“No Improvement in Turkmenistan Possible Under Berdymukhamedov”
2017 October 25 ( Wednesday ) 20:40:03
Turkmen political emigrant, journalist Ruslan Matiyev answered Turan’s questions
The closeness from the rest of the world to neighboring Turkmenistan and the almost complete lack of mutual visits of citizens of the two countries lead to replicating the myths about a happy country in the south of the Caspian Sea, where everything is free, the streets are marble, with gold monuments, and if there are dissatisfied Turkmen, they are ungrateful sons of a happy people. In an interview for Turan, this myth was exposed by the editor of the information and human rights project Alternative News of Turkmenistan (ANT) Ruslan Matiyev. The political emigrant has lived and worked in the Netherlands since 2010. He was born and raised in Turkmenistan.
- The Soviet Union split into 15 republics. In 12 republics there is a very different, but some level of democracy. In Turkmenistan, there is a fundamentally different situation that did not change even after the sudden death of the first President, Saparmurad Niyazov, in 2006. Why did this happen with Turkmenistan? What is the participation of the Turkmen elite and people in strengthening the totalitarianism?
- The answer to your first question is partially hidden in the history of Turkmenistan and its people. Turkmens are historically known for their disobedience, non-recognition of power as an institution, and resistance. Only the firm hand of the serdars and khans held the Turkmens in check. Until Soviet rule, the Turkmens did not have a single state, and different tribes were at enmity with each other, making mutual raids on their possessions. In the Soviet years, there was statehood, education, ideology, and intertribal hostility was suppressed even at the everyday level.
In 1991, Turkmenistan was one of the last to proclaim independence, because until the end the Communist party leadership of the republic did not believe the big country would not revive. It was necessary to decide quickly how to live on. Given the 70-year-old Soviet experience, the leaders of the young independent republic followed the same footsteps, creating their own ideology, their national idol (the creator of great independence, as it was written in the media), while the authorities decided to return to their roots when the decisive word in solving national problems was for the elders. After the events of 1995 (mass riots in Ashgabat - Ed.), taking into account the wealth of Turkmenistan and personal enrichment of those at the helm, the authorities went on to tighten the nuts and to build a police state, when the police authorities were given the full range of powers for ensuring the stability of the regime and not allowing any mass unrest. It was then that corruption in the judiciary, arbitrariness of the law enforcement agencies, and degradation of the media and social movement began to acquire the ugliest forms and features. The secondary and higher education was destroyed, and visa regime was introduced with all countries. It is much easier to manage illiterate people closed to the world.
Today it"s getting worse. It is not profitable for the authorities to change anything; otherwise they will lose this power and sources of personal enrichment. During the 27 years of independence a new generation has grown up, which is familiar with the history of the formation of the Turkmen state only in the interpretation of the then leadership, and today they occupy high posts. They have not traveled outside Turkmenistan, and even if they did, then they just visited countries with a similar regime.
- In the rest of the former USSR there were myths about totalitarian Turkmenistan with free public utilities. As you know, these services have gradually become paid. How do the Turkmens live today? Where do they work, how much they earn, and what are the social guarantees?
- I have just talked with two fellow citizens, who are currently abroad. During the hour of our conversation, I practically did not insert a single word. All this time the people just spoke unilaterally, eager to tell everything about the shortage of jobs, total corruption (you want a job, pay $ 5,000!), the low quality of health care (given that the President is a doctor!), and the lack of proper education. There are delays in payment of wages and calculations with farmers. People are forced to borrow food or money at high interest. This situation has been observed since 2015, and today, after the sports Asian Games, Turkmenistan found itself in conditions of acute shortage of money.
- What is the level of emigration from Turkmenistan? They write that they drive the Russians out of there. Is it true? Why should the two Presidents of this country expel the Russians?
- The level of emigration is high. Moreover, even ethnic Turkmens leave - for Russia, or Turkey, or Cyprus. They sell their property on the cheap or leave it until better times and leave the family. Now the third wave of the outcome of Russian and Russian-speaking people has begun. The first was in the nineties, and the second - in 2003-2004. But no one drives them away forcibly. It"s just that the Russians realize that they are strangers in this country, although their ancestors restored Ashgabat destroyed after the earthquake, and, perhaps, settled there in the early Soviet years.
People are driven by poverty and lack of prospects for themselves and their children. Take the same education. Even the Turkmens are trying to give their children education in Russian and half of the Turkmens are in a queue for the Russian class of secondary schools.
- It was reported that recently a group of Turkmen women expressed indignation at the 100% rise in price of kindergartens, and the authorities partially satisfied their demand. That is, there are protests in Turkmenistan. How do citizens treat the authorities and their rule?
- Protests in Turkmenistan are rare, but right now, when the country is not enjoying the best economic times, while the authorities are spending millions and even billions on dubious construction projects, protests are happening more often. People perfectly understand that their life does not get better from new yachts or golf clubs, and they are much more concerned about the availability of flour and sugar in the market at an affordable price, and timely payment at work. Alas, they have not what they are concerned about, but the luxury is in a bulk. This annoys the population. People are deprived of benefits on the utilities, and the fees for kindergarten are raised tenfold, referring to difficult economic times, but at the same time golf clubs are opened and tasks are given to build new ones. I was told recently that in Kipchak, where the first President of the country is buried, an inscription in Turkmen appeared on a bridge: Get Up, Father! Your People Suffer! I do not know whether this actually happened or not, but today many people in Turkmenistan remember the time of his reign with nostalgia.
- Tell us about the Turkmen political emigration. Are they organized? Do they work for the benefit of the Turkmen people? Can their actions be stopped by Ashgabat?
- Today, the Turkmen political emigration is represented by several human rights activists, who are active in providing independent information and protecting the rights of Turkmen citizens. The external opposition political elite of the early 2000s have virtually died out. They cannot be seen or heard. Unfortunately, although there are enough active Turkmens abroad, and there is a more or less similar idea of the future development of the country, there is no leader among us. Unfortunately, you see, the fist hits harder than the snap. Now it"s happening. It seems to me that it is time for the Turkmen people abroad to unite in order to resist authoritarianism.
- What is the relationship between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan? My observations say that, despite our neighborhood, the relations are limited. Azerbaijan is remembered in Turkmenistan only when another scandal over the division of offshore fields is brewing. In Baku, Turkmenistan is also remembered in this connection. What do they say and write about Azerbaijan in Turkmenistan?
- The relationship is really limited. After Niyazov"s well-known words "The Smell of Blood on the Caspian Sea", Berdymukhamedov attempted to appeal to the international court on the legality of exploiting the disputable Caspian fields, but it ended in nothing. Now, there seem to be contacts between the countries at various political levels, but there is no solution to the basic question. In the same way, the media of both countries pay attention to each other only when contacts at the highest level occur.
- What is the relationship between Turkmenistan and Russia? Why did the leaders of Turkmenistan choose a policy of neutrality, and what has this policy brought to the country and citizens?
- Relations between Turkmenistan and Russia since 2009 and until now have come to naught. Both countries are experiencing a deep economic crisis. It is not profitable for Russia to buy gas in Turkmenistan, and now it does not give credits right and left. Neutrality is not connected exclusively with Russia. Neutrality is the right decision of the authorities in the 1990s: non-interference in military conflicts, taking into account the proximity of Afghanistan. However, in the future, the notion of neutrality was distorted by the leadership of Turkmenistan. Closed borders with seemingly "fraternal" countries, the established strict visa regime for foreign citizens, as well as the need to obtain Turkmen visas for traveling abroad (the practice did not last long). Nevertheless, until now the migration authorities of the country with partiality ask the departing people about the purposes of their trip, and the visitors - about what they had been doing abroad. If something is wrong, then people are given from 3 to 5 years of so-called "deport" - deprived of the opportunity to go abroad. Understanding of today"s neutrality looks like this: we do not interfere anywhere, so you do not interfere with us. We are building our own model of development, even if it is called a totalitarian system abroad.
- Tell us about the bans in Turkmenistan, which are not observed in other countries. What is the totalitarianism of the leaders of the country?
- Can you, in Baku, open windows in houses along the roads, on which Ilham Aliyev goes to work, or keep houseplants on the windowsills? Yes, you can. But in Turkmenistan it is impossible. The windows should be closed, and there should not be plants or pots, or ropes, or almost breathing. In everyday life there is the phrase "protocol tracks", which are not recorded in the law. The President presumably elected by the people moves along them, but in reality the appearance of the people at the moments of his movement is not welcomed. People are driven into entrances, underground passages - anywhere, out of sight! You cannot do anything against the "Bolonok!" ("You Cannot!"). Even insignificant power officials scatter this word to the right and to the left.
- How do you see the future of Turkmenistan? What should happen if Turkmenistan becomes democratic, at least at the level of neighboring states?
- In the conditions of the acute financial crisis created by the unskillful rule of Berdymukhamedov and his greedy clan trying to pick up all the economic levers of management, the country"s future looks dim. The degree of dissatisfaction of the Turkmens grows, but the problem is the lack of a leader who could lead the people, total wiretapping, and the destruction of any dissent. Under the current President, there will be no change for the better, but he has firmly seated himself in his chair and will not give it up easily.