In a custom fitting to the region, Turkmenistan’s ruler has picked a plum job in government for his only known son, Serdar.
Foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan, or ANT, reported on July 19 that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov appointed his son to a post in the Foreign Ministry.
Before taking up the job in the Foreign Minstry, Serdar Berdymukhamedov had a management position in the State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources. That agency, as well as the Oil and Gas Minstry have now been dismantled, however, as part of efforts intended to optimize the country’s energy sector.
Streamlining in one area of government though has been accompanied by expansions elsewhere. Berdymukhamedov senior has created three new departments at the Foreign Ministry to deal with international organizations, legal contracts and “international information,” respectively. ANT reported that Serdar Berdymukhamedov got the nod to head up one of those departments and will now occupy the rank of deputy minister.
Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry is headed by Rashid Meredov, one of the long-term survivors in the Cabinet, a fact likely made possible by his experience and the esteem in which he is held by foreign diplomats.
ANT reported that Meredov was tasked with taking Serdar Berdymukhamedov under his wing as long ago as spring last year.
The theory the website offers on this job is that Berdymukhamedov is priming the young man for eventual succession.
Not much is known about Serdar Berdymukhamedov, although images of him exist from the time he turned up with other close male members of his family to vote in the presidential election in February 2012. According to a potted profile on lenta.ru, he has held several positions in government already, including as deputy agriculture minister. The website also claims Serdar owns several businesses, including a cotton-spinning plant, a mineral water factory and a chain of hotels.
According to the Chronicles of Turkmenistan, another foreign-based website, Serdar became a Candidate of Sciences — a post-Soviet post-graduate academic title — in 2014 after successfully defending a thesis the content of which is yet another unknown.
The details of Berdymukhamedov’s family are a closely guarded secret, but some basic facts are half-known. He is married to an ethnic Turkmen — a notable contrast from his predecessor, whose wife was of Russian-Jewish heritage — and (officially at least) has two daughters, one son and four grandchildren.
Courtesy of the ever-dependable State Department cables secured by WikiLeas, it is said that Berdymukhamedov’s wife, Ogulgerek Atayevna Berdymukhamedova, became estranged from the president in 2007 and afterward went to live in London. Warming to its theme, the cable also claimed, citing local gossip, that Berdymukhamedov also had a Russian mistress called Marina, with whom he had a daughter who would now be in her early twenties.
Since the Berdymukhamedov clan is subject of such secrecy, their appearance in public invariably generates interest.
In March, the president turned up at a zoo outside the capital, Ashgabat, with his grandchildren in tow. The oldest of those children, then-13-year old Kerim is also sometimes floated as a possible one-day contender to the throne. Although Kerim is still very young, Berdymukhamedov clearly has no intention of abdicating any time soon, so the scenario is not beyond the realm of possibility. According to rosy state media accounts, Kerim is, like his grandfather, a keen horse-rider and enjoys hanging out with the president while he goes on walks and reads books. (Berdymukhamedov is a prolific author, incidentally. Only this week he published the eighth volume in his series on the medicinal plants and herbs of Turkmenistan).
Curiously, what is not public knowledge is which of Berdymukhamedov’s official children is the parent to Kerim, if any.