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Turkmenistan: Niazov Critics Flex Their Muscles - IWPR

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  • Zafar Khan
    Niazov Critics Flex Their Muscles Signs of a highly organised Turkmen opposition movement inside the country are beginning to emerge. By Nyazik Ataeva in
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2002
      Niazov Critics Flex Their Muscles

      Signs of a highly organised Turkmen opposition
      movement inside the country are beginning to emerge.

      By Nyazik Ataeva in Ashgabat (RCA No. 156, 30-Oct-02)

      On the morning of October 10, the people of the
      northern Turkmen town of Dashoguz awoke to find their
      city awash with anti-government leaflets. Blowing
      through the Square of the Flag in the city centre,
      lining the streets around the central administration
      building and pasted onto hand-rails of the bridge over
      the Shavat canal, the leaflets were the latest sign of
      an emerging internal opposition, which is highly
      organised and prepared to take direct action.

      The leafleting marked the fourth time Turkmens have
      openly protested in recent months. In July, three
      portraits of Turkmenbashi, or the "father of all
      Turkmens" as President Niazov calls himself, were
      burned in the street in Ashgabad. In August, taxi
      drivers in Mary, in the south of the country,
      blockaded the railway station in protest against a
      directive banning foreign cars from driving on the
      motorway. On the eve of an August 8 session in the
      people's parliament - an unelected body comprising
      prominent Turkmens -despairing women protested outside
      the presidential palace. These actions have sent a
      clear signal to the Turkmen public that an underground
      opposition movement now exists within the country.

      The police in Dashoguz appeared in no hurry to
      disperse the crowds, which gathered around the piles
      of pamphlets. As policemen stood to one side, people
      began collecting the leaflets. "Although they were
      obviously nervous, passers-by picked them up, looked
      around then carried them off," one witness told IWPR.

      Printed in both Turkmen and Russian, the text accused
      Turkmenbashi of inflicting poverty and oppression on
      the Turkmen people. Titled "Dare to say 'No!'", the
      leaflet urged people to safeguard their children's
      future by taking an active stand against the regime,
      standing up for their rights and refusing to be
      "thought of as sheep".

      News of this latest audacious protest quickly spread
      to the Turkmen capital. The emerging opposition is
      thought to enjoy popular support, particularly in
      rural areas where poverty and hopelessness is worst. A
      private taxi driver in Dashoguz expressed the
      frustration of many, telling IWPR, "I thought our
      independence in the early 1990s would deliver a better
      life, but every year things get even worse. After
      years driving a tractor on a collective farm, I was
      forced to start driving a taxi in my retirement in
      order to feed my grandchildren."

      A member of the emerging opposition told IWPR the
      movement is made up mostly of young people, controlled
      by a "nerve centre" which plans protests that are then
      implemented by regional groups. The actions, he said,
      are kept as apparently spontaneous as possible, so
      that they can be neither predicted nor halted by the
      security services. "We are not exactly in hiding, but
      we don't want to expose ourselves either. We are
      trying to act cautiously, without being too radical,
      and we are ready to cooperate with anyone who agrees
      with our aims and opposes the current political

      Their caution appears to have paid off. Despite direct
      orders from the president to track down the organisers
      of the leafleting protest, the Turkmen special
      services have so far failed to find anyone.

      Ordinary people in Turkmenistan have largely ignored
      the so-called opposition in exile, which uses the
      Internet to call on those within the country to wage
      an open struggle against the regime. However,
      president Niazov has blocked access to the opposition
      websites, and restricted Internet use in general.

      Groups such as the People's Democratic Movement of
      Turkmenistan, led by the former deputy prime minister
      Boris Shikhmuradov, are mainly composed of formerly
      high-ranking officers, whose "opposition" to President
      Niazov emerged only after he had sacked them.

      "It's easy to call for a struggle when you are outside
      the country. If they really cared about the fate of
      the Turkmen people, they would come here and wage an
      open struggle alongside us," said a student member of
      the internal opposition in Ashgabat. "I don't believe
      in those people, as they created the state structure
      we are now battling against. We are a large group of
      young people and we will continue to do everything in
      our power to oppose the regime." The signs are that
      the Turkmen public will welcome their campaign.

      Nyazik Ataeva is the pseudonym for a journalist in

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