By Slavomir Horak (5/3/2006 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Purges in authoritarian regimes such as that of Turkmenistan are a standard tool used for their survival. Except for recurrent deprivation of middle and lower rank officials of their positions, several great waves of high-level purges have been observed in Turkmenistan in the almost fifteen years of its independence. The trials started as early as in 1992, when then-prime minister Khan Ahmedov and his circle were forced to leave their chairs.
Purges in authoritarian regimes such as that of Turkmenistan are a standard tool used for their survival. Except for recurrent deprivation of middle and lower rank officials of their positions, several great waves of high-level purges have been observed in Turkmenistan in the almost fifteen years of its independence. The trials started as early as in 1992, when then-prime minister Khan Ahmedov and his circle were forced to leave their chairs. At that time, the punishments for the senior officials was more or less comparable to the standard for democratic regimes – Ahmedov was sent abroad as an ambassador. Other people subsequently falling into disfavor were usually allowed to emigrate – Avdy Kuliev, Turkmenistan’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs, who fled to Moscow in 1993, was one of the first examples. In the middle of the 1990s, he was followed by Nazar Soyunov, then responsible for the energy sector in the Presidential Council. Approximately at the same time, President Saparmurad Niyazov Turkmenbashi switched to lower positions those regional elites that could challenge his growing power.
Kurmanbibi Atadjanova was appointed to the position of prosecutor general at the very same period, and stayed in this position for more than a decade. Her star grew in November 2002, after the alleged assassination attempt on president Turkmenbashi. Indeed, she was the main architect of the gruesome process targeted at former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, who Atadjanova accused of being the leading culprit in this plot. Since that event, Atadjanova became Turkmenbashi’s closest ally, and the prosecutor general’s office became the most powerful repressive machine in the country. The President entrusted to her accusations against several other high-ranking officials. Since then, victims of all following purges were silenced completely. Tyoically, their court processes resulted in long-time sentences, ranging from 20 to 25 years in prison. Former head of the Committee for National Security (KNB) Muhammet Nazarov (in 2002) and former Prime Minister Jelly Gurbanmuradov (in 2005) have been the most important examples of this punishment.
From 2002 onward, the practice of imprisoning not only the person accused, but also most of that person’s relatives and colleagues, was introduced. As could be expected, Atadjanova began to skillfully make use of her role for her own enrichment. Human Rights organizations regularly reported about property expropriation on bogus charges; various atrocities including torture; and the exaction of bribes to Atadjanova’s pocket. Atadjanova also misused her office to cover for the criminal business, often based on narcotics trafficking, of her friends and colleagues. She gradually began to irritate the public with increasingly blatant displays of her wealth and abuse of office. Turkmenbashi was presumably aware of these practices, but he needed a person of Atadjanova’s type in order to remove other independent figures in his surrounding.
The impressive but mostly fabricated processes gave Atadjanova a lot of enemies, who waited for the right opportunity to unseat her. However, the first attack against her launched in late 2003 was unsuccessful. At that time, both her son and husband were accused of drug trafficking, and the head of the presidential guard Akmurat Redjepov accused her of corruption and of leading a life in luxury. Nevertheless, Kurmanbibi Atadjanova’s position was still strong enough to withstand this onslaught.
IMPLICATIONS: Despite her strong power, Kurmanbibi Atadjanova evidently lost her discretion and judgment as to what limits she could afford herself within the regime. She apparently forgot that her office remained merely an executive part of the entire oppressive machine of the regime, centralized in the presidential office. She even challenged the president himself, apparently claiming that she possessed materials compromising him. Evidently, this became the point where president Turkmenbashi decided to dispatch her. Similar compromising documents against herself “appeared” in his hands, originating in all likelihood from her enemies in the state apparatus as well as from business circles.
It is a matter of speculation if this scandal is the result of just another of Turkmenbashi’s caprices, pressures from rival forces within the Turkmen elite, or from the prosecutor general’s office itself – for example, from Mukhammedkuli Ogshukov, Atadjanova’s former first deputy. The combination of all these factors is most probably the explanation. However, as the new prosecutor general, Ogshukov could be carrying on a suicidal mission. Considering the Turkmen political tradition, the purge and prosecution of Atadjanova’s relatives and colleagues is to be expected. What is more, even if Ogshukov withstands the present crisis, his turn could come in a few months or years.
With the dismissal and assumed imprisonment of Turkmenistan’s “Iron Lady”, the system lost one of the last figures whose career was connected with Niyazov’s rise to power. By ”silencing” the prosecutor general, Turkmenbashi achieved a state of fear inside the country that enables him to further tighten control over developments in the country and, thus, temporarily strengthen his power. The entire case demonstrates that Turkmenbashi is still quite firm in his control of the country, although the opposition and some international organizations seem to be of the opposite opinion. There are now no potential opponents that could denounce him and his politics. Pressure from the outside world is not a threat to his position, in his eyes, because he is aware of the world’s growing need for Turkmen gas.
CONCLUSIONS:As a result of the above-mentioned cadre changes, the new generation, educated in Turkmenbashi’s personality cult and later on Ruhnama, is gradually coming to power. This process becomes a real threat for future development in Turkmenistan. Since the older generation of the elite was cultivated by the somewhat softer Soviet regime, their mutual accusations (despite all atrocities and fights) were based on court and documentary (compromise) materials, however fabricated they could be. The new cadres will likely prefer to be more loyal to the system, but at the same time, they will be more cynical. Sooner or later, Turkmenbashi is likely to lose control over the situation in the country as the new elite will be strong enough to endanger him seriously. Consequently, the fall of the regime – the later, the worse – could be accompanied with an explosion of violent struggle among several groups attempting to gain control of the country.
AUTHOR’S BIO:Slavomir Horak is a Junior Researcher at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. He is specialized in internal social and political development in Central Asia.