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Central Asia news

Turkmenistan: en route to personality cult debunking

25.06.2007 11:12 msk


Politics Turkmenistan

President of Turkmenistan Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov ordered last week indicate his determination to do away with Saparmurat Niyazov's legacy. Berdymuhammedov abolished the Turkmenbashi International Trust, cancelled nationwide celebration of his own 50th birthday, launched a purge in the regular army, and announced military reforms. The Turkmen opposition view all of that as a "thaw" to be followed by personality cult debunking.

Berdymuhammedov's 50th birthday was to be celebrated on June 29 but the new president did something that left his Cabinet - and the population of the country - speechless. Turkmen TV reported that at the latest Cabinet meeting Berdymuhammedov turned down the idea of "a worthy celebration of the 50th anniversary of the leader of the nation" promoted by some ministers who, traditionally enough, referred to it being "an initiative of the people." "I appreciate it as a human being. As the head of state, however, I do not think I have the right to issue orders on a subject that concerns me," Berdymuhammedov was quoted as saying. He had been elected president of Turkmenistan this February.

The president ordered the Saparmurat Niyazov International Trust closed that same day. The abolition committee is now expected to inventory the structure and come up with proposals on distribution of its assets.

Sources in the Turkmen opposition say that the Saparmurat Niyazov International Trust established in 1993 was a closed structure accumulating on bank accounts abroad gas export income and donations to the Turkmenbashi from his wealthy foreign friends including Arab sheiks from the Persian Gulf countries. The use of the funds was ordered by Niyazov himself.

Berdymuhammedov signed several decrees on staff shuffles in the upper echelons of the Turkmen regular army and on military reforms as well. Government press service reports that Colonel Bairamgeldy Akummedov is the new Ground Forces commander. New commanders were appointed to three motorized infantry formations and two border detachments. There is apparently more to the military reforms Berdymuhammedov has put into motion than the purge alone. The president appraised "profound changes in the Armed Forces including all military structures and law enforcement agencies" as the priority. As a matter of fact, the arrest of Lieutenant General Akmurad Rejepov, the power behind the throne of the Turkmenbashi, his secret service chief and secretary of the Security Council, became the harbinger of the changes. Rejepov was sacked and taken into custody this May.

Also importantly, Berdymuhammedov urged the law enforcement agencies to declare a war on drugs. The problem of drugs, quite pressing in Turkmenistan and particularly in its rural areas, was kept under the lid in Niyazov's time. Its existence was mostly ignored as official statistical data showed.

Bairam Shihmuradov of the Republican Party, one of the Turkmen opposition leaders this newspaper approached for comments, called the latest developments in Turkmenistan a "thaw". Shihmuradov appraised the actions of the new president as quite logical albeit not as swift or consistent as the opposition abroad would have liked. As far as the opposition leader is concerned, halfhearted nature of the reforms is probably attributed to the resistance to them put up by the Turkmen elite where positions of the late Turkmenbashi's followers remain strong. It may even be attributed to some extent to the lack of understanding on the part of ordinary Turkmens who had unshakeable faith in Niyazov's every word and action. Rejepov's trial and an amnesty to all political prisoners might become the next steps on the country's road away from the personality cult. According to Shihmuradov, Turkmenistan is on its way to personality cult debunking which is just a matter of time.

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Sergei Strokan

Kommersant, June 25, 2007, p. 6

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru