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April 12, 2005
Isolation Of Turkmenistan Grows

Turkmenistan dictator Saparmyrat Niyazov, known as Turkmenbashi to his subjects, further isolated his already-insular Central Asian nation by apparently cancelling the licenses of international couriers such as DHL and Federal Express. Always paranoid about outside influences undermining his absolute rule, Niyazov may also be looking to promote a native courier service, for his own purposes:

Turkmenistan has closed down all its international courier companies, the main postal link between the country and the outside world. The Ministry of Communications said couriers' licences would not be extended, without explaining why.

Turkmenistan is already an extremely isolated country and the move will hit hard, especially businesses and the foreign community. Big couriers like Federal Express and DHL are lifelines to the outside world.

Many embassies and most businesses send all their documents and other post through them.

This last sentence contains the probable key to Niyazov's latest irrationality. FedEx and DHL make a living off of their reputations for secure deliveries of material, whether that material is product oriented or intellectual property, such as diplomatic transmissions, business formulas, and the like. Niyazov would want to ensure that such delivery systems were not being deployed to undermine his iron-fisted rule, but he also wouldn't mind knowing whatever else he can find out about the diplomatic and commercial interests operating in Turkmenistan. If the only licensee for courier services winds up being an outfit named Niyazov Delivers, or Turkmenbashi Express, its customers can readily assume that whatever actually manages to arrive at its destination will have been thoroughly reviewed by Niyazov's security apparatus.

While milder forms of autocracies have started to wobble or fall to democratization, such as Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan has remained almsot defiantly in the grip of the Stalinist dictator with the almost-satirical personality cult. Some believe that the lesson for Central Asian strongmen is to avoid liberalization and instead follow Niyazov's example to retain their grip on power. It might work, for a while, although Niyazov started when Russia needed its former Soviet republics as buffer states more than it needed them to reform, which allowed Niyazov a healthy and safe head start on his paranoid and megalomaniac rule. However, eventually the increasing isolation and the economic collapse it will bring Turkmenistan will completely destabilize the nation -- and as it is dwarfed by its southern neighbor, Iran, the mullahs there will take special interest in its new direction once that collapse occurs.

In the aftermath of World War I and its liberation from the Ottoman Empire, Turkmenistan turned towards the backwards rule of a Caliphate pretender that took the ancestral home of the Turks from the 19th century to the 12th century through absolute rule of a separate but similar kind. The hapless Turk adventurer and incompetent general Enver Pasha tried playing the Soviets against the Caliphate to install himself in a role almost identical to Niyazov's now, and the result was Russian domination for seven decades. If Niyazov doesn't start opening Turkmenistan to reform, the Iranians may well wind up playing the role of the Soviets in the 1920s in Ashgabat, which will have deeper implications for the rest of the Central Asian republics in the neighborhood. The West would do well to start putting more effort into pressing for democratization to wobble Niyazov into retirement.

UPDATE: I'm told in comments that Turkmenistan wasn't controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which I will check later when I can get to my resources at home.

UPDATE II: Registan has it covered already.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 12, 2005 7:07 AM

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» Turkmenbashi Expels Foreign Couriers from
I somehow failed to mention yesterday that Turkmenistan has booted foreign couriers such as FedEx and DHL. Monday's decision to exclude international courier firms from working in the ex-Soviet state will put postal traffic firmly in government hand... [Read More]

Tracked on April 12, 2005 3:20 PM

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