Anti-American propaganda in Turkmen schools
The following article is from Chronicles of Turkmenistan, a publication of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR).
Anti-American propaganda in Turkmen schools
© Chronicles of Turkmenistan
December 16, 2010
In Turkmen schools a film is being demonstrated to teachers of foreign languages featuring the U.S. as the enemy of independent countries including Turkmenistan. According to the film’s authors, cultural exchange programs in the area of education are detrimental to the youth. Using democracy and promotion of freedom as the cover, the Americans are training senior graders and students for “colour” revolutions, i.e. riots and destabilization campaigns, which might ruin the country’s well-being.
As a negative example of the U.S. influence, the documentalists refer to Georgia and its President Mikhail Saakashvili – they believe that the revolution in Georgia was caused by the “harmless” programs designed for senior graders and students who during one academic year spent in the U.S. absorb “revolutionary” ideas and then bring them back to their home country.
The film’s audience did not understand who the author of the film was, though it was available in Russian. However, there is an open appeal to the teachers not to succumb to the American tricks and take a principal stance when working with young people. School principals and officials from the Education Boards added some more comments: “Be vigilant and keep an eye on those students who visit the U.S. centres and those schoolchildren who are seeking to take part in exchange programs”.
It is no coincidence that the film was shown in Dashoguz in November, in the run-up to the visit of ACCELS representatives to the velayat to conduct two rounds of testing to select FLEX program finalists among local senior graders. School principals have been instructed to discourage students from applying to the program using all available means and methods.
“A class supervisor said bluntly to my daughter, who has been dreaming about going to the U.S. and who completed a course of English in the ‘Bashkent’ centre that the Americans will not teach her anything good and upon arrival back home she will not be admitted to any Turkmen university”, – says a mother of a ninth grade female student from Dashoguz.
A sister of another schoolgirl, an alumnus of an exchange program, says that the school principal warned her sister and other schoolchildren referring to the students from the American University in Central Asia (AUCA), who had been barred from heading to Bishkek to pursue educational opportunities. According to the principal, all of them are potential participants of color revolutions and “therefore they had been barred from studying at the AUCA and leaving the country”.
At the same time, school principals do not explain to children why the Turkmen students are studying in another American university in Bulgaria and how it is different from its fellow university in Kyrgyzstan. However, the campaign carried out by the teachers did take effect and many senior graders in the Dashoguz velayat did not dare to disobey and refused to take part in the testing.
It is an open secret that the goal of the U.S. exchange program for Turkmen high school students is identifying leaders. The testing which is arranged in three stages, as well as the extensive questionnaire filled up by an applicant, allows a local selection committee and subsequently the Washington office to select potential leaders among hundreds of 14 to 16-year old teenagers. It is expected that upon their arrival, after spending 12 months in the U.S. schools, they would become activists in their home country.
However, year after year it is getting more complicated to implement the objective of the program. Upon arrival, alumni are immediately closely watched by special services, who keep an eye on what the young people do, how they behave upon arrival from the U.S. and what universities they seek admission to after completing secondary education in order to continue their education.
As a rule, the so-called “American corners”, the velayat’s offices of the ACCELS headquarters become the venues for the alumni and senior graders to get together. They have been operating for almost ten years. Any information devoted to the U.S. is available here: books, video resources about the U.S. history, culture, sports and other aspects of American life. Moreover, one can find education-related information, for instance, recommendations on how to seek admission to the U.S. universities, apply for a scholarship, who to contact etc.
Internet access is available at “American corners”, which is rigidly controlled. For example, every user has to register in a special log-book filling out their personal data, computer number, the precise time and the purpose of using Internet resources. The time is limited to 30 minutes only and taken into account low Internet connection speed in the country, it is next to impossible to find the information young people are interested in.
The events arranged by the “corners” are also rigidly controlled. As witnessed by a executive of one of the velayat’s “corners”, draft agendas of events should be submitted to the local khyakimlik’s office (municipal administration) in advance. The latter have the authority to impose a ban on organizing the event, for instance, a seminar.
Three years ago the alumni decided to celebrate a merry Halloween festival, which is extremely popular in the U.S. A room was leased at the disco bar using the money from a foreign grant. However, at the scheduled date, the club owner informed that the Sanitary and Public Health Service allegedly prevented them from arranging the event. The attempts to find a new venue and celebrate the holiday did not bring about any results. Moreover, the schoolchildren who came to celebrate Halloween were patrolled by an unknown car and the person in the car cynically made photos of children’s faces.
A Global Youth Service Day was scheduled to be held this spring in Mary. Two alumni and one activist from each velayat were invited to participate. No sooner the event had started, the people who introduced themselves as officials from the local education office appeared and began to interrogate the kids in an attempt to find out what the purpose of the gathering was, who let them come in, who covered travelling expenses etc. Eventually, a verdict was reached – similar events must not be held during study time!
Recently school teachers have been exerting pressure on visitors of the “corners”.
“My teacher of English tells me openly not to attend the ‘American corner’, – confesses an 8th grade female student from a municipal Dashoguz school.– When asked why not, she says that the Americans are our enemies and they do not wish us well”. The girl is frustrated as this teacher took part in the exchange program for teachers several and spent 7 weeks in the States!
The unofficial sabotage of all American-related things started when the Turkmen authorities refused to host a group of the Peace Corps volunteers. This was followed by the shut-down of Counterpart Consortium offices, which had collaborated with the community and civil activists. Now the authorities are creating obstacles for exchange programs.