Central Asia   Turkmenistan

No New Growth 


by Lauren Ranieri, February 2001

 

Here in the United States we take for granted our freedom of speech, religion, assembly, freedom of the press, ability to have public debates, different political parties, and freedom to travel where we please. Unfortunately, everyone around the world does not have the same privileges that we have. In Turkmenistan, located to the East of the Caspian Sea, human rights is an important issue that is mostly overlooked or not acknowledged by the leaders of Turkmenistan. Currently the President of Turkmenistan is Saparmurat Niyazov who rules his country like a dictator, though he claims is just trying to be a strong leader helping his country move from communism to a democratic form of government. (Library of Congress Country Studies, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?cstdy:2:./temp/~frd_bB9g::) 

Many political analysts have actually compared Turkmenistan to North Korea in the way in which it is ruled. President Niyazov along with the help of the Committee on National Security (KNB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which controls the criminal police, enforce control of any political opposition. In the following paragraphs there will be a focus on the control of political opposition to the ‘democracy’ and the corrupt ways the government deals with these opponents. In Turkmenistan where the economy stills remains one of the poorest of all the Former Soviet Union countries and under the shadow of communism like rule, it is seemingly not moving forward only backwards. (Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Development, http://www.hrw.org/hrw/worldreport99/europe/turkmenistan.html

For instance, President Niyazov could be in power until his death because of the law that was passed, in December 1999, not limiting him on his term in office. Also considering the fact that there have not been any new parties registered during the past few years shows the governments oppression of any other political opposition. Though there have been some steps towards a market economy and democratic rule, Turkmenistan is primarily a centrally planned economy. (U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for 1999, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/turkmeni.html)

 Turkmenistan has a good chance of being a country with great economic growth because of the untapped gas, oil, and other natural reserves, but because of the political resistance no foreign countries are willing to help export these goods. The United States for instance, has refused to sign certain agreements with Turkmenistan because of the violation of so many of their citizens human rights. In order for Turkmenistan to move forward economically they have to move forward politically and get out of the shadow the of the Former Soviet Union rule. President Niyazov shows support to those he feels are benevolent and pose no conflict. On the other hand those that do pose a threat to him may be fired from their jobs for no reason, lose their housing, be denied the right to travel abroad, have their mail read, phones tapped, or even be thrown into a prison or detention for up to at least six months. Case in point, the brother of former political official, Parahat Yklimov who has lives out of the country, was arrested in November 1999 for ‘financial misconduct’. Before Sapar Yklimov’s arrest the government had harassed him and his family was told that he would be released if his brother, Parahat Yklimov returned. (U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for 1999, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/turkmeni.html

Does this sound like a government that is trying to move towards a democratic system? If they are truly heading towards democracy then they are crawling there at a very slow pace. Also the Turkmen government does not want the outside world to know what is going on inside their country, so they even keep a tight cap on the monitors of human rights inside the country. The government has taken this so far as to deny Human Rights Watch representatives visas on one occasion and refused to grant them official meetings during a trip to Turkmenistan in May of 1998. (Human Rights Watch, Defending Human Rights, http://www.hrw.org/hrw/world report99/europe/turkmenistan2.html) Since Turkmenistan’s independence in 1991 there have been countless political figures taken prisoner. The most widely known political prisoners were the “Ashgabat Eight”, these eight men were imprisoned in 1995 while protesting wage arrears and the lack of democracy. (Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Development, http://www.hrw.org/hrw/worldreport99/europe/turkmenistan.html

All these men were doing was protesting for their wages they were not paid and fighting for the democracy, which their government promises they are trying to move toward. Only two of the eight men was never released from prison one being Charymurat Gurov. While the government states that he died of natural causes, his body was last seen with bruises evident of the mistreatment conducted in the prisons, especially to those who pose as opposition to the President. Others who have been imprisoned have stated that the conditions of the prisons are poor along with the health of most of the prisoners due to mistreatment. In the Constitution of Turkmenistan, which was established in 1992, the citizens “have the right to freedom of belief and the free expression thereof and also to obtain information unless it is a state, official, or commercial secret.” (U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for 1999, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/turkmeni.html)

 Though this is stated in their Constitution the government is not allowing their citizens to express what they have been given to them by their Constitution. One instance, which seems to be coming up time and time again, is the release of political figures when the Turkmenistan government has something to lose. For instance, the release of the ten political prisoners happened in 1998 when President Niyazov came to the United States. Is this a coincidence or is this because their so-called sentences were up? The answer lies in the hands of President Niyazov, but it is curious to see how close in date many of his releases of prisoners are in relation to his visits with foreign ambassadors. Although President Niyazov has given many amnesties for the release of hundreds of foreign prisoners, who never should have been imprisoned in the first place, there have been reports of the prison officials requesting bribes for their physical releases. (U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for 1999, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/turkmeni.html

Is it right to detain or arrest former or current political figures who have spoken about the conditions in Turkmenistan when they return to the country? Apparently President Niyazov thinks this is what should be done because he arrested his former Prime Minister Avdy Kuliev in 1998 when he returned to Turkmenistan. (Turkmenistan Hearing, by Christopher H. Smith (Chairman of OSCE), March 21, 2000, http://house.gov/csce/032100Testimony.htm) All Avdy Kuliev had done since his departure, as Prime Minister in Turkmenistan in 1992 was form the Turkmenistan Foundation, which was an opposing political force to President Niyazov. Another instance of imprisonment due to speaking of the on goings in Turkmenistan was with Nurberdy Numamedov. He was abroad speaking with ambassadors and diplomats against his countries warnings and when he returned home on January 5, 2000 he was imprisoned for ‘hooliganism’ and ‘intent to commit murder’. Along with his arrest was his son’s for ‘hooliganism’, and during the court hearings for the both men foreign diplomats were denied access to the country. (Turkmenistan Hearing, by Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Co-Chairman of OSCE), March 21, 2000, http://house.gov/csce/032100Testimony.htm

If this is a reflection of a democratic society then what is the system the United States utilize. The Turkmenistan government abuses their power at every turn and they seem to bend the rules of their Constitution to fit their needs at that particular time. This is a direct abuse of their citizens human rights and Constitutional rights, and under the protection of the Human Rights Watch and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) there should be some way to maintain control, but so far no one has been able to stop the dictator like style of President Niyazov. The main point here is that if Turkmenistan were really a democracy then there would be fewer issues about the abuse of human rights. The proof that Turkmenistan is not a democracy is stated in the publication of the Turkmenistan paper every day: “Turkmenistan, my beloved motherland, my beloved motherland! You are always with me in my thoughts and in my heart. For the slightest evil against you let my hand be lost. For the slightest slander about you let my tongue be lost. At the moment of my betrayal to my motherland, to her sacred banner, to Saparmurat Turkmenbashy let my breath stop.” (Turkmenistan Hearing, by Wayne Merry (The Atlantic Counsel of the United States, March 21, 2000, http://house.gov/csce/032100Testimony.htm

This statement in itself proves that this country is under a dictatorship and foreign aid should jump into stop this because it is not only affecting this country but the neighboring ones also. President Niyazov seems to have no plans to change or reform the way his government is run, so what should the neighboring countries or foreign counties do? No one seems to know this answer because it does take time to change from one form of government to another. President Niyazov quells those who try to stand up to him politically and is seemingly the worst human rights offender according to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which his country is a part of yet he still fails to recognize the human rights role he has to up hold. The human rights in Turkmenistan is a very disturbing problem and is only worsening. It delves much deeper that oppression against other political figures, but oppression against everyone in the country of Turkmenistan. There is only one power and he is President Niyazov.

References

(Turkmenistan Hearing, by Wayne Merry (The Atlantic Counsel of the United States, March 21, 2000, http://house.gov/csce/032100Testimony.htm)

(Turkmenistan Hearing, by Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Co-Chairman of OSCE), March 21, 2000, http://house.gov/csce/032100Testimony.htm)

(Turkmenistan Hearing, by Christopher H. Smith (Chairman of OSCE), March 21, 2000, http://house.gov/csce/032100Testimony.htm)

(U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Reports for 1999, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/turkmeni.html)

(Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Development, http://www.hrw.org/hrw/worldreport99/europe/turkmenistan.html)

(Human Rights Watch, Defending Human Rights, http://www.hrw.org/hrw/world report99/europe/turkmenistan2.html)

(Library of Congress Country Studies, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?cstdy:2:./temp/~frd_bB9g::)

 

 

 

 

 

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