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Central Asia: Region's Leaders Feel The Pull Of Poetry

  • Bruce Pannier

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov (file photo) (RFE/RL) Central Asia's presidents have been called many things by their critics -- strongmen, despots, enemies of the press, and violators of human rights. But every now and then they unclench their "iron fists," pick up a pen or pencil, and produce poems and books for their countrymen.


PRAGUE, 17 January 2006 (RFE/RL) - Some people lust after power.


But for those who already reign supreme, it sometimes seems their lives are still not complete. And so they turn to the arts and write poems, books, and even multivolume tomes for their countrymen to read.


Such are the men leading the countries of Central Asia.

Some Central Asian specialists speculate that the penchant of today's leaders for producing books, poetry and songs is due to their desire to be seen as wise and cultured guides for their nations.

Their work can pop up in unexpected places. For example, when Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was sworn in for another term on 11 January, the national anthem was played with some new words added.


The author of the new text: the president himself.


In fact, the song is some 50 years old and was written by Shamshi Kaldayakov. And Nazarbaev -- the new coauthor of the lyrics -- is modest about the achievement. He admits he only made some amendments to the text to make the anthem "more contemporary."


But Nazarbaev is not so retiring when it comes to writing books. He is the author of six books, ranging in titles from "In The Heart Of Eurasia" (parts 1 and 2), an essay -- one of many -- titled "My Homeland And My Support." All present his personal vision of Kazakhstan as a flourishing, modern, secular state.


The Kazakh government printing office pays special attention to his work. The official website, akorda.kz, lists the "creations of the president" as a special category.


'You Did Not Look My Way'


In Tajikistan, as any citizen can tell you, President Imomali Rakhmonov, is a singer.


"As I was sitting on the corner of the roof of your house you did not call me/I was thirsty to see your face, wanted so much to see your face/But you did not look my way."


The Tajik people could also tell you that Rakhmonov, a former salesman and the head of a state farm in communist times, has authored four volumes on Tajik history.


Uzbek President Islam Karimov is also a writer. Karimov has 12 tomes (some comprising as many as six volumes) to his credit, plus essays. Karimov is an economist by training and so most of his works deal with economics. But he also has written books such as "Uzbekistan On The Threshold Of The 21st Century" that present the Uzbek president's vision of his country's future.


And there are still more examples of poet presidents to consider -- past as well as present.


'Enemies Are All Around Us'


Askar Akaev is no longer the president of Kyrgyzstan, having been chased from office in March last year. But he, too, was a prolific writer.


Unlike his fellow Central Asian leaders, Akaev was a physicist by training and had already authored a number of scholarly works before he became president. However, books like "Economics Through The Eyes Of A Physicist" and those devoted to ancient Kyrgyz history seemed to some of his critics to test the limits of even a scientist's training.


So far, Akaev's successor, Kurmanbek Bakiev, has not authored any works in the short time he has been Kyrgyzstan's president.


But without a doubt, the most published author among Central Asia's leaders is Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov turns at times to poetry, as can be seen in this work "The Three Dangers." He is believed to have written it three years ago:


"I beseech [you] be careful/Be vigilant/When a state thrives happiness comes directly/And your throne is like the throne of Suleiman/But be careful/Enemies are all around us"


But Niyazov's true interest appears to be compiling his "Rukhnama," which so far has reached two full volumes in length. The effort seems to have begun in the late 1990s when Niyazov appealed to the people of his country to write to him and give their ideas about the virtues of the Turkmen people.


The first volume appeared appeared on 19 September 2001. The date has since been declared a national public holiday to commemorate the event.


Today, the first and second volumes of "Rukhnama" are required reading for all Turkmen citizens. Even school children learn to recite verses from the work and it would be impossible to find a position in the government without extensive knowledge of its contents. Reports have surfaced that even traffic police demand a quotation from "Rukhnama" when they stop violators. Those who cannot recite a verse or two are fined.


Ghost Written?


There are more than a few observers who question whether the Central Asian presidents actually authored all their works. Nonetheless, their names grace an ever increasing number of works. And those works -- at least in their own countries -- must be taken seriously by the population.


Analysts say that as the Central Asia's heads of state engage in the arts, they are creating a new tradition for leaders in the region. Traditionally, Central Asian leaders have not felt compelled to engage in artistic pursuits though many, like the 10th century leader Mahmud of Ghazna, did support poets and writers. In Mahmud's case it was the famous writer Firdawsi.


Instead, today's Central Asian leaders may owe their need to write to the leaders of the Soviet Union. Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, of course, produced many works, and so did Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and others.


Some Central Asian specialists speculate that the penchant of today's leaders for producing books, poetry and songs is due to their desire to be seen as wise and cultured guides for their nations. These feelings may be stronger for today's leaders than for previous emirs and khans because the Central Asian strongmen of centuries past could claim to be authorities in religious affairs -- something today's presidents, all former Soviet communist leaders, cannot do.


(RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services contributed to this report.)

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