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  Turkmenistan's Failing Dictatorship

Osh/Brussels, 17 January 2003: The international community can no longer afford to look at the failing dictatorship of President Saparmurat Niyazov as that of a comical despot. In a new report, Cracks in the Marble: Turkmenistan’s Failing Dictatorship, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warns that his continued rule is a serious threat to stability in the whole Central Asian region. Furthermore, there is unlikely to be any improvement in the situation as long as Niyazov remains in power.

ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer said: "The frequent assessment that the regime is unpleasant but fairly stable needs review. The situation is deeply unstable and dangerous. Internal and external opposition to the regime continues to grow, with a recent assassination attempt on the President. The prospects for a peaceful transition are very poor. The international community, especially Russia, the United States and the European Union must step up engagement with the Turkmen government, opposition, NGOs and independent media as a matter of urgency. While it is conceivable that Niyazov may cling to power for several more years, the international community should also be prepared for a sudden and violent struggle for power".

In a detailed analysis, ICG examines the warped economics of Turkmenistan, where despite healthy increases in GDP from oil and gas sales and cotton production, living standards are falling sharply. This is because most of the profits are controlled by the President and his close colleagues, with little reaching ordinary people. There is also sufficient evidence from local and international observers to conclude that government structures are deeply involved in the drugs trade, and that this is an important alternative source of 'off-budget' income. Foreign investment has all but stopped and is unlikely to resume in the current climate.

President Niyazov has dubbed himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of all Turkmen, with a personality cult to rival Saddam Hussein’s. He rules with absolute authority and is omnipresent, controlling all senior appointments in government, the judiciary, media and other institutions. His enforcers are the Presidential Guard, estimated to be about 3,000 strong, who have access to tremendous resources and information. Critics and opponents are imprisoned and sometimes executed. Poverty, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, TB and environmental degradation are all getting worse. The education system has become little more than a way of indoctrinating children into the cult of Turkmenbashi, while electoral corruption ensures that he regularly wins 99 per cent of the vote.

Despite the President’s tight grip, the risk of instability and violence is growing. ICG identifies five main sources of conflict that could accelerate Turkmenistan’s disintegration: the underground political struggle within the country, particularly rising discontent in the security services; serious economic problems; a weak and increasingly dysfunctional state which provides opportunities for terrorists; social destruction with a population increasingly sucked into drugs and crime; and competition between ethnic and clan groups. 

ICG Central Asia analyst Filip Noubel said: "Despite its isolation, the Turkmen regime is not immune to international pressure. Two of ICG’s recommendations are that Turkmenistan’s political, social and economic abuses be raised in the UN Human Rights Commission annual meeting in February and that the OSCE follow through on implementation of its special procedures by the U.S., the EU and others last December and send a mission to Ashgabat to investigate human rights concerns. Sanctions and isolation will not work. Critical engagement and a serious attempt to work towards a peaceful transition of power should now be at the top of the international agenda in Central Asia".

Katy Cronin (London) +
email: [email protected]

Francesca Lawe-Davies (Brussels) +32-(0)2-536.00.65
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
Read the full ICG report on our website: www.crisisweb.org


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