This week, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry hosted the 11th Conference of the Central Asia Border Security Initiative (CABSI), which focusses on regional cooperation in border management and security and is organized by the CABSI’s secretariat, the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior, in close cooperation with the European Commission. Patricia Flor, the EU’s Special Representative for Central Asia, from the conference in Ashgabat that convened representatives of international and regional organizations, as well as from the UN, EU, and local law enforcement and border and migration services from the region, said that the EU will continue providing support to the countries of Central Asia for border security to address the common challenges that include illegal migration and illegal border crossing, drug trafficking, and corruption.
In Warsaw, on October 2, activists from the Civic Solidarity Platform and the Virginia-based Crude Accountability launched the campaign, “Prove They Are Alive: The Disappeared in the Turkmen Prisons,” before an OSCE human rights conference. The campaign raises awareness of the wave of arrests that occurred following events on November 25, 2002, when a lorry blocked the then-President Saparmurat Niyazov's procession in Ashgabat and unidentified people opened fire. Niyazov survived the attack and promptly rounded up opposition leaders and critics, including former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, who was reportedly planning to run for president. They were then accused of conspiracy, forced to confess during a show trial, and handed long prison sentences. The New York Times characterized the episode as “the most chilling public witch hunt since Stalin.” Families of those imprisoned have been unable to obtain information about the fate of their relatives for over a decade, despite numerous requests. The editor-in-chief of the oppositional Gundogar.org website, Bayram Shikhmuradov, the son Boris Shikhmuradov, helped to organize the “Prove They Are Alive” initiative. The head of the US delegation at the meeting, Ambassador Robert Bradtke, said that the US government supports this campaign.
In August, for the first time since the country’s independence over two decades ago, the Government of Turkmenistan has entrusted a local construction firm with a major infrastructure-development project. The shift follows widespread complaints about arrears from Turkish companies that have traditionally dominated construction in the country. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov told his cabinet last week that he wants private Turkmen companies to build homes and social facilities at their own expense and then sell them to citizens. It is unclear who would buy the social facilities.
Since the death of his predecessor in 2007, Berdymukhamedov has taken some steps to dismantle the personality cult of past-dictator Niyazov; however, it has only been to create a new one surrounding himself. He replaced the Niyazov’s near-ubiquitous likenesses with his own; he virtually eliminated the Rukhnama, Niyazov’s “book of the spirit” which was pervasive in the country’s educational system, but penned several of his own volumes; he removed the former dictator’s statues. Berdymukhamedov will now have a statue of his horse, the world champion Akhal-teke, erected and displayed.