Turkmenistan Narrows Options for Foreign Academics

Turkmenistan’s micro-managing leader is a stickler for the facts. Only as long as they are facts he like though.

Speaking at the regular end-of-week Cabinet meeting on August 14, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov revealed plans to oblige foreign academics to submit works on Turkmenistan for government review before they get the all-clear.

Berdymukhamedov complained in the meeting that foreign academics were allowing personal views to slip into their works on Turkmen history and society. Those opinions, he said, sometimes do not correspond to “our broadly accepted views and doctrines.”

The measure would ostensibly be aimed at intensifying limitations on academics hoping to work in Turkmenistan.

Carrying out objective, in-country research on politics and other burning topics is essentially impossible, but the proposed restrictions could potentially be applied far more indiscriminately. Even the study of Turkmenistan’s ancient history could fall afoul of government meddling, since the authorities have routinely pursued idiosyncratic interpretations of historical events.

The often-nonsensical miscellany of literature, religion and historical treatise that was cobbled together to make up late President Saparmurat Niyazov’s two-volume Rukhnama was once obligatory reading for all Turkmens, but has increasingly fallen out of favor.

Berdymukhamedov has proven no slouch on the history book-writing front, however. Works under his belt include a historical survey on the Akhal-Tekke horse breed, a slim biography of his own grandfather, a novel about his father titled “The Bird of Happiness,” a lavishly illustrated guide to native Turkmen medicinal herbs and a book about carpets.

The president’s works have for some years been included in the curriculum.

Berdymukhamedov questioned why foreign academics even need to be relied upon to write books about Turkmenistan anyway.

“Why are domestic academic devoting so little to time to studying the history and culture of their own people, and what do they lack for the fulfilment of such an activity?” he was cited as saying by the TDH state news agency.

Domestic state journalists were not spared Berdymukhamedov’s irritation.

Newspaper and magazines are allowing numerous and crass errors in the coverage of current developments. 

He may have a point, since TDH allowed a slight imprecision to slip in even in its report on the Cabinet meeting in question.

Berdymukhamedov was particularly incensed at coverage of what TDH refers to as the 5th Asian Games in 2017. The event in question is actually the less significant 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

Still, Berdymukhamedov is on weaker ground when he complains of lack of publicity for the competition on international television. When CNN recently went to Turkmenistan on a rare assignment to cover preparations for the games, government officials strenuously avoided all contact with the visiting reporter, presumably out of terror at saying the wrong thing.

“I don't think I've ever been anywhere where I've asked so many questions, but received so few answers,” CNN report Amanda Davies noted ruefully at the time.

Berdymukhamedov has addressed what he perceives as shortcoming in state media with the standard technique of firing and dressing down a few officials.

TDH chairman Bekurdy Amansariyev was replaced as chief editor of Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper by Maya Alimova, who previously edited the education-themed publication  Mugallymlar Gazeti.

Underscoring Turkmenistan’s commitment to opaqueness, the government has a dedicated committee for the “protection of state secrets in print and other media.” Its chairman Yazmuhammet Yazliyev was issued a “stern rebuke” — a Soviet-style formal warning that typically precedes and usually guarantees imminent dismissal.

A regular rebuke was issued to Akmurad Hudayberdiyev for his shortcomings while serving as chairman of Turkmenistan’s State Publishing Service. 

Turkmenistan Narrows Options for Foreign Academics

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