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In Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov has the final say on everything, including appointments to -- and dismissals from -- government posts. Lately, it is his firings more than his hirings that have been at the center of attention.
This week, Construction Minister Amangeldy Rejepov became the latest government official to be fired for “serious shortcomings in his work." He had been in the position just over a month.
Rejepov was not the only "short-term" official to lose his job this month. On 12 August, Niyazov dismissed Saparmemed Valiev, a state minister and head of the state oil company Turkmenneft. Valiev had been at that post just over two months.
At a 12 August cabinet session, Niyazov expressed his displeasure with Valiev, whom he accused of corruption and pilfering oil wealth from the state. “According to the law, I should take away your freedom and take away your title of ‘Hero of Turkmenistan,’" Niyazov said. "But I won’t do this. Let an investigation decide. Have the prosecutor-general, the Interior Ministry, and National Security Ministry all complete this investigation within 90 days."
In the end, it took only several days for Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanova to announce the results of the investigation. “As of today [22 August], we have confiscated 21 houses belonging to Valiev and 20 foreign-made cars he had. We also seized personal funds totaling $9.5 million from eight safes he [Valiev] owned. We found an additional $1 million and 560 million manats and six illegally owned weapons.”
That same day Niyazov stripped Valiev of his honorary title and other state awards.
Niyazov also warned another “Hero of Turkmenistan,” Lebap District Governor Gedai Ahmedov, that he could be next: "Gedai Ahmedov is also a ‘Hero of Turkmenistan.’ When he started, he performed wonderfully in his office. But then his image started to be sullied," Niyazov said. "He gave positions to relatives. Before, the Arsary [a Turkmen tribe inhabiting Lebap District] worked in responsible positions, but then he removed them and put all his own people in. [Addressing Ahmedov:] You had better regain the confidence you once had or you will face the same fate as Valiev.”
Valiev took over Turkmenneft after his predecessor, Yolly Gurbanmuradov, was fired in late May. Gurbanmuradov is an old friend of Niyazov's, and prior to his dismissal, was one of the longest-serving officials left in the Turkmen government. Gurbanmuradov was sentenced to 25 years in jail at the end of July on charges of embezzling more than $100 million and cooperating with a foreign intelligence service.
Gone also is the chief of the presidential administration, Rejep Saparov. Saparov is also an old friend of President Niyazov and was a rival of Gurbanmuradov. Saparov was dismissed at the start of July.
On 27 July, Turkmen newspapers reported Saparov had pleaded guilty to taking bribes, embezzling state property, possessing illegal weapons and explosives, and abusing his office. Saparov was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Central-bank chief Shekersoltan Mukhammedova was dismissed at the end of May. Mukhammedova, who had served at her position since 2002, was fired for shortcomings in her work and charged with illegally approving loans totalling $188 million.
In early June it was Annagul Rejepova who lost her position as first deputy foreign minister and head of the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.
At the same time, State Minister Ilyas Charyyev, who was in charge of ensuring gasoline was available, was fined due to deficits in gasoline. Charyyev was charged later that month with wasting $99 million of state money.
Khudaiberdy Orazov is now an opposition figure in exile, but was once Turkmenistan’s central-bank chief. He said these latest dismissals were meant to silence people who know about Niyazov’s theft of state money. “Niyazov wants to eliminate people who know about his stealing, about his financial crimes," he said. "Whoever really knows Niyazov and knows about his crimes cannot remain free and will have to sit and die in jail. That’s my opinion.”
A former high-ranking official in the Turkmen government told RFE/RL under condition of anonymity that Niyazov sacked most of these officials because they possessed the necessary money to fund protests. The source said Niyazov was afraid of an event similar to the protest in Uzbekistan’s eastern city of Andijon in mid-May, when a large demonstration against government policies led to Uzbek troops firing on protesters, drawing international condemnation.
The dismissals, and subsequent jail sentences, of Gurbanmuradov and Saparov were unusual only in that both men were both seen as close to Niyazov and potential successors to the Turkmen presidency. But that very fact may have been the reason behind their rapid falls from grace.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting noted in a recent article that since Turkmenistan's independence in 1991, “there have been at least 120 dismissals of ministers, and 40 or more regional governors and mayors have been thrown out.”
The dismissals have become so common that people in Turkmenistan have a new joke about it. In the Soviet days, they say, people paid bribes to get ministerial posts. Now, they pay bribes to avoid getting ministerial posts.
(Roznazar Khoudaiberdiev and Guvanch Gueraev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)
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