Staunton, January 28 – When an entire country becomes a prison as Stalin’s Soviet Union did and as Berdymukhamedov’s Turkmenistan has more recently, it is sometimes the case that the actual penal institutions are where the problems of such systems first surface and the continuation of such regimes is called into question.
The revolts in the GULAG at the end of Stalin’s times gave a powerful impulse for change in the USSR after the dictator’s death in 1953. And consequently, the question arises whether problems in the prison system of Turkmenistan may point to change there, especially given reports that Ashgabat siloviki are getting nervous about the future.
There has been a drumbeat of stories about problems in the prisons of Turkmenistan over the last several years, some of it connected with the mass incarceration of Islamist groups but much with the brutality of the system itself that fuses crime and ideology together (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/mass-incarceration-of-islamists-in.html).
Now, new reports suggest, the situation is growing worse. According to Turkmen.news correspondent Selim Khaknepesov, “in the prisons of Turkmenistan since last summer has again begun to sense the lack of supplies,” and prisoners with tuberculosis aren’t getting help (stanradar.com/news/full/38051-turkmenistan-situatsija-v-kolonijah-vnov-uhudshaetsja.html).
These problems in the prisons reflect the problems of the broader economy of the country of course; but when the authorities fail to feed the prisoners or treat them for the diseases they suffer, there is the danger that they will either rise up against their jailors as they have done in the past or become even more anti-social upon their release.
The regime’s response may be making things worse: Last fall, it sent a commission which promised to release many prisoners, undoubtedly to reduce the pressure on the system. Some were released; but many who expected to be, “about 2,000,” Khaknepesov says, weren’t. As one can imagine dashed hopes are worse than none at all.
This situation appears at least in part to be responsible for the problems that the leaders of the Turkmenistan siloviki have been suffering in the last few weeks, with some given warnings and others reduced in rank supposedly for not informing the country’s dictator about the flight of Turkmens but clearly for other reasons as well (russian.eurasianet.org/туркменистан-главные-силовики-страны-не-чувствуют-себя-в-безопасностиtdh.gov.tm/news/articles.aspx&article21201&cat11 and hronikatm.com/2020/01/mnb-reprimand/).