Home > Ruhnama blog, TURKMENISTAN > Shootout in Ashgabat – Was it an attempted coup against Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov?

Shootout in Ashgabat – Was it an attempted coup against Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov?

September 19, 2008

©  Reflections on the Ruhnama
By Steve in Wisconsin
Publication date:  September 19, 2008

The bloody shootout in Turkmenistan’s capital that began at 10 a.m. on September 12, 2008 was later reported by Turkmen media as an operation against drug dealers. This account was published by foreign news agencies – although some willingly shared details from unofficial sources (mostly exile groups) reporting that the incident was a shootout between Turkmen security forces and Islamic militants.

Days later, Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov publicly expressed his condolences to the families of security personnel killed and injured in the drug raid – confirming that at least some loss of life occurred on the Turkmen side – in addition to “neutralizing” the two suspects who occupied a drinking water plant in the northern suburbs of the capital, Ashgabat.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), in an article published on their website by Farangis Najibullah titled “Gunfight In Turkmen Capital Remains Shrouded In Secrecy” stated:

Turkmen authorities have spoken little about the all-night gun battle in Ashgabat on September 12 that left many dead and caused part of the city to be closed off. While state media reported that police neutralized a drug mafia in the capital, others described the gun battle as infighting between different clans within the security services, and still others connected it to Islamic radicals.

In his first comment on the shoot-out, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov acknowledged that several police and security officers were killed.

[16-Sep-2008. Excerpt.]

Although the incident began on 12 September, it was not mentioned on the Turkmenistan government website until much later:
Drug dealers’ group detained
15.09.2008 10:25

According with the Prosecutor General’s Office of Turkmenistan, the criminal group involved in illicit drug trafficking was detected during the investigative actions and operations in Ashgabat.

On September 13, 2008 the special sub-units of the law enforcement agencies of Turkmenistan conducted the operation to disarm and detain the criminal group.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Turkmenistan is conducting the investigation of crime.

[End full text.]

Turkmen media have been methodical in mentioning in subsequent reports that this was an operation against ‘drug dealers’ or ‘drug traffickers’ – always careful not to alarm foreign investors involved with the country’s gas and resource sector that anything more sinister occurred.

Turkmenistan is considered a safe and secure place to invest even though it shares common borders with notable hotspots Afghanistan and Iran. The country sits atop massive natural gas reserves and other key elements in addition to being of strategic importance. Its hitherto peacefulness can be attributed to the neutralist policies of former president Saparmyrat Niyazov who ruled the country for 21 years. Niyazov, hereafter referred to as Turkmenbashy (the “Father of all Turkmen”) authored the Ruhnama – a two-volume book wherein he outlined his spiritual beliefs and philosophies. Ruhnama was intended to guide the Turkmen nation – even after Turkmenbashy’s death – towards an enlightened “Golden Age” of peace and prosperity.

Interestingly, it was Turkmenbashy’s mysterious death on 21 December 2006 that ushered in the regime of current president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov – the former Minister of Health who, according to the constitution, was ineligible for the presidency as it was to pass to the speaker of parliament, Ovezgeldy Atayev. But this was only a minor obstacle as Atayev was imprisoned within hours of Turkmenbashy’s death thereby creating a situation not addressed in the constitution. Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov quickly assumed the presidency.

As the country’s new president Berdymukhammedov wasted no time making changes. He set about dismantling his predecessor’s legacy. He promised reforms and greater investment opportunties – Turkmenistan’s citizens would have access to the internet and via this ‘window to the world’ his countrymen would be exposed to new values and ideas. Cloaking himself in the guise of a reformist Berdymukhammedov soon became the darling of the West – even being invited to the NATO summit in Bucharest and a private meeting with U.S. president George W. Bush.

One of the problems with changing Turkmen society so quickly was that for two decades the Turkmen people had been taught to honor and obey Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy the Great and to trust in his philosophy as he later set forth in Ruhnama. This is a case of too many changes too soon – which likely made the ‘old guard’ uncomfortable.

The shootout on 12 September 2008 in Ashgabat has been publicized by the government as an armed encounter with drug traffickers – but is this what really happened? The Turkmen opposition reports that it was a deadly clash with “Islamic militants” but I have my doubts about that too. My personal opinion is that this was an attempted coup against Berdymukhammedov by conservatives opposed to the new direction the country is taking.

Let’s look at this possibility.

The Turkmenistan government reported that the violent clash occurred on 13 September (see the above press release) whereas news agency chrono-tm states that it began at 10 a.m. on 12 September – which happened to be “Ruhnama Day”, a fact that none of the news agencies noted.

As previously reported in this blog the “Day of Ruhnama” – an official holiday in Turkmenistan – is celebrated 12 September. This is a day specially created by Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy the Great to commemorate his book and his philosophy – a philosophy that the new president has denigrated – while simultaneously having Turkmenbashy’s portraits and statues removed from public venues.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who was prohibited from assuming the presidency under the constitution prior to the rightful successor’s arrest and imprisonment, has drafted a new constitution scheduled to be adopted on 26 September 2008. Both actions – Gurby’s ascension to the presidency and tampering with the constitution – are prohibited in Ruhnama:

The Turkmenistan Constitution is the supreme Law of the state. The norms and provisions stipulated therein have direct effect. Laws and other legal acts that contradict the Constitution do not have legal force.

Ruhnama I, p. 250.

Part of the ‘new’ constitution – the one written by Berdymukhammedov to legitimize his presidency and the unconstitutional reforms he’s making – involves usurping the powers of the Halk Maslahaty – the “People’s Council” that Turkmenbashy hailed as the supreme representative governing body. It was the Halk Maslahaty that appointed Turkmenbashy president-for-life and bestowed upon him the white robe and palm staff symbolic of the Prophet Muhammad.


*   An armed encounter in Turkmenistan’s capital city occurred on 12 September, Ruhnama Day.

*   The armed encounter took place two weeks before the ‘new’ constitution – that radically alters Turkmenbashy’s wishes for his country’s future – was scheduled for adoption.

*   An article on the government website several days after the incident addressed the need for the formation of “anti-terrorism units”:

A meeting of the State Security Council of Turkmenistan
State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH)
15.09.2008 10:25

The President substantiated the necessity of forming the specialized anti-terrorism units in the country. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said that the reliable barrier should be set up to any encroachment on the peaceful life of the Turkmen people and demanded that the high-ranking law enforcement officials should conduct the detailed analysis of the operations of detaining armed criminals and particularly the causes of the mistakes made.


This doesn’t sound like a chance encounter with drug traffickers.

Chrono-tm.org reports that the resistance against Turkmenistan’s security forces was so great that Russia’s Federal Security Service had to be called in to ‘neutralize’ the enemy.

I’m of the opinion that the so-called drug traffickers at the water bottling plant were part of a larger operation aimed at overthrowing Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov – but they were discovered beforehand and the mission involving other cells was aborted.

But what if the armed combatants were Islamic radicals as speculated by the exile media? If that’s the case, then Turkmenistan’s “darling of the West” has a potentially bigger problem to deal with.

Turkmenbashy writes:

History has recorded many cases where the best reforms and initiatives failed because a society was torn apart by conflicts, sometimes brought in from outside. Therefore, we value political stability very highly.

Ruhnama I, p. 69.


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