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Farid Tukhbatullin: “There is still totalitarianism in Turkmenistan”

Turkmenistan is the most closed from the former federal republics. In the country there are no non-state mass media therefore information has exclusively official character.

However, there is also other view of a situation. The Turkmen initiative of human rights created a portal «Chronicle of Turkmenistan» which, actually, executes the function of independent public news agency. The task is clear: «to provide the information to readers, alternative to official Turkmen mass media, and information which is preferred to hold back in the country «.

Our questions are answered by the editor of Chronicles of Turkmenistan Farid Tukhbatullin:

— In the general opinion Turkmenistan differs from the neighbours in Central Asia in the political respect. How is it possible to characterize the political system of the country?

- In Turkmenistan there is the classical totalitarian system today. It was such at the time of the Soviet Union and remained of that kind. But if earlier it was a power of communist party, now it is the power of one person. At first it was Saparmurat Niyazov, now Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. And nobody else can influence the power.

The only method which we and other human rights activists use is the influence through the international structures, such as the European Union and OSCE. We act in order that laws were adopted, that they were observed, to pull out this or that person from the conclusion. The power doesn’t give in any other methods of influence.

Turkmenistan is closed as the country; only small amount of people manages to get there. Many journalists tried to get to Turkmenistan not as journalists, but simple citizens, but it was impossible … Though, for example, when Berdimuhamedov came to the power, in 2007 the rollers «Welcome to Ashkhabad» were on the Russian television. But the rollers remained — it is impossible to get to the country still.

— Do the regimes of Niyazov and Berdimuhamedov differ?

- Difference is that Niyazov was an orphan, and there are no relatives in his environment in principle. It is necessary to tell, the concept «patrimonial», «breeding» is developed at the Turkmen in general. Berdimuhamedov has very big family; if officially there are no representatives in the government, informally they, of course, have the huge power. Including the business structures: many businesses are subordinated to relatives of the president: to his sisters, nephews and so on.

— More than once there was the information that Berdimuhamedov is Niyazov’s relative; probably, even his son …

- It is not so. The age difference of them is only 16 years… But situation, really, is rather strange. Berdimuhamedov was the Minister of Health for many years and at the same time was the Deputy Prime Minister. But the health care isn’t such important sphere that the Deputy Prime Minister directed it … Nevertheless, Berdimuhamedov remained 7−8 years on this position and the feature of the Turkmen policy at Niyazov is the short term of a tenure of the minister as a rule it is year — two, seldom three…

- Berdimuhamedov became the new leader unexpectedly for all. Had he the status of the successor?


- Not, neither he, nor someone other had such status. Berdimuhamedov’s arrival to the power was rather big surprise.

— Now the multi-party system functions in Turkmenistan, isn’t it?


- Let’s say, two-party … Recently congress passed at which it was declared a party creation of industrialists and businessmen of Turkmenistan. It was thanks to adoption of the new law. By the way, the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan worked many years without any law; and it especially didn’t confuse somebody. In December the parliamentary elections are expected in Turkmenistan — they will take place not on the one-party basis for the first time.

— How the political system is stable in today’s Turkmenistan?

- We conducted discussions with experts in this respect. It is clear that the democratic regime is more stable because it provides the change and transfer of power mechanism. And, all this is fixed legislatively. But we have other situation in Turkmenistan.

The totalitarian regime remains more than 20 years; it didn’t affect that the president of the country exchanged. Various factors will influence a situation in Turkmenistan; first of all an economic situation. Now it seriously worsened in the country.

Almost all profit which the country gets for oil and gas don’t use for satisfaction of any social needs. But resorts, hotels, restaurants are under construction … That is, money is invested not there where it would be necessary to put them.

— Is it possible to say that the Turkmen gas about which speak in many countries of the world, didn’t bring the improvement of welfare to citizens of the country?

- Unfortunately, it is so. They spoke and wrote much about free gas and electricity … But you know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch! And the authorities already start considering who how many consumed electricity and other. Soon, as they say, this shop will be closed.

— The opposition to Niyazov’s regime and now Berdimuhamedov’s regime practically has no opportunity to work in Turkmenistan. Is it compelled to act behind republic borders?

- The political opposition is in such situation. Naturally, in the country there are the political groups dissatisfied with the events, but they very small and can’t render any influence on a situation. And here the social opposition accrues, on the contrary. For that simple reason that life for the simple person becomes worse.

Religious groups are most of all organized, of course. They can destabilize a situation at some point. Afghanistan is absolutely nearby and it creates very unpleasant situation for the authorities of Turkmenistan. They don’t speak, don’t write about an Islamic factor, but according to our data and we conduct situation monitoring, they look for the religious figures very attentively, some of them are imprisoned. The authorities try to undertake any steps, but it not turns out.

— Is the neutrality the main principle of foreign policy of Turkmenistan?

- Turkmenistan tries to observe the neutrality throughout the entire period of the independence. The logic is obvious: there are interests of many countries in this zone which are often opposite, so the risk of various shocks is great. Both Russia, and China, both the USA, and Europe try to influence a situation in the region. Therefore Turkmenistan accepted the neutrality and tries to keep it all this time. It is necessary to say that it, probably, only the correct decision for the country.

- What are the relations of Turkmenistan and Russia?

- The relations with Russia are rather intense. The neutrality, by the way, doesn’t mean that Turkmenistan is on friendly terms with everyone. On the contrary, it turned out that Turkmenistan has rather intense relations with many countries.
Russia was the largest buyer of the Turkmen gas earlier. But then the contract was revised and Russia ceased to buy the gas in that volume, as earlier from Turkmenistan. Still the problem of a dual citizenship of the Russians living in Turkmenistan isn’t resolved also. Turkmenistan tries to make so that this category of the population wasn’t any more. For example, new internal passports were entered, but those who have a dual citizenship, don’t give. People demand to refuse either from Russian, or the Turkmen nationality.

In August, and then in September the arrival of the president of Russia Vladimir Putin expected in Turkmenistan. But visit didn’t take place. And the problem, seemingly, consists not in gas and not in a situation with a dual citizenship … Next year the withdrawal of troops of the USA and the western coalition from Afghanistan will take place. Russia after all, in my opinion, expects not really good succession of events in the region. Therefore there are consultations with the republics of Central Asia, but the dialogue with Turkmenistan didn’t turn out yet.

— It is known that at the former Central Asian republics which were a part of the Soviet Union, the relation often is not friendly. What is it possible to tell about Turkmenistan in this respect?

- There are big problems in the relations with Uzbekistan. Still the president Niyazov didn’t get on with the president Karimov; this tension remains still. Turkmenistan is afraid of influence of big Uzbek diaspora which lives in the North and East of the country. The borders in Soviet period drew often randomly, therefore similar situations when the people were divided, is not the rarity in the region at all. And the Uzbek influence frightens the Turkmen authorities.

Turkmenistan has a visa regime with all the neighbours including the member countries of the CIS. Turkmenistan tries to be fenced off, both from Uzbekistan, and from Kazakhstan. There is a dispute with Azerbaijan because of fields on the Caspian Sea. The relations with Iran and Afghanistan are traditionally intense.

— We still never mentioned China. Meanwhile, its influence continues to grow in Central Asia …

- Influence of China actually is very great. Especially as China became the main consumer of the Turkmen gas. Besides, it tries to buy gas even more! It is planned to increase the volume of deliveries from Turkmenistan to China from 30 to 60 billion cubic meters! One more branch of the gas pipeline will be constructed for this purpose.

China already gave some credits of Turkmenistan, and, thereby, attached it to itself even more strongly.

China has the strongest influence in Turkmenistan today, perhaps. Probably, the USA has the same influence though they have no special economic and commercial relations with Turkmenistan. But here the major role is played by a strategic factor about which we already spoke.

Viewed : 1985   Commented: 0

Author: Vladimir Kuzmenkin

Publication date : 17 December 2013 19:11

Source: The world and we

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