Turkmenistan's Ministry of Health in Ashgabat, July 2010
Turkmenistan's minister of health has been reprimanded by the president for "unsatisfactory performance," the opposition website gundogar.org reported, citing the presidential news service.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, himself a trained dentist and former health minister, issued a strict reprimand to Kurbanmamed Ilyasov, current minister of health and the medical industry, for "allowing shortcomings in compliance with labor discipline."
The dressing-down took place in real time, on one of the government video conferences that the Turkmen leader is increasingly using to control his subordinates across the country.
Lest you think the public rebuke might be related to Turkmenistan's actual poor health care system, as documented in reports such as the 2010 study by Doctors without Borders (which has since left the country in frustration with the bureaucracy) -- it wasn't about medicine.
Instead, Berdymukhamedov criticized his hapless health minister for failing to build yet another set of health facilities on time, and for falling behind the break-neck pace that the Turkmen dictator has set for constructing dazzling new state-of-the-art clinics.
The minister was warned that if he did not shape up immediately, he would be released from his duties.
Ilyasov was appointed as minister in April 2010, taking the place of Ata Serdarov, who was sent to serve as ambassador to Armenia. (He happens to be President Berdymukhamedov's cousin.) Previously, Ilyasov served as minister of tourism and sports.
This prompts us to ask: is there a doctor in the house?
In a recent post, I took a look at the interesting story behind the presence of NATO nuclear bombs at Turkey's Incirlik airbase and how they fit into Ankara's strategic and security calculations. Those interested in diving deeper into the question of Turkey's nuclear policy might want to take a look at a new report released today by the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul-based think tank. The takes a comprehensive look at Turkey's nuclear policy, from its current plans to start producing nuclear energy to its position on regional non-proliferation.
From the paper's executive summary of Turkey's non proliferation and nuclear diplomacy policies:
History has shown that states willing to commit resources and time can overcome the technical obstacles and successfully develop first generation nuclear weapons. However, most nuclear-capable states have chosen to remain non-nuclear. The decision to pursue nuclear weapons is rooted in technical capability combined with decision maker intent. At the moment, policy makers worry that an Iranian nuclear weapon will force its neighbors to explore the nuclear option. The oft-repeated argument claims that an Iranian nuclear weapon will lead to a regional arms race. Turkey, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are the countries most often cited as the countries most likely to develop indigenous nuclear capabilities to counter Iran.
While many countries in the world have been swept up in the growing Occupy movement, Turkey has remained Occupy-free. Until now, that is. As Hurriyet reports, a group of students at Istabul's Bogazici University have started their own Occupy-style sit in in order to protest rising prices and gentrification around their campus. The site of their occupation? A new Starbucks -- until recently a hair salon -- near the University. From Hurriyet's report:
For three days more than 50 students have been occupying a Boğaziçi University campus Starbucks to protest campus food prices. The occupation follows a student march protesting the same.
Students brought their own coffee, tea, sandwiches and even carpets to Starbucks. The staff at the coffee shop is still on duty and serving free coffee to customers, but not protesters, during the occupation.
“Our goal is to draw attention to the big picture, which is about our campus life. It is surrounded by expensive stores, and day by day we are turning into consumers,” Yıldız Tar, a student of the political sciences and international relations department, told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.
Students emphasized the low quality of university restaurants. “We feel obligated to go to fancy cafes, but it is not what we need. Starbucks is symbolic,” Tar said.
One strongman president, however, remained unsurprisingly silent. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov has always pooh-poohed the suggestion of any such union, practically since neighboring Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev floated the idea in 1994.
Now Karimov, however obliquely, has responded to Putin. Uzbekistan, he has made it clear, is going it alone. And it’s no surprise: The country’s ruling elite depends heavily on a tightly controlled economy, which allow them to profit from natural resources like cotton and gas.
Speaking on state television December 7 to mark Constitution Day, Karimov – who maintains chilly relations with all his neighbors – said he saw no need for “integration processes.” Groups that promote them are designed to take away Uzbekistan’s hard-earned sovereignty and put the country in Moscow’s yoke, he implied. Ironically, given his chilling human rights record, he deplored the Soviet Union’s past repressions.
From his speech (translated and published by BBC Monitoring):
Some people have no sense of irony. How can you whitewash a corrupt autocracy’s dodgy credentials, while passing yourself off as a news operation, and then complain you got cheated, alleging corruption by that country’s officials?
But that’s exactly what the man behind Central Asia Newswire – until recently, a slick, Washington D.C.-based, pro-Kazakhstan “news service” – seems to be doing through his new website.
Citing no one by name but its owner, Thomas Cromwell, the website, Universal Newswires (which until August, was called Central Asia Newswire), writes that, early this year, Cromwell’s lucrative spin contract with the Kazakh government got hijacked by his former partner, who abandoned him to start a new venture in Cyprus. The editorialized screed, bearing the byline “Staff Report,” implies that the ex-partner was able to do so through kickbacks to a high-level Kazakh government figure.
Besides prompting the obvious question – “What did you expect?” – the lurid tale adds a little more dirt to the growing pile of reports about Kazakhstan’s adventures in international PR. From the Universal Newswires “staff report”:
Areas of concern included the negative consequences of the policy of “Turkmenisation” which resulted in discrimination against minorities, the strong negative traditional practices discriminating against women, high levels of unemployment, the absence of independent unions, the lack of information on the extent of human trafficking, child marriages, the forced relocation of human rights activists, and widespread hospital closures. The Committee recommended that the State party address discrimination against minorities and women, enhance access to employment, criminalize domestic violence, uphold the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution, and cease the practice of censorship of electronic communication and blocking of internet.
What a contrast with the the UN's web site in Ashgabat, where the conclusions of this particular UN treaty body's review -- like others before it -- are simply not published on its site.
Instead, there are only positive and upbeat stories like this one about the granting of Turkmen nationality to 3,000 stateless people.
The former British defense secretary Geoff Hoon, now chief executive for the joint British-Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland , received an audience with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on December 1, the government daily Neitral'niy Turkmenistan reported, citing the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH).
TDH quoted Hoon as saying that Turkmenistan had earned a reputation in international business circles as "a solid and reliable partner." Apparently he hasn't spoken to Russia's MTS, kicked out of Turkmenistan last year.
Like many other pilgrims beating a path to Berdymukhamedov's palace door, Hoon "expressed sincere admiration for the contemporary look of the white marbled Turkmen capital which has now become one of the most beautiful cities of the world," said TDH.
Hoon pitched some unspecified projects, and the Turkmen leader listened "with interest" and said they deserved "attentive, detailed study." He said that Turkmenistan intends to expand and modernize its aviation.
The former British defense secretary moved to the leadership position at AgustaWestland last May.
Hoon, who was defense secretary from 1999 to 2005, was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party in disgrace in 2010 after being secretly filmed by the television show Dispatches offering his consultancy services for £3,000 a day, the military news site defencemanagement.com reports.
So while questions can be asked about the gullibility of human rights activists and the perfidy of exile political operatives as the semi-official uzmetronom.com is doing today, and as Inside the Cocoon has noted, what’s more likely is that the story is concocted by Uzbek intelligence to discredit everything but itself.
When I first saw Elena Urlaeva's story of the tragic suicide of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, a young Uzbek student, on the Google group Human Rights in Central Asia, I was immediately struck by a tell-tale feature that has been a hallmark of stories involving exiled opposition movements and the secret police who try to infiltrate them since the Soviet era.
With all revolution-chasers focused on Russia's post-election turmoil, the prospects of a mini-revolution in the neighboring breakaway region of South Ossetia, a Russian protectorate, have gotten little international spotlight. But the enclave that Moscow vowed to love and cherish as a sovereign state after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia is in trouble and things may still get ugly.
Faced with calls to step down, the de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, has looked around his cabinet for possible scapegoats and found some. On December 7, he fired several high-ranking officials, including the de facto minister of education and the mayor of the capital, Tskhinvali, as an apparent sop to the protesters. More heads will roll soon, he claimed.
Under the initially reported scenario, Abdujalilova returned in November to her native Andijan Province on a visit home from studying abroad in Germany, after which she was picked up the police.
Perplexed by what might have caused security services to single out Abdujalilova, some speculated that she may have come to the attention of authorities through her Facebook account, which identified her as a supporter of the People's Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). The movement was formed in May from a number of foreign-based Uzbek political and rights organizations and has unambiguously stated its goal as being the downfall of President Islam Karimov's regime.