Staunton, September 9 – Turkmenistan, the most authoritarian and closed country in the post-Soviet space, seldom attracts much attention; but this year, its dictator, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has managed to attract some because of his continuing assertion that no on in Turkmenistan has contracted the coronavirus.
If anyone becomes sick of dies, he and his government have said, it must be from something else. European officials and human rights activists have responded by asking him to act as if the virus is there even if it is not lest more people suffer and die as many already have with symptoms remarkably like those others have identified as coronavirus ones.
Now, opposition journalist Azar Redzhepov says, there is a chance to Turkmenistan will garner attention for another reason: The EU is holding online meetings about the impact of events in Belarus on the former Soviet republics. Turkmenistan is one of them and so it will get its moment in the son (gundogar.org/?0120519462000000000000011000000).
According to Redzhepov, some in Turkmenistan have been affected by the events in Belarus even though their own government has done everything it can to block news about this popular challenge to a dictator who also manipulates the constitution and the election system to legitimate his position in power.
The reason that Turkmens are looking as intently as they are at Belarus is that Belarusians rather than any outside force are taking things into their own hands and showing that a dictator who completely loses the support of his people cannot hope to remain in power forever.
Berdymukhamedov has already completely lost that support, but because outsiders pay so little attention to his actions, he has been able to use force far more freely against the population and intimidated many into silence and inaction. He likely can continue to do that for some time unless Turkmens conclude that they are not alone in watching the events in Belarus.
A major problem for the Turkmens, Redzhepov argues, is that outsiders rarely pay attention to his country or to the ways in which its dictator chameleon-like changes things periodically to hide his authoritarian approach. Those who look at Turkmenistan only occasionally can seldom see the full dimensions of the problem.
It is a good thing, the opposition commentator says, that the EU is considering the impact of Belarus even on Turkmenistan. It would be a better thing if the EU and other Western institutions would pay greater and more continuing attention to how the Turkmen people have been suffering.
If they did, Redzhepov suggests, they would see something truly horrific in Berdymukhamedov’s dictatorship; but they would also see a Turkmen nation prepared to stand up for its rights as the Belarusian people have stood up against Lukashenka in Belarus.