most of these have come from .ru sourced websites, though most of the news aggregation on comes from .ru sites originally. This conflicts with what local staff here have told me about how popular the resort is and that it is very hard to get a room at any of the hotels and that people like to go there on the weekends when possible. I don't see a very compelling case for why local staff here would lie to me about the popularity of the resort. You could make the case for some national pride, but on other subjects, these same people are not exactly flag-waving zealots. At the same time, why would a media site report the resort to be empty and abandoned? That is the question that makes you wonder. Do Russian or other media sites have a compelling interest in making Turkmenistan look bad? Perhaps they do or perhaps it is even a personal animosity at the reporter or site owner level. However, there is plenty of fodder for criticism and they do not need to misrepresent the situation. There is enough low-hanging fruit to feast on when it comes to critiques of the place.

More suitable for criticism would be the home demolitions in the fifth paragraph from bottom. And this is true from what I have gathered from people who have been here longer. Another anecdote is about the Presidential Hotel where important visitors stay and it apparently costs up to 400 USD/night. The front facade is very nice, but when it was first built, s shanty-town residential area was behind the hotel and visible from rooms that faced that direction. That residential area is no longer there and I will give you one guess as to who insisted upon its "rehabilitation". You could make the argument for ideas like eminent domain and urban renewal and the like. However, eminent domain rests upon the idea of fair compensation, and while that value can be disputed, it is certainly larger than zero.

Then there are stories about troubled airline maintenance which are particularly eye-catching for the simple reason that I fly on those planes. Is this a believable story or merely a baseless disparagement of the state airline? I'll let you know after my next flight.

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