Prove They Are Alive!
  For Democracy and Human Rights in Turkmenistan

How Close Is Turkmenistan To Instability?

Bruce Pannier

A familiar kind of weird is returning to Turkmenistan.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedovs recent decrees seem like echoes from more than a decade ago, when his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov was in power.

About 11 years after independence, Niyazov started raising the status of a body called Halk Maslahaty, a group numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 with representatives from various sectors of the government, the business world, state enterprises, and social organizations.

In Niyazovs case, the decision came after a reported attempt on his life in November 2002. Authorities apprehended many of the alleged perpetrators, but the details of the plot were never made clear. However, it appears to have involved killing Niyazov, then getting parliament to recognize a new leader.

The logic for boosting the powers of the Halk Maslahaty, eventually to a position higher than parliament, seemed to be that it would be difficult to assemble the more than 2,000 members quickly to make any decision, thus harder for a coup to receive official status from the completely compliant parliament.

Berdymukhammedov came to power at the end of 2006, shortly after Niyazov's death, and eliminated the Halk Maslahaty in 2008.

Now, about 11 years after he came to power, for reasons that are not clear, he is essentially recreating the body.

Berdymukhammedov already said after his reelection in February 2017 that the Elders Council would become the highest legislative body in the country; now he says younger colleagues will be admitted.

An anonymous, but clearly knowledgeable, author did a thorough job covering the new Peoples Council for Eurasia Net.

Berdymukhammedov is also shaking up national holidays.

Independence Day, which was coming up on October 27, is being moved to September 27.

That was the final day of the 10-day Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) that Turkmenistan hosted last month.

However, it seems that for this year, at least, Independence Day will be on October 27, as scheduled, as people throughout the country are being driven to stadiums for marching drills, or marshirovkas, as part of rehearsals for any major celebrations in Turkmenistan. But next year, Independence Day celebrations will remind people of the countrys glory on the day AIMAG was concluded.

Flag Day is being shifted from February 19, the day it has been marked since it became an official holiday in 1997, to May 18.

May 18 is Constitution Day; henceforth it will also be Flag Day.

February 19 was not only Flag Day, it was Niyazovs birthday.

No holiday will be marked on February 19 from now on.

Constitution Day was already a dual holiday as it also marked the birthday of legendary 18th century Turkmen poet Magtumguly.

Magtumgulys birthday is being moved - from now on, it will be marked on June 27, which, by less than amazing coincidence, happens to be Berdymukhammedovs birthday.

Strangely, however, June 27 will not be a day off work.

The Soviet-era Victory Day, May 9, marking the end of World War II is now just a regular day in Turkmenistan.

Other holidays - New Year's; International Womens Day; Navruz, the Day of Commemoration and National Mourning; October 6 (marking the anniversary of the devastating 1948 earthquake that hit the Ashgabat area); and Neutrality Day, December 12, remain as they were.

The shuffle of holidays seems reminiscent of the August 2002 decision, officially from the Halk Maslahaty, to rename the days of the week and months of the year, which was, of course, President Niyazovs idea, and something else Berdymukhammedov eliminated after coming to power.

In his recent remarks, Berdymukhammedov also made some impossible promises, such as spending a lot of money Turkmenistan does not currently have on boosting production of oil and natural gas, Turkmenistans major exports.

Its okay if he doesnt because Turkmenistan doesnt have customers for the oil and gas it produces right now.

Okay, at the Qishloq were used to weird and Turkmenistan.

Thats been going on for years.

But it used to be infrequent blasts of erratic or eccentric behavior.

Turkmenistan was normally the isolationist country its leadership wants it to be and it rarely generated any news.

Since 2016, Turkmenistan is a different country.

Strange decrees, reshuffling of officials, restructuring of the government, and antics by Berdymukhammedov are regular events lately.

RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Farruh Yusupov contributed to this report

:: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty