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Turkmen student Omriuzak Omarkulyev (file photo)

Just six months ago, Omriuzak Omarkulyev was a successful university student in Turkey. Now he is in a Turkmen prison serving a long sentence.

A citizen of Turkmenistan, Omarkulyev had founded a "community of Turkmen students" in Turkey while he was studying at Osmaniye Korkut Ata University.

He was contacted in January by the Turkmen Embassy in Ankara and told that officials in Turkmenistan were impressed with his activism in Turkey and wanted to support his efforts at the university.

The embassy officials said they would like for him to visit Turkmenistan in February and meet with representatives from the Central Election Commission and even address parliament as a fine example of the country's youth.

Omarkulyev said believed he would be trained to serve as an observer for Turkmenistan's March 25 parliamentary elections and also asked to help get students to vote.

But he was not an observer at the closely controlled elections, he did not address parliament, he never got a chance to rally students to vote, and it looks like he will not be going back to his studies in Turkey anytime soon.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, discovered that Omarkulyev is in Turkmenistan's notorious Ovadan-Depe prison and he might be there a very long time.

Azatlyk was recently in contact with some of those close to Omarkulyev in Turkey who said that Omarkulyev is in Ovadan-Depe.

It is possible to trace some of the events leading up to Omarkulyev's incarceration. He was in contact with Azatlyk on January 21, appearing on Azatlyk's Turkmen Of The World program from Turkey, discussing his organization and the Turkmen Embassy's interest in his Turkmen student community.

In March, he told Azatlyk that he had returned to Turkmenistan on February 14 and taken part in a workshop on preparing for the February 21 elections and had a ticket for a return flight to Turkey on February 22.

"I should have left on the Ashgabat-Istanbul flight at 7:30 a.m., but officials from the migration service wouldn't let me on [the plane]," he said. "They said my passport was not valid."

Omarkulyev immediately went to the Turkmen migration service. They said there was nothing wrong with his passport and that he could leave the country.

He went to the Ashgabat airport every day until March 1 trying to board the flight to Istanbul but was turned away each time. When he tried again to fly on March 9, officials from the migration service told Omarkulyev he could not return to Turkey to continue his studies.

"My wife is there [in Turkey]. She is also in a complicated situation.... I don't know what the Committee for National Security plans to do with me," Omarkulyev said.

"I'd like to appeal to our respected president [Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and ask him to] let me return to my studies in Turkey. My wife is worried. She's waiting for me."

Incommunicado For Weeks

That was the last time Omarkulyev was in contact with Azatlyk.

Azatlyk had tried for weeks to contact him but did not know his whereabouts until some people close to him called them to say that he was in prison.

Azatlyk's attempts to contact Turkmenistan's embassy in Ankara to ask about Omarkulyev have been unsuccessful.

If Omarkulyev is indeed in Ovadan-Depe prison, it will be difficult to get information about his situation -- even to find out the charges against him.

The Prove They Are Alive campaign, a coalition of rights organizations, has documented 113 people who have "disappeared" after being taken into custody in Turkmenistan.

Turkmen authorities generally object to Azatlyk's work and people who have spoken to RFE/RL reporters or cooperated with the media outlet have often received visits from Turkmen security officials and blunt warnings about any future contacts.

The Turkmen Embassy contacted Omarkulyev before he spoke with Azatlyk, so it is not known if that is the reason he has been imprisoned.

Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova
Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova

Correspondent Soltan Achilova, a 69-year-old woman, has been physically and verbally assaulted several times, most recently on June 9.

Another correspondent, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, was released from prison on May 19 after serving nearly three years in prison for a narcotics conviction that human rights groups and the UN denounced as politically motivated.

In 2016, former correspondent Khudayberdy Allashov was arrested for three months before being given a three-year suspended sentence for reporting about the economic woes of Turkmen.

Achilova, Nepeskuliev, and Allashov worked for Azatlyk but Omarkulyev only gave a few interviews to RFE/RL.

Omarkulyev never said anything negative about Turkmenistan's government in his comments to Azatlyk, he only mentioned he was having problems returning to Turkey.

Turkmen authorities have been preventing people from leaving the country but authorities have not been arresting and imprisoning them for having plane tickets to go to other countries.

Why Turkmen officials chose to treat Omarkulyev in such a fashion is unclear, though it is obvious from Omarkulyev's comments that his activities at the Turkish university were being monitored.

Many consider the methods used to bring him back to Turkmenistan abhorrent.

RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Farruh Yusupov contributed to this report
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands were displaced during the ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. (file photo)

Seven prominent ethnic Uzbeks who fled Kyrgyzstan in the wake of violent clashes have called on new Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to revisit the investigations and consequences of the fighting that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.

The clashes -- between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks -- are now referred to euphemistically by most in Kyrgyzstan as the "June events."

They are a deep wound that has never healed, in part because people in Kyrgyzstan seem to avoid talking about them. Even Jeenbekov, who at the time was the acting governor of Osh Province, an epicenter of the violence, might prefer other topics.

But many unresolved issues remain, and this call from people who were once leaders in their communities is a reminder that the past cannot be left behind indefinitely.

Azimjon Askarov (file photo)
Azimjon Askarov (file photo)

The businessmen say a fresh review of the events of eight years ago, notably the case of ethnic Uzbek journalist and rights activist Azimjon Askarov, has also been called for by several international organizations (including the Committee To Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Amnesty International) and the UN Human Rights Committee.

The group asked that a "competent structure" be created, comprising representatives from various communities in Kyrgyzstan and the international community to revisit legal decisions made in the months that followed the June violence.

Kadyrjan Batyrov was one of the authors of the appeal. Batyrov was an entrepreneur from Jalal-Abad Province. He was the founder and owner of the People’s Friendship University in Jalal-Abad city. The university was heavily damaged during the violence. Authorities accused Batyrov of orchestrating the violence, which he denies. He fled the country. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have issued an international warrant for his arrest.

It will be interesting to see if the Kyrgyz president responds to the plea.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (file photo)
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (file photo)

His predecessor, Almazbek Atambaev, largely rejected international calls for new investigations. Some of the constitutional changes approved in Kyrgyzstan’s December 2016 referendum hinted at a right to disregard decisions of organizations such as the United Nations.

Atambaev, who was elected president in 2011, did not appear to want to reopen the wounds of June 2010.

There is probably no topic in Kyrgyzstan as polarizing as the June Events. Some feel justice has already been done; others feel they were and still are victims.

Many people have written about the causes and the consequences of the June Events, myself included.

The Uzbek community leaders timed the release of their appeal to coincide with the anniversary of the outbreak of the violence on June 10.

Jeenbekov was at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in China at the time, but the call from the Uzbek group will not have escaped his notice.

It’s an important issue and one that is likely to hang over every Kyrgyz president until it is brought into the open.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.



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