Quite some time ago now, the Portobello Ceilidh Band were invited to Turkmenistan, to play for the Presidents Birthday, or the Presidents Cats Wedding Anniversary or something. Anyway, it was a massive event, and my big brother was flown out as a guest of honour of Turkmenbashi, head of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenbashi became and remains part of our everyday parlance with each other. I have probably spoken to other members of the band about Turkmenbashi, but I’ve never heard him mentioned from an informal platform in Glasgow City Centre.
At the end of the evening, organised by the Scottish Poetry Library and St Mungo’s Mirrorball, he wished us success. “Writing is a difficult business” he said. It was an Olympian understatement by the engaging, multilingual novelist, poet and journalist. Of course it is. But for Ak, it turned out to be not just difficult, but dangerous.
Welsapar chose to speak the truth in a country where truth and lies were defined by a man who changed the name of the month of January to his own name, and the month of August to his mother’s. After the Ceilidh band visit, a Turkmenbashi watch had made the trip back, so I was aware of his ego, but not the extent of his madness.
Ak highlighted the devastating effects of monoculture cotton growth in Central Asia, with articles appearing all over the world and journalists visiting every week to hear his story. The regime tried to silence him, and he was forced to leave his home.
“My homeland follows me everywhere./ I love my people./ I can’t help it.” Reads the quote from Midday on the Scottish Poetry Library’s postcard promoting “The Written World – a poem from every country competing in London 2012”. It is difficult to be a writer. Faced with Ak’s warmth and his obvious love for Turkmenistan, I feel humbled and fortunate to be able to return to my homeland.
With expert interpretation from Rose France, the fortunate Clydebuilters weren’t just entertained and informed by Ak. We received a priceless gift. The knowledge that in the face of adversity there are human beings who speak out. And who prevail.