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Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow

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Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow at the Enthronement of Naruhito (1).jpg
Berdimuhamedow in 2019
2nd President of Turkmenistan
In office
21 December 2006 – 19 March 2022[a]
Vice PresidentRaşit Meredow
Preceded bySaparmurat Niyazov
Succeeded bySerdar Berdimuhamedow
Leader of the Democratic Party
In office
4 August 2007 – 18 August 2013[b]
Preceded bySaparmurat Niyazov
Succeeded byKasymguly Babaev
3rd Vice President of Turkmenistan
In office
1 March 2001 – 14 February 2007
PresidentSaparmurat Niyazov
Himself (acting)
Preceded byOrazgeldi Aydogdiyev
Succeeded byRaşit Meredow
Chairman of the People's Council of Turkmenistan
Assumed office
14 April 2021
Personal details
Born (1957-06-29) 29 June 1957 (age 64)
Babarap, Turkmen SSR, Soviet Union
NationalityTurkmen
Political partyIndependent (2013–present)
Other political
affiliations
TDP (before 2013)
Spouse(s)Ogulgerek Berdimuhamedova
Children4, including Serdar
Parent(s)Malikguly Berdimuhamedov
Ogulabat Kurrayeva
Alma materTurkmen State Medical Institute
ProfessionDentist
Military service
Allegiance Turkmenistan
Branch/service Turkmen Ground Forces
RankGeneral of the Army (since 2007)[1]

Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow[c][d][e][12] (born 29 June 1957), also known as Arkadag (Cyrillic: Аркадаг, "protector"), is a Turkmen politician who served as the second president of Turkmenistan from 2006 to 2022.

A dentist by profession, Berdimuhamedow served in the government of president Saparmurat Niyazov as the minister of health in 1997 and as the vice president in 2001. He became acting president following Niyazov's death on 21 December 2006 and subsequently won the 2007 presidential election. He faced no meaningful opposition and won by an overwhelming margin with 89% of the vote.[13] In 2012, he was re-elected for a second term with 97% of the vote and he was re-elected again in 2017 with 97.7% of the vote.[14][15] He was among the candidates elected to the People's Council of Turkmenistan (Turkmen: Halk Maslahaty) on 28 March 2021, as a member from Ahal Region.[16] He reportedly received 100% of votes from the electors.[17] On 14 April 2021, he was unanimously elected chairman of the People's Council, the upper chamber of the Turkmen parliament.[18][19]

Like his predecessor, Berdimuhamedow headed an authoritarian regime in which he was the subject of a cult of personality. Rights groups have described Turkmenistan under Berdimuhamedow as one of the most repressive countries in the world,[20] accusing Berdimuhamedow, his relatives, and his associates of possessing and exercising unlimited power over all aspects of public life.[21][22]

Berdimuhamedow stepped down as president on 19 March 2022, being succeeded by his son, Serdar, who won a snap election deemed as neither free nor fair.[23]

Early years[edit]

Berdimuhamedow was born on 29 June 1957 in Babarap, in what is now Gökdepe District, Ahal Province, to Malikguly Berdimuhamedovich Berdimuhamedov (12 August 1932 – 18 April 2021)[24] and Ogulabat Atayevna Kurrayeva.[25] He is the only son in a family of six children. Berdimuhamedow’s father worked as a senior Interior Ministry officer in a prison guard detachment. He retired as a colonel of police.[26] His grandfather, Berdimuhamet Annayev, was a local teacher who served in the Red Army during World War II as part of the 748th Rifle Regiment of the 206th Rifle Division of the 2nd Ukrainian Front.[27] In September 1943, his unit was one of the first to cross the Dnieper River.[28] He was later killed in the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake.[29]

Berdimuhamedow graduated from the Turkmen State Medical Institute in 1979 and entered a career in dentistry.[30] He also received a PhD in medical sciences in Moscow.[30] By 1992 he had become part of the dentistry faculty at the Medical Institute. In 1995, during the rule of Saparmurat Niyazov, he became head of the dentistry center of the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry.[31] He was appointed to the government as Minister of Health in 1997, and he was additionally appointed as Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers (also referred to as Deputy Prime Minister, despite the lack of a Prime Ministerial post in Turkmenistan), a post akin to that of a Vice-President, in 2001.[32][33] In April 2004, Niyazov suspended Berdimuhamedow's salary for three months because healthcare workers were not being paid.[31]

Berdimuhamedow with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Ashgabat Airport, April 2002

The Health Ministry was responsible for carrying out Niyazov's order to close all hospitals outside of the national and provincial capitals in 2005.[34]

President of Turkmenistan (2007–2022)[edit]

Berdimuhamedow inspecting the Guard of Honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi in May 2010
Narendra Modi and Berdimuhamedow during his visit to Ashgabat on 11 July 2015

Following Niyazov's death in December 2006, the State Security Council of Turkmenistan appointed Berdimuhamedow acting president.[35] The Council stated in its announcement that Öwezgeldi Ataýew, who, as the Chairman of the Assembly of Turkmenistan was to have become the acting president, was not appointed "in view of the fact that the prosecutor-general had instituted criminal proceedings against him".[36]

Berdimuhamedow with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in Baku in August 2017
Berdimuhamedow with Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, in October 2015.

Article 60 of the Turkmen Constitution stipulated that the acting president "may not stand for election to the Presidency",[37] which would have barred Berdimuhamedow from running in the 2007 presidential elections. However, on 24 December 2006, the People's Council voted to remove this provision, making him eligible for the election as one of the six chosen candidates, all members of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.[38] Berdimuhamedov was supported by the political elite,[39] and the official results showed him as winning 89% of the vote.[13][40] Berdimuhamedow's appointment as interim president and subsequent run for president, however, violated the constitution.[41]

In his first presidential trip abroad, Berdimuhamedov visited Saudi Arabia in mid-April 2007. There he performed the Umrah pilgrimage and met with King Abdullah.[42] He then visited Russia and President Vladimir Putin at the end of the same month.

Berdimuhamedow with US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009
Berdimuhamedow with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the Third GECF summit, 2015

After taking office, Berdimuhamedow reversed several of Niyazov's more eccentric policies. Internet cafés offering free and uncensored web access opened in Ashgabat,[43] compulsory education was extended from nine to ten years and classes in sports and foreign languages were re-introduced into the curriculum, and the government announced plans to open several specialised schools for the arts.[44] He called for reform of education, health care and pension systems, and government officials of non-Turkmen ethnic origin who had been sacked by Niyazov were allowed to return to work.[45] He also restored the pensions of 100,000 elderly people whose pensions Niyazov had slashed in the face of an unspecified budget crisis.[46] Later on, he reopened the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, which had been closed by Niyazov.[47]

In 2015, work on TAPI began under his government.[48][49]

In February 2017, he was reelected to a third term as President of Turkmenistan (seven-year term) with nearly 98% of the votes in his favor and with an eligible voter turnout of 97%.[50][51] In October 2017, he offered a top Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog to Vladimir Putin.[52]

He is president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkmenistan.[53]

In 2020, Berdimuhamedow presided over the COVID-19 pandemic in Turkmenistan. He was among eight world leaders to have received the Ig Nobel Prize in Medical Education "for using the COVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can".[54] In November of the same year, he unveiled a golden statue of his favourite dog breed, the Central Asian shepherd.[55]

Berdimuhamedow replaced the Interior Minister Mammetkhan Chakiyev with his deputy Ovezdurdy Khojaniyazov on 1 July 2021. Khojaniyazov has little public profile to speak of, but one of his most recent positions, as of May at least, was as deputy head of the Awaza tourist recreation zone.[56] The previous Interior Minister, Iskender Mulikov, was arrested, sentenced to a lengthy prison term on corruption charges, and shown on state television handcuffed in a prison robe with his head shaved.[57]

In July 2021, Berdimuhamedow ordered the deployment of troops and heavy weapons and armour on the Afghanistan–Turkmenistan border, in order to avoid a spillover of the Afghan conflict into Turkmenistan.[58][59]

In February 2022, it was reported from Reuters that Berdimuhamedow was planning to resign after an early presidential election on 12 March,[60] fuelling speculation that he would be preparing for his son Serdar to succeed him as the next President.[61] Berdimuhamedow did not contest the election, which was subsequently won by Serdar,[62] establishing Turkmenistan as the first Central Asian country to transfer power dynastically from father to son.[63] Serdar was inaugurated as the next President on 19 March.[64]

Criticism[edit]

Accusations of totalitarianism[edit]

External video
video icon Turkmenistan's president announces end of free gas, electricity, water, and salt
video icon Turkmen president visits local village

Upon taking office, Berdimuhamedow eased travel restrictions and reopened libraries in rural areas. He also took steps to curb Niyazov's extensive personality cult. He called for an end to the elaborate pageants of music and dancing that formerly greeted the president on his arrival anywhere, and said that the Turkmen "sacred oath", part of which states that the speaker's tongue should shrivel if he ever speaks ill of Turkmenistan or its president, should not be recited multiple times a day but reserved for "special occasions".[65] He also gave up his right to rename any landmarks, institutions, or cities,[66] restored the traditional names of the months of the year and days of the week (Niyazov had renamed them after himself and his mother, among other things),[67] and announced plans to move the gold rotating statue of Niyazov from Ashgabat's central square.[68]

Despite these changes, Berdimuhamedow's regime remained rigidly authoritarian; indeed, in 2007, he ruled out any move toward Western-style democracy.[69] Freedom House rated Berdimuhamedow's Turkmenistan as one of the most repressive and "closed" regimes in the world. It has ranked Turkmenistan near the bottom of its Freedom in the World rankings since the country's independence, a state of affairs that has continued since Berdimuhamedow took office. In 2017, the country was one of 11 with the lowest aggregate scores for political and civil rights.[70] Human Rights Watch noted that Berdimuhamedow not only has complete control over public life and the media, but presides over a regime that does not tolerate "alternative political or religious expression."[71] Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Turkmenistan near the bottom of its Press Freedom Index for most of Berdimuhamedow's tenure, as it did under Niyazov. In 2017, RWB ranked Turkmenistan 178th out of 180 countries surveyed, ahead of Eritrea and North Korea. RSF noted that internet access is heavily censored in Turkmenistan, and that satellite dishes have been removed by government officials.[72]

In 2008, he dismissed Akmyrat Rejepow, the longtime chief of the presidential security detail and one of the main proponents of Niyazov's personality cult.[73] In 2011, he sang a song on a video posted to YouTube.[74]

In May 2013, he fell off his horse during a race. The fall was censored on TV but leaked online,[75] and mocked on an episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in 2019.[76]

In July 2013, Jennifer Lopez publicly apologized for singing Happy birthday! to Berdimuhamedow during a sponsored concert, stating she was not aware of the human rights issues in Turkmenistan prior to the show.[77] In August 2013, Berdimuhamedow suspended his Democratic Party of Turkmenistan membership for the duration of his presidency, ostensibly to remain "above partisan politics" and "promote a multiparty system."[78]

In 2015, a golden statue of Berdimuhamedow riding a horse atop a white-marble cliff was erected in Ashgabat.[79][80]

The Turkmenistan Parliament abolished term limits for the presidency in September 2016, which allowed Berdimuhamedow to run for a third term.[81]

In January 2018, Berdimuhamedow ordered the impounding of black cars in the capital because he considered the color white to be "lucky". Police seized dark-colored vehicles in Ashgabat and their owners were told they must pay to have them repainted silver or white. The capital, known as the 'City of White Marble', holds the world record for the highest concentration of white-marble buildings. Berdimuhamedow is a known lover of the color white, living in a white palace and travelling in white limousines.[82] It was later reported that the ban extended to vehicles of all colors except white.[83]

In July 2018, he appeared in a rap video with his grandson. He had previously lifted weights on camera, and also acted as DJ.[84]

By decree of Berdimuhamedow in January 2019, the government will gradually end state funding of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan; it will be phased out in three years.[85]

Violation of individual rights[edit]

In 2010 the Obozrevatel magazine named Berdimuhamedow the fifth-worst dictator in the world out of 23 highlighted. In the Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders), Turkmenistan ranks 176 out of 178.[86]

Turkmenistan has more political prisoners than any of the former countries of the former Soviet Union.[87]

Corruption[edit]

The country's economy is under total state control. Numerous attempts to attract foreign investors into the country often end in lawsuits in international courts.[citation needed] In 2018, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (arbitration, part of the World Bank group of organizations) received claims against Turkmenistan from Sece Inşaat (Turkey) and investment company Unionmatex Industrieanlagen GmbH (Germany).[citation needed]

In 2019, the Belarusian construction company Belgorkhimprom also filed a similar claim with the court, to which Turkmenistan should pay about $200 million.[88][89]

Investors talk about discrimination by the Turkmen authorities, politicized bureaucracy, and a high level of corruption.[90]

In the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Turkmenistan ranked 161 among 180 countries in 2018. This is the lowest rating among countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.[91][92]

In 2019, Turkmenistan ranked 164th among 180 countries in the ranking of economic freedom.[93]

Cult of personality[edit]

He uses the honorific title Arkadag, translating to "protector" in the Turkmen language.[94]

Berdimuhamedow's grandfather and father both serve as part of his cult of personality. His grandfather, Berdimuhamed Annayev, has since 2018 been a posthumous recipient of the Russian Order of Honour, being one of two awards he holds (the other being the Soviet Order of the Badge of Honour).[95] The Berdimuhamed Annayev 1st Specialized Military School of the Ministry of Defence is named in his honour. A museum in the defence ministry is also named after him. In May 2020, a special delegation from Russia led by Deputy Minister of Defence Alexander Fomin[96] brought the banner of Annayev's unit to Ashgabat,[97][98] being trooped through the square in front of the Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex during the inaugural Victory Day Parade in the capital.

On 1 September 2009, Secondary School No. 27 was renamed after Berdimuhamed Annaev and was opened with his son at the opening ceremony.[99] In October 2012, the Main Drama Theater of Turkmenistan staged a play based on Berdimuhamedov's book about his grandfather called "Good Name Imperishable".[100] Military Unit 1001 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is named in honor of Berdimuhamedow's father,[101] Malikguly Berdimuhamedow. In addition, in the town of Yzgant, the Palace of Culture is named after Berdimuhamedow's father, and a bust of him stands in front of it.[102]

Honours[edit]

Arkadag binasy, the gilded bronze statue of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, mounted, in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Domestic awards[edit]

  • 1994 – Star of President Order[citation needed]
  • 2016 - Medal «Türkmenistanyň Garaşsyzlygynyň 25 ýyllygyna» (25 Years of Turkmenistan's Independence)[103]
  • 2019 - «Hormatly il ýaşulusy» (Honorary Elder of the State)[104]
  • 2021 - «Türkmenistanyň ussat halypa seýsi» (Master Equestrian of Turkmenistan)[105]
  • 2022 - Skillful Diplomat of Turkmenistan[106]

Foreign awards[edit]

A specially handcrafted horse saddle given to him as a gift from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2015.

Personal life[edit]

Family[edit]

According to a cable from the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat, Berdimuhamedow is married and has three daughters and one son. One of his sons-in-law, Yhlasgeldi Amanov, headed the Turkmen State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources in London, was later assigned to the Turkmenistan Embassies in Berlin and London, and as of 23 November 2019 was Turkmenistan's consul general in Dubai.[125] The other son-in-law is also a diplomat, with a prior posting in Paris, but later assigned to Brussels.[26]

According to the same leaked cables, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has a mistress, Marina, a Russian nurse, whom he supposedly met earlier in his dentist career. They have a daughter together. Berdimuhamedow's wife has been living in London since 2007.[26] His son, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, served as a colonel in the Armed Forces and held a series of high government posts, culminating in appointment as a deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers.[126][127][128][129] At least three of Berdimuhamedow's grandchildren study in Switzerland: Kerimguly, Ogulbäbek, and Aýgül.[130] According to a biography of Berdimuhamedow's father, Malikguly, published in 2012, Berdimuhamedow has five sisters: Durdynabat (born 1960), Gulnabat (born 1962), Mähri (born 1964), Guljamal (born 1969), and Oguljamal (born 1974).[25]

On 18 April 2021, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow's father, Malikguly Berdimuhamedow, reportedly died at the age of 89.[131][132]

Hobbies[edit]

During his spare time from being President, from his dentistry career and from his political career, he writes books that are popular in Turkmenistan according to Turkmen propaganda.[133][134][135][136] Aside from writing books, he is known for writing songs, DJing and engaging in health activities.[137][138]

In 2019, Berdimuhamedow was awarded the highest award of the International Cycling Union (UCI) for his country’s commitment to the sport.[139]

Health[edit]

On 20 July 2019, the YouTube channel of a Turkmen opposition media outlet announced that Berdimuhamedow had reportedly died while on holiday at the age of 61. He was said to have been on leave since 15 July. These reports were published by multiple Russian media outlets on the next day.[140][141] The Turkmen Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Shadurdy Mereov, and the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied these claims on 21 July. According to Chronicle of Turkmenistan, Berdimuhamedow went to Germany because his mother was receiving medical treatment there, and her condition was critical.[142]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Acting: 21 December 2006 – 14 February 2007
  2. ^ Acting: 21 December 2006 – 4 August 2007
  3. ^ Turkmen Cyrillic: Гурбангулы Мәликгулиевич Бердимухамедов, Turkmen pronunciation: [ɢʊɾbɑnʁʊˈlɯ mælɪk'ɢʊlɯjɛβɪtʃ bɛɾdɯmʊxɑmɛˈdoβ]; Russian: Гурбангулы Мяликгулыевич Бердымухамедов, tr. Kurbankuli Malikkuliyevich Berdymukhamedov
  4. ^ Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, Berdymukhammedov; Although Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow is the only Turkmen form, and Turkmen, written with Latin alphabet, is the only official language of Turkmenistan, Western sources generally use the Russian form "Гурбангулы" or "Курбанкулы Мяликгулыевич Бердымухам(м)едов", using various transcriptions.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]
  5. ^ The English version of the website of the presidency uses the spelling Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.[11]

References[edit]

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