The head of Turkmenistan’s presidential administration, Shamukhammet Durdylyev, and officials at the Ashgabat mayor’s office are probably very nervous these days. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov reprimanded them at a cabinet session on April 15. A presidential reprimand is the vocational equivalent of a death sentence in Turkmenistan in the best of times, and these are far from the best of times.
Turkmenistan, which mainly exports natural gas, is experiencing difficult economic times as are all the countries in Central Asia. Added to that are concerns about increased fighting just over the border in Afghanistan, something the Turkmen government has been very reluctant to address publicly.
Someone needs to take the blame for these mounting problems, but in Turkmenistan the president is not only all-powerful, he is infallible. It is never the fault of the top man. So it’s been open season on officials this year, more so than ever before.
The illustrious Dr. Luca Anceschi and I were going back and forth on Twitter about these dismissals not long ago and we agreed to keep track of who and how many officials were being sacked. So Dr. Anceschi, to use a poker term, “I’ll open.”
Palvan Taganov had been the deputy prime minister in charge of the presidential apparatus and the cabinet of ministers since September 2013. Berdymukhammedov sacked Taganov on February 5 this year, telling the fallen official, “Work discipline has weakened at the ministries and departments under your supervision. Cases of bribe-taking have been observed among top level officials, especially in the structures of the Ministry of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations.”
And since public humiliation has long been part of dismissals in Turkmenistan, Berdymukhammedov added, “You can get out right now.”
Taganov was reportedly arrested a few days later. His replacement was Durdylyev, the reprimanded official at the start of this article.
And those top level officials in the Ministry of Trade and Foreign Relations?
Deputy Minister of Trade and Foreign Relations Resulmyrat Meredov was fired on February 2, before Taganov. Minister of Trade and Foreign Relations Bayar Abaev was fired on April 8 along with Economy and Development Minister Yoldosh Sheripov, and the head of the tax agency Shatlyk Khummedov. Strangely, Berdymukhammedov then said the economy had done well in the first quarter of 2016.
On March 2, Minister of National Security Guychgeldi Khojaberdiev asked to be excused from his position for health reasons, though there were already rumors he was about to be dismissed after Berdymukhammedov criticized his work in early January. He had only been in the position since October 2015, after serving as head of Berdymukhammedov's personal security service. Berdymukhammedov agreed to Khojaberdiev’s request, then dismissed Border Guard Service chief General Myrat Islamov, and reprimanded deputy Interior Minister Yazdurdy Soyegov and chairman of the State Migration Service Meylis Nobatov.
In early January, Berdymukhammedov sacked Labor and Social Protection Minister Bekmyrat Shamyradov and relieved Minister of Industry Saparmurat Orazmyradov in connection with the latter’s transfer to another [unnamed] post. During that same round of dismissals, Oil and Gas Minister Muhammetnur Halylev was also relieved of his post and the governor of Lebap Province was fired.
Justice Minister Begmyrat Muhamedov was reprimanded in mid-January but has not been sacked yet.
Among other officials who have been fired this year are head of the state statistics agency Akmyrat Mammedov (March), Deputy Prime Minister for Cultural Affairs Maysa Yazmukhammedova (April), Ashgabat Deputy Mayor G. Garaev (April), the Ashgabat police chief (February), and 12 district heads (January).
Among those with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads are Minister of Community Services Kakageldi Gurbanov, Ashgabat Mayor Myratniyaz Abilov, and the Ashgabat prosecutor-general -- all reprimanded in February -- and the head of the counternarcotics agency, the head of state TV, radio and cinematography, and the head of the state certification agency -- all reprimanded in January.
And those are only the higher-ranking officials. Hundreds of other employees, maybe more, of ministries and state agencies and services have been fired also.
And this all happened in the first 110 days of this year. There are more than 250 days left.