Immediately before Kyiv Post met with Mr. Murad Kurbanov with in person at an Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference in Warsaw, Poland, Mr. Kurbanov’s security had already been endangered. Appearing uninvited, a man, apparently a diplomat from the Turkmen Embassy, sought to enter the conference hotel’s lobby while screaming threats at Mr. Kurbanov, in front of multiple, high-level, international attendees, stating that Mr. Kurbanov was “not even safe in Europe.” Mr. Kurbanov is, in the eyes of the Turkmen Government, clearly a threat.
Could you say a few words about yourself?
My name is Murad Kurbanov. I am 57 years old and have four children. I graduated from the Turkmen Polytechnic Institute with a degree in civil engineering, and later graduated from the Dutch Business School with a Master’s in Business Administration, where I studied economics and management. I then graduated from Mirai University in France, receiving a diploma as a French teacher.
In Poland, shortly before we met, someone from the Turkmen Embassy approached you and began to yell threats at you. Does this happen to you a lot?
They threaten me everywhere. But they also crush our families in Turkmenistan: parents, brothers, sisters, their children, etc. I have had 80 relatives crushed, including cousins and cousins of cousins.
Twice a week they [Turkmen authorities] show up to see my mother, who is 84 years old, to put pressure on her. They come looking for me as they’re afraid that I will come to Turkmenistan.
Who is behind this targeted harassment of you?
This is all done by Turkmen national security officers. The 3rd Secretary of the Turkmen Embassy in France is focused, specifically, on following me. They found out where my children live, and what cars they drive, and they found out everything about me.
This is the standard system of pressure. With all activists and opposition activists and so on.
But, with me, they exert the most pressure: as I present the greatest threat of creating regime change in Turkmenistan.
I do not think that people unfamiliar with the region know how similar Turkmenistan is to North Korea. I have heard that there is something else that Turkmenistan has in common with North Korea: Not one person has ever gotten Coronavirus there.
Yes, because President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov decided that there is only “some kind of dust disease” in Turkmenistan, and that there is no Coronavirus in Turkmenistan – and thus, by his decision, the Coronavirus has been beaten, forever. Even the World Health Organization has confirmed that there is no Coronavirus in Turkmenistan!
Even though 100,000 people died from Coronavirus in Turkmenistan every month in August and September 2021, the presence of Coronavirus in Turkmenistan has not been confirmed by anyone. Commemorative events for the dead held during this period and satellite images of cemeteries throughout Turkmenistan confirm these figures.
There is information in the mass media that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan’s dictator, is both strange and cruel. Are there any confirmed examples that you could share?
- Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s predecessor, the former President of Turkmenistan [Saparmurat] Niyazov, nicknamed Turkmenbashi, built a prison for deputy prime ministers and his ministers in his Recreation Palace in the village of Firyuza. Every single day, leaving for work and coming home from work, he passed through this prison and mocked the prisoners.
- Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov continued this tradition. He built an aquarium for crocodiles and sharks in the Recreation Palace in Firyuza. He throws guilty officials inside. Prior to the 2022 presidential election in Turkmenistan, the nephews of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his son Serdar, the current president, systematically raped young girls and then killed them to hide the evidence. All these cases were closed without investigation. Even Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s beloved grandson, Kerim, who should become the head of the country after Serdar, raped a 16-year-old girl, who was subsequently placed in a psychiatric hospital. All the relatives of the murdered and raped girls are intimidated by the National Security Service and the Prosecutor’s Office.
- The import and use of cars of all colors except for white are prohibited in Turkmenistan. All cars of other colors and factory color parts (black bumpers, black side protective plastic on doors, black lower engine protective tray) must be repainted white.
What other similarities do you see between Turkmenistan and North Korea?
Turkmenistan strives for maximum isolation and does not allow tourists, journalists, or human rights defenders to enter the country. The only people who can come to the country are employees of diplomatic missions, the UN, OSCE, UNICEF, and UNESCO. They are always accompanied and monitored so that they do not “interfere” too much in the life of the country.
Every Turkmen who invites a guest to the country takes full responsibility for that guest. The guest cannot be a journalist, blogger, politician, or any kind of public person. The guest is prohibited from posting photos, videos, or any other evidence of the real life of Turkmens. In addition, it is forbidden to photograph public places in Turkmenistan. National security or police officers can seize a photo or phone from you at any time.
For example, not so long ago, one person was sentenced to four years in prison for sending photos from a social network to a journalist for an electronic publication. There is an iron curtain in Turkmenistan that restricts and controls all information. All mass media outlets belong to the state: television, newspapers, magazines…The internet speed is very weak, so it’s not possible to watch a video or send a photo. The internet is strictly controlled, and 65% of Internet providers and websites in Turkmenistan are closed. Even if you pay for high-speed internet services, you can’t download videos or visit social networks. Being caught with a VPN results in 15 days in jail.
Who recognizes you as the legitimate leader of the opposition?
In 2020, I was elected leader of the people’s movement Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan, which is registered in France. The Democratic Opposition Platform of Turkmenistan was also created, which included the main opposition movements, groups, bloggers, and civil activists. At one of the meetings, I was elected leader of the Democratic Platform and candidate for the post of president of Turkmenistan. (See details:
How much pressure is there and how realistic is it to overthrow the Turkmen leader, at this point?
There is no possibility to hold a peaceful protest, action, or peaceful demonstration against the current regime in Turkmenistan. All oppositionists are imprisoned or are abroad. Everything is strictly controlled inside. Even though all the rallies are held abroad people are brutally persecuted by the authorities, as there is powerful pressure exerted on relatives inside Turkmenistan.
How do the people of Turkmenistan feel about Russia’s war against Ukraine?
Since the citizens of Turkmenistan are isolated from real information and have only access to Russian propaganda channels, most of them support the special [military] operation and Putin. The democratic opposition is trying to explain to the citizens of Turkmenistan that Putin has unleashed an aggressive war and that there are no Nazis in Ukraine. Although the country is isolated, our people are gradually waking up.
Why do you think we see the favorable reaction, across some post-Soviet nations, about Russia’s war in Ukraine?
This war shows that many people in the former USSR support Putin’s aggression. These people see Putin as a person who can realize their idea of recreating the USSR. Because they have not lived happily since the collapse of the USSR, there is no place to complain about their (local) dictators. Because local dictators have already trapped them.
What does the war in Ukraine mean to you?
I believe that the aggressive war that Putin unleashed by attacking Ukraine is the struggle being waged by the Ukrainian people for their freedom and statehood! This is the struggle of the Ukrainian people for their right to exist! This is the struggle of good versus evil, this is the struggle of democratic and free countries against a rogue state, tyranny, and imperialism!