Nizayov, Dissidents Trade Charges as Arrests Mount
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, as widely expected, is taking fast action to exact retribution against those he has accused of trying to assassinate him. Over 100 people were rounded up during the night of November 25-26, according to a Moscow-based human rights monitoring organization. Among those in custody are relatives of Saparmurat Yklimov, one of the opposition leaders singled out by Niyazov as a conspirator. Yklimov, in turn, has accused Niyazov of orchestrating the failed assassination as a pretext for a crackdown.
A Niyazov spokesman said November 26 that 16 people had been arrested in connection with a November 25 attack on the president's motorcade in the capital, Ashgabat. [For background see the EurasiaNet archives]. But the human rights group Memorial, citing unofficial sources, put the number of arrests at over 100. Yklimov and other opposition leaders accused by Niyazov have categorically denied joining a plot to kill the Turkmen leader, who since the Soviet collapse has built a cult of personality that evokes comparisons to the Stalinist era. [For additional information, view the opposition's web site]. Niyazov also reportedly accused former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, former Central Banker Khudaiberdy Orazov, and former ambassador to Turkey Nurmuhammed Khanamov of complicity in the coup attempt.
In the past 12 months, Shikhmuradov has vocally questioned Niyazov's merits as a head of state from exile in Moscow. Russia has reportedly become impatient with Niyazov's refusal to debate the division of the Caspian Sea or prosecute the war on terrorism, even as he proposes building a pipeline across neighboring Afghanistan to the Pakistan coast. According to the strana.ru website, Niyazov's spokesman accused Russian media of legitimizing exiled "activists" living in Russia.
Yklimov, a former Deputy Minister of Agriculture exiled in 1994 who lives in Sweden, has accused Niyazov of mounting a fresh campaign of mass repression. He also criticized the president's coterie for temporarily indulging reports that Niyazov blamed Russian political figures, rather than political figures living in Russia, for the coup even as he denounced the idea that he and his fellow exiles would ever endorse violence. "Russia has nothing to do with this," he told EurasiaNet in a phone interview. Instead, Yklimov drew comparisons to Nazi Germany. Niyazov's charges, he said, are "a classic case of fabrication" and "an eerie reminder of events in Germany in 1933 when Hitler set fire to the Reichstag, setting the precedent for the murder of Jews."
"We condemn any violence, and we have always supported civilized methods," Yklimov told EurasiaNet, speaking for himself and Shikhmuradov. Shikhmuradov himself was not available for comment. On his web site, he declared that anyone in Turkmenistan might have been driven to homicide. "I have been asked the question 'Who could have fired at Niyazov?' hundreds of times today," he said. "The answer is simple and frightening: Niyazov deserves as many deadly gunshots as lives and destinies he has ruined. There is no person in Turkmenistan today who would not like to be free of the dictator's oppression."
In his interview with EurasiaNet, though, Yklimov renounced the use of violence for political ends. "As a member of the peaceful opposition, we view opposition activity as an intellectual challenge. People not up to the intellectual argument, [like Niyazov,] are cheating." Yklimov told EurasiaNet that police had arrested nurses caring for his 75-year-old disabled mother and that a police officer answered the phone when he called his daughter's apartment in Ashgabat. "Now there are three or four policemen sitting around my mother's bed," he said.
As this indicates, debate inside Turkmenistan is probably less strident. Memorial, the human rights organization in Moscow, issued a press release charging that Niyazov had not mustered any evidence to back his charges but predicting that "suspects' relatives [may] be accused of fabricated charges." Within the country, state television reportedly did not cover the assassination attempt until Niyazov himself spoke about it. And economically, little about the country's gas-dependent, essentially closed economy appears likely to change in the short term. "I suppose if Niyazov weren't there, you might see some outbreak of small private enterprise," says Martha Blaxall, an economist who studies the region. "But that isn't going to happen."
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