Once again we visit Turkmenistan, the land of irony, where truth and fiction become entwined to a point where there can be little to differentiate these polar opposites.

Every bad guy needs a patsy, someone who will take the rap when merely following orders – usually on the pain of death, imprisonment or some other punitive sanction.

It seems Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow has identified his stooge, the now former Interior Minister Isgender Mulikov, whose supposed crimes include embezzlement and the taking of significant bribes. Now, nobody would suggest such behaviour by a government official is anything but inappropriate, with summary dismissal from the president’s inner circle being a large price to pay but an inevitable and fitting outcome. Did though Mulikov take a fall for his perceived crimes, or is there a darker, unconnected reason behind his naming and shaming, and imprisonment?

It would though be remiss of me to overlook the almost satirical backstory behind Mulikov’s dismissal and subsequent incarceration. Accused of being receptive of huge bribes to facilitate the purchase of high-end material goods, the former minister of the interior has in effect been brought to book for exactly what his president allegedly routinely undertakes. Spending the country’s money on top of the range sports apparatus, performance vehicles and vulgar Potemkin-esque edifices are presumably justified as being in the national interest but instead form part of a wider mosaic of Berdymukhamedow treating Turkmenistan as a blank canvas on which to realise his wildest and unchecked schemes, whilst using the nation’s cheque book to do so.

From an avian-influenced airport terminal building – rumoured to cost £2 billion – through which few foreigners will enter the country and from where many locals are prevented from leaving, to a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus more of a vacant savannah for the nation’s white elephants, and the almost ghost town-like Caspian Sea resort of Awaza it is not hard to come to the conclusion for who Berdymukhamedow is working. Furthermore, money diverted from the sale of Turkmenistan’s vast gas reserves and presumably its cotton cash crop ends up in the hands of parastatal companies operated by friends, family members, and cronies who, with the lack of democracy in the most closed society outside of North Korea, keep the president in power. Awash with finery and material goods that perhaps over 95% of the country’s population will never own, let alone see first-hand, Berdymukhamedow’s chutzpah to point the finger at a government minister for committing acts he is all too familiar with himself, is as laughable as it is depressing.

An alternative reason for Mulikov’s defenestration and lengthy prison sentence suggests he was colluding with businessman Charymukhammed Kulov and Meylis Nobatov, the former head of the State Migration Service, to topple the president in what would in theory be a welcome coup, but not if initiated by an equally venal individual. If of course Mulikov was entirely innocent of all charges except seeking to effectuate a positive change of regime within Turkmenistan, the rubber stamping of his guilt and incarceration by the state-controlled judiciary was a foregone conclusion.

Getting to the heart of what is true in a society where suspicion, surveillance and oppression are writ large through the daily events of even everyday Turkmen is therefore an impossible task. Should though anyone else on the inside get too close to the truth and mount a covert campaign to bring down the incumbent regime, it is highly likely that they too will be ratted out by someone in the president’s pay or with ambitions of being so. State of the art German surveillance equipment helps the president keep a lid on dissension both at home and abroad, in particularly Turkey, where Turkmen students seek greater educational opportunities.

There are undoubted parallels between contemporary Turkmenistan and North Korea’s Kim dynasty, who reportedly executed Jang Song-thaek, the one-time trusted uncle of Kim Jong-un, with either anti-aircraft weaponry or a pack of starving dogs. Either way, it was a grisly end for someone who the Kim regime announced was plotting to bring down the Mount Paektu Bloodline although as with events in Turkmenistan, one person’s truth rarely reflects that of another. If though there was ever a warning in history of what fanatical dictators are capable of, those harbouring desires to overthrow Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow or any other despotic regime will need nerves of steel and learn the lessons, if any are evidently obvious, where the likes of Mulikov and Jang failed. There is though also the chance that neither were guilty of what they were officially charged, or of one of the alternatives theorized by conspiracy ideologues.

The truth will remain a rare commodity where it is inconvenient to the ruling elite, but one must also guard against automatically giving credence to alternative stories emanating from what are the most hermetically sealed countries on the planet where the regimes will stop at nothing to liquidate anyone, guilty or otherwise, threatening the status quo.

Source material and further information:

Eurasianet: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-interior-minister-resurfaces-in-handcuffs