Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow

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Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (2017-10-02) 02.jpg
Berdimuhamedow in 2017
2nd President of Turkmenistan
Assumed office
21 December 2006
Acting: 21 December 2006 – 14 February 2007
Vice PresidentRaşit Meredow
Preceded bySaparmurat Niyazov
Leader of the Democratic Party
In office
21 December 2006 – 18 August 2013
Acting: 21 December 2006 – 4 August 2007
Preceded bySaparmurat Niyazov
Succeeded byKasymguly Babaev
First Vice President of Turkmenistan
In office
1 March 2001 – 14 February 2007
PresidentSaparmurat Niyazov
Preceded byOrazgeldi Aýdogdyýew
Succeeded byRaşit Meredow
Personal details
Born
Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow

(1957-06-29) 29 June 1957 (age 63)
Babarap, Turkmen SSR, Soviet Union (now Turkmenistan)
Political partyIndependent (2013–present)
Other political
affiliations
Democratic (before 2013)
Spouse(s)Ogulgerek Berdimuhamedova
Children4, including Serdar
Alma materTurkmen State Medical Institute
Military service
Allegiance Turkmenistan
Branch/service Turkmen Ground Forces
RankGeneral of the Army (since 2007)[1]

Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow[a][b][c] (born 29 June 1957)[12] is a Turkmen politician who has been serving as the President of Turkmenistan since February 2007. Berdimuhamedow, a dentist by profession, served in the government under President Saparmurat Niyazov as Minister of Health beginning in 1997 and as Vice-President beginning in 2001. He became Acting President following Niyazov's death on 21 December 2006 and subsequently won the February 2007 presidential election. He faced no meaningful opposition in the vote and won by an overwhelming margin (89.23%).[13] In the February 2012 presidential election, he was re-elected with 97% of the vote. In the February 2017 presidential election, he was re-elected to a third term with 97.69% of the votes.[14][15]

As with his predecessor, a personality cult is promoted around Berdimuhamedow. According to Human Rights Watch, Berdimuhamedow, his relatives, and his associates possess unlimited power and exercise total control over all aspects of public life.[16] He uses the honorific title Arkadag, meaning "protector" in the Turkmen language.[17]

Early years[edit]

Berdimuhamedow was born on 29 June 1957 in Babarap, in what is now the Geok Tepe etrap ("district") of Ahal Province, to Mälikguly Berdimuhamedowiç Berdimuhamedow (born 12 August 1932) and Ogulabat Ataýewna Kürräýewa.[18] 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.[19] His grandfather, Berdimuhamed Annayev, was a local teacher who served in the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War as part of the 748th Rifle Regiment of the 206th Rifle Division of the 2nd Ukrainian Front.[20] In September 1943, his unit was one of the first to cross into the Dnepr River.[21] He was later killed in the 1948 Ashgabat earthquake.[22]

Berdimuhamedow graduated from the Turkmen State Medical Institute in 1979 and entered a career in dentistry.[23] He also received a PhD in medical sciences in Moscow.[23] By 1992 he had become part of the dentistry faculty at the Medical Institute. In 1995, during the rule of Saparmurat Niyazov, Berdimuhamedow became head of the dentistry center of the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry.[24] 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.[25][26] In April 2004, Niyazov suspended Berdimuhamedow's salary for three months because healthcare workers were not being paid.[24]

Berdimuhamedow with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Ashgabat Airport.

The Health Ministry was responsible for carrying out Niyazov's notorious order to close all hospitals outside of the capital city and major regional towns in 2005.[27]

President of Turkmenistan[edit]

Following Niyazov's death in December 2006, the State Security Council of Turkmenistan appointed Berdimuhamedow as acting president.[28] The Council stated in its announcement that Öwezgeldi Ataýew, who, as the Chairman of the Assembly of Turkmenistan was to become the acting president, was not appointed "in view of the fact that the prosecutor-general had instituted criminal proceedings against him".[29]

Berdimuhamedow with Petro Poroshenko.

Article 60 of the Turkmen Constitution stipulated that the acting president "may not stand for election to the Presidency",[30] 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.[31] Berdimuhamedov was supported by the political elite,[32] and the official results showed him as winning 89% of the vote.[13][33]

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.[34] He then visited Russia and President Vladimir Putin at the end of the same month.

Berdimuhamedow with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the Third GECF summit

After taking office, Berdimuhamedow reversed several of Niyazov's more eccentric policies. Internet cafés offering free and uncensored web access opened in Ashgabat,[35] 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.[36] President Berdimuhamedow has 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.[37] He also restored the pensions of 100,000 elderly people whose pensions Niyazov had slashed in the face of an unspecified budget crisis.[38] Later on, he reopened the Turkmen Academy of Sciences, which had been closed by Niyazov.[39]

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%.[40][41] In October 2017, he offered a top Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog to Vladimir Putin.[42]

He was reelected as president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkmenistan on 22 April 2018.[43]

In 2020, Berdimuhamedow 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".[44]

Criticism[edit]

Accusations of totalitarianism[edit]

Image of Berdimuhamedow, on display outside the national horse-racing ground in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
External video
Turkmenistan's president announces end of free gas, electricity, water, and salt
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."[45] He also gave up his right to rename any landmarks, institutions, or cities,[46] 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),[47] and announced plans to move the infamous gold rotating statue of Niyazov from Ashgabat's central square.[48] However, he explicitly ruled out any move toward Western-style democracy.[49]

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.[50] In 2011, he sang a song on a video posted to YouTube.[51]

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.[52] 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."[53]

In May 2013, he fell off his horse during a race. The fall was censored on TV but leaked online.[54] On 11 August 2019, an episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver featured a clip of the incident, which was played thrice. This was part of a long piece satirising the dictator, culminating in the unveiling of a 55 sq meter marble cake decorated with a giant image of the president falling off the horse (simultaneously breaking the world record for the size of marble cakes). According to Oliver, Guinness World Records, which was criticized in the episode for its relations with authoritarian regimes, refused to certify the record unless the show signed a contract prohibiting it from criticizing the company, which Oliver stated that "is clearly ridiculous."[55]

In 2015, a golden statue of Berdimuhamedow riding a horse atop a white-marble cliff was erected in Ashgabat.[56][57]

According to international observers, Berdimuhamedow now leads "one of the most oppressive" and "closed" regimes in the world. Freedom House has consistently placed Turkmenistan near the bottom of its Freedom in the World rankings since Berdimuhamedow took office; in 2017, the country was one of 11 with the lowest aggregate scores for political and civil rights.[58] Human Rights Watch noted that Berdimuhamedow not only has complete control over public life, but presides over a regime that does not tolerate "alternative political or religious expression" and has complete control over the media.[59] Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Turkmenistan near the bottom of its Press Freedom Index for most of Berdimuhamedow's tenure. 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.[60]

In September 2016, the Turkmenistan Parliament abolished term limits for the presidency, which allowed Berdimuhamedow to run for a third term.[61]

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.[62]

In July 2018, he appeared in a rap video with his grandson. He had previously lifted weights on camera, and also acted as DJ.[63]

By decree of Berdymuhamedov 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.[64]

Violation of individual rights[edit]

The Obozrevatel magazine named Berdimuhamedow the 5th of the 23 worst dictators in the world. In the Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders), Turkmenistan ranks 176 out of 178.[65]

Turkmenistan leads in the number of political prisoners from all countries of the former Soviet Union.[66]

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. 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).

In 2019, the Belarusian construction company Belgorkhimprom also filed a similar claim with the court, to which Turkmenistan should pay about $200 million.[67][68]

Investors talk about discrimination against the Turkmen authorities, politicized bureaucracy, and a high level of corruption.[69]

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.[70][71]

In 2019, Turkmenistan ranked 164th among 180 countries in the ranking of economic freedom.[72]

Honours[edit]

Domestic awards[edit]

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.[77] The other son-in-law is also a diplomat, with a prior posting in Paris, but currently assigned to Brussels.[19]

According to the same leaked cables, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has a mistress, Marina, a Russian nurse that he supposedly met earlier in his dentist career. They have a daughter together. Berdimuhamedow's wife has been living in London since 2007.[19][78] His son, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, is a lieutenant colonel in the Armed Forces.[79] Serdar was appointed governor of Ahal velayat (province) in June 2019.[80] At least three of Berdimuhamedow's grandchildren study in Switzerland: Kerimguly, Ogulbäbek, and Aýgül.[81] According to a biography of Berdimuhamedow's father published in 2012, Berdimuhamedow has five sisters: Durdynabat (born 1960), Gulnabat (born 1962), Mähri (born 1964), Guljamal (born 1969), and Oguljamal (born 1974).[18]

Father and grandfather in cult of personality[edit]

Berdimuhamedow's grand father 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).[82] 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[83] brought the banner of Annayev's unit to Ashgabat[84][85], 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.[86] In October 2012, the Main Drama Theater of Turkmenistan staged a play based on Berdimuhamedov's book about his grandfather called "Good Name Imperishable".[87] The Military Unit 1001 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is named in the legacy of Berdimuhamedow's father.[88] In addition, in honor of him, in the village of Yzgant, the Palace of Culture is named after him.[89]

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.[90][91][92][93] Aside from writing books, he is known for writing songs, DJing and engaging in health activities.[94]

In 2019, Berdimuhamedow was awarded the highest award of the International Cycling Union (UCI) for his country’s commitment to the sport.[95]

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.[96][97] The Turkmen Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Shadurdy Mereov, and the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied these claims on 21 July. According to The Chronicle of Turkmenistan, Berdimuhamedow went to Germany because his mother was receiving medical treatment there, and her condition was critical.[98]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ [ʁʊɾbɑnʁʊˈlɯ bɛɾdɯmʊxɑmɛˈdoβ]
  2. ^ or 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]
  3. ^ The English version of the website of the presidency uses a curious mixture of the Turkmen spelling with a transcribed ending: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov[11]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Orazgeldi Aýdogdyýew
Vice-President of Turkmenistan
2001–2007
Succeeded by
Raşit Meredow
Preceded by
Saparmurat Niyazov
President of Turkmenistan
2007–present
Incumbent