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Wednesday, 12 March 2003

TURKMENISTAN: THE LATEST CONSEQUENCES OF A FAILED COUP

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By Chemen Durdiyeva (3/12/2003 issue of the CACI Analyst)

President Saparmurad Niyazov escaped an assassination attempt on his life on November 25, 2002. Gunfire was fired on his motorcade, but the president did not notice it until he was informed about it at his palace. Although the attack did not cause significant injuries, the results of this plot are day by day becoming tremendous and overarching in the ordinary life of the Turkmens.
President Saparmurad Niyazov escaped an assassination attempt on his life on November 25, 2002. Gunfire was fired on his motorcade, but the president did not notice it until he was informed about it at his palace. Although the attack did not cause significant injuries, the results of this plot are day by day becoming tremendous and overarching in the ordinary life of the Turkmens. New strict regulations for those leaving and entering the country are the first among the latest new changes in Turkmenistan. On February 22, Niyazov signed decrees establishing new rules for leaving and entering the country. According to the official news agency Turkmenistan.ru, starting from March “visas will no longer be issued directly by Turkmen diplomatic missions abroad or the Foreign Ministry\'s consular section, but will have to be approved by a special commission headed by the Foreign Minister.” This special commission consists of the representatives from the Mejlis (Turkmen Parliament), the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Border Service. From now on, foreigners will have to pay $10 for their registration in the country. “Penalties for violations of the new rules will range from 10-20 times minimum salary to deportation from the country with a ban on re-entry for five years” reports the Open Society Institute Turkmenistan Project. Within this context, the issues of human rights violations are incorporated to the latest agonizing complexities in Turkmenistan. In addition to the latest arrests and persecutions, the imprisonment of the civil society activist Farid Tukhbatullin for three years has at last caught the attention of the international community. He has been held since December 23, 2002, in pre-trial detention in Ashgabat on charges of two criminal violations: illegal border crossing (Article 210, part 1 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan) and failure to notify of a serious crime (Article 214, part 1). As the claims grow over the arrest, the access to attend the court on Tukhbatullin’s case was very limited. Moreover, according to the OSI, “representatives of the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat and the US and UK embassies, were forced from the courthouse by officials brandishing clubs and waited out the five-hour proceedings outside”. The Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s special visit to Turkmenistan on March 3 marked the attention of the international community to the deteriorating situation within the country. During the course of the meeting, the Turkmen President and the OSCE representative also discussed questions such as fighting against terrorism and developing prosperity along with respect for human rights. Meanwhile, an article posted on the official website of the Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan states that “Niyazov cheated the OSCE”, meaning that he did not keep his promise of releasing Farid Tukhbatullin. At the same time Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the International League for Human Rights, and the Memorial Human Rights Center urged the Turkmen authorities to release the civil society activist immediately and called international attention to the case. These distressing events and changes in Turkmenistan keep on raising the implicit anxiety among the people of the country. Now, people who trade in other neighboring countries to feed their children have to wait in line to get an exit visa through the time-consuming procedure of the commission. By the same token Greece, which holds the EU presidency, claims that \"Exit visas are a tool of repression and control, which cannot be considered in line with OSCE commitments and principles.\" Within this context, as the journalist in Ashgabat Nyazik Ataeva claims, an internal opposition, consisting of mainly young people is gaining strength against the current regime in Turkmenistan. In the eyes of certain groups such as the International Crisis Group, Turkmenistan may pose a threat to the already fragile region in the future. \"There\'s a real risk that it could become the next Afghanistan and it certainly could become a danger to the rest of the world,” says Robert Templer, Central Asian director of the International Crisis Group. All in all, the situation in Turkmenistan is becoming complex after the failed assassination attack leaving no forecast about the future of the country.
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