The new dynasties: Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan

Moscow (AsiaNews) –  Judging by the results of the elections a few days ago, Russia seems to be returning to old form of czarist (and communist) authoritarianism. This step backward for "democracy" is a visible phenomenon in many former republics of the Soviet Union. In the December issue AsiaNews (print version), Giovanni Bensi, expert on religious issues (especially on Islam in territories of the ex-USSR), offers and interesting analysis on occurrences of authoritarianism and nepotism in some Central Asian states.

One specific case is Turkmenistan, a country having a Sunnite majority and 5.5 million inhabitants bordering Iran and Afghanistan and rich in natural gas. Since 1990, when the country was proclaimed independent for the USSR, the presidency has been in the hands of Saparmurat Niyazov. Even he, like Putin, has recycled his image. In the 1980s, he was in fact head of the government and the first secretary of the Turkmeni Communist Party, in addition to being a member of the Communist Party Central Committee in Moscow.

Once he gained power, Niyazov revealed his Muslim identity and in his native village of Kypchak he had the largest mosque in Central Asia built. He also installed dictatorial regime defined by his exasperating "self- worship". He even changed the names of the weeks and months and decreed that that this reign be termed "the golden age". With regard to himself he says: "All the Turkmeni efforts and power must be concentrated in me". In his country there is no independent source of information and those in opposition are persecuted and imprisoned.

Niyazov's Turkmenistan is also sadly known for its corruption and nepotism. After proclaiming himself president for life, his son, Murat, was given a privileged access to the business world, entrusting him with control over exportation of the country's natural gas. The revenues – so it is said in Ashghabat, the country's capital – are held in "offshore" banks in Cyprus. Murat is suspected of accepting large "bribes" from foreign company's interested in drilling and extracting the gas, without, however, realizing what he had gotten himself into. Even earnings gained through the sale of alcohol and cigarettes is managed by Murat.

Another clamorous case of nepotism is visible in Azerbaijan, with its 8 million Islamic Shiite inhabitants situated in the south-eastern Caucas region on the Caspian Sea. A small section of this country borders Turkey as well as  Iran. It is very rich in oil and considered of great strategic and economic importance.

Heydar Aliyev, former head of the Communist Party and KGB in Bakù and ex-politburo member in Moscow, became president after the painful events at the end of the 1980s, a period marked by war and power struggles and which led thousands of deaths. Since the 1990s, he has forced his most serious adversaries into exile and keeps civil and political liberties to the lowest level possible.

By amending the constitution, Aliyev also created the circumstances that would lead to his son, Ilham, succeeding him as president. And this is exactly what happened: In April Aliyev, struck by severe heart disease, quit politics. Just before the elections,  he abdicated his office in favor of Ilham, head of the "Yeni Azerbaycan" (New Azerbaigian) Party. Ilham won the October elections with 79.5% of the votes. His opposition accused him of rigging the elections and even organized manifestations, but with no successful results. When he was still the "the crown prince", Ilham Aliyev was also vice-president of the state oil company, where he was paid off by many American oil businesses.

Another striking case of nepotism, where family members enjoy privileged positions in politics, the media and  business affairs is Kazakhstan, rich in oil and gas reserves. Hence, Dariga, the daughter of president Nazarbayev, is director of the main khazakhi TV channel, "Khabar", while her husband, Rahat Aliyev, is ambassador to Austria and the OSCE.

Nazarbayev has tried to create an alliance with its neighbor, Kyrgyzstan, by forcing another of his daughters, Aliya, marry Aydar, the son of Kyrgyzstan's president Askar Akayev. This "diplomatic" marriage did not last and, after the divorce, Aliya married a wealthy Kazakhi  businessman. Nazarbayev's third daughter, Dinara, directs the "National Education Fund", while her husband, Timur Kulibayev, is vice-president of the Kazakhi state oil and gas company.  (SF)
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