WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 455, 10 July, 2006
DISGRACED TURKMEN REGIONAL CHIEF DIES IN JAIL Once-favoured provincial
governor follows the well-worn path of dismissal and imprisonment, and ends up
dead in jail. By IWPR staff in London
PARTY'S OVER FOR KAZAK PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER The head of states decides he only
wants one political force in town, and he should be in charge of it. By Gaziza
Baituova in Taraz
KYRGYZ LAND GRAB TARGETS OUTSPOKEN POLITICIAN Squatters take over land
belonging to a local leader who led anti-government protests. By Jalil Saparov
in Jalalabad and Astra Sadybakasova in Bishkek
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DISGRACED TURKMEN REGIONAL CHIEF DIES IN JAIL
Once-favoured provincial governor follows the well-worn path of dismissal and
imprisonment, and ends up dead in jail.
By IWPR staff in London
Even by Turkmen standards, the fall from grace of a favoured regional chief was
spectacular and tragic.
For more than a decade, Geday Ahmedov remained governor of the eastern region
of Lebap (formerly known as Charjou) while other regional leaders came and went.
Last week, a car drew up at Ahmedov's family home, and security service
officers produced his body from the boot.
The funeral was swift and unpublicised, according to the Vienna-based
Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights. Most people who had known Ahmedov
stayed away for fear of being persecuted by the secret servicemen who remained
on hand to oversee proceedings.
Ahmedov, 66, died in jail, apparently after suffering a heart attack, although
it is unlikely the details will come to light.
His career ended in February with a 17-year sentence for corruption, nepotism
and abuse of power.
Lebap is an important centre of both agriculture and industry, centred on
cotton and grain production and processing, so Ahmedov's long tenure as
governor shows how much he was valued by President Saparmurad Niazov, who
styles himself Turkmenbashi.
Ahmedov was one of only a handful of officials honoured with title of Hero of
Turkmenistan, the top award given by the president.
Former members of staff in the regional government say Lebap did achieve a lot
over the ten years, increasing industrial output and discovering new gas
The president apparently had a warm relationship with his favourite governor,
citing him as a model when admonishing other regional chiefs, and frequently
visiting him to celebrate his birthday and other family events. He showered
Ahmedov with gifts - a four-wheel-drive vehicle here, a tractor for his private
But although by all accounts he was a competent manager, Ahmedov was to be
brought down by the corruption that dogs the entire state system in
Turkmenistan. People who held posts under his rule tell stories of kickbacks
and cash payments for securing senior-level jobs.
"Unlimited power, authoritarianism and corruption flourished. Harvest figures
were inflated. Why not? The president wasn't going to check them. What was
important was to report that everything was OK. The Hero of Turkmenistan was on
a special list," said a former official with the provincial government.
One former factory director in Turkmenabat, the regional centre, said he was
appointed by the minister for light industry and succeeded in turning the
failing plant round, increasing production and paying his workers on time - a
rare achievement in modern Turkmenistan. "Suddenly an order was issued for my
dismissal," he said, adding that he found out that another manager had paid a
5,000 US dollar bribe to get his job.
However, sources close to Ahmedov's administration reported that all this came
to an end when whispers reached Turkmenbashi that the governor was secretly
building himself a house on the other side of the border, in the Bukhara region
of Uzbekistan. The president is believed to have suspected that Ahmedov was
securing himself a bolthole.
A succession of ministers and ambassadors have fled over the years Turkmenbashi
has been in power. But if Ahmedov suspected his number was up, he chose the
wrong country. Relations with Uzbekistan have remained poor ever since
Turkmenbashi accused the neighbouring government of playing a part in an
assassination attempt against him in November
Ahmedov was demoted to the rank of district government chief and was moved away
from his power base to the central Ahal region in October last year. He was
subsequently arrested, charged and imprisoned.
The corruption charges brought against him were almost the standard package
used to destroy the careers of a succession of Turkmen government officials, in
a cycle of rapid promotion followed by absolute disgrace that has accelerated
over the last year.
If the charges of massive theft from the state to fund high living are accurate
- and the heavily politicised and staged nature of trials means the facts are
hard to discern in such cases - the question always remains why the president
and his team missed the warning signs for so long before descending in
righteous anger on the official concerned.
A political analyst in Turkmenistan said if rumours that Ahmedov was preparing
a quick exit to Uzbekistan are true, it would hardly be surprising, since these
days it is a question of not if, but when dismissal and prosecution will come -
even for Turkmenbashi's most trusted allies.
"It's getting scary to work," said an official in the southeastern Mary
regional administration. "The repressions are now expanding to include
middle-ranking officials in regional administrations. If orders are issued to
find 'enemies of the people', like in 1937 [Stalinist purges], then they'll
find any excuse to put you in prison."
Over the past year, a string of senior officials have been disgraced and
jailed, mostly on similar charges of corruption. Last summer saw the removal of
Rejep Saparov, the head of Turkmenbashi's administrative office and a long-time
ally of the president; Yolly Kurbanmuradov, the deputy prime minister
responsible for oil and gas; the oil and gas minister Saparmamed Valiev; and
Ilyas Charyev, head of the state-owned oil and gas producer Turkmenneftegaz.
In April 2006, chief prosecutor Kurbanbibi Atajanova - whose office oversaw the
prosecutions of the above ministers - was herself charged with a string of
crimes. In May, the minister of the textile industry, Dortguly Aidogdiev, was
sacked in the now traditional style, with Turkmenbashi reading out a list of
his alleged offences at a cabinet meeting.
Regional leaders are also trapped by another legacy of Stalinism, whereby they
have to deliver on impossible economic targets. If they report failure, they
will be sacked, so there is a strong incentive to manufacture positive data and
send it to the government.
"The system itself does not allow one to work honestly. To be able to carry out
orders, you have to resort to breaking the law," said the official in Mary.
Turkmenbashi may be engaged in a genuine attempt to root out corruption,
although many believe the campaign is simply designed to instil fear in
officials and tell the public they, not the president, are responsible for
But analysts in Turkmenistan say the problem facing the president is that as he
removes corrupt but still reasonably effective leaders, he has to replace them
with new figures who are inexperienced, incompetent - and just as corrupt.
PARTY'S OVER FOR KAZAK PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER
The head of states decides he only wants one political force in town, and he
should be in charge of it.
By Gaziza Baituova in Taraz
When the president's daughter Dariga Nazarbaeva set up a new political party in
Kazakstan nearly three years ago, critics dismissed it as merely a ploy to
create the appearance of pluralism in Kazakstan. However, the Asar party went
on to make tentative attempts to take a semi-independent line - and that seems
to have spelled its rapid demise.
On July 4, the major pro-government party Otan held a congress, presided over
by party leader and Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev, at which the merger
with Asar was sealed. Dariga's party had met the previous day and agreed the
President Nazarbaev was elected the head of new, bigger Otan, with Dariga
joining Otan officials Bakhtyjan Jumagulov and Alexander Pavlov as deputy
For some, the fact that there is now just one big party of power instead of two
makes little real difference, but other analysts see the disappearance of Asar
as a sign that President Nazarbaev has grown tired of his daughter's experiment
with politics, and will not tolerate a grouping that looks like it could
develop into an alternative force.
At the Otan meeting, Nazarbaev suggested that there were no substantial
differences between the two groups. "I've often been asked by many people, if
Otan and Asar have the same positions and both support the president's
policies, which of them should we vote for?
"I think that this question has now been eliminated."
In public, Dariga Nazarbaeva took the demolition of her party with good grace.
On June 19, she told Asar members of a proposal to unite all pro-presidential
parties into a powerful new force "with which no other party will be able to
compete in the next 50 years".
Dosym Satpaev, director of the Risk Assessment Group, a Kazakstan-based think
tank, is certain the merger was planned by the president alone, and that
neither his daughter nor Otan leaders had much of a say in the matter.
Asar was developing into more than a mere satellite of the regime, and it is
unclear why Dariga Nazarbaeva agreed to its dissolution, even to make way for
some new super-party.
"It was Asar which joined the Otan party, not the other way around.... Dariga
Nazarbaeva still had to pretend she completely supported this idea," said
Satpaev. "It's possible that she still hopes she'll be able to acquire more
power than the other deputy heads of the new party."
One reason may be that the party failed to live up to its electoral hopes. At
the party's first conference in January 2004, Dariga predicted it would win
half the 77 seats in the lower house of parliament, but in the general election
in September that year, Asar came third after Otan and the opposition Ak Zhol
party, and ended up with just four seats in the legislature.
But according to political analyst Gennady Sysoev, "Asar's main crime was not
that it achieved a poor political showing, but rather the reverse - that the
'supreme judge' believed it harboured excessively ambitious plans with
aspirations to reach the very top."
Asar was outspoken about government plans to introduce strict legislation
allowing the authorities to muzzle any media organisation at will. In March
2005, Dariga said the draft law "does not match the legislation of any
democratic nation or adhere to any international standards". The bill finally
went before parliament in May 2006.
In recent years, there have been many suggestions that Nazarbaev was grooming
his daughter to succeed him, so Asar was regarded as a political vehicle that
would make this option possible. As late as last summer, some analysts were
still predicting there was a chance such a succession would be engineered in
the December election - but it never happened.
Since the election, another trend has been evident in which President Nazarbaev
is reasserting centralised control over key economic assets as well as
political forces. In addition, says Satpaev, "The process can also be observed
in the information sector, where control over certain media is being increased,
and at the same time reducing the influence of the financial and industrial
groups which own these media outlets. This applies Dariga Nazarbaeva's group."
Apart from pushing ahead with the unpopular media law, Culture and Information
Minister Ermukhambet Ertysbaev has threatened to withdraw the license of the
Commercial Television of Kazakstan, KTK, channel, and announced that the
government plans to take control over the semi-privatised Khabar television
channel. Dariga Nazarbaeva is reported to have interests in both TV stations.
Winding up Asar is part of the same process, only in the field of politics,
Amirjan Kosanov, head of the opposition Movement for a Fair Kazakstan, shares
this view. "I think this merger was probably caused by concern among the
president's inner circle about the increased activity of certain financial and
industrial groups, especially Dariga Nazarbaeva's group."
Nazarbaev's decision to overhaul the party system also reflects what appears to
be a shifting view of how his political power-base should be organised.
Over the years he has been in power as president of an independent Kazakstan,
Nazarbaev has encouraged a succession of parties to establish themselves as the
leading political force, only to allow them to crumble and replace them with a
Otan has survived since 1999, but does not really act as a ruling party, since
policy comes from Nazarbaev's office and the government. This suggests he does
not see a strong central party as essential to his rule.
The latest plan, as Dariga suggested, is to join up all the loyalist parties
into one big one.
Apart from the now-defunct Asar, there are a number of smaller parties which
look like likely candidates to dissolve into a new super-party -Rukhaniyat, and
Democratic, Civil and Agrarian Parties. All of them, including Asar, formed a
coalition with Otan to back Nazarbaev's bid for re-election, which he sailed
through last December with no real opposition.
With Otan's half a million registered members and Asar's 200,000, a complete
merger including smaller groups could create a body of one million supporters.
If that is the intention, it is hard to see how the lesser parties can resist
the gravitational pull.
"Some will simply cease to exist. Those that are left will lose any
independence," said Sabit Jusupov, of the Kazakstan Institute for Socioeconomic
Information and Forecasting. "So in this situation, they have just two options
to go cap in hand to the united organisation, or to try to form a distinct
centre of attraction themselves, which is much more difficult because it would
take efforts and funds."
Political analyst Sysoev said such a powerful party would "spare the head of
state a lot of the anxieties he's had in recent years, [so] he could happily
rule over Kazakstan for several more terms".
However, it is also possible a large monolithic organisation will begin
fracturing along the lines of the various interest groups it represents.
"Any attempt to create a monster party representing the vast majority of the
electorate is doomed, because this monster will be motley in composition and
riven with internal conflicts," said Pyotr Svoik, who heads the non-government
Almaty Public Anti-Monopoly Commission.
Svoik believes Kazakstan needs multiple parties not least because society
itself is still "unformed, loose, diverse and dissimilar".
Where do these changes within the pro-presidential groups leave the political
Nazarbaev's administration has successfully marginalised opposition parties by
denying them political power and access to media, and in some cases by banning
Saken Salimov, an independent analyst, said the opposition are never visible in
the media as things stand, and "once the pro-government parties have fully
merged, the opposition will have almost no chance left to be heard".
Satpaev is slightly less pessimistic, since he thinks the new Otan is likely to
undergo convulsions even before other parties join it.
"The opposition has gained a more serious and dangerous opponent in the form of
the new united party. This will further weaken their position," he said. "But
the opposition may nurture some hope that serious conflicts and disagreements
may arise between Dariga and the other deputy leaders in the new united
Gaziza Baituova is an IWPR contributor in Taraz.
KYRGYZ LAND GRAB TARGETS OUTSPOKEN POLITICIAN
Squatters take over land belonging to a local leader who led anti-government
By Jalil Saparov in Jalalabad and Astra Sadybakasova in Bishkek
A new squatter movement in Kyrgyzstan's southern region of Jalalabad has voiced
longstanding concerns about poverty and inequality. Such land seizures have
become common in the continuing turmoil since the March revolution brought in a
new government last year, but in this case the squatters have targeted only
property belonging to one man - prominent community leader Kadyrjan Batyrov.
Batyrov insists the land grab is far from the spontaneous action it has been
portrayed as, and has instead been engineered by officials angered by his
On May 27, Batyrov led a demonstration by about 700 people in central Jalalabad
to complain that southern Kyrgyzstan's large ethnic Uzbek minority is being
deprived of proper political representation and language rights. The protesters
also voiced concern that the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev has
failed to deliver on the promises it made to the revolutionaries - Batyrov
among them - who brought it to power last year.
Two days later, a group of 30 women began moving into a student dormitory
belonging to the Batyrov University of People's Friendship, an educational
institution set up by Batyrov, a member of parliament who also heads the Uzbek
National Cultural Centre of Jalalabad, a non-government community organisation.
With their children, the women have occupied the 52 rooms in hostel ever since,
even though the building is unfinished and has few doors or windows.
Then on July 3, some 300 people took control of 33 hectares of land and five
buildings belonging to a farm said to be owned by Batyrov.
Their leader Manas Bektemirov told IWPR that the squatters planned to
distribute the land among 3,500 of Jalalabad's poorest people, and convert the
farm buildings into a school, kindergarten and mosque for their use.
"We have already urged Batyrov to seek a peaceful resolution on the issues
concerning this land, but he hasn't come to talk to us," said Bektemirov.
Jalalabad resident Zair Murzakarimov said this was direct action to achieve
what Batyrov should have done anyway as their elected member of parliament.
"We elected Batyrov. There are many poor people among us, and he promised to
solve our social and housing problems when he became a deputy," said
Murzakarimov, a widower who lives with his six children in a one room at a city
market because they have no permanent home.
The squatters are a mixed group of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, and say no one instructed
them to seize the land.
"We came to get plots of land by ourselves, in order to build a house for the
children," said Kumushkan Joldosheva, a Kyrgyz woman who sells bread at the
Matluba Saipova, an Uzbek, said, "Land that's been seized by rich people should
be given to the poor, and the authorities could do this. It isn't right if some
people have many hectares and others can't even rent a plot of land."
Jalalabad mayor Duishenaly Mamasaliev said the squatters had acted illegally.
"Seizing other's property is unacceptable," he said at a meeting to discuss the
Land seizures by poor, often rural people have been a recurring feature in
Kyrgyzstan. On July 4, a week-long confrontation between police and squatters
in the centre of the capital Bishkek ended when 24 people were detained for
breach of the peace. They were released shortly afterwards.
"The people see everything - some people get everything easily, while others
wait for years but get nothing in return for their patience," said Mahmadjan
Abdujabbarov, a well-known lawyer and human rights activist in Jalalabad.
"Squatting is a popular protest against the authorities and the rich. It's a
consequence of unjust privatisations and sell-offs of national assets. Batyrov
has fallen foul of this situation."
It is rare for a squatter movement to focus on just one individual. Batyrov
said the reason was that the whole thing was a set-up. He alleged that regional
government officials pointed people towards his properties - they would never
have known where they were otherwise.
"The criminals aren't being punished because the authorities are behind them,
and the leader of the squatters hasn't been arrested yet," he said. "The
authorities are employing a cheap way of putting pressure on me for the May 27
rally in Jalalabad."
The police seem reluctant to move on the matter. Interior Minister Murat
Sutalinov refused to intervene unless they were given proper authority.
"The Kyrgyz police will no longer evict people from properties seized by force
unless they have a court decision or a warrant from the prosecutor's office,"
Sutalinov told the Kyrgyz parliament on July 4, adding by way of explanation
that he did not want his men to have to fight women.
Jalil Saparov is an independent journalist in Jalalabad. Astra Sadybakasova is
a correspondent for the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty v Kyrgyzstane.
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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA No. 455