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Wednesday 23 August 2017

Afghan Singer Aryana Sayeed Vows The Show Will Go On, Despite Threats

  • RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

Aryana Sayeed, one of Afghanistan’s most-popular -- and controversial -- pop stars, says she is unbowed and plans to go ahead with a charity concert despite objections and threats from conservatives over women singing in public.

Aryana Sayeed, one of Afghanistan’s most-popular -- and controversial -- pop stars, says she is unbowed and plans to go ahead with a charity concert despite objections and threats from conservatives over women singing in public.

Once criticized for wearing a flesh-colored dress, Sayeed told RFE/RL in an interview on August 17 that the concert, to be held at a yet-to-be disclosed location in Kabul, will proceed, regardless of the consequences.

“I'm going to still go ahead with my performance, and I'm going to try to give a smile to my fellow Afghans, and give them a good time, and try to change their mind, and take their tension away for at least an hour or two,” she said of her August 19 performance to celebrate the country’s Independence Day.

Public performances by women are regarded as inappropriate in the conservative Muslim nation and Sayeed’s liberal views, Western clothes, and statements pushing for the empowerment of women have only deepened the attacks she has endured.

In May, the 32-year-old singer burned a flesh-colored dress she had worn at a concert after her actions came under heavy criticism from religious leaders as being anti-Islamic and taboo in Afghan society.

The concert date is significant for women as it falls on the anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence in 1919 under King Amanullah Khan, who campaigned against polygamy and women wearing the veil.

Sayeed, who sings in Pashto and Dari, was born in Kabul but left when she was 8 years old. She currently resides in London and says the climate around freedom for women in her native country is worsening.

“The situation in Afghanistan has become so bad that right now, this threatening has become so normal. They can just go ahead and threaten anybody over social media. They can threaten them to death. They can say whatever, and nobody is doing anything about it,” she said.

“Hopefully, when this concert is over -- at some point, I want to take this very seriously -- I want to find somebody to talk to, because they need to change the laws and the rules in Afghanistan, and they need to take these things very serious,” she added.

Sayeed’s popularity defies the scorn that authorities have heaped on her.

With about 1.8 million Facebook followers, a recent video she posted on the social-media website received 1.85 million likes. Sayeed is also a judge on Afghanistan's version of the TV talent competition The Voice.

She said her patriotism and desire for unity and peace in Afghanistan had never wavered and that she’ll donate profits from the concert to families displaced by a militant attack earlier this month on the village of Mirza Olang in northern Afghanistan, which killed at least 62 people. Taliban and Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for that attack.

“Obviously, I'm blown away by the amount of support I am getting and I thank God for it every second.... And to those who are protesting against this, I am not even worried about them, because, I mean, they tried their best and look how many people they gathered -- maybe only 40 people or 50. That's nothing. We have a population of 36 million people in Afghanistan and I know that a majority of them are with me,” she said.

“Taking in his hands one of the newest types of combat weapons on display here, the head of government demonstrated his ability to hit the target, which attests to the high level of his military training,” the office of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said in a statement.

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader has put on another display of his purported multifaceted talents -- this time with a state-media report showing his abilities with assault rifles and knives.

He deejays, writes and croons ballads, and sinks foul shots -- at least according to state propaganda. Now you can add knife-throwing and sharpshooting to the list of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s purported talents.

State-controlled TV released footage of the Central Asian nation’s autocratic leader demonstrating his blade-and-gun skills for a group of men in fatigues lined up to admire the president’s action-hero prowess and applaud eagerly.

The footage was broadcast on the same day that, according to Berdymukhammedov’s office, he inspected “modern military equipment” at a military outpost in the south of Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat.

“Taking in his hands one of the newest types of combat weapons on display here, the head of government demonstrated his ability to hit the target, which attests to the high level of his military training,” Berdymukhammedov’s office said in a statement.

A full copy of the official report showing the Turkmen president’s target practice could not be immediately located.

But opposition website posted an embellished version of the footage, which features the logo of the state-run Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) network. The website, which appears to have spliced in snippets of the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Commando and added dramatic music to mock Berdymukhammedov’s tough-guy image, said the report aired on August 1:

The original footage of the Turkmen president shows him decked out in military fatigues and sunglasses -- and sporting a scowl that suggested he was all business.

Berdymukhammedov poses with an assault rifle, which he proceeds to use for target practice. The editing resembles that of a previous report showing him playing basketball, when footage of one obviously off-course foul shot abruptly segues to a clip of the ball dropping through the hoop:

It’s not clear from the latest footage where -- or whether -- Berdymukhammedov actually hit the paper target. But a follow-up snippet shows him inspecting the results, dramatically tracing the bull's-eye with his index finger before the center is revealed to be riddled with direct hits. The assembled spectators are then shown applauding.

After switching to a handgun, which he cocks sideways, Berdymukhammedov is shown achieving similar success in his target practice.

From a table of weapons, he then grabs a combat knife, which he switches from hand to hand. He is then shown show tossing three blades with slightly rigid throwing form, hitting the target three times (the last one hits the fedora of the enemy silhouette printed on the paper target).

He finishes up the session by yanking the blade from the target with flair.

After some footage of combat training in the ex-Soviet republic’s arid hills, the report shows Berdymukhammedov autographing the paper target he used for shooting practice.

The former dentist has ruled the gas-rich nation since 2006 following the death of his ruthless and eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen.

Observers say authorities have fostered a growing personality cult around the 60-year-old Berdymukhammedov, who has dubbed himself Arkadag (The Protector).

He has also been eliminating relics of his predecessor’s legacy, including numerous statues nationwide.

In 2015, Turkmenistan unveiled a 21-meter-high marble and gold-leaf statue of Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat. State television frequently airs footage portraying him as a talented athlete and artist, including playing and singing songs he is said to have written himself.

In March, state media broadcast a popular singer’s performance of a song honoring Berdymukhammedov’s mother for giving "birth to a hero."

The following month, he was declared the winner of a nationwide competition for the official anthem of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games, which Turkmenistan is set to host in September.

Rights groups and activists accuse Berdymukhammedov and his government of tolerating no dissent and imposing draconian restrictions on free speech.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service

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