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Turkmenistan - Military Personnel

Turkmen authorities launched a campaign to register army reservists -- nearly all men under 50 -- amid concerns about militants in neighboring Afghanistan, according to a Defense Ministry source and accounts by citizens. The Defense Ministry source told RFE/RL on 14 January 2019 that all conscription commissions across the Central Asian country had been instructed to register males younger than 50 and assess whether they are capable of taking part in military operations. "It is linked to the tense situation along the border" with Afghanistan, said the source, who was not authorized to speak about the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

An RFE/RL correspondent in the capital, Ashgabat, said that men under 50 had been summoned to local conscription commissions for medical examinations in recent weeks. There has been no official announcement and Turkmen authorities have declined to comment. Many Afghan districts bordering Turkmenistan are at least partially controlled by militants, mainly the Taliban, rather than by the internationally-backed Afghan government.

In December 2018, a senior Russian military official said that the Russian Defense Ministry had resumed cooperation and joint training with Turkmen armed forces for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Turkmenistan says it is neutral and has been reluctant to join international military and security groups since the Soviet collapse.

At independence there was an acute shortage of trained, senior Turkmen officers from the ranks of the Soviet Armed Forces, forcing the new Turkmen Defense Ministry to rely on ethnic Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussians assigned to the Soviet army corps at the time of transfer to Turkmen control. Of the approximately 80,000 soldiers stationed on Turkmen territory prior to August 31, 1992, about 95 percent of the enlisted troops were Turkmen and about 90 percent of the officers were Russian.

From the beginning, even during the period of joint command, Turkmenistan sought a distinctive Turkmen identity in military affairs. President Saparmurad Niyazov had himself appointed Commander-in-Chief of the (then nonexistent) Armed Forces and named "Hero of Turkestan." He named units in his honor and by the end of 1992 promoted himself to four-star general. He appointed Turkmen to key leadership positions including Defense Minister, First Deputy, and Chief of the Main Staff. When the former Soviet army corps was transferred to Turkmen control in August/September 1992, four senior Russian officers from the corps were promoted to general rank. Three further waves of promotions in October featured Russians, some Ukrainians and Belorussians, and a few Turkmen.

There were many generals in Turkmenistan in the early 1990s, but only two were ethnic Turkmen, General Kopekov, later Minister of Defense of Turkmenistan and Lt. Gen Ilya Veljanov later Turkmen Ambassador to Belarus. Non-Turkmen generals moved to the countries of their ethnicities after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Niyazov was generous with awarding titles not only to himself, but also to others. He increased the number of Turkmen generals during his presidency, but at the same time sent most of them to long term imprisonment before his death. Among those who survived Niyazov were Army General Mammetgeldiyev (MOD); ColGen Akmyrat Rejepov, Head of Presidential Security; MajGen Alovov, Chief of SBS; and MajGen Ashyrmuhammedov, Minister of National Security. Berdimuhammedov got rid of all of them: Mammetgeldiyev retired, Rejepov was imprisoned, Alovov and Ashyrmuhammedov were dismissed.

The government attempted to persuade native ethnic Russians to remain in Turkmenistan. In a September 1996 speech, President Niyazov stated, "All Russians living, working and serving in Turkmenistan must understand that you are not just temporary residents here. This applies first and foremost, perhaps, to military personnel. You are protecting your Homeland; after all, it is here that your children were born and here that your ancestors lived and contributed. You must feel yourselves to be at home Turkmenistan is a Homeland to you, and you are free citizens and may accept dual citizenship; no one is going to infringe you in any respect."

The promotion of Russian and other Slav officers by Decree of the President of Turkmenistan was above all a ploy to retain their services and loyalty for the time being throughout the first crucial stage ofthe build-up of national Armed Forces. It is possible that the preference given to Slav officers in an Army of which 86.6 percent of all servicemen are Turkmen was causing friction within the senior Turkmen officer corps. This may be the explanation for a rather bizarre reshuffle announced in early April 1993.

The firing of senior ethnic Russian officers was matched with reports of the abrupt removal from active service of some 180 Russian platoon/company commanders by the Turkmen military leadership. Other sources of friction emerged. For example, Ashgabat appointed non-Turkmen speaking Russians to command non-Russian speaking Turkmen battalions, regiments, and brigades. Russian and other Slav officers on contract were not required to take Turkmen nationality or the oath of loyalty to the President. Complaints were voiced that Russian officers were subject to constant surveillance, bugging of their offices and quarters, and frequent physical harassment, including interrogation by Turkmen security officials.

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Page last modified: 16-01-2019 13:12:35 ZULU