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Turkmenistan: Goodbye August, Month of Melons

Turkmenistan is often said to be the country with the highest number of public holidays. Take the ‘Drop of water – Grain of Gold’ festival in May, or the celebration of the cotton harvest in November as examples of very unusual holidays that Turkmenistan has. Then add a sprinkling of Soviet, Islamic and pagan celebrations to purely political days off like Neutrality Day on December 12, and it is clear that there is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy pilau outside and take part in synchronized dancing in this isolated Central Asian state.

One of the better-loved public holidays, however, is Turkmen Melon Day, an event formally marked every second Sunday of August, but truly celebrated every day of the month, as the country's expansive steppe lands yield some of the tastiest crop known to mankind.

Turkmenistan has traditionally been renowned for its melons. On this photo, melons are sold in one of the country's markets. Image by Grigoriy Karamyanc, used with permission.

‘Sweetest’ holiday

The melon's official holiday was initiated by Sapamurat Niyazov, the fruity First President of Turkmenistan in 1994. Each year, the head of state makes a congratulatory speech and demands a celebration of the Turkmen melon. The belief that Turkmenistan's melons and watermelons are the best in the world goes unchallenged in the country. President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov made an address to the nation this Melon Day reminding them that “since ancient times Turkmenistan has been considered the homeland of the best melons in the world.” As noted before on Global Voices, few people ever bother to contradict him.

Turkmen Melon Day celebration in 2011. Image by the Turkmenistan International Magazine.

Traditionally, Turkmen government bestows awards upon melon growers and celebrates the harvest with concerts and dancing, as can be seen in this video. It seems that the Turkmen treated this holiday as seriously this year as in years past. Few days in advance belgiler wrote [tk] on Talyplar.com:

Ýetip gelýän gawun baýramynyz gutly bolsun!

Happy coming melon day!

Children at Melon Day celebration, Ashgabat 2012. Image by Turkmenistan State Information Service.

Several respondents used the discussion to joke about the current practice of involving students in public celebrations. Bahbit posted [tk]:

ertir ayyn 12 anfiteatrda belleyaler sagat 17:00 da. Eger howes bildiryan bar bolsa barayyn gawun iymage

Tomorrow on 12 [August], we are going to celebrate [the Melon Day] at 17:00 in the amphitheater. If you want, come and join us to eat melon.

Duygur responds [tk]:

Duygur: Yok cagyrma Önem yany zordan kanikula cykdyk. Cagyrmawersinler cäre bar diyip.

No, don't invite me. We have already attended enough events during these holidays. Let them not invite us.

Schoolchildren perform at this year's Turkmen Melon Day celebration in Ashgabat. Image by Turkmenistan: The Golden Age website.

Foreign readers also seem to be enthusiastic about this ‘sweetest’ of holidays, and Turkmen melons in general.

On Twitter, Katie Aune  responded to a question about the festival:

[I] wasn't there for Melon Day. But the melon was really really good! :)

Turkmen Melon Day celebration in Ashgabat, 2012. Image by Turkmenistan: The Golden Age website.

But some seem to be less enthusiastic. Nicholas Claytor said:

I have now lost 8 followers since wishing everyone a Happy Turkmen MelonDay. Again, my sincere apologies, authoritarian melon-haters.

But it all turned out okay in the end:

I have now regained all the followers I lost with my “Turkmen Melon Day” gaffe a few days back. Thanks to all those who stood with me

Turkmen Melon Day celebration in Ashgabat, 2012. Image by Turkmenistan: The Golden Age website.

A Blogger from Every Day's a Holiday described the Turkmen holiday in an ironic fashion, wishing curcurbitaceans a happy day on August 12, while one of the blog's readers made the connection between Turkmenistan's corridors of power and its famous melons:

In the book “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” the author has much to say about the craziness and hubris of former leader of Turkmenistan, Niyazov. So it doesn’t surprise me AT ALL that he would declare a holiday for the melon.

Turkmen ‘honey’ melon. Image by Turkmenistan: The Golden Age website.

N.B. Tajikistan has followed Turkmenistan's suit and has been holding its own ‘Melon Day’ over the last six years or so. This year, however, the authorities have decided [ru] to merge the Melon Day with the Honey Day and hold the ‘Melon and Honey Day’ on September 2. BBC has this photo report from the celebration of Tajikistan's melons and honey in the country's south.

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