Deputy Security Minister Ovezov Linked with Forced Repatriations of Activists to Turkmenistan

The National Security Ministry has a new handler for foreign relations and the work of Turkmenistan’s diplomatic representations abroad – Deputy National Security Minister Guvanch Ovezov, who used to be first secretary at the Turkmen embassy in Russia. With his coming critics of the regime began to be brought back from abroad. Guvanch Ovezov is Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s personal protégé. He has known Berdimuhamedov Junior since the current president was a counsellor at the Turkmen embassy in Moscow.

Guvanch Ovezov (speaking) and Mekan Ishangulyyev (right) – current ambassador of Turkmenistan to Turkey

Many people who for years had felt safe abroad have recently been forcibly returned to Turkmenistan. In summer 2023 Farhat Durdyyev (Meymankuliev), who ran a YouTube channel and was one of the best-known critics of the Turkmen regime, was deported from Turkey. He not only had his sources inside Turkmenistan enabling him to find out a great deal about life in the country, but he was also extremely rude in his videos about officials and their relatives. The authorities were, therefore, very keen to extradite him, and extradition would clearly put him in danger. According to the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, after his extradition Durdyyev was sentenced to a long term.  

In late summer Ashirbay Bekiyev, who had been accused of Islamic extremism in Turkmenistan, was expelled from Russia. Several years ago the European Court of Human Rights prohibited Russia from meeting Turkmenistan’s extradition request. Formally, the request has not been met, as Bekiyev was deported on the pretext of problems with his paperwork. Back in Turkmenistan he was sentenced to 23 years’ detention almost straightaway.

And in October, civil activist Serdar Durdylyyev was deported from Turkey, where he was one of the founders of the association of Turkmen students in Turkey. The prime mover behind the association, Omruzak Omarkuliyev, had earlier been lured back to Turkmenistan on false pretenses and not allowed to return to Turkey. Turkey has recently been deporting very large numbers of Turkmen citizens.

According to a source in one of Turkmenistan’s defense and security ministries, this is all thanks to Guvanch Ovezov. Back in 2021, in his capacity as an acting deputy national security minister, Ovezov substituted another deputy minister who at that time was responsible for international relations, Guvanch Gochov, at a meeting of the heads of the special services of the CIS countries. At that time Ovezov showed that he was good at working with foreign partners.

In January 2023 reported Gochov’s sudden resignation as deputy head of the National Security Ministry. Azat Metjiyev, head of the Ashbagat’s department of the National Security Ministry, was dismissed alongside him. A source reported that Gochov’s foreign relations work had been considered unsatisfactory. Complaints about the persecution of Turkmen activists abroad increased during his time in office, but he hardly ever managed to achieve the return of the “enemies of the regime” to their homeland.

As a result, Gochov received a significant demotion and was exiled to a job in Turkmenistan’s Dashoguz region. Without going into details, the source commented that Gochov’s new position is “a long way from a leadership role.”

The new head of the sector Guvanch Ovezov has been given a clear objective: to bring all the regime’s critics back to Turkmenistan as soon as possible. It’s not surprising that the first candidates for deportation were Turkmen activists in Turkey and Russia, as Turkmenistan has the closest relations with the authorities in these two countries. But activists living in other countries also have cause for concern.

Serdar Berdimuhamedov has strengthened his own position with the appointment of Guvanch Ovezov, since the current president has known him since his time as a counsellor to the Turkmen ambassador in Moscow. During this period Serdar was studying for his second degree at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Guvanch Ovezov meanwhile was the National Security Ministry’s resident officer at the embassy and held the post of first secretary. At that time, he often went to meetings with students with the then consul, Mekan Ishangulyev, who is now ambassador to Turkey. Ishangulyev has a connection with the Security Ministry too and probably also has a hand in the current mass deportations of migrants from Turkey.

The official media have not reported on all these reshuffles. They usually publish decrees on the dismissal and appointment of officials, but this does not apply to the National Security Ministry. All information concerning employees of the special services is considered secret. Only a change in the minister himself is announced openly.

The National Security Ministry’s current resident at the embassy in Russia is Dovran Kovusov, who officially holds the same position – first secretary. It is Kovusov who oversees Turkmen students studying in Russian Federation universities. Before his appointment his working number was one of those officially assigned to Turkmenistan’s National Security Ministry. Ovezov has been promoted but his work lives on: diplomats have not been left without oversight from the special services.