High star of friendship

Connection of literature, countries and people, as journalists visit Ashgabat
Ashgabat’s skies seem endless, especially in winter, when the sun’s warmth is delicate and tender rather than blazing, and roses bloom in the mild month. Arriving in the city, we had time to admire the sky, setting aside our computers. Each morning, we awoke to the Kopet Dag mountains, visible from our hotel window, and from the city streets. All through the day, we felt our eyes drawn to them, and to the sky they grazed majestically.

The TV and Radio Broadcasting Centre of Turkmenistan opened in 2011, with its 211m tower being the country’s tallest. Its decorative octagonal ‘Star of Oguz Khan’, is registered by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest architectural image of a star. It is visible allover the city by day or night.

The city’s white-marble skyscrapers, palaces and domed buildings also draw the eye, as do the mosques with minarets. Architecture feeds the soul as much as any art form; poor architecture is oppressive, while harmonious and graceful buildings lend spirituality to our environment. Where a place draws our eye to the heavens, we feel the light enter our body. The construction on the slopes of Kopet Dag inspired us to ‘heavenly’ reflections. In the dark hours, it was illuminated by a giant star. In fact, the high-rise Yyldyz (‘Star’) Hotel was near our own. The architecture of Ashgabat combines many elements of the ‘heavenly’.

In 2015, Turkmenistan joined the club of space countries, having launched its first communication satellite from American Cape Canaveral on April 28th. A French company, Thales Alenia Space, constructed the device for Turkmenistan, and it was sent into orbit by the Falcon 9 rocket.

Back in Minsk, we found an article in ‘Turkmenistan’ magazine, with the title ‘Space as Presentiment’, written by Ruslan Muradov. It states: ‘Turkmenistan’s joining of the club of space countries is a natural progression, as is evinced by the architecture of its modern capital. The city is imbued with a feeling of open spaces being subjugated to the Universe. In this age of might and happiness enjoyed in Turkmenistan by our Turkmen friends, there has grown a skyline of unique, original silhouettes, which fit global trends in third millennium world architecture.’ Ashgabat has married the sky...

A reconstructed part of Atamurat Nyazov avenue in Ashgabat. On the right in the photo is a 12-storey building of modern, stylish design — it is the State Development Bank of Turkmenistan. This building, like other new buildings in the avenue, was commissioned on October 1, 2014

We saw that mysterious star in the mountains (and even managed to visit it!) thanks to Ales Karlyukevich, director of Zvyazda Publishing House. He also organized a round table conversation between writers of Belarus and of Turkmenistan. If our countries are on friendly terms, then our literature should be too. Writer Ales Badak had been intending to attend but had to drop out, so we took his place. Last year, we received the ‘Golden Feather’ award from the Belarusian Union of Journalists: our sketches may be considered a literary genre. One of us has written hundreds of poems (some printed in major media editions), as well as do­zens of songs and stories. Another wrote ‘Titmouse Knocked at the Window’, alongside dozens of essays and stories, and a candidate`s dissertation on the creativity of Belarusian author Zmitrok Byadulya.

We took a minibus from near the Palace of Exhibitions, driving just under an hour to the television studio, in the mountains. In Minsk, STV studio is five minutes’ walk from Pobedy Square. Among our number was the Editor-in-Chief of ‘Dünya Edebiyaty’ (World Literature) magazine, Meretmämmet Hanmämmedow, as well as editorial office employees Maksat Bäşimow and Annamuhammet Kerşe. The anchor was journalist and writer Batyr. On the Belarusian side, besides Karlyukevich and ourselves, was Victoria Kalistratova, the Director of Narodnaya Asveta Publishing House and Vladimir Andrievich, the Director of Petrus Brovka Belarusian Encyclopaedia Publishing House. 

Turkmenistan’s Monument of Neutrality (95m high) was installed in Ashgabat in 1996, then moved to a new site in 2011: on Bitarap Turkmenistan Avenue 

Our Turkmen friends supplied us with bottled water for the journey through the beautiful landscape, along wide, smooth roads, into the mountains. Our colleagues told us that modern building technologies allow Turkmenistan’s road surfaces to remain as flat as glass, defying the heat. We wondered about the materials used… 

In new Ashgabat, we saw that even shops, pharmacies and kindergartens are built with columns and domed roofs, its public buildings and high-rise blocks faced in pale marble. Later, we saw the 185m Monument of Constitution and the 95m Monument of Neutrality (built in 2011), as well as the 91m tall Monument of Independence, marking one of the nation’s significant dates. It’s a trend observed through the country. Turkmenia was celebrating its 20th anniversary of neutrality, with honoured guests from around the world in attendance. Presenting anniversary medals to people who have made significant contributions to the country, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov underlined, “Indepen-dence and neutrality are two wings of our native Fatherland, the greatest riches of our courageous people. The centuries-old dream of our ancestors has come true, guaranteeing the confident advancement of our sovereign Fatherland, well-co-ordinated work, and a peaceful, safe and happy life for our people.” 

Monuments to famous Akhal-Teke horses stand in various cities across Turkmenistan, and decorate the state coat of arms. Ashgabat boasts the greatest number of sculptures. In the photo: Monument to Akhal-Teke horses

Ashgabat boasts so many interesting monuments, including one to ‘well-being’, and one immortalising the famous and magnificent Akhal-Teke racehor-ses.

We must tell you about the palaces we saw outside of the capital, on our way to the ruins of Nisa. Our new acquaintances from Ashgabat took us to the ancient city, founded at the foot of the Kopet Dag mountains, in the 3rd century BC. The site is one of three listed by UNESCO World Heritage in Turkmenistan. Our guide, Alanur, pointed out two beautiful mansions as we drove; he noted that they now house kindergartens, the properties having been confiscated by the state. Once owned by an influential person, he had been proven to engage in illegal activities. Even the richest are not immune from the law.

The slopes of the mountains were covered in pines, thujas, junipers, and other greenery, despite the dry climate. Our Turkmen companions smiled at our surprise, then explained that underground pumps bring water from streams originating in the mountains. Turkmenistan is ranked fourth globally for its stocks of natural gas, the export of which provides the lion’s share of state income. Each tree receives water via a thin plastic tube beneath the stony ground: an economical and reliable system of irrigation. Belarusian geologists helped the country locate its water sources, enabling Turkmenistan to take advantage of its forestry potential. Other joint projects with Belarus include the Garlyk ore-dressing foundry and a potash processing enterprise. Construction at Garlyk cost about $1 billion, making it the largest Belarusian export transaction in the sphere of industrial construction. Such Belarusian-Turkmen co-operation is founded in our Soviet roots.

24-storey, five star Yyldyz Hotel (Star), shaped like a rocket, is the tallest in Turkmenistan, at 107m

Wishing to know more about the geologists from Belarus who worked in Turkmenistan, we asked Belarusian hydrogeologist Vladimir Shimanovich. In the 1970s, he visited Soviet Turkmenia, explaining that one his acquaintances from those days is now a corresponding member of the NAS of Belarus, Doctor of Sciences, Professor Anatoly Kudelsky. “We worked together for a long time, in a shared laboratory,” he notes.

In 2014, a book entitled ‘Anatoly Viktorovich Kudelsky’ was published, to mark his 80th birthday. Born in Ukraine, he graduated in 1958 from Dnepropet-rovsk Mining Institute, as an engineer-hydrogeologist, and worked for ten years in Turkmenia, for the South Karakum hydro-geological expedition. In the book, he states: ‘I studied underground waters in the mountain-desert territories of Kopet Dag and in the adjoining regions of Karakum.’ The groundwater survey was a major project. The book notes: ‘The marine charts of Western Kopet Dag made by Anatoly Kudelsky played an important role in the study and economic development of Eastern Transcaspia.’

Ales Karlyukevich gives an interview to Miras (Heritage) TV Channel. The journalist, writer and director of Zvyazda Publishing House served in Ashgabat in the 1980s. He instigated round table discussion and bringing together writers of Belarus and Turkmenistan

In parallel, the geologist also worked on the geochemistry of natural waters and gases, and studied conditions for the formation of mineral and thermal waters. He researched meliorative hydrogeology, and the agricultural and municipal water supply, looking at the role of underground waters in forming oil and gas, ore and non-metallic minerals. Those geological prospecting works led Mr. Kudelsky to discover major deposits of fresh underground water, which have since been brought into use. He also discovered unique, little-mineralized underground waters with the highest (up to 460 mg/l) concentrations of iodine, in Western Kopet Dag. Commercial exploitation of those waters began in 1999: almost 30 years after discovery. Now, more than half of all extractions of crystalline iodine in Turkmenistan derive from this source.

From 1968, Kudelsky began to work at the Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

Meanwhile, he has a tale entitled ‘A Day Without Water’ (published in the book which was releazed to mark the author’s 80th anniversary), based on his time in Turkmenia and inspired by a poem entitled ‘Eastern’.

We drive higher and higher, strenuously honking, ascending the slopes, until the TV tower looms in front of us, 211m tall. Close up, its star shape cannot be examined. Known as the 8-sided star of Oguz Khan (a national legend) it’s a symbol of the Turkmen state visible from all over Ashgabat. 

Our friends proudly tell us that the Turkmenistan TV and Radio Broadcasting Centre launched on October 17th, 2011, when the country celebrated its 20th anniversary of independence. It’s the tallest building in the country, its star of Oguz Khan listed by the Guinness World Records as the globe’s tallest image of a star within an architectural site. By night, its bright illumination soars over the capital.

‘Oguz Khan and His Sons’ fountain is a beautiful and magnificent construction, reflecting ancient legends on the origin of the Turkmen nation

Our ears are blocking, due to our elevation. Snow dusts the road, which is hewn from the rock. You can read more online about the TV centre, which has restricted access. Our minibus delivers us to a white-marble corridor, where we walk to the studio, sitting on a sofa. Head-scarfed women look attentively at Valentina, deciding how best to attach her microphone. Then, we’re chatting about literature, people and Ales Karlyukevich, who served in Ashgabat as a military journalist in the 1980s. We chat about books, publications by Turkmen authors in Belarus and vice versa, about our love for our native land, and poetry. We read verses: ‘It does not matter where I am and where fate brings me / my heart bleeds, as I do not see lakes and birches… / my heart feels sad, craves and like a bird beats in my hand … / І would like to fly home — like a bird from paradise’.

In 1996, we hiked through Belarus, along the state border, and wrote verse on our love for our native land, discussing how our patriotism is nurtured by love for the countryside. The anchorman agrees, telling us how Turkmen people love their land, and devote poetry and song to this theme. How interesting it would be to publish a Belarusian-Turkmen-Russian anthology of verse on patriotic love and on the poets of Belarus and Turkmenistan, to compare the motifs and patriotic thoughts of our two peoples. 

After tea and coffee, Victoria Kalistratova and Vladimir Andrievich discuss projects at their publishing houses. Works by Belarusian writers (classical and contemporary) are published in Turkmenia, and it appears that there is appetite for more.

We’re yet to find out whether our round table was broadcast, as the station had many interviews to choose from. We hope our trip was worthwhile. Driving back that evening, we marvelled at the sparkling city sitting below us. Recently, Maksat Bäşimow wrote to us from Ashgabat, asking us to send ‘Titmouse Knocked at the Window’. Perhaps, the Minsk mouse will soon knock at the window of Turkmen readers.

By Ivan and Valentina Zhdanovich, Ashgabat-Minsk

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