Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov— the former health minister, Deputy Prime Minister and personal dentist of Turkmenistan’s first president Saparmurat Niyazov — was sworn in as president of Turkmenistan on February 14, 2007, following the country's first contested — but presumably rigged — elections which took place after Niyazov’s death in December 2006.
Berdymukhamedov had been acting president of Turkmenistan since the sudden death of Niyazov. When he came to power, Berdymukhamedov pledged to follow the ways of his predecessor, known best for his weird decrees and personality cult, which he largely did, but over the years made a few reforms and eased up Turkmenistan’s isolation a bit but in the end retained Niyazov’s authoritarian political system. became best known for his own weird decrees and personality cult.
The BBC reported: “In spite of his ministerial positions, however, observers were surprised when Mr Berdymukhamedov was appointed acting president of Turkmenistan after Niyazov's sudden death from a heart attack on 21 December 2006. Under the Turkmen constitution, the post should have gone to Owezgeldi Atayew, the chairman of the supreme representative body of power, the Halk Maslahaty, or People's Council. Mr Berdymukhamedov told state TV that Mr Atayew had been sacked after a criminal investigation into his activities. Several international media sources reported widespread rumours that Mr Berdymukhamedov had come to the fore because he was Niyazov's illegitimate son, pointing out a striking physical resemblance between the two men. Others suspected that the unsubstantiated allegations were circulated to legitimise Mr Berdymukhamedov's succession claims.” [Source: BBC, December 21, 2007]
According to Radio Free Europe:Berdymukhamedov “initially took tentative steps to open up his isolated country. He reversed some of his predecessor's decrees, reopened rural hospitals, and gave the nation access to the Internet. He also invested a lot of time dismantling Turkmenbashi's cult of personality. But eventually he began introducing his own authoritarian polities and building his own cult of personality. During a military ceremony in 2010, Berdymukhammedov was bestowed the title "Arkadag," or "Protector." [Source: Farangis Najibullah, Radio Free Europe, February 12, 2012]
Merhat Sharipzhan of Radio Free Europe wrote: Berdymukhammedov has lessened Turkmenistan's isolation somewhat, cultivating ties with rival powers attracted by its natural-gas riches, including the United States, Europe, Russia, and China. But any who hoped Niyazov's death would usher in a new era of rights and freedoms have been disappointed: Turkmenistan remains officially neutral and highly repressive. [Source: Merhat Sharipzhan, Radio Free Europe, December 5, 2015]
Berdymukhamedov was born in June 29, 1957 in the village of Babaarap in the Ashgabat region of the former Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. There is little information about his early life. Berdymukhammedov said: It is too early for me to write a detailed biography. My biography is in many respects typical of people of my generation... My parents always managed to maintain the hospitable atmosphere in the family. They were happy at an opportunity to communicate openly with people - friends and relatives. They always took active part in the resolving of other people's problems and difficulties...(more)...this necessity in empathy my parents had instilled in me in the childhood influenced, to the considerable extent, my choice to devote my life to medicine...(more)...readiness to help a neighbor is peculiar to the society as a whole, it may characterize the strength and moral health of the nation. [Source: Turkmenistan magazine, February 17, 2007 =\=]
He said: “The Turkmen literature has many splendid authors who gave the world their immortal works that express the profound Turkmen people's wisdom in a concentrated form. I admire Magtymguly, Andalib, Azadi, Kemine... Due to my medical education I read a lot the works of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a great scholar of the medieval times, with great interest. The expanse of his interests and the depth of the scientist's judgments struck me. Ibn Sina was a great man not only as a doctor but as a philosopher and thinker as well.” =\=
Berdymukhammedov graduated from the dentistry faculty of the Turkmen State Medical Institute in 1979 and later completed his PhD in Medical Sciences in Moscow. He began work as a dentist in 1980, and in 1995 became head of the dentistry centre of the Turkmen Ministry of Health. At the same time he was appointed associate professor and dean of the dentistry faculty of the Turkmen State Medical Institute. He subsequently became President Niyazov's personal dentist.
According to a cable from the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat, Berdymukhamedov is married with two daughters and a son, but his wife lives in London. He has another daughter with his long-term Russian mistress.
U.S. Embassy Cables on Berdymukhammedov Family
According to U.S. embassy cables released by Wikileaks: Berdymukhammedov “is the only son in a family of eight children. "His father is a retired prison guard with the rank of colonel. The father, many in Turkmenistan think, is more intelligent than the son." The cable says the president reportedly has two different families – with two daughters and a son from his Turkmen spouse and a daughter with his Russian mistress. His Russian partner – identified as Marina – has a 14-year-old daughter with the president. Berdymukhamedov's wife has been reportedly living in London since 2007, it adds. Several nephews are murkily involved in business, it adds. The cable was sent by Sylvia Reed Curran, the US's charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 2, 2010]
The U.S. embassy cables read: “Turkmen President Berdimuhammedov...is the only son in a family of eight children. His father is a retired prison guard with the rank of colonel. The father, many in Turkmenistan think, is more intelligent than the son. Berdimuhamedov reportedly has a Turkmen wife and a Russian mistress. He has two daughters and a son with his Turkmen spouse and a daughter with his Russian wife. One of his sons-in-law runs the London office of the Turkmen State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources. His other daughter lives with her husband, a diplomat, in Paris.” [Source: Wikileaks, The Guardian, December 2, 2010 ^]
“Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov's father, Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov, worked as a senior Interior Ministry officer in a prison guard detachment. He retired as a Colonel of Internal Troops. In local public opinion, the father is rumored to be far more intelligent than his son. The president's mother was a housewife. The president's parents now live with their son in the official residence in Firuza Valley, which is 19 km from Ashgabat. His grandfather Berdimuhamed Annayev was the principal of a school in his native village of Izgant. ^
“Berdimuhammedov is married and has two daughters and one son, Serdar. The oldest daughter is married to Yhlasgeldi Amanov, who is a representative of the Turkmen Agency for Use and Management of Hydrocarbon Resources for Europe, posted in London. His other daughter lives with her husband, who works at the Turkmenistan Embassy in Paris. A local Turkmen entrepreneur claims this daughter has a villa on the Cote d'Azure in southern France. There is a rumor among Ashgabat residents that Berdimuhamedov has a mistress, in addition to his Turkmen wife, who is reportedly very conservative. The mistress is supposedly an ethnic Russian by the name of Marina. She was reportedly a nurse at a dental clinic where Berdimuhamedov worked earlier in his career, and has a 14-year old daughter with the president. Berdimuhamedov's wife has reportedly been living in London since 2007. ^
Berdimuhamedov is the only son in his family of eight children. One of the younger sisters teaches at the Turkmen National Economy University; another, the youngest one, is a housewife married to a Central Bank employee. His second oldest sister, Aynabat Berdimuhamedova, actively exploits the influence of her brother.10. (SBU) COMMENT: Berdimuhamedov has gone to great lengths to conceal information about his family and personal life from the public. For a public figure who tries to project an image as a renaissance man, whether it be author, surgeon, pilot, sportsman or statesman, the failure to cultivate a "family man" image leaves a void that the public is ready to fill. “
According to The Guardian: The president's son-in-law, though, got a rap on the knuckles after acquiring too many fancy homes in London, one cable reveals. Dovlet Atabayev was the subject of an internal investigation. "Supposedly the young man is in trouble for having acquired some nice real estate in the London area." Atabayev is the head of the London office of Turkmenistan's state agency for oil and gas. He was one of several officials who had "got into hot water" for alleged "ostentatious corruption", US diplomats said. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 2, 2010 ~~]
U.S. Embassy Cables: Berdymukhammedov 'Not a Very Bright Guy'
Berdymukhamedov is "vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative", a "micro-manager" and "a practised liar", US diplomats said, in a brutal evaluation of Turkmenistan's leader. On his early career in a dental clinic, one source describes the president as "very clean and neat". Perhaps the most damning section read: “Berdymukhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is. Since he's not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people." The president "did not like America, Iran or Turkey but likes China", it adds.The cable was released by WikiLeaks but originally sent by Sylvia Reed Curran, the US's charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 2, 2010]
According to U.S. embassy cables released by Wikileaks: “Berdimuhammedov is vain, fastidious, vindictive, a micro-manager, and a bit of an Ahal Teke "nationalist." ...Berdimuhamedov is the "decider" for the state of Turkmenistan. Since his word is often law, it is beneficial to understand what makes him tick and to know something about those closest to him, his family. According to XXX, Berdimuhamedov is vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, "a good actor," and vindictive (reftel).
XXX said that while he usually forgets something after a few months or a year, Berdimuhamedov never forgets. Our source described Berdimuhamedov as a micromanager. He said that the president signs off on work schedules for experienced doctors. [Source: Wikileaks, The Guardian, December 2, 2010]
“Our source said Berdimuhamedov is very clean and neat and requires all around him to be the same. When Berdimuhamedov became the head of a dental clinic, he insisted that the other men who worked there had creases in their pants. About 30 years ago, when Berdimuhamedov owned an old Russian car, he would leave it at home if it rained and take a taxi instead.
“Berdimuhamedov apparently does not think all Turkmen are the same. He once told our source that the true and first Turkmen come from the area between Kaka and Baharly in Ahal Province. Other people are not real Turkmen... Berdimuhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is. Since he's not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people. Our source claimed Berdimuhamedov did not like America, Iran, or turkey, but likes China. (COMMENT: Berdimuhamedov probably views other countries in terms of what they can do for him and his country, rather than in terms of like or dislike. END COMMENT.) He also asserted that the president is not fond of either Uzbek President Karimov or Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev.
Berdymukhammedov as Turkmenistan’s Health Minister
In 1995, during Niyazov’s rule, Berdimuhamedov became head of the dentistry center of the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry. He became a public figure in December 1997 when he was appointed Minister of Health. In April 2001 he was named deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers.
Under Berdymukhammedov, the Health Ministry was responsible for carrying out Niyazov's notorious order to close all hospitals outside of the capital city and major regional towns in 2005 and for doctors to stop taking the Hippocratic Oath and swear allegiance to Niyzov instead.
The BBC reported: “Although his time as health minister was fairly uneventful, Mr Berdymukhamedov made the headlines once in April 2004, when President Niyazov decreed he would not be paid for three months because workers in Turkmenistan's state healthcare sector were also not being paid. Later that year, Mr Berdymukhamedov was responsible for implementing Niyazov's reforms of the health service, which many observers have blamed for its near collapse. One of the most controversial of these decrees ordered the closure of all hospitals, except those in the capital Ashgabat and in some major regional towns, the sacking of 15,000 healthcare workers and their replacement with untrained army conscripts. [Source: BBC, December 21, 2007]
Berdymukhammedov Becomes President of Turkmenistan
Berdymukhamedov, who had been Deputy Prime Minister and was named interim head of government after Niyzov’s death, became the leader of Turkmenistan after he won a special presidential election held in early February 2007. Berdymukhamedov elevation to the presidency seemed assured after an extraordinary session of the Halk Maslahaty (Turkmenistan’s parliament) amended the constitution on December 26, 2006 to allow the acting president to run, along with five other candidates, for the presidency on February 11. 2007.
Berdymukhamedov was sworn in as president of Turkmenistan on February 14, 2007 at a session of the People's Council, the highest legislative body, a few minutes after the head of the central elections commission announced that he had won the election with nearly 90 percent of the vote. In the election he faced what was widely seen as token competition from five other candidates from the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT). All six of the candidates were members of the DPT — Turkmenistan's only registered political party, created by Niyazov. The government banned exile opposition politicians from running.
Like the other candidates, Berdymukhamedov promised to follow in Niyazov’s footsteps but he also promised unlimited access to the Internet, better education and higher pensions. The head of the country's central election commission publicly vowed to work to ensure Mr Berdymukhamedov's victory. "We're not voting on the programmes because they are all the same," one Turkmen man told Reuters as he went to vote. "Which one promised to pay a pension? That's the one I want to vote for," said an ethnic Russian woman in her 50s.
Berdymukhammedov Sworn in as the Leader of Turkmenistan
Berdymukhammedov was sworn in as president of Turkmenistan in mid February 2007.
Benjamin Harvey of Associated Press wrote: “Berdymukhammedov was sworn in at a session of the People's Council. He has shown no signs of interest in ending Turkmenistan's one-party system but since becoming interim president after Niyazov's death, Berdymukhammedov has called for changes from the path set by Niyazov, who had fostered an overwhelming cult of personality in his two decades in power and had kept Turkmens largely isolated. He repeated those calls in his inauguration speech to the People's Council, including a pledge to allow ordinary Turkmens access to the Internet, which under Niyazov was available only to officials, journalists and some organizations. He also promised "development of private ownership and entrepreneurship," educational reforms, and more doctors and hospitals. [Source: Benjamin Harvey, Associated Press, February 15, 2007 ]
“Although Berdymukhammedov's proposed reforms would roll back some of Niyazov's policies, he also has pledged to follow the general course set by the late leader, who dominated the country in a personality cult that included calling himself Turkmenbashi, which means Father of all Turkmen. In his inauguration speech, he promised "to dedicate myself to the legacy of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great."
“Niyazov remains an overwhelming presence in Turkmenistan some two months after his death. Statues of him abound, including a golden one in the capital that rotates to follow the sun's path. He renamed months and days of the week after himself and members of his family. His philosophical book, "Rukhnama," is required reading in schools. Council elders presented Berdymukhammedov with a copy of "Rukhnama" at the inauguration, where many council members held up portraits of Niyazov.
“Berdymukhammedov's move for changes in Turkmenistan are sure to be watched closely by Russia and the West, both of which have substantial interest in the country because of its enormous natural gas reserves and because of its stability and neutrality in a contentious region — Turkmenistan borders both Iran and Afghanistan.
Berdymukhammedov as President of Turkmenistan
The BBC reported: “At the time of his inauguration, correspondents said Mr Berdymukhamedov's first political actions indicated a move away from the personality cult style of Niyazov. One of his first decrees was to reintroduce foreign languages to the school curriculum and extend the number of years Turkmen children should stay in school. He also announced the opening of internet cafes in Ashgabat. Under Niyazov, access to the internet had been strictly controlled. [Source: BBC, December 21, 2007 ^|^]
“In March 2007, Mr Berdymukhamedov reversed one of his predecessor's most unpopular decisions by restoring pensions to more than 100,000 elderly citizens. The new Code of Social Guarantees introduced state child and maternity benefits and increased payments to families of war veterans to one million manat ($40) . In another sign of change, Mr Berdymukhamedov released thousands of prisoners, including some government officials jailed by Niyazov. ^|^
“Mr Berdymukhamedov has also made efforts to improve Turkmenistan's foreign relations, mainly by utilising the country's abundant gas supplies. In May 2007 he signed a landmark deal with Russia ensuring that most of Turkmenistan's gas supplies would flow through Russia for the foreseeable future, going against US and EU proposals for a pipe to be built under the Caspian Sea, avoiding Russian control. Mr Berdymukhamedov has also overseen attempts to attract greater numbers of tourists to Turkmenistan, including the building of a multi-billion dollar tourist resort on the Caspian Sea. ^|^
“However, traces of Niyazov's style can still be seen on occasions. In December Berdymukhamedov ordered the removal of satellite dishes from houses in Ashgabat, saying they were "ugly". Human rights groups have also criticised Mr Berdymukhamedov for his tight control of the media in Turkmenistan and the lack of political diversity.” ^|^
While erasing outward signs of Turkmenbashi's rule, Berdymukhammedov seized all the powers the former leader once. He is president and prime minister, party head and military commander in chief. A video leaked by Radio Free Europe showed a “deranged-looking Berdimuhamedov berating his subordinates like children and insulting Turkey, whose companies are some of the only private businesses operating in the country. [Source: Joshua Foust, The Atlantic, January 7, 2012]
Early Signs of Reform Under Berdymukhammedov
Before Berdymukhammedov was officially designated as president, Peter Finn wrote in the Washington Post, “Exiled human rights activists have taken comfort from the release of an environmentalist who was given a three-year suspended sentence, rather than the usual prison term, after being convicted on a weapons possession charge that was widely seen as trumped-up. But that was offset by the ruthless suppression weeks earlier of a prison riot at a facility outside Ashkhabad, the capital. Twenty-three people were killed, according to human rights activists. [Source: Peter Finn, Washington Post, February 4, 2007 |::|]
Berdymukhammedov has said that he will relax controls on Internet access, among the most stringent in the world, and that Turkmenistan may eventually move toward a multiparty system. Emerging regional and tribal concerns, suppressed under Niyazov, could also accelerate the need for broader power-sharing. "Berdymukhammedov needs to build up a certain respect, and I believe he will allow some relaxation," said Farid Tuhbatullin, a former political prisoner in Turkmenistan and now the director of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, based in Vienna. "The opposition who live in the West may have a chance to build up a dialogue with the authorities, and then maybe later they may be able to legalize their activity in the country." |::|
“Under Niyazov, Turkmenistan was one of the world's most isolated countries, subject to the bizarre whims of a leader who squandered vast amounts of revenue from natural gas resources on monuments to himself. The country's education system, which forced students to study Niyazov's writings, was gutted. The number of years students spent in school was cut, and foreign degrees were not recognized. Pensions for 100,000 elderly citizens were summarily denied. Ballet and opera were banned as alien. Dissidents were jailed or forced into exile.” |::|
Bruce Pannier of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Following his presidential victory in February 2007, Berdymukhammedov took modest steps toward restoring the role of parliament and other state institutions crippled by Niyazov. Under a new constitution approved in September 2008, the parliament regained its legislative powers and showed broader representation through the addition of 75 seats. Berdymukhammedov also sent a direct invitation to the OSCE to monitor the elections and "There shouldn't be any restrictions for international monitors to attend polling stations and to meet election officials," he said. [Source: Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe, December 13, 2008]
Turkmenistan Less Isolated Under Berdymukhammedov
Two two years after Berdymukhammedov was elected president of Turkmenistan, Chary Ishaniyazov of Radio Free Europe wrote: There is little to be said about the first year. The country carried on living as though the deceased dictator were still alive. Niyazov's presence still pervaded all spheres of activity, the ministers he had appointed remained in power, and they had both wealth and influence. At that time few people, even experts on Turkmenistan, could say with any certainty whether Berdymukhammedov would change course, or continue along the path mapped out by his predecessor. Berdymukhammedov spent that entire first year strengthening his hold on power. [Source: Chary Ishaniyazov, Radio Free Europe, February 23, 2009 ^=^]
“Over the past 12 months, however, there have been some changes, albeit very slight, in terms of political and civic freedoms, to the point that one can even say that Turkmenistan has entered a period of transition. The first reforms have taken off after an unforgivably long period of stagnation. True, they are sporadic and even a little chaotic, but one should not underestimate the fact that they are happening at all. Berdymukhammedov is gradually bringing Turkmenistan out of the political isolation imposed by his predecessor. It is clear that the country is opening up to the outside world: Turkmenistan has begun to cooperate more closely with international organizations, to participate in various projects, and to develop new ties, both bilateral and multi-lateral, with various countries. In short, it is becoming a significant player in Central Asia. ^=^
“In December 2008, Turkmenistan adopted a new, amended constitution that abolished the People's Council, the highest representative and legislative body, and divided its powers between the president and the parliament. The parliament also acquired the right to schedule presidential elections. One can affirm very cautiously that these innovations constitute a basis for reforming the entire system of governance. Although all decisions remain the prerogative of just one man — President Berdymukhammedov. Berdymukhammedov is getting rid of Niyazov-era functionaries who seek to put a brake on the reform process. Only two members of Niyazov's cabinet still retain their posts: Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and a second deputy prime minister, Tachberdy Tagiyev, who is responsible for the oil and gas sector. They too are likely to lose their posts very soon. ^=^
Turkmenistan Still Repressive Under Berdymukhammedov
Chary Ishaniyazov of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Turkmenistan remains one of the world's most repressive states, and the human rights situation is still catastrophic. Dissenters — whether political opponents, independent journalists, or civic activists — are still subjected to the harshest reprisals, together with members of their families. There has been no relaxation whatsoever of the restrictions on religious practice. [Source: Chary Ishaniyazov, Radio Free Europe, February 23, 2009 ^=^]
“Turkmenistan is still a one-party system: the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the successor to the Communist Party, is the only party in the country, and like all other public organizations it is controlled by the state. It is still not possible to form and legally register a political party, or even a nongovernmental organization, even though the constitutional amendments included an article giving citizens the right to found political parties and public organizations whose activities do not violate other provisions of the constitution.^=^
Turkmenistan still has a "black list" of people not permitted to travel abroad. True, Berdymukhammedov has lifted the ban imposed by his predecessor on travel within the country, but that does not fundamentally change the overall picture...One key point should not be ignored. Everyone knows how cruelly the late president-for-life dealt with his political opponents. The majority are still immured in prison, and it is not even known for certain whether they are still alive, or where they are incarcerated. Every resolution on Turkmenistan adopted by the UN or the European Parliament contains the demand for their cases to be reviewed in accordance with international legal norms, and for the International Red Cross to be granted free access to Turkmenistan's jails. But Berdymukhammedov continues to ignore those demands, just as Niyazov did.” ^=^
Media Under Berdymukhammedov
Berdymukhammedov has dominated media coverage. Since coming to power, his president's daily activities have been a near-constant fixture on television reports, magazine covers, and newspaper front pages. Such coverage intensified ahead of elections. [Source: Radio Free Europe]
Chary Ishaniyazov of Radio Free Europe wrote: “There are no independent media in Turkmenistan: all print media and television and radio channels are under strict state control. Censorship was legalized last year in a seeming reversal: when Berdymukhammedov first took office in 2007 he had launched what appeared to be cautious steps toward liberalization, lifting the ban Niyazov had imposed on opera and the national circus and stressing the need to raise the professional and artistic quality of cinema, television, radio, and literature. He also took steps to encourage members of the creative intelligentsia. ^=^ [Source: Chary Ishaniyazov, Radio Free Europe, February 23, 2009 ^=^]
“Few people watch local Turkmen television, as almost every household has a satellite dish. Even Niyazov did not dare to ban satellite dishes, but Berdymukhammedov ordered them to be removed, because they allegedly spoil the architectural beauty of the capital; not everyone complied with that edict, however. Instead, the authorities have made available a limited number of approved cable television channels. ^=^
“There has been some progress in extending Internet access, with a handful of Internet cafes opening first in the capital, Ashgabat, and then in regional centers. In addition to government ministries, foreign embassies and international organizations and commercial companies, today some businessmen and private individuals have Internet access. But there is one huge drawback: access to opposition and human rights sites and those of many international news agencies was blocked until recently, and many people are still afraid of trying to access them.” ^=^
Zach Peterson of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Berdymukhammedov is a busy man, even on vacation. A recent Turkmen state TV newscast dedicated three separate segments to the president’s not-so-leisurely leisure time, which he spent promoting fitness, visiting vacationing children — who serenaded him with songs and poems, and putting the finishing touches to a new book. [Source: Zach Peterson, Radio Free Europe, July 17, 2012 *]
“In addition to being Turkmenistan’s "Protector," Berdymukhammedov is a prolific author, with works on subjects ranging from horse care to the gloriousness of Turkmenistan. His seminal work, though, is a three volume scientific venture: “Medicinal Plants of Turkmenistan.” For those interested, the slightly-dated second volume is available online for the modest price of $280. *
“Although volume three landed in the library stacks in March 2012, according to state TV, Berdymukhammedov is now finishing the much-anticipated fourth volume. Notably, the clip from state TV shows the president working on his book sitting at a desk with only a pen and a notebook. When you’re “Academician of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, Doctor of Medicine, and a professor” computers are apparently a vanity item, not a necessity.” *
Berdymukhammedov Fires Top Officials
In January 2009, Berdymukhammedov fired almost one-third of his Cabinet and the head of the state oil company in a large-scale reshuffle reminiscent of the frequent purges by Niyazov, his predecessor. Associated Press reported: “In a highly charged government meeting televised Berdymukhamedov charged officials with committing ‘unforgivable mistakes and miscalculations.’ The most prominent casualties included the ministers for energy, communications, sports and tourism. The heads of the state oil firm Turkmenneft and the state geological agency, which explores the country’s vast hydrocarbon resources, were also dismissed. [Source: Associated Press, January 17, 2009 /+]
“Berdymukhamedov said significant progress had been made in the central Asian nation’s oil and gas sector, but blasted what he called financial irregularities and the mismanagement of advanced technical equipment, which he said have caused overspending and accidents. Under autocratic former president Niyazov the dismissal and the subsequent arrest of high-level officials was routine. Thursday’s government purge was the largest since Berdymukhamedov came to power. /+\
“Large parts of the capital, Ashgabat, were closed to traffic and security was on high alert as government met, ostensibly to review progress made over the previous year. In a wide-ranging closing speech, Berdymukhamedov again criticized government officials for inefficiency and excessive bureaucracy. Looking forward to the coming year, he stressed the importance of improving democratic standards and the economy. “We must make great efforts to keep pace with world progress and become full members of the international community,” he said. “Our main task should be to further strengthen the democratic and legal foundations of the state and to enhance the economic strength of our country.” /+\
Agriculture Officials Fired or Given Cadillacs Based on Grain Harvests
In July 2012, Berdymukhammedov fired his agriculture minister after a disappointing grain harvest. Radio Free Europe reported: “Merdan Bayramov, who served in the post since January 2011, was replaced by his deputy, Rejep Bazarov. Other officials in the agricultural sector were also replaced. The wheat harvest this year fell 25 percent short of the 1.6 million-ton state target. Prices for bread at state-run stores increased threefold on July 6. Staple foodstuffs are heavily subsidized, meaning the cost increase will have little direct impact except for very poor people.” [Source: Radio Free Europe. July 7, 2012]
Earlier it was reported that Berdymukhammedov awarded the entire regional government in Lebap province with a brand new Cadillac Escalade luxury SUV after an above-average grain harvest. According to a BBC story: “"In the era of might and happiness, Lebap's courageous workers put in a big contribution to our country, which is moving ahead with the swiftness of a racehorse," President Berdymukhamedov was quoted by Neutral Turkmenistan as saying. The Cadillac will be used for "work" purposes by the provincial government, the paper reported. Correspondents say that such luxurious cars are not sold in Turkmenistan — where even government officials do not use American cars. In 2010, Berdymukhammedov ordered that Mercedes cars should be given to about 60 regional and district governors. [Source: Radio Free Europe, July 4, 2012, BBC, July 3, 2013]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated April 2016