Geldy Kyarizov’s Deteriorating Condition

by Joshua Foust on 2/6/2012 · 6 comments

A few weeks ago, I highlighted the plight of Geldy Kyarizov, a former horse trainer turned political prisoner in Turkmenistan. Amnesty International has just released an Urgent Action alert on his deteriorating condition:

Amnesty International has received credible reports that Geldy Kyarizov is currently suffering from serious heart illness, enlarged liver and high blood pressure, as well as gallbladder and gastric problems and needs access to urgent specialist medical treatment. Amnesty International fears that if he does not access the necessary specialist medical treatment soon, his life may be in danger. Reportedly, such specialist medical treatment is not available to him in Turkmenistan. In similar cases Turkmenistani residents seek medical treatment abroad. However, he and his family members are believed to be on a ‘black list’ and therefore unable to leave the country. His wife, sister-in-law and daughter attempted to leave Turkmenistan in 2006, 2008 and 2010 respectively but were denied exit. Amnesty International is also concerned that Geldy Kyarizov and his family continue to be harassed by the authorities: they are currently under surveillance; his wife and sister-in-law have been unable to find employment apparently because of being related to him.

It should come as no surprise that Turkmenistan is an abhorrent regime that also happens to enjoy warm relations with the U.S. as well as the global energy industry. Alas, their abuses never seen to generate as much heat as Uzbekistan, though I’d argue they’re possibly worse in many ways (and there is less visibility into how the country functions as well). For example, even taking pictures of the public banners used to promote the upcoming fraudulent election is a dangerous act of defiance — something that is not true of the other countries of Central Asia.

As another example, Turkmenistan has made a habit of treating dissidents as if they were dangerous psychopaths, sentencing them to psychiatric prisons as if Brezhnev’s reign in the 1970s never ended. While the tactic in Uzbekistan resulted in lots of media attention — relatively, since this is Central Asia and few in the West care about it — in Turkmenistan such actions merit barely a peep, even though international involvement in the country is far greater. There are also bizarre and upsetting actions like sending decapitated horse heads to the homes of dissidents that get little more than shrugs here.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there for the moment. Geldy at least has some Europeans who try to reach out for help in publicizing his case (several of them have contacted me, and I’m happy to help them spread the word). But there are many other activists in Turkmenistan who languish in obscurity and irrelevance. That’s a real shame, but at least in this case maybe shining some sunlight can result in his getting the medical help he clearly needs.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Ian February 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm

[Turkmenistan] also happens to enjoy warm relations with the U.S. as well as the global energy industry. Alas, their abuses never seen to generate as much heat as Uzbekistan

Money generates heat. Do we give aid, military or otherwise, to Turkmenistan? I suspect that if we started to, you would hear from rights groups. It’s clear that this post is meant as another episode in the Josh vs. Josh debate, but you’re comparing apples with aid recipients (however small and non-gunlike the aid is–only night-vision goggles!!)

Joshua Foust February 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm


Sort of. Do you think it’s a bigger scandal that the U.S. gives Uzbekistan some non-gunlike equipment in exchange for passage through their territory, or that people are silent in Turkmenistan where there are massive oil and gas profits to be had?

I’m not sure, but I also don’t think they’re un-analogizable, either.

Ian February 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm

It seems obvious to me that they’re different. But I’ll play along with your analogy. You seem to be saying one of these things:

a) We shouldn’t give either Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan any aid, nor should we let US corporations do business with them, because they repress their dissidents.
b) If no one cares about Turkmenistan’s repression of dissidents, why care about Uzbekistan’s so much that we stop trading or granting them military equipment. Let’s give Turkmenistan goggles too.
c) Policy on military cooperation and trade shouldn’t be based on principles on human rights, but let’s write Registan articles about our heartfelt concern about dissidents anyway.
d) Actually, this isn’t a very good analogy.

Which one do you prefer?

Joshua Foust February 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm

All of your options are silly. I’m pointing out that it’s limited and limiting to concern oneself to much with Uzbekistan’s abuses while ignoring Turkmenistan’s often worse abuses when in fact there is more at stake (arguably, with the energy stuff) in Turkmenistan. I’m arguing for more attention to Turkmenistan, which curiously isn’t in your list.

Try again, Ian. Maybe this time without distorting what I said.

Ian February 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Not distorting, telling you how one reader understands this. You’re the one who insisted there was an analogy between US energy trade in Turkmenistan and US military support to Uzbekistan, not me. So if there’s an analogy, presumably you think there could be more consistency between our US policies with the two countries. Or maybe not.

Who is ignoring Turkmenistan’s worse abuses?

Sarah Kendzior February 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

There is simple explanation for the fact that Uzbekistan’s problems get more attention, and that is that there are more Uzbek-speaking people, and people from Uzbekistan (including ethnic Russians like the founder of, writing about them. The Andijon crackdown sent dozens of prominent Uzbek reporters and dissidents into exile and spurred websites that keep the focus on Uzbekistan’s human rights abuses going. There are also many Uzbek reporters and activists native to neighboring Central Asian states that write about Uzbekistan’s affairs. The editor of one major Uzbek opposition site is an Uzbek from Tajikistan; one of the most famous Uzbek reporters that covered human rights, Alisher Saipov, was an Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan. The diaspora has made it comparatively harder for Uzbekistan to control its informational borders. (Though it still does a thorough job.) Turkmenistan also has an active diaspora, but not in the numbers Uzbekistan does.

I agree that Turkmenistan’s problems should get more attention, but I don’t think it is surprising that they do not, given the linguistic and population issues. I also think the interest in the bizarre theatrics of the regime takes attention away from the more insidious, but less glamorous, problems of corruption, repression, etc.

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