(Washington, DC--October 28, 2002) Four specialists on Turkmenistan presented diverse views on that country's future during a briefing at RFE/RL on October 25.
Calling on the Turkmen political opposition to unite, former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev said that it would be possible to organize free and fair elections only after President Saparmurad Niyazov (also known as "Turkmenbashi," or Father of the Turkmen) has left office. Niyazov's Iraqi-style regime, Kuliev asserted, is "built on prisons and the 3,000-strong presidential guard." He said the country is increasingly mired in poverty, drugs and joblessness, while young people face an artificial shortage of educational opportunities.
In the opinion of journalist Arkady Dubnov, Niyazov has not cooperated in the international struggle against terrorism. According to Dubnov, Niyazov uses the pretext of official neutrality to keep the "black box" of Turkmenistan closed to Western eyes. Dubnov also claimed that huge profits from the transit of drugs and provision of safe passage to some al-Qaeda fugitives serve to link Niyazov's regime with the Taliban.
Even by Central Asian standards, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan is "catastrophic," Vitaly Ponomaryov said. Ponomaryov, director of the Central Asia program of "Memorial's" Human Rights Center in Moscow, Turkmenistan was until recently viewed as a "monolith." As repression has widened to include the nomenklatura and security services, Ponomaryov said, so have the circles of dissent. Public willingness to protest against the repressive Niyazov regime is also growing--this year saw two incidents when protest leaflets, reprinted from opposition Internet websites, were distributed in Ashgabat and Dashoguz.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, who has headed an independent environmental and educational group in the Caspian city of Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) since 1993, stressed that "educating people is the best medicine against extremism." His organization has been offering computer training to some 125 students per year, providing them and their country with valuable skills for the future.