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Uzbek pop singer calls for Kyrgyz-Uzbek peace in controversial song
Yulduz asks both sides to forgive each other
By Shakar Saadi
ISTANBUL – The name of Yulduz Usmonova is always shrouded in rumours and mystery. The Uzbek singer and former MP’s popularity spans Central Asia, Russia and Turkey.
“Achieving what I did was hard and took a long time,” she told Central Asia Online. “It was a very difficult path, but I accomplished everything. Now I am popular, in demand and beloved.”
Usmonova was born in 1963 in Margilan, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan. She sings in her native Uzbek as well as Uighur, Turkish, Kazakh, Tatar, Russian, Farsi and Arabic.
Usmonova, who has recorded several hit albums and has done many concerts, is currently working on three albums.
“One will be four or five songs in Uzbek with translations into Turkish in honour of Ramadan. I also am doing Tajik and Uzbek albums,” she said.
The singer’s popularity has grown not only among ordinary listeners but among leaders as well. Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, often invites her to do concerts, she said.
The late Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov also loved Usmonova’s music.
In recent years, the singer lost favour with the Uzbek government for politically critical songs. That problem, along with gossip, forced her to emigrate to Turkey in 2008, she said.
But that has not stopped her from finding success from scratch in Turkey.
“I had everything in Uzbekistan — a big house, a life — but I left everything to move and live in a microscopic flat in Turkey,” she said. “Everyone around said I was odd. I resolved to conquer the Turkish market, and I accomplished it.”
Although Usmonova said she left Uzbekistan in good faith, she does admit that “in Turkey I am free in every way. I am a person who has a rough time obeying the rules.”
“I left Uzbekistan because I am not needed there,” she said. “There were a lot of young people who were always saying no one gives them an opening, so now I’ve given them an opening. … They don’t put me on the television or play my songs on the radio in Uzbekistan. I am not needed there.”
The singer calls herself a patriot and says that her songs express love for her people rather than criticising them: “I always praise Uzbekistan and its people everywhere. … I simply say that, above all, the people must live and terms need to be set so they live well.”
Change should come from the people, not from politicians, she argued: “The people themselves must all change, starting with their opinions. … They sit inside watching TV shows, not politics.”
The Kyrgyz events are “a good example of how Central Asia is not ready … Peace is better than having victims like in Kyrgyzstan.”
Usmonova aroused controversy in June by releasing a song, “To the Kyrgyz,” after the ethnic riots in the south. The lyrics are in Uzbek, but a Russian translation also exists. The Kyrgyz culture ministry and several Kyrgyz public figures protested, with some radio stations refusing even to play the song.
In Uzbekistan, reactions varied widely.
“[S]ome people asked to upload the song, but I refused for security reasons. After all, the song is political,” said Ahmajon H., who uploads ring tones for cell phone customers in Tashkent.
“I see the song as being impulsive. You should not stereotype an entire nation … as a handful of gangsters,” said Uzbek singer Hilola Ahmedova.
“Yulduz expressed her point of view; she showed the citizens’ position,” said journalist Nigina Abdullayeva.
“I did not sing about Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, I did this song as a protest against violence,” explained Usmonova.
Her song brings the two peoples together, rather than fanning hostility, she argued: “My song is explicitly reconciliatory … It is just that my song is misinterpreted.”
“At my concert in Moscow, a woman who lost her husband in Osh said that my song inspired her and gave her strength,” she said. “At the Moscow concert, I told the Uzbeks, ‘Forgive the Kyrgyz,” and they told me there were no hard feelings.”