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Turkmenistan President dies

The breaking news this morning is that Turkmenistan’s oddball dictator / President Saparmurat Niyazov died of a heart attack late last night.

The news was announced on state television, over the image of a Turkmen flag, surrounded by a black border:

“Turkmenbashi (Head of the Turkmen) the Great has died.”

Official confirmation came shortly afterwards from a senior Presidential official, speaking to Russian news agency RIA Novosti:

“We can confirm only the fact of the president’s death. We are not authorized to give any additional information on the cause of death.”

Niyazov was something of an oddball President, to say the least. This is the man, after all, who reinvented the Turkmen calendar, naming many of the the months and days of the week after himself, his mother, and other close family members. For an insight into the oddities of the Turkmenbashi, father of the Turkmen peoples, see this Sunday Times article.

Others, including myself, would say that Niyazov was a mad evil dictator, and will be celebrating his demise.

Where this will leave Turkmenistan and, indeed, the rest of Centra Asia is very uncertain. Niyazov was, effectively, an absolute dictator. Turkmenistan under his regime was an incredibly secretive state and very few analysts will have a good idea of who will step up to replace him. Beware of articles which identify the future direction of Turkmenistani politics in the next few days.

I think the only certainty is that his death will leave a massive power vacuum. This was completely unexpected, and there are uncertain times ahead for Turkmenistan.

The BBC article on his death gives an indication of the first problem the country will face in trying to find a successor:

According to Turkmen law, the president is succeeded by the head of the legislative body, the People’s Assembly. However, this post was held by Mr Niyazov himself.

All the same, I’d imagine most Turkmen are quite relieved this morning.

News on this story will doubtless continue to break through the day, and I’d imagine Registan will be keeping up to date with the latest developments.

Update: The BBC has Niyazov’s obituary up already.


  • COPYDUDE: I suspect you’re tripping out on acid, you freak.

    ANDY: Seems like what your describing is a golden opportunity for the West to move in and erect barriers to Russian attempts to take the place over, as they’re trying in Georgia, especially in light of the recent revelations as to what Russia really is capable of. It would be a great way of sending a strong message to the Kremlin that it needs to back off. I wonder if we’ll be clever enough to recongize, much less act on, this opportunity.

  • Kim – please would you keep the personal insults out of discussions.

    If you think someone’s comments are rubbish, by all means say so. Then say why. If you think they are beneath your commenting, don’t say anything.

    Anyway, moving on.

    Yes, Niyazov’s death may well present a tremendous opportunity for the West. Equally, it presents opportunities for both Russia and China.

    Turkmenistan under Niyazov has made much of its ‘neutrality.’ I’m very interested to see if the new government wants to maintain that stance – and whether outside powers will let them.

  • I was just kidding.

    For heaven’s sake, Turkmenistan joined in the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ for Iraq. You know, wacky dictators building statues of themselves versus umm . . a wacky dictator building statues of himself. Surreal.

    Whoever ends up with Turkmenistan, it’s a poisoned chalice and that’s for sure.

    Best description of Turkmenistan from the Lonely Planet Guide: “It’s not the worst place in the world, but it can only be a few bus stops away.”

  • Unfortunately, whoever is “elected” will continue in Niyazov’s footsteps. He will have to keep Niyazov’s allegiance to the Turkish. He will rule in a very similar way, as all his close cabinet members, are former members of the communist party. So they won’t rule any better, they will remain loyal to Russia, because 95% of all pipelines are under Russian controll. The only way the West is going to have any influence in Turkmenistan is if “western influenced” leader is elected, and unfortunately that age group is too young to run for the presidency, and the people who could run, left the country a while ago.
    So you are going to have a very similar person run Turkmenistan again…

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