With a little help from their friends Turkmenistan Airlines are once more airborne, undoubtedly to the delight of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow’s family.

In an era of meticulous attention to safety detail it is indeed rare for an airline’s jets to be hooked from European airspace, but February’s barring of the Turkmen flag carrier from operating within the continent threw many a travel plan into disarray, not in the least for those slated to travel from Birmingham to Amritsar, via Ashgabat. It now though appears that safety concerns have been addressed and thanks to Lufthansa, Turkmenistan Airlines are readying to once more fly out of, amongst others, Frankfurt, Paris, and England’s West Midlands.

Further German involvement in Berdymukhamedow’s autocratic regime demands scrutiny. Indeed, overtures from Germany and elsewhere in the European Union are far from unusual, seemingly turning a blind eye to the ruling establishment’s many verified human rights abuses, narcissistic excess, and heavy scrutiny of the lives of everyday Turkmen. German businesses, many of whom have historically looked eastwards for opportunities, have been at the forefront of supplying Turkmenistan with the latest technological means by which the former Soviet republic can surveil its citizens both home and abroad, including internet and telephone usage and the weeding out of potential sedition from even the most throwaway of conversations.

Lufthansa were apparently hired to bring Turkmenistan’s airline up to code; it is though unknown if they were the first port of call or whose services were secured only after a series of knock backs from other aviation leviathans. It does though seem far from coincidental that Lufthansa were receptive to Ashgabat’s blandishments, with Turkmenistan to all intents and purposes viewed as a land of rich pickings to a succession of German concerns – albeit ranked uncomfortably high in most risk/reward calculations. Far from being repulsed by the country’s rotten regime and the many hideous ways Berdymukhamedow has blown billions on vanity projects, potential foreign investors continually fail to heed the scare stories where assets belonging to overseas corporations have been unceremoniously absorbed into state ownership, without warning or reparation. Coupled with an absence of adhering to the ‘buyer beware’ principle it is though frustrating that there is a continued failure to show solidarity with Turkmenistan’s oppressed population – demonstrated tacit endorsement of the country’s regime.

Legend would have it that the president’s family have been known to requisition aircraft containing paying passengers immediately prior to take off, effectively because they can in such an undemocratic, absolutist nation. The president’s decision-making is at best often absurd, even comical were the implications not so serious for his countrymen. The point though being that however bizarre, self-absorbed and ruinous Berdymukhamedow’s path into immortality proves to be both historically and in real time, nobody can stop him – much in the way there would be an absence of opposition to passengers being defenestrated from an aircraft by members of his family or inner circle.

These are just a few instances set amid a backdrop of what would be an ideal location for a book entitled ‘How not to run a country’. Even in such a closed country reams of damning testament and pictures from state television chronicling the president’s latest scheme to house white pachyderm unequivocally leave observers with conclusions of what reality consists of in modern-day Turkmenistan. Excuses may be forthcoming but  in our digital age ignorance can never be one of them, nor can specious reasoning of facilitating change in the country by engaging with it. Those so minded will go to where there is money to made, whatever the circumstances and pitfalls.

Source material and further information:

Eurasianet: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-trying-to-take-flight

ADDENDUM:

Just what is behind a seemingly quid pro quo arrangement between Turkmenistan and Germany? Is it purely Europe’s very own superpower exercising its right to forge business opportunities wherever its expertise may take it, or, is there a deeper, murkier connection to one hand seemingly washing the other?

Germany has may fields of expertise and an efficient modus operandi that gets the job done; it is therefore a reliable partner and one whom nobody should ever be surprised that it is called upon. How though does its rush to aid the Berdymukhamedow regime with, for example, surveillance of Turkmenistan’s citizens and rebooting the country’s flag carrier tally with a reported $23 billion of Turkmen money being held in German bank accounts? An amount more akin to that of a Sovereign Wealth Fund than even a king’s ransom one wonders that, in the absence of any strategy for when the hydrocarbon taps run dry, if such a ‘rainy day’ kitty has been set aside for the president and his family, perhaps by this time in exile, than to instead diversify Turkmenistan’s future economy.

How can a country of less than six million inhabitants have an amount of money squirreled away in foreign bank accounts similar to Kyrgyzstan’s estimated 2017 Gross Domestic Product(GDP) – without eyebrows, and serous questions, being raised? Exhibiting traits of several infamous African dictators content to preside over the ruin of their nations whilst squarely blaming the actions of rapacious former colonialists, all the while blowing fortunes on lavish Potemkin-esque schemes and funneling money into foreign accounts, Berdymukhamedow appears to have little interest for when Turkmenistan has given up the last of its gas reserves. His own, ‘protector of the nation’ mien would have you believe that the pointless golf courses, the Caspian Sea resort of Awaza, and Falcon-shaped airport terminal, amongst other schemes, were realized to showcase his omniscience and give Turkmenistan a leg up in the future. These superficial, legerdemain-like projects are the edifical equivalents of the emperor’s(nation’s) new clothes that in reality lack any future, or tangible use to the country.

Just who stashed the reported $23 billion? What is its provenance, and to what end will it be used? Equally though as important is to simply ask: why has its sequestration by a brutal despotic regime been waved through as acceptable?

Further source material:

Central Intelligence Agency(US) http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2001rank.html