About the Event
Following the recent political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan, attention has turned to the other countries in Central Asia. Among those is Turkmenistan—known primarily for its abundance of natural resources—which is now into its fourth year under the leadership of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who assumed power after self-appointed “President for Life” Saparmurat Niyazov’s sudden death in 2006.
While Berdymukhammedov’s arrival initially ushered in hope for change on the part of the Turkmeni population, those hopes have since diminished, as it has become clear that the new president has no plans to break from his predecessor’s repressive policies. However, unlike Niyazov, Berdymukhammedov has instituted a system of political patronage—based largely on kinship—that could prove to be his undoing.
While Berdymukhammedov and his extended family reap the spoils of corruption, Turkmenistan’s citizens continue to live with high levels of poverty and unemployment, as well as the denial of basic human rights. This situation draws immediate parallels with Kyrgyzstan and raises the question: will the recent events in that country open a door for effecting change in Turkmenistan?
Prominent Turkmen dissident Mr. Farid Tuhbatullin reflected on Turkmenistan’s past and present, and considered the prospects for its future. Ms. Janice Helwig provided comments.
About the Speakers
Mr. Farid Tuhbatullin, chairman of Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, an underground activist network that gathers independent and reliable information on the current state of human rights in Turkmenistan. He is also the editor of the website “Chronicles of Turkmenistan,” which disseminates the findings of the network to the international community. Imprisoned in 2002 following a crackdown on opposition and civil society leaders, Mr. Tuhbatullin was forced upon his release to flee Turkmenistan for exile in Vienna, Austria, where he currently directs the operations of his network and website.
The author of numerous reports commissioned by multilateral organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council, he is a leading figure in bringing the world’s attention to human rights violations in Turkmenistan. During his fellowship, Mr. Tuhbatullin is examining how exiled activists can influence the politics of closed regimes, using the experience of Turkmenistan as his primary case study.
Ms. Janice Helwig is a policy advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission.