Staunton, April 15 – For most of the post-Soviet period, Turkmenistan has been one of the most stable countries in Central Asia, its stability purchased at the cost of a highly repressive regime and by Ashgabat’s insistence on neutrality in the conflicts swirling around it. But, according to one Central Asian analyst, its “period of relative stability is approaching its end.”
On the one hand, the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan means that despite its neutrality, Ashgabat now faces a real threat from the outside. (For a discussion of this, see centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1428475200). And on the other, there are mounting indications of growing discontent at home, discontent that may be linked with the outside challenges.
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has used money from gas sales to win some support and deployed his special services to suppress any opposition, Serdar Nurmyradov says, and he has benefited from his neutrality and the relative calm in the portion of Afghanistan adjoining his country (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1428943620).
But the gas money is running out, things are heating up even in that part of Afghanistan, and there are signs that anger about his authoritarian rule is increasing, the analyst says. Anti-government leaflets have begun to appear, and their contents suggest what is now agitating Turkmens about Berdimuhamedow’s regime.
One in the form of an open letter to the president said “We greet you in place of the New Year with new prices! Thanks to you, a million of our brothers are in slavery in Turkey, and our women are subjected to sexual exploitation. Despite the oil and gas reserves of the country, our men in their motherland are forced to work for a pittance under the yoke of the Chinese, the numbers of which on Turkmen lands grow with each year.”
The leaflets printed in both Turkmen and Russian said that the president “devotes his attention to the development of Ashgabat while other cities and regions of the country remain in ruins thus creating ever larger socio-economic problems.” But despite its “pompousness,” the city has been transformed by the regime into “’a ghost city’ populated by zombis.”
And the broadsides include calls for “overthrowing the regime and uniting with ‘brothers engaged in jihad’ against infidels abroad.”
Not surprisingly, the regime has cracked down hard, arresting some 20 people on suspicion of composing, printing and distributing the leaflets, which have now appeared in more parts of the country.
And there are concerns in Ashgabat that the Turkmen opposition in exile, one that remains extremely divided, may be getting its act together, now that the leaders of its three main branches, the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen Human Rights Initiative, and the United Democratic Opposition have met in Moscow with Russian human rights groups.
According to Nurmyradov, the situation in Turkmenistan has reached the point that increasing repression is only generating more anger and opposition and not intimidating the population as it has in the past. If he is right, then yet another country in Central Asia is about to become a real trouble spot.