Question and Answer with Avdy Kuliev
Avdy Kuliev is a leader of the Turkmen political opposition in exile. He was independent Turkmenistan's first Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving until May 1992, when he resigned in protest of repressive policies. Since then, he has faced three fabricated criminal charges, including attempted overthrow of the state, which carries the death penalty, and moved to Moscow. He worked as an analyst for the Turkmen Service of Radio Liberty from 1995-97. Upon returning to Turkmenistan in April 1998, he was arrested at the airport and incarcerated for four days. He was released under international pressure, but, facing death threats, returned to Moscow soon after. Today, he is the head of the Turkmenistan Foundation and editor of the periodic informational and analytical journal Erkin Turkmenistan Svobodnyi Turkmenistan (Free Turkmenistan). He was scheduled to testify on Tuesday, March 21, in Washington, DC before the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hearing was convened to focus on democratization and human rights in Turkmenistan. Mr. Kuliev spoke with the Central Eurasia Project in New York on March 19.
CEP: What do you hope the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe hearing will achieve?
Kuliev: The U.S. Congress has a serious interest in the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. They see it for what it is and cannot but pay attention to it. They are bothered that the president of Turkmenistan ignores the United States' appeals for the release of innocent people from jails. The very fact of the hearing has enormous significance in part because people inside Turkmenistan will know that it took place.
The concrete result I would want to see from it is the adoption of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Turkmenistan and the release of Nurberdy Nurmamedov. [Mr. Nurmamedov is co-chairman of the banned and defunct popular movement "Agzybirlik." He was arrested on January 5, 2000 and convicted on February 25 and is now serving five years of imprisonment. That same day, the court sentenced his son, Murad, to a year in prison for "hooliganism."] He is extremely honest, noble. I am sincerely pained that he is in prison.
And there are two more whose release I would hope would follow. One is Mukhametkuli Aimuradov [an acquaintance of Mr. Kuliev, who has been in prison since 1995 for allegedly fabricated anti-state crimes], who is very ill and has already gone blind in prison. The other is Pirimkuli Tangrykuliev, [a doctor who is now serving an eight-year term after having criticized Turkmenistan's medical system and expressed interest in running for a seat in parliament]. Bear in mind that some 4,000 people are currently in jail in Turkmenistan for alleged disloyalty to the regime. A person needs to do only a year in prison before wishing for a death sentence. The conditions I saw when I was arrested were horrific, and that was supposed to be the country's best jail.
CEP: How do you assess the U.S. government's policy toward Turkmenistan?
Kuliev: It is a mixed policy. I am continually surprised that the U.S. doesn't do more -- it could achieve a great deal more by force of its principled positions. Instead, it curries favor with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The people of these countries look to America with great hope. But in these countries, human rights are so trampled that most people clamor for the return of the Soviet Union. The U.S. needs to know that.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States set its hopes on Russia. When that turned out to be bankrupt, they set their hopes on Turkey. But now, the US is supporting ways to push Russian influence out of the gas-rich regions to open a way for its own influence. The reality is that we Turkmen are not capable of solving our own problems now, at this advanced stage [of repression], and we need US help. What we have is not a state it's just a single person. The government posts and ministries are nothing. It is a profanity.
CEP: President Saparmurat Niyazov effectively derogated electoral rights by claiming an unlimited and uncontestable term as president in December 1999. He has arrested virtually the last remaining dissidents within the country. What human rights abuse could be next?
Kuliev: Next will be the replacement of the Constitution with the rukhname, or Book of the Soul. Niyazov has proclaimed himself the thirteenth prophet, and all of his predecessors had a rukhname. Making himself president for life was merely laying the groundwork for abolishing the Constitution and introducing the rukhname as the basis of government, although it is more of a spiritual text than a legal code. The parliament is expected to adopt it on October 27, 2000.
CEP: How does Turkmenistan fit into Central Asia's rise of Islam?
Kuliev: The president has an interest in Islam only as a vehicle, not for Islam's sake. He has no interest in anything but personal enrichment. (He himself claims to have $3 billion dollars in personal bank accounts.) Recently, he allowed the Taliban to open an embassy in Turkmenistan.