The Carnegie Moscow Center organized a roundtable conference on Turkmenistan, the problems it is facing and the future it is heading for
A roundtable conference on Turkmenistan in the wake of Saparmurat Niyazov's demise took place at the Carnegie Moscow Center on January 23. Experts and journalists discussed options of development, geopolitical strategies, and - of course - gas export.
Opening the conference, Aleksei Malashenko of the Scientific Council of the Carnegie Moscow Center pointed out that the death of the Turkmen leader had not been an absolute surprise. Certain nuances indicate that this turn of events was anticipated and prepared for, both in Turkmenistan and abroad. Indeed, there was practically no power struggle over the vacancy left by the Turkmenbashi's demise. It leaves the impression that there had been certain accords between Turkmen clans and elites against precisely this eventuality.
What awaits Turkmenistan now? What path will it choose? These are the questions the roundtable conference tried to answer. Malashenko for one does not expect complete dethronement of the Turkmenbashi's cult or a "thaw" for that matter. The regime will become just a little bit milder, but no more. One can already hear the statements concerning legalization of access to the Internet in Turkmenistan. Some political prisoners may be released from jails - on a solemn promise to leave the country immediately. The prospects of society's involvement in the broad political processes are, however, quite murky. When the current - and probably short-lived - period of tranquility is finally over, the country will inevitably plunge into instability.
Arkady Dubnov, an authority on Central Asia, believes that the regime cannot help evolving. The existing state structure was absolutely unprepared for the necessity to pass down the reigns. Saparmurat Niyazov's regime was on its way to becoming sacral, the trend particularly noticeable after publication of his Ruhnama in 2002. Dubnov does not think that Niyazov's weak successors are capable of following in his wake and establishing their own cults now. Courting the people, the authorities make promises to do away with food shortages, solve the problems of the youths, and even permit access to the Internet. The powers-that-be hope that these half measures will enable them to keep up the desired disposition in the country.
The issue of the Turkmen opposition enlivened the discussion noticeably. Experts are practically unanimous in the belief that the opposition does not really stand a chance. First, its activists and leaders may be denied permission to return to Turkmenistan. Second, 21 year under Niyazov has conditioned the population to the extent that it does not know anything about the opposition and, more importantly, does not even want to know.
Bairam Shihmuradov was given the floor at the roundtable conference, the son of the former foreign minister and then a radical opposition leader who was charged with an attempt on the Turkmenbashi's life and sentenced for life. Shihmuradov spoke of political prisoners in Turkmenistan some of whom were friends and relatives (the father). Practically nothing is known about them. According to Shihmuradov, representatives of the opposition would certainly appreciate support from the third countries. "In the meantime, we do not expect of course that someone will put us on a plane in Kiev for a trip to Ashkhabad," he said.
Geopolitical situation in the region and gas export from Turkmenistan were discussed at the roundtable conference as well.
Debates at the Carnegie Moscow Center indicate Russian experts' vivid interest in Turkmenistan on the one hand, and lack of knowledge and incompetence of the majority of those present on the other. The blame for this state of affairs apparently rests with Turkmenistan's self-imposed isolation that only tightened with the death of its leader. It is clear as well that attempts at serious scientific analysis of the ramifications of the dictator's death are already accompanied with countless irresponsible statements from self-proclaimed experts and all sorts of harebrained forecasts.