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Turkmenistan: Turkmenbashi Strikes Back

  • Bruce Pannier

The Turkmen government has been coming under increasing pressure over its investigation of the 25 November assassination attempt on the Turkmen president. In the past few days, President Saparmurat Niyazov has launched something of a counterattack, sending his foreign minister to Vienna to head off a possible inquiry by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and ordering his prosecutor-general to quickly publish a book detailing the investigation into the attack, complete with suspects' confessions.

Prague, 24 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Turkmen government has come under pressure from several organizations and the U.S. government over its handling of the investigation into the reported assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 November. So far, more than 30 people have been given lengthy sentences by Turkmen courts, including at least three life sentences amid reports of torture and coerced confessions. There are still at least 30 people awaiting trial.

Niyazov took the offensive this week, ordering his prosecutor-general to publish a book called "Traitors to the Homeland" detailing the alleged plot against Niyazov and listing alleged conspirators. Niyazov also sent his foreign minister to Vienna to convince the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that there is no need to send a special mission to Turkmenistan, an OSCE member, to investigate charges of mass arrests, torture, and bias against suspects in the courtroom.

The Turkmen opposition website Gundogar reported that Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov arrived in Vienna under instructions not to speak with the press.

Niyazov announced the move on 22 January: "I sent the foreign minister today to Vienna, to the OSCE, to take along with him all the cassettes and to show them there."

Meredov is reportedly carrying videotapes of the trials to date, as well as confessions and investigations at the scene of the crime.

Niyazov's reasons for sending Meredov to Vienna likely had to do with comments made last week by Freimut Duve, the media-freedom representative for the OSCE. Duve was speaking at the OSCE Permanent Council, the organization's main decision-making body, and sharply criticized the way the media in Turkmenistan are reporting on the trials. "You present those you want to get rid of on TV as the accused ones. Of course, these people have been tortured before, so they say that they have done this and this. Everything is staged like a theater play," Duve said.

Duve also gave his assessment of the way the Turkmen government is running the country. "We are dealing with a completely totalitarian system. We are not only dealing with a dictatorship. That's to say we have exactly the same development as we had with [Josef] Stalin, and in a way with [Adolf] Hitler. It means you have to identify one [common] enemy, the foreign blood, the non-Turkmen blood. That's why [Niyazov] has already a lot of enemies within the country. He speaks of 'diluted blood.' Secondly, you have to get rid of the 'traitors' in the upper levels of power. Stalin did the same," Duve said.

Duve had called for sending a special rapporteur to Turkmenistan to find out the grounds for the charges and to determine whether this whole incident could have been staged.

That, apparently, is not what Niyazov wants. He has therefore sent Meredov to try to convince the OSCE there is no need to carry out Duve's recommendations.

Ordering Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova to publish a book on the matter would then seem to be just another step in the attempt to convince Turkmenistan's critics that the assassination attempt was real and the investigation and courtroom proceedings that followed were impartial.

Niyazov was quoted as saying yesterday, "call this book 'Traitors to the Homeland,' and let it be passed down from generation to generation."

All this may not be enough. The OSCE is not the only group to criticize Turkmenistan for its actions in the wake of the failed assassination attempt. Pressure has also come from the U.S. government, numerous human rights organizations, and the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which last week released a 40-page report comparing Niyazov to Iraq's Saddam Hussein and calling Turkmenistan "an increasingly dysfunctional state."

(Naz Nazar of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)

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