Friday, November 6, 2020

As in Belarus, Opposition in Turkmenistan Now has a Feminine Face -- and Ashgabat is Worried

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – Many have been struck by the remarkable role Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has taken on as leader of the Belarusian opposition to Alyaksandr Lukashenka. But few have paid much attention to the fact that she has become a role model for the opposition in other former republics where women are playing an increasing role.

            Perhaps the most striking case of this is in Turkmenistan, the most repressive regime in the post-Soviet space. There, another woman now in emigration, Dursoltan Taganova, has become the new face of the opposition to Ashgabat’s authoritarianism; and judging by official attacks on her, the authorities are worried (

            Although Taganova is in exile in Turkey, officials in her name vilayet of Lebap have in the last several weeks unleashed a campaign intended to blacken her reputation but in fact one that is only calling more attention to her and her role as an opposition figure in a political system that has all too few.

            Taganova first came to broader attention when she was arrested in Istanbul on July 19 during a protest against Ashgabat. She was released from jail only on October 12, but while in prison, she became the public face of the Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan and as such has been denounced by officials in her homeland.

            Ashgabat is clearly worried that she will attract even more international support among countries and human rights organizations appalled by Ashgabat’s repressions and, even worse, more support among the population of Turkmenistan itself. As one Turkmen said to Radio Liberty’s Turkmen Service, “there are many people like Taganova” there.

            Given how traditionalist Turkmen society is, it is quite remarkable that a woman should emerge in this role; but the successful precedent of  Tsikhanouskaya is just one more way that the events in Belarus are echoing across the former Soviet space and suggesting that elsewhere too, women are likely to assume a larger role in protest activity. 

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