Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov got a fine 56th birthday present at the end of last month in the form of a concert starring Jennifer Lopez held at Turkmenistan's $2 billion state palace. But many ordinary Turkmens registered disgust at the display of opulence in a country where the average salary hovers around $200 per month.
Turkmen singers also performed at the June 28 concert. Performers thanked the leader for his tremendous accomplishments and the refrain “Arkadaga şöhrat!” (Great Majesty Protector!) was repeated again and again during the celebrations. For her part, J-Lo screamed “TURKMENISTAN” into the microphone and sang Happy Birthday Mr. President. Several outlets reported that her presence was paid for by one of China's leading energy companies China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) in their attempts to woo the gas-rich republic. Lopez later denied knowledge of Turkmenistan's appalling human rights record via her publicist.
Among commentators on the Turkmen Chronicles newsblog, a site run by Turkmen exiles, the harshest criticism was reserved not for J-Lo but Berdymuhamedov and his alleged use of public assets for personal pleasure.
Pippa commented [ru]:
Гореть этому Чурбангулы в огне за то,что ворует народные деньги.А певцам продажным эти деньги счстья не принесут…
That Gurbanguly should burn for stealing public money. And this stolen money will not not bring happiness to these singers…
Another commentator, “halk” expressed indignation [tm]:
halkin sheydip dashari yurtlarda sürenip yör sen utonman doglangünü lopezi çagir . eşiden üssünden gülyar görümsüz . sen utanmasanam men utanyanm sen hakinda gürrün edilende.)
The [Turkmen] people are having a hard time finding work and studying abroad, but you have no shame in inviting Lopez to your birthday. Everyone is laughing at us. If you don't feel ashamed, I will feel ashamed for you. )
1,5 МЛН.$ ЕЙ ДАЛИ ГОВОРЯТ.
It is said that she was payed $1.5 million
It has also been assumed here, here and here that J-Lo's Turkmenistan debut was sponsored by China's energy giant CNPC, a state-owned company that has already invested billions of US dollars on gas extraction in the eastern part of the country.
While some netizens were comforted by the idea that J-Lo's performance was coming out of CNPC's pocket, rather than Turkmenistan's budget, many others felt sure that it was just a way to secure an even larger stake in the country's gas sector at a knockdown price.
Atsyz supported [tm] the decision to get J-Lo on board:
Kakoyta bir guramanyn Turkmenistana beryan bahasy hic kime gerekdal , Oz yurtlaryny onarsynlar ! … CNPC getiren bolsa name erbet zady bar !)
All these organizations that criticize Turkmenistan should focus on their own country! If CNPC sponsored [the performance], why worry – what is bad about this !)
Generalitet responded [tm]
(CNPC turkmen halkynyn etini iyyp, shol puly 10 gezek kopeldip alayr! Berdy…bolsa shona yol beryar.)
(CNPC sucks our blood, and it will get 10 times more money back! [President] Berdy closes his eyes to that fact.)
Another Atsyz got mad at what the first Atsyz wrote and tried [tm] to make it clear that in the final reckoning, the money to pay for J-Lo was still coming out of Turkmenistan:
(CNPC on ucin cykaran puluny esselap ogurlap alar. makow bolma bu zatlan name ucin edilyandigini bilenokmy)
(CNPC will get several times that money back. do not be stupid. why can't you see the motives behind this action)
George Camm, who blogs at eurasianet.org, analyzed why CNPC might offer J.Lo as a bribe to the Turkmen leader. China is enormously dependent on external sources of energy, writes Camm and Turkmenistan sits on the fourth-largest known gas reserves in the world. For Turkmenistan, China is an excellent option to diversify gas exports.
Importantly for Berdymukhamedov, the [CNPC sponsored] pipeline helps him diversify: Previously most of Turkmenistan’s gas infrastructure pointed toward Russia, where it was bought at discount rates.
Unlike western states, China also helps the Turkmen government by ignoring Ashkabad's flagrant human rights abuses, manipulated elections, restricted freedom of speech, and serious issues with the rule of law.
Over at the Turkmen Chronicles news blog Aman aga concluded [tm]:
Atsyzjan ilki bir sol aydymcylary arkayyn otyryp dinlar yaly dereja yetmelimika diyyan ya yalnysmyka men pikirim,hazir bize geregi yok onyaly shagalan, halk ucin edilmeli zat kop, asla aydym sazyn wagty dal)
We are not ready for listening to music in Turkmenistan right now, we have many serious issues that must be dealt with, and if you understand reality, you will know it is not a time to throw parties.
On July 4 Human Rights Watch suggested Jennifer Lopez should donate the proceeds from her part in Berdymuhamedov's birthday bonanza to charity. The singer is yet to respond to the offer.