On December 21, 2006 the state news agency of Turkmenistan announced that President Niyazov had died of a heart attack at 1:10 a.m. Contrary to the expectations of most observers, the feared open power struggles and clashes did not take place afterwards. These were apparently already in advance, at the latest, however, between the time of his death in Istanbul a few days before and the official announcement on December 21st. been decided. On the morning of December 21st Berdimuhamedow was introduced as Niyazov’s interim successor. At the same time, the constitutional spokesman Öwazgeldi Atayew, who had been designated as his successor in the event of the president’s death, was arrested by units of a domestic secret service on charges of crimes against humanity. In a subsequent quick trial, he was shown, among other things, humiliating behavior towards his daughter, whereupon he and his wife were sentenced to five years in prisonwas sentenced in a labor camp (according to other sources in a prison camp for political prisoners). Both were released in March 2012 after their terms were up.
Berdimuhamedow had been health minister in Niyazov’s cabinet until he took office and was also his personal dentist. Within the first two weeks after Niyazov’s death, the constitution was tailored to Berdimuhamedov’s presidential candidacyand changed several times for this. Among other things, the passage that an interim president is not allowed to run for president was deleted and the minimum age for the candidacy was reduced to under 50 – Berdimuhamedow was 49 years old at that time. It was also stipulated that a candidate must have previously lived in Turkmenistan for at least 15 years. In this way, exile opposition candidates and Moscow-based son Niyazov could be excluded. In the elections in February 2007, President Berdimuhamedow emerged victorious from several opposing candidates with around 90% of the votes cast. In the months that followed, he had all those people who had previously come to power him disempowered and, for the most part, arrestedhad. This also included the once powerful head of the Turkmen domestic intelligence service, Akmurad Rejepov. Since there have been no reports of Rejepov’s whereabouts since 2008, it is currently unclear whether he died in custody or whether he is still serving his 20-year sentence. Within two years he dismissed the extended leadership of the military apparatus, the secret services and all employees of the public prosecutor’s office. All judicial posts were filled, as were all deputy prime minister posts. The mayors and leading regional politicians followed later. With one exception (Foreign Minister Meredov), the ministers were also dismissed and some were arrested. In addition, in 2007 and 2008 most of Berdimuhamedov’s rival candidates disappeared from the presidential election campaign.
Several thousand people were affected by these cleansing measures. In 2008, formalized his Berdimuhamedov actually already reached (and against Niyazov significantly enhanced) abundance of power by the proposal for the adoption of a new constitution, which was adopted by the Parliament unanimously. The previous constitution from 1992 thus became invalid. In May 2015, plans were announced according to which the upper age limit for exercising the presidential office of 70 years would be removed from the constitution. At the same time, plans became known after which the term of office laid down in the constitution should be extended from 5 to 7 years. In addition, under the new constitution, unlimited re-election of the president is possible.
According to Shoe-wiki.com, these rumors were confirmed at the beginning of 2016 when a new constitution was passed by presidency. This served to give the already all-encompassing and globally in this form hardly achieved presidential power a constitutional security and thus the appearance of a legitimation. In addition, the new constitution removed the last legal obstacles that would formally have stood in the way of Bedimuhamedov’s lifelong presidency. The Turkmen people were only marginally, if at all, involved in the process of developing the new constitution. It is noteworthy that in 2016, with the exception of Kyrgyzstan, extensive constitutional changes were implemented in all Central Asian states by presidential order.
During the period of his power consolidation, Berdimuhamedow had initially appeared as a reformer and had reversed some of the most unpopular orders of Niyazov. For example, he reintroduced the payment of pensions and the 10th year of school, allowed gold teeth and visits to cinemas, ballet and circus, and ended the continuous accompaniment of the president by singing children. In addition, he reintroduced the classic month and weekday names and transferred the right to rename localities from the President to the Parliament. These measures did not endanger his power base in any way and nevertheless left the short-term hope abroad of the possibility of a Turkmen thaw policy in the sense of the reforms after the XX CPSU party congress arise. However, these hopes were not fulfilled. Berdimuhamedow’s style of government became more and more similar to that cultivated by his predecessor, and since 2010 at the latest, a very similar intensification of the personality cult carried out around him can be observed. The president celebrates victories in a wide range of sporting events (including, for example, horse races in which he participates as a jockey or car races in which he officially participates spontaneously). In spring 2015, the first monumental statue of Berdimuhamedow covered with gold leaf was inaugurated. This also shows the President on onegilded horse standing on a rock covered with white marble, while the President extends his hand to a likewise gilded peace dove.
In accordance with the highly authoritarian leadership style of the Turkmen President, which has been consolidated for years, it is now assumed that the transformation process in Turkmenistan never had a Western direction, but rather led the country out of the relative openness of perestroika into a decidedly Stalinist country staged with modern methods.
The following linked images and texts allow a direct comparison of similar situations during the reign of President Niyazov and President Berdimuhamedow:
While the first picture shows the celebrations on the occasion of the Independence Day in 2006 (and thus under President Niyazov), the second picture shows a scene of the celebrations on the occasion of the Independence Day in 2007 (and thus under President Berdimuhamedov). The selected section is the same in both cases.
The first picture shows President Niyazov opening a building, the second one shows President Berdymukhamedov also opening a building.
The following pages are available for information on the latest developments:
Perspective of the Turkmen Government
- Reports on current developments in Turkmenistan from the perspective of the Turkmen government can be found on the homepage of the state news agency of Turkmenistan.The content of this page is largely identical to that of the print media available in Turkmenistan.
- Further information from the perspective of the Turkmen government can be found on a semi-state news site, the content of which is also provided exclusively by the state news agency of Turkmenistan.This page is intended to address a foreign target group and therefore goes well beyond the information on the official website of the state news agency. In addition, this page serves the Turkmen government as a platform for corrections, statements and comments.
Largely neutral reporting, some tend to be critical of the government
- Eurasianet: Updated daily, excellently researched, very detailed and for the most part largely objective reports and thematically sorted weekly reviews. One of the most detailed, up-to-date, well-informed and informative sites about Turkmenistan. The site is always blocked in Turkmenistan. So far there have been no negative reports of attempts to reach the site from Turkmenistan via proxy servers.
- Institute for War and Peace Reporting: Daily updated background information on all Central Asian countries. Accessing the page is usually not possible in Turkmenistan. So far there have been no negative reports of attempts to reach the site from Turkmenistan via proxy servers.
- Radio Free Europe: Very well researched, largely objective reports on Turkmenistan with some (covertly operating) reporters in the country. Accessing the page is mostly not possible in Turkmenistan. The repeated attempt can lead to problems.
Government-critical news agencies
- Chronicles of Turkmenistan: Daily updated news site critical of the government. Comparatively dense network of (covertly operating) reporters in the country, frequent target of hacking attacks. The page cannot be accessed in Turkmenistan. The attempt can be punished.
- Fergana: site with a tendency to be critical of the government with reports on Uzbekistan, and occasionally Turkmenistan. Accessing the page is impossible in both countries. The attempt can be punished.
Sides of the Turkmen opposition in exile (partly unilaterally critical of the government)
- Gundogar: Side critical of the government, operated by another group of the Turkmen exile opposition. Accessing the page is impossible in Turkmenistan. The attempt can be punished.
- Watan: Side critical of the government, operated by the Turkmen exile opposition. Accessing the page is impossible in Turkmenistan. The attempt can be punished. The page (previously available at www.watan.ru) is currently (2018) offline.
- Neweurasia: blog of the very well-informed bloggers (in?) “Annasoltan”, who are critical of the government and who appear under a pseudonym, with guest posts by other bloggers who also appear under pseudonyms and sometimes apparently live in Turkmenistan. By far the most informative and best-written blog about and about Turkmenistan. In 2014, the blog suddenly ended without notice. There have been no more updates since then. There is no information available about the whereabouts of “Annsaoltan”. The articles that have been published have only been available via web archives since 2018.Warning: the site cannot be accessed in Turkmenistan. The attempt can be punished.