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Don't Believe Everything You Hear About Turkmenistan

Man of the Year
Man of the Year
Turkmenistan's government has made many claims over the years that were fantastic and impossible to verify independently.

Recently, just after December 5 local elections, Interfax cited Turkmen media as reporting that "experts" from the OSCE had determined "the electoral system in Turkmenistan operates in full conformity with the relevant international norms." No names were given for the OSCE "experts" who came to this conclusion.

Just days later, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contacted Jens Eschenbacher, spokesman for the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

"This is incorrect information," Eschenbacher said. "I don't know where it comes from. We have not made a public statement assessing the election in Turkmenistan."

Eschenbacher said the OSCE had a small team of experts in Turkmenistan, and that "the team will prepare a report that will be conveyed to the Turkmen authorities with an assessment." However, he added, "there will be no public report. There has been no public statement assessing the election and there will not be one."

Wow. Does that mean the report on Turkmen TV Altyn Asr about the International Monetary Fund praising "the steps being taken in [Turkmenistan's] credit and monetary, foreign exchange, financial, fiscal and budget sectors" as promoting "high economic growth" might not be true also? That report aired the same day media cited the OSCE experts.

If so, it would be a shame because I, and reportedly the IMF delegation, was impressed that Turkmenistan's "stable exchange rate, better access to hard currency, and more liberal trading regulations are key factors in building trust in the national currency and increasing the role of banks."

Fortunately for TV Altyn Asr, their program provided a name -- Veronica Bacalu, head of the IMF delegation. Using Ms. Bacalu's name, I was able to confirm on the IMF website that the story is true.

Then there is the claim from December 11 that I really hope is true. Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reported Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was given "the international title 'Man of the Year.'"

Don't stop reading just yet. There's more.

The next sentence clarifies that "the title of 'most distinguished state and political activist of 2010' was approved by the executive committee of the Institute of International Affairs and Economic Cooperation of Romania in August this year." The announcement of this award was timed to coincide with a Turkmen holiday – the anniversary of UN recognition of Turkmenistan as a neutral country -- which may explain why Berdymukhammedov had to wait until December to claim his prize.

I'm jealous. It's more than I received for Neutrality Day this year. But thank you, Turkmen government and media, for keeping me guessing, ever guessing, about what I can and cannot believe about Turkmenistan.

-- Bruce Pannier