Monday, November 16, 2009

Berdimuhamedow, the Red President?

The story is a bit old, but that doesn't make it any less interesting. In Turkmenistan, what amount to a whole class of college students is being forbade from studying abroad in some capacity. The EurasiaNet article states that students looking to study elsewhere in the Former Soviet Union, rather than just anywhere in Europe or wherever, are the ones that are getting their visas frustrated.

I've been following this story at the same time that I've been reading The Well-Protected Domains, a book by Selim Deringil on how Abdulhamid II, the "Red Sultan" attempted to instill a sense of nationalism in the then-collapsing Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th Century. It is fascinating stuff if you're an Ottoman nerd, and besides, Deringil was one of my favorite professors I've ever had.

But I digress, The Well-Protected Domains spends a bulk of its pages on the battle of education in the Ottoman Empire. The state was trying to bring Yezidis, Shi'a, and all the other non-Hanefi Muslims into the fold, and used scholarships to the major Istanbul schools to incentivize an Ottoman Education. At the same time, the state worked as hard as they could, usually through diplomatic channels, to keep the Francophone and otherwise missionary schools at a minimum and at a disadvantage from Ottoman schooling. They felt that schools outside the Ottoman state education system were a threat to the system (and were probably right, when you see that Ataturk had a Donme education in Salonika and all sorts of revolutionary folks when to Galatasaray).

It is an interesting parallel from late-era Ottoman lands to current-day Turkmenistan. Berdimuhamedow is the head of a state that probably could use some legitimacy from sources besides its natural gas and a flaming crater that could reasonably be posited as the entrance to Hell. For him to follow in Niyazov's statist legacy, he'll likely want a bureaucratic class that is educated the "right way" to some extent, at least. Turkmen educated in Kazakhstan may have allegiances that fall outside of Turkmenistan's celebrated neutrality, which would, of course, alter the course of the pipes shipping out gas. However much gas there may be.

I'd hate to build a reputation as "The Education Guy" over here, because that really isn't my academic focus (since my bio, like the rest of the new writers, hasn't been posted yet, I feel I ought to say that I'm getting a law degree stateside right now looking at natural resource law). All the same, education is a huge part of state-building and nation-building, and it has been since the rise of nationalism in the 19th Century. The Turkmen government wants to build a country from its natural gas reserves, which is certainly commendable. It just makes one wonder which blueprint they're looking at sometimes.

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