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Central Asia news

Saparmurat Niyazov's former press secretary sentenced to 17 years imprisonment

16.08.2006 13:09 msk

Arkady Dubnov


Kakamurad Ballyev, former press secretary of the President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov, was sentenced to 17 years imprisonment. Ballyev's became the only trial in a whole series of trials of senior officials of the Turkmen state Tashkent kept under the lid. Nothing is even known about the charges pressed against Ballyev.

Ballyev, 53, was arrested in late June, right in the wake of the spy scandal in Ashkhabad when several Western diplomats and journalists were accused of unlawful activities like filming bazaars and demolition of old buildings.

Ballyev was a typical representative of the Turkmen elite, one of the people who helped with establishment of the cult of personality and were considered to be fiercely loyal to the Turkmenbashi. The same description applies to Kurbanbibi Atajanova, former prosecutor general sentenced to 20 years behind the bars on corruption charges this year. Well-informed and trustworthy sources in Ashkhabad maintain that Ballyev's and Atajanova's greed have been common knowledge since long before their arrests and trials. If it was charges of abuse of power that were pressed against Ballyev, then these charges were quite valid. Ballyev was known to have "protected" certain commercial structures helping them bring shipments into the country bypassing customs and to have promoted the interests of construction companies (mostly Turkish) operating in Turkmenistan.

Ballyev's journalistic career began in the Soviet Union. In the middle of the 1980's, he was reprimanded for misappropriation of others' royalties. (Ballyev was an editor with some radio broadcaster or other then.) Ballyev's career took a colossal leap in the middle of the 1990's. Assistant Chairman of the Turkmen State TV and Radio Committee, he became Niyazov's personal press secretary. Ousted in August 2002, Ballyev became chief editor of the newspaper Esger [Voin or Warrior].

Author of The Reverent Way (a two-volume novel allegedly based on Niyazov's personal diary of the 1980's), Ballyev is better known as the author of Messiah Saparmurat, a piece the newspaper Neutralny Turkmenistan published in 2001. The article provided guidelines for the Turkmen national propaganda. "Saparmurat the Turkmenbashi is the messiah sent down to the Turkmen people in the third millennium" - this definition stirred Moslems for sure. The faithful took the comparison with Allah as a sacrilege.

Ballyev's idea to rename Turkmenistan into Turkmenbashistan proved less lucky. The upper echelons of the state toyed with it but things never progressed beyond that. The omnipotent press secretary in the meantime had another idea of his accepted. Turkmen journalists were told that all their works must include references to the Turkmenbashi. One of the journalists said he managed to avoid it through asking for the permission to wait for when Niyazov was given a new passport where this title would become his last name.

As Esger chief editor, Ballyev came up with the idea of introducing in absolutely all state structures the post of assistant director (chairman, etc.) for studies of the Ruhnama. These days, a Ruhnama test in Turkmenistan is a must even when a person applies for the driver's license.

"This man goes too far every now and then when praising me, and I find it necessary to tell him to hold his horses," Niyazov once said giving his press secretary another decoration. "Well, he is a poet after all..." Ballyev the poet responded poetically, "If my beloved leader decides to kick me in the backside, I'll take it as a grace!" It never occurred to him then that the grace would take the shape of a court verdict.

Vremya Novostei, August 16, 2006, p. 2

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru