Archives for September 2012

Urunboy Usmonov in London

Post categories:

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 14:47 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2012

You might remember the name Urunboy Usmonov - the BBC reporter in Tajikistan who was arrested last year after being accused of having links to the Hizb ut-Tahrir party, an Islamic organisation which is banned in Tajikistan. The BBC World Service then issued a statement, saying that "whilst Mr Usmonov has reported on the judicial trials and activities of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party in Tajikistan at the request of the BBC, the BBC has no reason to believe these allegations".

Later, in the following statements, the BBC reiterated its position: "The BBC has been clear that it regards the allegations linking the BBC reporter to Hizb ut-Tahrir as completely unfounded.

Urunboy Usmonov

Urunboy Usmonov has worked for the Central Asian service for ten years

"We believe that meetings and interviews with people representing all shades of opinion are part of the work of any BBC journalist'.

You can read how the whole story unfolded in these previous blog posts:

What does it take to be a journalist in Central Asia?
Trip to Tajikistan to see Urunboy Usmonov in prison
Urunboy Usmonov: where does the literature end?
Urunboy Usmonov rejoins his family

After spending 31 day in Hodjent's security services' prison and as a result of unprecedented international pressure, Urunboy Usmonov was released on bail and later sentenced to three years' imprisonment for not reporting his meetings with members of Hizb ut-Tahrir to the security services.

Simultaneously with that sentence, the court pardoned Urunboy Usmonov under a decree from the president of Tajikistan.

In a word, Urunboy hasn't been fully acquitted of that alleged and absurd 'crime', but pardoned as a criminal.

Neither he nor the BBC has accepted that outcome and are continuing the legal battle which has lasted more than a year.

Initially Urunboy Usmonov appealed to the High Court of Tajikistan with a plea to fully acquit him.

Unfortunately the High Court upheld the sentence of the provincial court.

Now the matter is with the Appeals Committee of the High Court - the last legal resort in Tajikistan. We are waiting for their decision.

BBC World Service staff holding a vigil for Urunboy Usmonov

BBC World Service staff held vigils for Urunboy Usmonov

Last week Urunboy Usmonov came to London. Here he met the colleagues who have supported him and his family throughout his ordeal. He also met officials from the BBC World Service and went to see English PEN and other organisations who rallied for his acquittal.

Everywhere he raised the same issue: his case is still unresolved and he is determined to fight to the end to prove his innocence and to be fully acquitted.

Why is it so important to see this case through?

As Urunboy explains it's not just a personal matter of a journalist called Urunboy Usmonov, but the opposition between free and independent journalism and the tyranny of authorities that act with impunity, between freedom of speech and persecution from security services.

'Someone must stand up!' says Urunboy.

His fight for justice has already made a difference in Tajikistan.

Several journalists who were sentenced to long-term jail sentences and huge fines have been acquitted. Journalists have also united with lawyers to protect one another and the Association of Journalists has become stronger.

Now going back to Tajikistan, Urunboy is even more determined to fight his case.

He needs our common support.

Morals or no morals

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 17:04 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The news agenda of the last days was led mostly by two quite controversial news: one was about mass protests around the Muslim world as a result of an amateur video made in the US which mocks Islam and the second one was to do with photographs showing the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless.

Though those two news are quite different in their nature, at the same time there's something common in them. They are about the human honour - a word less and less used in our modern vocabulary.

Even the Oxford dictionary put the main meaning of that word under the second paragraph: the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right.

However incomparable those two stories are I suspect that in fact they are two poles of the same phenomenon: in the latter case as many agree it's an intrusion into the single person's privacy and breach of honour, whereas in the first case the same intrusion and breach of honour apparently happened to a collective symbol.

Those who read classic novels know that the breach of the private or family honour used to end in duels. Now it ends in the courts. Among many others I would agree: that is the sensible way. I think that would be the sensible way in the first case too.

I know that tons of words have already been written about both those cases and rather than adding another 100 grams of my contribution into these tumultuous topics which tear people apart, maybe it's sensible to take a pause and suggest to you a poem:

Lovers in Samarkand

(An old song that wells up in this poem)

Before midday, round about eleven
in the bazaar by the Boltabay post with its attached
loudspeaker, the sun is just heating up.
Like a wheel not hurrying to go out on the road of Ibodullah the gypsy,
the tambourine, and after it the cymbals,
flutes and the violin,
the horses, saddles and reins, then a beauty in a palanquin
and a voice looking out from under a veil...

You breathe in the  burning air,
your lungs fill with the air of the flute,
the train squeaks off into motion, your nose
starts getting irritated by the dust-following you is the clank
                                              of the wheels
or the tambourine, or your heart in the airlessness before it stops
gives out its thud back and

'Come to me with your curls like snakes and your kohled eyes'

Okhun the meat-pie maker fires up his clay oven for the midday
Temur the blacksmith beats his chopper on the anvil
with his hammer. The sun draws in the air
and climbs to the zenith, shortening the shadow from the post,
so that it can hide not knowing where to find a place in the craziness.
Blind Sotim sharpening his knife
fountains out sparks from his palms at the shadow . . .

As I search for the world leaf after leaf.

The melody ripened. The melody got through.
It hit the zenith and with a sound, tak, collided with the orphaned,
needed-by-no one sun, and seemed to understand
all this unnecessariness.
If a cloud goes it doesn't return.
The melody momentarily descends from the heights where
the mad sun, already yellowed from its beating down by the sky,
and the moon, go around the vault of the sky.

The melody is like a woman baker, remaining at midday
with the teahouse man, red Katam, having dropped her husband,
Sobir the guide, who has gone off on a journey,
and gathering up her skirts hurries off to the neighbours.

There is no one to sprinkle the hot earth streets with water
to give the town a breather

Of Silk and Sand

Post categories:

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 16:08 UK time, Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Christie's auction house in London is currently running an exhibition called Of Sand and Silk.

The exhibition showcases the works of Aleksandr Volkov (1886 -1957), who belonged to the Turkestani school of Russian avant-garde art at the beginning of the 20th century.

Both the history of that particular collection from the Nukus State Museum of Karakalpakstan and the life of the artist are fascinating stories so I'll just touch upon them here.

At the teahouse (During a journey), 1917

At the teahouse (During a journey), 1917, by Alexsandr Volkov. © Christie's Images Limited 2012

First, the life of Aleksandr Volkov. His father, Nikolay Volkov, came to Central Asia with the Russian troops, conquering this vast area with its ancient culture in the middle of the 19th century. He served as a military doctor.

After Central Asia was conquered by Russians and became known as Russian Turkestan, Volkov Senior, like many other colonisers, decided to stay there and he settled down in a town called Skobelev (today's Ferghana). According to family legend he got married to a local gypsy girl and Volkov Junior was born in Ferghana following that marriage.

Though the artist had studied in Russia for a short period, he grew up and spent all his life in Central Asia.

The Bolshevik revolution and the Civil War, Stalin's repression and World War Two - all of that he lived through and witnessed in Uzbekistan.

Therefore all his artwork was about that place made of sand and silk.

His son, Valeriy Volkov, tells us that the artist didn't receive much recognition during his lifetime, but he knew his place in the star charts of art, saying that all artists around him were of republican importance, or in some cases of Soviet Union-wide importance. "But what about you?" the son asked once. Volkov left a pause and then said: "I'm on the global scale..."

Caravan, 1920

Caravan, 1920, by Aleksandr Volkov. © Christie's Images Limited 2012

Here's one of his poems, which shows his not just artistic, but also literary genius.

The orange steppe is burning,
Far away the stream tolls the bells,
The obsession of hashish -
This is my land.

Dreamy mud of the
Walls, the sun
Which eats up the earth
This is my land.

Mystery mixed with sadness
Hidden behind the veil
Wild and native
This is my land.

The bell of a camel
Intertwines the golden ornament,
The cry of a donkey -
This is my land...

I mentioned that this art collection belongs to the Nukus Museum. Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region within Uzbekistan. No offence, because I dearly love Nukus and Karakalpakstan, but the phrase 'the middle of nowhere' is one of the epithets of that town. The great Russian writer Andrei Platonov, describing those places in his novel The Soul, wrote that "the hell of the earth was situated here" - so rough is desert terrain. And yet one of the best museums in the world for the Russian avant-garde is in Nukus. How did that come about?

The answer is there was a collector, Igor Savitsky, an artist himself, who under the pretext of maintaining local culture in the sixties and seventies used Communist funds to obtain hidden gems of the Turkestani and Russian avant-garde, and Volkov's works were the first in his collection.

Pietá, 1921

Pietá, 1921, by Aleksandr Volkov. © Christie's Images Limited 2012

These lines of Aleksandr Volkov seemingly describe this wonderful collector Igor Savitsky, who saved all that joy for us from oblivion:

The stork came - the sun throws its feathers.
We meet the spring - a joyful feast.
Arbas (oriental carts) murmur, rolling the spokes,
The steppe was crossed by the rattling mudslide.

The stork will go - the pomegranate will ripe,
Bosoms of girls will get juicer after the summer.
The stork takes away the warmth,
Turning his tail to the sunset...

The Paralympics as a Story of the Modern World

Post categories:

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 4 September 2012

To be frank I wasn't expecting the impact of the London 2012 Paralympics on me and many other people I know to be greater than that of London Olympics.

But watching the competition and witnessing the passion and mental power of athletes who by various circumstances have been disabled, I'm not just amazed, but also better informed. Informed about bravery, resolution and determination. And it's not just me.

My friend - a poet, whose legs have been drastically weakened so that he is forced to use a wheelchair - is now beating his personal best in squats. Another friend, this one with an artificial hip, has started jogging again.

But the London Paralympics also tell a tragic story about the modern world.

Nick Beighton with oars

Nick Beighton narrowly missed out on a medal this year

The only Afghan athlete taking part in the games - a powerlifter Mohammad Fahim Rahimi - lost his leg in a mine blast near Kabul. Between 800,000 and two million people are estimated to be disabled in war-torn Afghanistan and he is just one of them.

The story of rower Nick Beighton, who is 30 years old, also takes us back to Afghanistan. He is one of six veterans of the Afghanistan War who is taking part at London 2012 Paralympic Games. He lost both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive devised by the Taliban in Helmand. "Everyone has a different way to deal with rehabilitation, but for me, sport was vital," he told the BBC.

Unlike British war veterans, five Sri Lankan soldiers taking part in the Paralympics have criticised their country for not giving enough financial support to international competitions, despite their good results. "I have to purchase all equipment, shoes, clothes on my own, with my own salary", says UDP Pradeep Sanjaya, who is the fifth best sprinter in the world in the 400m for athletes with muscular problems.

The conflict between the government forces and the Tamil Tigers officially lasted 26 years and killed 70,000. "The only equipment that I have for training is my cane", jumper PA Lal Pushpakumara told the BBC. He goes into the Games as the fourth best Paralympic high jumper in the F44 category. He lost his left leg in 2008, when he was hit by an explosion.

Many athletes have stories to tell from horrendous wars in different parts of the world. Dominique Bizimana, from Rwanda, is a member of the country's volleyball team and president of the Rwandan Paralympic Committee. When he was 16, Bizimana was recruited as a soldier for the Rwandan Patriotic Front and lost his left leg during the civil war which killed 800 thousand people in three years. "After losing my leg, I went back to school. I finished high school and at 21 I went to university," he told BBC Brasil.

But wars don't just physically damage people. The urban violence in Colombia is responsible for the disability of at least four members of their basketball team, who are taking part in their first Paralympic Games in London. Freddy Rodríguez was hit by a stray bullet to his spinal cord when he was eight years old, in Caquetá, in the Colombian Amazon forest.

Thirty-four year-old William Pulido became paraplegic at the age of fifteen, after being shot during a street fight in Bogota. As with most of his teammates, he started playing basketball in a wheelchair during rehabilitation, as a therapeutic activity. "Sport is the fundamental pillar of my life. It was thanks to sport that I rehabilitated myself, studied and moved on," Pulido told BBC Mundo.

A good deal of Brazilian paralympians in London 2012 were victims of car crashes. In 2000, seamstress Claudia Santos was hit by a car in São Paulo, when she was leaving work. She lost her right leg immediately. Now, at 35, she is rowing world champion and is competing in her second Paralympic Games. "A doctor told me I should take up sport, in a period of my life when I was in a lot of pain. Until then, I did not know any paralympians," she told BBC Brazil.

Mudassar Baig

Mudassar Baig wants to inspire his nation at the Paralympics

The eighteen year old tennis player Natália Mayara, from the same country, says she did not have to overcome as many hardships as most paralympians. She was hit by a car when she was only two. "For me, it was easier because I learned to walk using prosthetic legs and the wheelchair, so I never knew how to walk differently," she told BBC Brasil. She is now the first Brazilian woman to play tennis in Paralympic Games.

Pakistani athlete Mudassar Baig has a shorter right leg as a consequence of polio, a disease he contracted when he was still a child. At 33, he is one of three athletes from the country competing in the London 2012 Paralympics, running in 200m and 400m events. "I was wanted to run like other boys, but my disability would not allow me. I promised myself that one day I would run and win, and this day has arrived in London", he told the Pakistan Today newspaper. Polio is still a big issue in Pakistan.

Different stories from different athletes from different parts of the world. But what unites all these exceptional athletes is their willpower to overcome tragic events in their lives in that 'awesome and furious world' and to teach us, as well as to celebrate, the invincibility of human spirit.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.