Staunton, June 30 – The harsh authoritarian regime of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has erected a façade of stability and well-being that conceals the extent to which his policies have created “favorable conditions” for the appearance of radical Islamist groups, according to a former Ashgabat security officer.
The anonymous officer’s comments to a Russian news agency come following two Russian television reports about the capture of militants from Turkmenistan fighting in Syria, the denial of those reports by Turkmenistan’s foreign ministry, and a Youtube video that appears to confirm the Russian coverage.
A week ago, two Russian television channels, Rossiya-1 and Rossiya-24, reported that several citizens of Turkmenistan had been fighting alongside Al-Qaeda forces in Syria, reports that the Turkmenistan foreign ministry promptly denied and said threatened to harm good relations between Moscow and Ashgabat (regnum.ru/news/polit/1677935.html).
That might have been the end of this story had it not been for the subsequent appearance of a Youtube video showing an interview with one of the fighters in Syria who identified himself as the leader of a group of militants from Turkmenistan and said they wanted to establish an Islamist state in their homeland (youtube.com/watch?v=Y1Z629KG4aA&feature=youtu.be).
The Regnum.ru agency said “in the opinion of experts,” this exchange highlights “not only the low level of professionalism of employees of the Turkmen ministry of foreign affairs but also the complete absence of such professionalism” in that country’s ministry of national security.”
According to the Russian agency, despite that ministry’s oppression of “civic activists, independent journalists and representatives of religious minorities,” Turkmenistan’s main national security agency “has turned out to be hopeless regarding those who are creating a real threat to the security of the country.”
Ashgabat’s superficial control of the country’s official mosques, which “begin and end” their services not with verses from the Koran but citations from the works of the country’s president, has, the anonymous former Turkmenistan security officer said, has “created a milieu in which the representatives of true Islam are appearing.”
Moreover, Regnum.ru continues, Ashgabat often has appeared oblivious to the impact of efforts by radical Islamists from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, although it did close the Turkmen-Turkish schools two years ago, albeit “after the train had already left the station” and “thousands of young people” had been recruited by the radicals.
That may be changing. Regnum.ru reports that “at the last closed session of the Security Council [of Turkmenistan], the head of the Ministry of National Security received directives from Supreme Commander Berdymuhamedov to identify and hold responsible all advocates of true Islam and by their actions bringing shame on the nation in the eyes of the world.”
Moreover, the Russian news agency says “there is also unofficial information concerning the creation of a special group” within that ministry to investigate the contacts of those who went to Turkey and did not return home” after the time set by their visas. “Another special group,” it says, “has begun following and analyzing commentaries appearing on the pages of religious Internet sites.”