Sapamurat Niyazov, the autocratic leader of Turkmenistan who constructed a cult of personality around himself, died earlier this week and some of the Turkmen students at AUCA were distraught. Annagul likened the president for life to Stalin and said it will be hard for many Turkmens, especially the older ones, to imagine a life without him. Niyazov, a former Communist Party boss, recast himself as an ethnic nationalist and prefers the title Turkmenbashi, “father of all Turkmens.” He has ruled the country since it gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
I asked Arslan why he wasn’t celebrating the end of a dictatorship and he explained that his big concern was the political chaos that is likely to erupt as a result of the leadership vacuum (which hasn’t materialized yet). He also said that Niyazov plundered the economy and that any successor could be expected to do that same. Turkmenistan has rich oil and natural gas resources and provides its citizens with electricity, gas, water and salt at no cost. Murat said the speaker of the parliament would succeed the president, but Arslan wasn’t so sure. Niyazov, who promised there would be presidential elections in 2009, did not delineate a process of succession before his death from cardiac arrest.
By contrast, the resignation earlier this week of Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov and his cabinet barely caused a ripple among Kyrgyz students. The resignations are widely seen as latest escalation of the ongoing dispute between the executive branch, which includes President Kurmanbek Bakiev, and the parliament. The president and prime minister claim the constitutional reforms forced upon them last month after a week of street demonstrations by the opposition reform movement that increased the powers of the parliament are unworkable. They say the resignations should force new parliamentary elections. The parliament counters that the new constitution allows them to remain in office until 2010.