Uzbek president’s office statement contradicts rumors of Turkmen leader’s death

ASHGABAT (TCA) — Uzbekistan’s presidential press service said that Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov spoke by telephone with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev on July 24 to congratulate him on his birthday. The statement was the first official report about activity by Berdymukhammedov since July 21, when rumors on social media and unconfirmed reports by Russian news outlets claimed he had died.

Meanwhile, Turkmen state TV showed video footage of Berdymukhammedov at a construction site in the capital, Ashgabat, stating that it was recorded on July 24. It was not possible to immediately verify the date on which the video was taken, RFE/RL reported.

The report stressed several times that the president is on vacation until August 15.

Berdymukhammedov’s failure to appear in public since July 5, not even during a July 6 visit to Ashgabat by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, has fueled speculation about the state of his health.

Turkmenistan’s state news agencies normally are filled with reports about Berdymukhammedov’s day-to-day activities as part of a cult of personality built around the autocratic ruler during his 12 years in power.

Diplomats at Turkmen embassies abroad have rejected the rumors of his death as “absolute lies,” but neither state media nor government officials in Ashgabat commented on the reports for three days.

Prior to July 24, the only mention about Berdymukhammedov by Turkmen state news agencies were short reports on July 21 saying he was writing a book while on vacation and that he had congratulated Turkmen doctors on a national holiday for health workers.

Within hours of the announcement by the Uzbek presidential office of Berdymukhammedov’s birthday salutations to Mirziyoev, Turkmenistan’s state news agencies also began to carry reports about the phone call.

Other recent reports coming from Turkmenistan — some confirmed by RFE/RL and others refuted — have fueled speculation within the closed society about Berdymukhammedov’s health.

On June 29, during celebrations to mark the Turkmen autocrat’s 62nd birthday, imams at mosques across the country prayed for Berdymukhammedov’s health — something they have not done in previous years.

Early on July 24, municipal workers in Ashgabat began cleaning the facades of public buildings — a task usually performed in preparation for a large public event, such as a state funeral or an international conference, RFE/RL’s Turkmen service reported.

In the meantime, YouTube channel “Erkin Turkmenistan”, which was the primary source of information about Berdymukhammedov’s alleged death, has posted a new video saying that Berdymukhammedov was in a coma on 20 and 21 July, but regained consciousness in the morning of 22 July.

According to sources of Chronicles of Turkmenistan independent news website, Berdymukhammedov’s absence in public is due to the critical condition of his mother, Ogulabat Berdymukhammedova, who, according to reports as of 21 July, had been undergoing a course of medical treatment in Germany for 10 days.

Sergey Kwan

TCA

Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
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Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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