Human Rights In Turkmenistan And The Case Of Boris Shikhmuradov

On Sunday night, I watched this documentary by Journeyman Pictures called Turkmenbashi’s Reign of Terror. It was made in 2005, when Turkmenbashi—the name nasty dictator Saparmurat Niyazov chose for himself, which means “leader of the Turkmen”—was still alive and kicking, grossly repressing his country. Aside from a cheap shot at us Americans for the war in Iraq (I’m pretty sure Journeyman Pictures is British, so no surprises there), the documentary is pretty good. I’ve embedded it below if you want to watch it. Admittedly I usually write about European stuff, but I also like learning about other former Soviet countries (Turkmenistan was once a part of the Soviet Union).

Niyazov was a singularly evil person, as the documentary describes. He created a gross cult of personality, similar to the one in North Korea, and repressed anyone who disagreed. (Unfortunately, even after his death, the climate of repression has not changed.) Even though the country has vast oil and gas reserves, most of the people live in rural areas and have no money at all. People can’t just move to the city if they want to (another unfortunate similarity to North Korea) and basically have no prospects at all.

Shikhmuradov speaking at the UN, before he fell out of favor. Photo from here.
Shikhmuradov speaking at the UN, before he fell out of favor. Photo from here.

So who is Boris Shikhmuradov, you ask? He used to be minister of foreign affairs of Turkmenistan, so he basically was best friends with Niyazov. However, something changed his mind and he turned on Niyazov. I don’t know if he began to oppose the dictator because he wanted power for himself or because he genuinely wanted his country to have a nice, normal leader. Anyway, he began to oppose Niyazov, which led to Niyazov having him arrested for an alleged coup. (I’m sure the coup was just an excuse to purge people, as other prominent Turkmen officials were implicated, too [link in Russian].)

Shikhmuradov confessing, looking a bit worse for the wear.
Shikhmuradov confessing, looking a bit worse for the wear.

Poor Shikhmuradov gave a full confession admitting his guilt on national TV. Pretty much everyone with a brain agrees that it was forced and he was tortured into it. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 and hasn’t been heard from since. There’s a lot of information about him on this website dedicated to political prisoners in Turkmenistan. The whole website is very depressing, as Turkmen prisons are not a nice place to be nowadays. I feel bad for everyone who has been imprisoned over there and hasn’t been heard from since. It’s pretty sad not only that such conditions exist today, but that the vast majority of people don’t even know about this.

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