President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Niazov has conducted a second round of his purge of Turkmenistan’s power structures. If the first round in early March targeted the National Security Committee (NSC, the main intelligence agency), the second round in mid-March has hit both the NSC and the Defense Ministry.
Niazov is personally directing the purge, as self-appointed chairman of an investigative state commission he created on March 4 for this purpose. He is being aided in this effort by Internal Affairs Minister Poran Berdiev and Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanova, which two agencies have not been significantly affected by the purge thus far.
In this second round, Niazov has dismissed Defense Minister Gurbandurdy Begenov “for grave shortcomings in his work and abuse of his official position in his private interest.” Begenov has been demoted to director of the Military Institute named after President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. An undisclosed number of senior officers, including generals and colonels, have been removed from their posts, deprived of their rank and cashiered from service. According to the prosecutor general, some of them had hired their relatives for ministerial posts while others committed unspecified “service crimes.” The Internal Affairs Ministry is spearheading the investigation–an apparent indication of interagency rivalry.
The new defense minister, Rejepbai Arazov, is a civilian, former oil and gas minister and most recently chairman of the Mejlis [parliament]. He seems destined for a decorative role as defense minister, and will likely be outweighed by General Serdar Jariarov, whom Niazov has now appointed to the posts of first deputy defense minister, chief of staff of the armed forces and commander of the air force.
Niazov has also removed several generals and colonels of the Border Troops, stripping them of their military ranks as well, and has appointed a new chief of staff of those troops. The president declared cryptically that not only Turkmens, but also “others” had been wantonly persecuted. He may well have alluded to ethnic Uzbeks in border districts of Turkmenistan. There, tensions between Turkmen border troops and ethnic Uzbeks resulted in several incidents recently. The Turkmens claim to be trying to stop contraband of oil products to Uzbekistan, while the Uzbeks complain that Turkmenistan seeks to isolate its Uzbek minority from their compatriots in the neighboring country.
Continuing his assault on the NSC, the president announced that he has dismissed 80 percent of that agency’s senior central staff for corruption and abuse of power. The new head of the NSC, Poran Berdiev, has from 1998 to date served as internal affairs minister and concurrently as director of the Police Academy, which is named–as is the Military Institute–after President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. Berdiev, moreover, holds the Turkmenbashi state medal. He was instrumental in gathering much of the evidence that Niazov used for purging the NSC. On March 4, Niazov removed his top security official, Muhammet Nazarov, from two of his posts, but gave him a conditional three-month grace period as NSC chief. Niazov has now canceled that reprieve by appointing Berdiev to the position.
Niazov launched this second round of the purge at a special meeting on March 14 with the cabinet ministers and their deputies, the parliamentary leadership and heads of the regions’ and districts’ administrations. As he had on March 4, the president painted a horrific picture of the NSC’s lawlessness and corruption. He cited cases throughout the country of officers making illegal arrests, manhandling or torturing for extortion purposes, forcing witnesses to give false testimony, colluding with drug gangs and even engaging themselves in the drug trade along with their relatives. By the same token, some officers would brutally crack down on rival drug gangs only to protect their own. The head of the NSC’s Fourth Directorate, which is tasked with combating economic crime, was said to resell for personal profit the drugs confiscated from pushers.
NSC officers, moreover, had begun filing criminal cases against relatives of senior civilian officials, in order to blackmail those officials into giving bribes to save their relatives. It seems likely that this practice so alarmed the officialdom that it appealed to Niazov for protection.
The move against the NSC has also helped lift a curtain corner on corruption in the state sector of the economy. In one case, the director of a food processing plant is accused of having paid regular bribes of US$6,000 per month to the NSC’s first deputy chief, who was removed earlier this month from that post. In another case, the director of an oil processing plant is accused of having spent US$50,000-60,000 on average each month, for the last two years, on bribes to various security officials. As a rule, Niazov does not favor imprisonment for economic crimes. His method is to require the offending managers to compensate the state in cash for the losses they had caused.
Turkmen television and other media are amply reporting the purge, complete with rituals of abject contrition in front of Niazov by the officials who are being removed. Meanwhile, in parliament, Tagandurdy Hallyev has taken over from Arazov as chairman. Hallyev formerly served for seven years as justice minister and more recently as legal adviser to Niazov.
In parallel with this purge, Niazov is moving to institutionalize the personality cult of his mother, who is known as Gurbansoltan and died with her husband in the 1948 earthquake, leaving Niazov an orphan. Both parents are objects of official adulation, which now looks set to increase. A countrywide Gurbansoltan Association of Turkmen Women has held its founding congress in Ashgabat, to congratulations from Niazov. The forum appealed to the state to confer, posthumously, the title of Hero of Turkmenistan on the president’s mother and celebrate her memory throughout the year 2003 as the Year of Gurbansoltan. (Neytralniy Turkmenistan, Turkmen State News Service, Turkmen Television and Radio, Interfax, Turkmenistan.ru internet newspaper, March 15-19; see the Monitor, February 19, March 14).
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