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Turkmen Writer Honored By U.S. Free-Speech Group

Rahim Esenov (file photo) (RFE/RL) NEW YORK, April 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmen dissident writer Rahim Esenov was honored in New York on April 18 by a U.S. writers' group that promotes free speech.

The PEN American Center, a branch of the international literary association, said it was the first time the 79-year-old writer had been allowed out of Turkmenistan since he was detained in March 2004 on charges of smuggling copies of his banned novel "The Crowned Wanderer" into the country. He has since been under house arrest.

Esenov was given a standing ovation at the ceremony, which took place at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. "[Dear friends,] I want to thank you that you have found time, that you've come to hear me," he said. "It is very interesting for me as well to meet you, to see your faces, your smiles, your eyes. They speak volumes."

In accepting PEN's annual Freedom to Write Award, Esenov described himself as a patriot and said the award was a recognition of the Turkmen literary tradition and culture, as well as of his own work.

"The Crowned Wanderer" centers around the life of Bayram Khan, a warrior and a man of letters who fights to save the Turkmen nation from fragmentation.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov publicly denounced the novel as "historically inaccurate" and banned it in 1997 after Esenov refused to revise it to Niyazov's liking.

(with Reuters)

'The Crowned Wanderer'

'The Crowned Wanderer'

'A RULER WHO DOES NOT MAKE THE POET A FRIEND IS A FOOL': Having thanked the emperor, Bayram Khan declared that he would prefer to go on a hajj. And, with that, he felt a certain sense of relief. He surprised even himself: he did not want to linger in the court, in this cesspit, a single day more. That would have meant once again putting on the bovsug -- the tight-fitting, iron collar of a courtier -- once more putting on a face, leading a double life... What a pity to spend years, decades, merely to realize that, once a courtier, even a courtier of the highest rank, a poet must become two men. Here then was the reason why, once they take a position of state, court poets write very little, if at all – and that just for one person, the sovereign, out of whose hand the court odist eats and drinks.

But, at the same time, a poet can accept no system of power. As he serves that system, he curses his own weakness of spirit. But an intelligent ruler, aware of the eternally splintering nature of a poet, always aims to bring the poet into his inner circle, to sweeten him. Only, of course, not those like the unruly Ferdowsi, or the free-thinking Khayyam, or the wise Saadi, who penned exortations addressed to the shahs that only served to rile them. That is why there is the saying "a ruler who does not make the poet a friend is a fool; but a poet who seeks to make a ruler his friend is a fool twice over." Evidently that was why many poets, those with a sense of their own self-worth, had preferred the wild canyonsof unpeopled mountains, the depths of the desert, and the dust of the wandering dervishes' road to thedazzle and pleasures of the court.

Only now did Bayram Khan gain a sense of the wisdom contained in this philosophy, a philosophy that a poet seeks after through the course of his difficult life. Knowing that in this state he was viewed as a dangerous, awkward person, he did not waiver before making his choice: to go and worship in holy Mecca, and to hand out the fifty or so rupees he had received from the treasury to the poor and to the needy that he would meet along the roads of Arabia.

(translation by Andrew Gardner)

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