Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Disgraced Regional Chief Dies in Jail

Even by Turkmen standards, the fall from grace of Geday Ahmedov, a once-favoured regional chief, was spectacular and tragic.
For more than a decade, Ahmedov remained governor of the eastern region of Lebap while other regional leaders came and went. However, at the beginning of July, a car drew up at Ahmedov’s family home, and security service officers produced his body from the boot.

The funeral was swift and unpublicised, according to the Vienna-based Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights. Most people who had known Ahmedov stayed away for fear of being persecuted by the secret servicemen who remained on hand to oversee proceedings.

Ahmedov, 66, died in jail, apparently after suffering a heart attack, although it is unlikely the details will come to light.

His career ended in February with a 17-year sentence for corruption, nepotism and abuse of power.

Lebap is an important centre of both agriculture and industry, centred on cotton and grain production and processing, so Ahmedov’s long tenure as governor shows how much he was valued by President Saparmurad Niazov, who styles himself Turkmenbashi.

Ahmedov was one of only a handful of officials honoured with title of Hero of Turkmenistan, the top award given by the president.

Former members of staff in the regional government say Lebap did achieve a lot over the ten years, increasing industrial output and discovering new gas fields.

The president apparently had a warm relationship with his favourite governor, citing him as a model when admonishing other regional chiefs, and frequently visiting him to celebrate his birthday and other family events. He showered Ahmedov with gifts – a four-wheel-drive vehicle here, a tractor for his private farm there.

But although by all accounts he was a competent manager, Ahmedov was to be brought down by the corruption that dogs the entire state system in Turkmenistan. People who held posts under his rule tell stories of kickbacks and cash payments for securing senior-level jobs.

However, sources close to Ahmedov’s administration reported that all this came to an end when whispers reached Turkmenbashi that the governor was secretly building himself a house on the other side of the border, in the Bukhara region of Uzbekistan. The president is believed to have suspected that Ahmedov was securing himself a bolthole.

A succession of ministers and ambassadors have fled over the years Turkmenbashi has been in power. But if Ahmedov suspected his number was up, he chose the wrong country. Relations with Uzbekistan have remained poor ever since Turkmenbashi accused the neighbouring government of playing a part in an assassination attempt against him in November 2002.

Ahmedov was demoted to the rank of district government chief and was moved away from his power base to the central Ahal region in October last year. He was subsequently arrested, charged and imprisoned.

A political analyst in Turkmenistan said if rumours that Ahmedov was preparing a quick exit to Uzbekistan are true, it would hardly be surprising, since these days it is a question of not if, but when dismissal and prosecution will come - even for Turkmenbashi’s most trusted allies.

Turkmenbashi may be engaged in a genuine attempt to root out corruption, although many believe the campaign is simply designed to instil fear in officials and tell the public that they, not the president, are responsible for economic failure.

But analysts in Turkmenistan say the problem facing the president is that as he removes corrupt but still reasonably effective leaders, he has to replace them with new figures who are inexperienced, incompetent – and just as corrupt.