Were Turkmen Dissidents Wrong to Publish a Video of Schoolgirls ‘Turning Up the Love’ on Their YouTube Channel?

First grade Turkmen schoolgirls. All schoolgirls in Turkmenistan, like female news presenters and cabinet ministers, are obliged to wear national dress. Photo taken from Radio Free Europe's Turkmen service. Used under creative commons.

First grade Turkmen schoolgirls. All schoolgirls in Turkmenistan, like female news presenters and cabinet ministers, are obliged to wear national dress. Photo taken from Radio Free Europe's Turkmen service. Used under creative commons.

“We are one, tonight, and we are breathing the same air,” sings a Turkmen schoolgirl into a mop in a mobile-made video that currently has close to 50,000 hits on YouTube. The amateur dance routine she performed with her friends to the Far East Movement’s well-known groove ‘Turn Up the Love’ earned her fame across the planet, including in Turkmenistan, where authorities are allegedly investigating the incident and confiscating mobile phones from schoolchildren.

The clip is innocent, if perhaps slightly rebellious, fun. The problem is that in Turkmenistan, schoolchildren are not breathing the same air as their counterparts elsewhere in the world. The country is in a small elite of repressive states that includes neighbouring Uzbekistan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and others. In 2004 it was the Economist's ‘World's Worst’ place to live.

For this reason, the decision of the Turkmen Chronicles news blog to publish — or republish –the video via their TurkmenDissidentTV YouTube channel is problematic, given that it associates the girls with a website banned in Turkmenistan and well-known for producing material that is consistently critical of authorities.

The author of the article on the news blog writes Turkmen authorities are unhappy with the video and have held massive inspections across schools in Lebap province where it was supposedly filmed. Representatives of the prosecutor's office are reportedly checking mobile phones for video and photo content and confiscating them.

Global Voices could not find prior versions of the clip despite the fact the author suggests the video “appeared on the networks” before appearing on the dissident YouTube channel.  Moreover, the schoolgirls faces are fully visible and easily identifiable. The clip is here.

Typically, discussions of the video on YouTube and on the Turkmen Chronicles’ website had political overtones, which may not have helped the girls’ cause in a state where internet discussions are tightly monitored:

Nijat Guluzade wrote from another authoritarian state across the Caspian Sea:

Respect from Azerbaijan. Shame to all dictatorships.

Kan Torren saw the seeds of mass disobedience:

Пророческими оказались слова из «Гимна демократической молодежи мира»: Песнь “СВОБОДЫ” запевает молодежь, молодежь, молодежь, Эту песню не задушишь, не убьешь, не убьешь, не убьешь…)))

The words of the “Hymn of Democratic Youth of the World” turn out to be prophetic: Freedom! Sings youth, youth, youth, this song cannot be strangled or killed, killed, killed …)))

MegaWolkov questions the dissident channel's purpose in publishing the video:

TurkmenDissidentTV name ucin edyan buzatlary? nameden nedowolny sen? Sen politika garshy hereket edyan, bu bolsa halky masgara etya ayyr gayrat etde

Why do you do these things? What are you unhappy with? You work on political issues, and this video shames the nation. Remove it please.

Server Illiyev also criticised the channel:

вам тока подавай дерьмо размажете не только на себя но и на других

You only want to receive some shit to spread it around yourself and others.

The channel's administrator replied:

Мен наоборот очень довольный. Молодцы девушки, отрываются. Ничего предосудительного здесь нет.Счастливые дети для вас масгара?

On the contrary I'm very happy. The girls did a good job and are having fun. There is nothing wrong with it. Happy children is a shame for you?

But Guncha Halmyradova argued:

девченки веселятся, ничего плохого в этом нет, не правильно поступил тот кто выложил видео в социальную сеть.

The girls are having fun. Nothing wrong with that. The people that put in on the social networks did the wrong thing.

In Turkmenistan, where patriarchy is enforced from the president down, some suggested it was immoral to dance provocatively to Western music:

Aziz Nazarov:

что вы творите? как же вам не стыдно, разве мусульманка должна быть такой?

What are you doing? Shame on you. Should a Muslim woman behave like this?

But these voices of morality were quickly met by criticism from a pro-childhood camp.

Bill Uoker wrote:

net musulmanka doljna yexat v siriyu i ucastvot v seks cixade…a eti devki vmesto etoqo poyut inastrannuyu pesnyu…

No. A muslim woman should go to Syria to participate in a sex jihad…while these girls instead dare to sing a foreign song…

There has been no news of the girls’ fate since the publication of the video.

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