Last Monday I was on Boylston Street, having just completed my first Boston Marathon, when the bombs detonated. As is so often the case in the digital age, I may have been just a couple of hundred yards from the epicenter, but in the immediate aftermath, people watching on television and following via social media knew far more than I about the unfolding horror.
The home opener on a recent Saturday for FC Kairat, Kazakhstan’s most storied football club, featured lots of pre-game pomp, the sort of festivities that tend to swaddle major sporting events around the globe.
Music by nature strikes a personal chord in each listener. Being a child of the 1960s myself, I must confess to liking the psychedelic rock genre, songs like the Rolling Stones’ 2000 Light Years from Home and Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun. So imagine my delight when I was turned on to an instant neo-psychedelic classic on YouTube, performed by none other than Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s despot-in-chief.
Turkmenistan’s propaganda mills have already let the world know that Berdymukhamedov is not just a statesman, he’s also an author, surgeon, skilled equestrian, hockey fan, speed racer and public bus rider. Why did it take so long, then, for Berdymukhamedov to reveal his talent as a guitarist? I feel slightly cheated to have been denied the pleasure of his musical genius for these past few years.
Annoyingly, the YouTube video, which was posted in late 2011, does not provide the name of the song Berdymukhamedov sings, so I’m having trouble finding it on iTunes. The YouTube liner notes only state that the song is of Berdymukhamedov’s “own” composition.
We at EurasiaNet.org are shocked, shocked that Turkmenistan finds itself embroiled in an international corruption scandal.
On August 2, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced that Turkmen referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov had been banished from the London Olympic Games after he presided over a bout in which Azerbaijani boxer Magomed Abdulhamidov was knocked down six - yes, that’s not a typo - six times in one round, yet somehow managed to walk away with a decision on points.
Thankfully, justice was done, and the outcome of the bout was overturned on appeal, giving Japanese bantamweight Satoshi Shimizu the victory over Abdulhamidov. According to international amateur boxing rules, three knock-downs in one round should prompt the referee to stop the fight.
The one-sidedness of the refereeing in the bout is raising questions in boxing circles of whether money was involved. The British Broadcasting Corp. in late 2011aired a report about a suspicious payment made by Azerbaijani officials. The payment could be construed as an apparent bribe attempt designed to promote the interests of Azerbaijani boxers at the Olympics.
Funnily enough, the same day it announced that Meretnyyazov had been sent home, the AIBA also said it had expelled an Azerbaijani technical official, Aghajan Abiyev. The association did not elaborate on the move.
That a Turkmen ref might be on the take would be in keeping with Turkmenistan’s reputation as one of the most corrupt places on earth.
A theme song for Turkmenistan’s presidential election on February 12 could be Aretha Franklin’s classic “Who’s Zoomin’ Who.” On the surface, the election offers citizens a choice of eight candidates, including the incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
Given all that’s gone on in the past year in Kazakhstan, some of Astana’s most ardent well-wishers in Washington are hoping that President Nursultan Nazarbayev grapples with the always delicate issue of succession planning.
The subject of a stable leadership transition came up several times during an all-day conference in Washington, DC, on January 31, hosted by the Atlantic Council. The meeting was designed primarily to laud Kazakhstan’s economic achievements over the past 20 years, as well as celebrate a strong US-Kazakhstani partnership.
Nazarbayev, a septuagenarian who has been at the helm of the Kazakhstani government since the Soviet collapse in 1991, has given no indication that he wants to leave the political stage. He seems in robust health, yet it was revealed in 2011 that he spent time at a German hospital.
Here’s one for the “exercise-in-futility” department: a governmental commission convened recently in Ashgabat to review Turkmenistan’s stance on Caspian Sea-related issues.
Don’t expect Ashgabat to be leading the charge for a breakthrough in the long-stalled Caspian Sea talks. Judging by a January 30 item distributed by the semi-official Turkmenistan.ru news website, the meeting accomplished very little. Commissioners seem merely to have revisited existing Turkmen government policies.
Just about the most interesting nugget contained in the Turkmenistan.ru report was that meeting participants reaffirmed that “goodwill, equality, mutual respect and healthy pragmatism” are the “guiding principles” of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy.
The five Caspian littoral states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – have been haggling over the sea since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Their inability to settle on territorial limits has hampered the development of energy reserves sitting under the seabed.
A major obstacle blocking a comprehensive Caspian treaty is a dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over where to divide their respective portions of the sea. Both states are claiming possession of a rich oil field that Ashgabat calls Serder and Baku knows as Kyapaz.
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia have settled their mutual differences concerning the sea. The chief hang-up for a comprehensive pact remains Iran, which continues to insist on all five Caspian states getting an equal, 20-percent share of the sea. Under a proposal advanced by Russia, Iran would be entitled to only about a 13-percent share.
It looks like we’ve got a presidential horse race underway in Turkmenistan. According to the semi-official Turkmenistan.ru website, several men who profess to want to unseat the incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, have hit the campaign trail.
In all, seven candidates are challenging Berdymukhamedov in the February 12 election, a crowded presidential field that seems odd, given that watchdog groups describe Turkmenistan as one of the most repressive states on earth. The country also has only one legally registered political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which is under Berdymukhamedov’s thumb.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced earlier in January that it will not bother to send observers for the voting. In a statement, ODIHR said it "does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time."
Also in early January, Turkmenistan’s rubber-stamp legislature paved the way for the creation of new political parties. But Berdymukhamedov’s past pledges to liberalize Turkmenistan’s political system have stalled.
The outside world may see the democratic process in Turkmenistan as a charade, but that isn’t stopping the candidates themselves from pressing the flesh. Turkmenistan.ru reported January 23 that one of Berdymukhamedov’s seven challengers, Energy Minister Yarmuhammet Orazgulyev, made a campaign appearance in Akhal Province. Meanwhile, Esendurdy Gayypov, the director of a cotton processing plant, turned up to stump in Dashoguz, and Annageldy Yazmyradov, a Construction Ministry functionary, met with citizens in Turkmenabat in Lebap Province.