Exiled Turkmen activists have noted a strange detour during President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s return from New York this week, prompting speculation that he might be unwell.
The Chronicles of Turkmenistan website said a keen-eyed reader scouring planespotter resource FlightRadar24 noted that Berdymukhamedov’s plane had stopped off in Munich, Germany, on September 26 instead of heading straight to Ashgabat.
That was enough to prompt opposition site Gundogar.org to speculate that the president had stopped off for medical consultations precipitated by a health scare.
According to his official schedule, Berdymukhamedov was due to travel on September 24-27 to take part in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
As it happens, Berdymukhamedov’s speech before the General Assembly included a passage on health and on the need to promote healthy lifestyles.
The plot thickened further when BBC Monitoring, a service that closely watches media output across Central Asia, noted that state television station Altyn Asyr failed to report on the president’s regular Monday government meeting this week.
“Instead, its flagship evening news bulletin carried a report recapping the main events of last week,” BBC Monitoring said in a report summing up news from September 28.
That Berdymukhamedov is in poor health is always possible, although state media tirelessly rams home the message that the president is a superior sporting specimen.
The Munich connection is an intriguing one, however.
Former President Saparmurat Niyazov, who is said to have lived sybaritically before succumbing to heart failure in late 2006, was especially fond of Munich doctors. As his health minister, Berdymukhamedov would likely have had direct communication with the clinicians.
If the German layover is indeed health-related, Turkmen officials may hope whatever treatment the doctors are providing fares a little better than an operation performed on Niyazov in 2005.
This was physician Professor Klaus Parhofer commenting on that surgery in February that year:
“As a physician, I can prove that all vitally important and other organs are in good state. We believed that the operation would be successful and its completion has proved that. I am absolutely sure that there are no problems that could change the situation.”
Less than two years later, Niyazov was dead.