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Brothers without a country, musicians without music

The struggle to preserve an ancient culture in a new world has displaced many classically trained musicians in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan. Three promising young talents from that region of the world have found their way to Duluth.

The struggle to preserve an ancient culture in a new world has displaced many classically trained musicians in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan. Three promising young talents from that region of the world have found their way to Duluth.
All three brothers have exceptional musical gifts and were already well on their way to successful performing careers. Unfortunately, under the leadership of President Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan has banned ballet and all forms of classical music. Only traditional Turkmen music, played on ethnic instruments, is currently allowed to be performed in that country.
Rhoda and Mike Robinson of Duluth spent 26 months in Turkmenistan as Peace Corps volunteers in 1998, 1999 and 2000. They lived with the family of Eldar, Farhad and Emil Hudiev.
"Peace Corps volunteers are required to live with a family for six months," Rhoda Robinson said. "Then they can move to something else -- to an apartment. But by six months we had fallen in love. The parents are our sister and brother, and they are our boys as much as our own children are."
Eldar Hudiev, 21, said the feeling was mutual.
"Our happiness was growing up during the time we were together," he said. "We fell in love with each other. We became a family."
While the Robinsons lived with the Hudiev family, Eldar applied for a student exchange program and was rejected twice. But in the third application, in a highly competitive field where only three to five applications in the whole country are approved, Eldar was selected to come to the United States for study.
By selling Turkmen carpets, the young family, whose income otherwise is about $30 a month, saved enough to buy plane tickets for everyone to come for a brief visit.
"Now we have this mini business," Robinson said. "Adella (the mother) picks out carpets and sends them to us. We sell the carpets and make a few hundred dollars. We were able to get enough money back to them so that we could buy tickets."
Eldar, who couldn't come until right before school started, stayed behind. The parents and two brothers were in Duluth about a month when they heard now the United States wasn't going to allow Eldar to come. With the help of local congressmen, a deal was negotiated so that Eldar could come, but the parents had to leave early, almost a month early, buying last minute tickets.
Their worries weren't over. Farhad and Emil had attended the summer session at Interlocken Arts Academy in Michigan and were invited to apply for full year scholarships. It was a great opportunity, but it meant that mom and dad had to leave the country not knowing whether their boys would return to Turkmenistan or not.
"It was a pretty tense time," Robinson said. "They got back to Turkmenistan four days before Eldar had to leave. The government wouldn't let him leave until they had gotten home. He got his visa at 6 p.m. on one day and left the following morning at 1 a.m."
"I don't think any of us ever believed it was really going to happen," Robinson said. "We never believed it would happen. It was way too big a dream."
Eldar is attending West Texas A&M University. The two younger brothers, Farhad, 16, a gifted violinist and composer, and Emil, 15, a talented clarinetist, were indeed accepted as students at Interlocken and were able to stay in the country.
Prior to coming to this country, all three brothers had attended a state school for music in Turkmenistan. It was a boarding school for musicians.
"During the Soviet time they had a wonderful classical music training program, and in each of the republics they had these boarding schools, where they chose the best musicians from the country and trained them there," Robinson said. "Once a summer, the best of the best would get to go to Moscow to study with Moscow conservatory people."
At the age of 12, Farhad had just returned from this experience when the Robinsons arrived in 1998.
The Soviet Union took over Turkmenistan as a Soviet state in 1925. They brought in universal education and classical music. But being the farthest away from the central Soviet government, Turkmenistan was able to retain some of its unique cultural identity. When the Soviets left, the new government of Turkmenistan took some drastic steps to retain what is left of its individuality.
"The government feels that everything must go to Turkmen traditions, not western traditions," Robinson said. "In terms of further education for the boys, it's not an option. Now they've passed a law that jobs and the university are only for 'pure Turkmen.' That leaves the boys with really no chance to go to a conservatory, even if they continue to have classical music there."
"If I want to give a solo recital at the conservatory, they won't let me unless from 10 pieces there would be nine Turkmen pieces and only one classical," Eldar said. "Only this way they would let me give a recital. So they chose what I should play."
The recent political changes have basically left the Hudiev brothers without a country. They're treated like second class citizens in their own country because their ethnic origins are from Azerbaijan. Their passion for music cannot be expressed or used to bring joy to others, and they can't get any other job because of their ethnicity.
The challenge to hold back the spreading western culture has forced the government of Turkmenistan to take extreme steps. Unfortunately, Eldar, Farhad and Emil are caught in the middle. Brothers without a homeland.
"We are musicians for all our lives," Eldar said. "We would never change that. No matter what, we want to be in a place where we can express what we want in classical music. And if it's not Turkmenistan, it's somewhere else."

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