Turkmen Air Force Chief Jailed for Helicopter Crash

Turkmen Air Force Chief Jailed for Helicopter Crash

Human rights groups in Turkmenistan report that former air force commander-in-chief Gurbanguly Gurbanguliev was transferred to prison in early September after being court-martialled for allegedly contributing to a helicopter crash.

Gurbanguliev was a career army officer who commanded the air force and missile defence service for seven years before being forced to resign in June. He was decorated both by Turkmenistan’s current president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov and his predecessor, the late Saparmurat Niazov.

Officials said Gurbanguliev’s resignation this June was forced because a helicopter that crashed on exercise in April was piloted by an officer without the requisite training, whose appointment he had personally ordered. Three crewmembers died when the aircraft came down about 70 kilometres from the capital Ashgabat.

In a closed trial, a military tribunal sentenced Gurbanguliev to 11 years’ imprisonment and set a fine of more than 1.5 million dollars as damages for the lost helicopter.

However, a defence ministry staffer who asked not to be named says that “the flight recorder records indicate that the accident was caused not by pilot incompetence, but because of old equipment”. 

“All that is known is that the old MI helicopter crashed after repair work had been done to its,” the source said. “It’s hardly surprising that it crashed as its useful life was long over.”

Human rights activists say two of Gurbanguliev’s brother - a police officer and a lecturer at the Turkmen Military Academy –also received lengthy prison terms.

Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Fund based in Bulgaria, said this showed that the courts were acting the same way as they did under Niazov.

“It’s a longstanding practice for law-enforcement and judicial agencies to jail the families of convicts together with them,” she explained.

When Gurbanguliev’s predecessor as air force chief, Serdar Charyarov, was disgraced and jailed in Niazov’s time, relatives were also put in prison.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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