School Attributes Mysterious Death of Young Turkmen Athlete to Blood Loss After Tooth Extraction

Suleyman Tursunbaev – a 14-year-old student at the residential sports school for prospective Olympians in Ahal region, was so badly beaten that he later died in the hospital. The teenager had been a promising freestyle wrestler until the attack in late January. His parents made a video appeal to the Turkmen president, asking him to ensure that justice is done.

Suleyman Tursunbayev

“Our son was beaten by a group of people. He couldn’t bear to be touched – he said he ached all over,” Suleyman’s mother, Ziyada Hojakova, said in the video, which shows footage of Suleyman in the hospital. “They beat his liver to a pulp and fractured his skull.”

According to unconfirmed reports, the attack happened at a tournament in Baherden district, Ahal region. Before the final match Suleyman Tursunbaev was told to let his opponent win. However, he deservedly won the fight and was declared champion in his weight category. Straight after the tournament the young wrestler’s coach was attacked and badly beaten up. Unidentified young men took Suleyman away, beat him up, and left him on the street to die.

Passers-by called an ambulance and Suleyman was taken to a hospital in nearby Ashgabat. The doctors there refused to receive him and said he should be treated in a hospital near his home. Suleyman was taken over 500 km to the district hospital in Koneurgench, in the northern region of Dashoguz, where he died a few days later.

On February 16 called the school to speak to its management about the tragedy. In Turkmenistan, officials do not talk to independent media, so we had to introduce ourselves as if we were calling from the president’s office. The secretary who answered the phone connected us to Shemshat Orazkulieva – the school’s deputy director for academic affairs.

“Since September 1, 2020 up to these days there have been no wrestling tournaments of any kind, neither inside the school, nor outside,” she said, adding that the ban on such events was imposed by the government to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. “Students from the regions live in a dormitory under constant supervision of their coaches.”

When asked about what had happened to Suleyman, deputy director Orazkulieva said that the boy had his tooth pulled in a polyclinic.

“It started to bleed, he lay in the dormitory for one day and then was sent home with his relatives,” she said. “Later they informed us that Suleyman did not recover and that he had died.”

Hardly anyone in the Turkmen community inside or outside the country believes this. The news about the tragic death of a young wrestler has triggered much reaction on social media. Some believe that Suleyman might have gotten beaten for his regional and ethnic descent – he and his family are ethnic Uzbeks living in the north of Turkmenistan.

Turkmen activists around the world demand justice and call upon international sports organizations and prominent world athletes to boycott the upcoming Davis Cup event for Asia/Oceania due to be held in Ashgabat in September, and the UCI Track Cycling World Championship to be held in October.

Suleyman’s mother and father Matyakub Tursunbaev call on the president to ensure that their son’s murderers are punished.

Ziyada Hojakova and Matyakub Tursunbayev – Suleyman’s parents

“Our son dreamt of raising Turkmenistan’s flag in America, of becoming a champion. He said that the president of Turkmenistan himself would shake his hand,” Suleyman’s mother said in the video appeal.

According to the latest information, Suleyman’s mother, Ziyada Hojakova, has been taken to the capital Ashgabat but her exact whereabouts remain unknown.