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CAS: Turkmen President Fires Scores Of Officials

  • Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan's ruler, president Saparmurat Niyazov, has moved to dismiss hundreds of officials around the country for allegedly failing to meet economic production figures. At the same time, he's reintroducing restrictive genealogical tests for who can serve in those positions. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports that Niyazov may be ensuring that members of his Teke tribe retain their hold on the most powerful positions.

Prague, 4 Dec 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has fired hundreds of public-sector workers across the country for allegedly failing to meet production targets, particularly in agriculture.

At the same time, Niyazov has re-introduced measures from Soviet times to make public-sector employment contingent on passing a genealogical test to determine an applicant's tribal origin.

Under the new rules, Turkmenistan will now review family histories going back three generations. The requirement applies not only to potential government officials but also their spouses. Turkmen officials already impose a similar genealogical test for prospective university students.

Niyazov made public the dismissals during two weeks of travel across the country at the end of last month.

Niyazov's main complaint was the failure by many districts to meet production figures for cotton, one of the country's leading agricultural products.

A severe drought this year adversely affected agriculture in several Central Asian states.

Niyazov, however, rejected this as an excuse for not meeting government quotas. State television showed Niyazov telling dismissed agricultural officials that "water shortages, cold weather and so on" are no excuse for failing to meet harvest figures.

The dismissals in themselves were nothing new -- Niyazov has routinely fired officials for allegedly failing to complete assigned duties. But rarely has the scope and number of the firings reached this level.

The new replacements will face a more difficult task next year, as Niyazov is calling for even higher production targets. He told the people in Lebap what he expects:

"Each district chief must work night and day. We have the land, we have the water, so everything depends on the management. You must find time to improve."

It's not clear how the new rules on genealogy will affect the selection and composition of the new officials. Turkmenistan is divided into some 24 different tribes, usually based on regions.

Niyazov was quoted as saying that to fill the vacant positions, the country will now rely on what he called "the experience of our ancestors, who chose their leaders, military commanders and judges from among the worthiest compatriots with high moral standards."

Niyazov is a member of the dominant Teke tribe and is known to be sensitive to the tribal issue. He said last year that any Turkmen leader who follows him should not be from the country's second-largest tribe -- the Yomut, who inhabit western Turkmenistan.

The Teke tribe was reduced in importance during the early days of the Soviet Union when an effort was made to promote the lower segments of society. But following Turkmen independence in the 1990s, a backlash ensued and the Teke tribe resumed many of its traditional powers.

Beyond tribal differences, about nine percent of the population is ethnic Uzbek, seven percent ethnic Russian and another seven percent divided up between other Central Asian and Slavic peoples.