Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Window on Eurasia: ‘Velvet Clan Revolution’ has Not Stopped De-Modernization of Turkmenistan, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 5 – The “velvet clan revolution” that Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has carried out since coming to office has slowed but not stopped the de-modernization of a country that many call an island of stability in Central Asia, according to a Turkmen analyst.
But precisely because Berdymukhamedov’s moves have not reduced the importance of tribes and clans in the functioning of that society, Merdan Mamedaliyev says in a new report, anyone seeking to trace political struggles in this most opaque of that region’s countries must focus precisely on them (
The continuity in Turkmenistan’s domestic policy in the wake of Berdymukhamedov’s rise to the presidency stands in sharp contrast to “all the well-known centrifugal processes of Central Asian reality,” Mamedaliyev suggests, a pattern that has led many experts to call that country “an island of stability.”
The basis for this continuity is the state’s control of “gas dollars” in what is an underdeveloped society lacking civic institutions and other factors which make possible the activization of domestic political struggle.” Taken together all this “gives the ruling regime unlimited possibilities.”
At the same time, Mamedaliyev continues, the lack of such an opposition in Turkmenistan means that the powers that be do not feel the need to strengthen “the repressive apparatus.” For them, “the preservation of the status quo is quite enough and gives them the chance for maneuver.”
The Turkmen opposition in exile clearly “does not have any real chances to return” to politics in Turkmenistan, the analyst says, and “about the existence of an internal opposition” it is almost impossible to judge because Ashgabat effectively blocks any such information from getting out.
But, and this is the crux of his argument, Mamedaliyev says that “one can judge about the existence of [such an] internal opposition with the same certainty with which astronomers make assertions about the existence on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, beneath a many kilometer thick layer of ice.”
“’There must be water!’ the specialists say. And in just the same way, [Mamedaliyev] says, ‘there must be an opposition” in Turkmenistan! And he devotes the remainder of his article to a review of the places where such an opposition may exist or emerge and the individuals and groups who may form it.
According to ethnographers, there are in Turkmenistan some 30 tribes “unifying more than 5,000 extended family groups.” Indeed, this feature is so pronounced that many historians refer to the Turkmens as “a nation of tribes” – although other analysts say that the differences among them are so great that one could discuss some of them as “self-standing small peoples.” And “decades” of intense Soviet efforts, involving the inculcation of internationalism, “the mixing of peoples, and the assimilation of cultural priorities” did not lead to an elimination of inter-tribal borders” in Turkmenistan. Indeed, the Soviet pattern of rotating representatives of different clans in high posts allowed this “archaic system” to adapt to “the industrial era.”
In Soviet times, between 1951 and 1985, “representatives of the most important clan, the Akhaltsy ( who are also known as the Tekintsy or Akhltekhintsy) were not able to obtain access to the post of leader of the Turkmen SSR.” But in that latter year, Saparmurat Niyazov, an Akhaltsy, came to power.
The rise of members of his tribe as the Soviet Union was collapsing “only intensified aspects of tribalism in the already sovereign state.” And as a result, “in the 1990s, one of the most influential Turkmen clans, the Yomuds, were almost completely removed from positions of power.”
Like Niyazov, the second president of Turkmenistan belongs to the Akhal Tekintsy, and under his rule, “three quarters of all government bureaucrats and 90 percent of all members of the forces tructures are Tekintsy, primarily from the Akhal velayat” district,” a trend that has contributed to “the de-modernization” of the country.
“The internal processes the republic are in contradiction with the tendencies of the development of humanity and include such phenomena as the cultr of personality, isolationism,” and so on. Niyazov represented an extreme form of this, while Berdymukhamedov has softened its edges in what some call “the velvet clan revolution.”
Not surprisingly, these arrangements have angered some members of the groups that have been excluded from power, and it is among them that one could expect to find an opposition just as astronomers expect to find water under the ice of Jupiter’s moon. According to Mamedaliyev, there are three groups likely to provide opponents.
These include, he suggests, the Western, which is ethnically dominated by the Yomuds and economically connected with the Caspian; the eastern, around Mary which is Tekintsy but affected by its “closeness to Afghanistan, and the Northern, which is the most backward now but has the best prospects in the future.

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