Ex-President’s Sister Calls the Shots at Turkmen Economics Institute

Turkmen.news has already reported on the inner workings of higher education institutions in Turkmenistan, such as the International University for the Humanities and Development (IUHD) and the International Oil and Gas University. Now we turn to the Turkmen State Institute of Economics and Management, the former Turkmen Institute of National Economy, popularly known by its Russian acronym Narhoz. It is Oguljemal Geldimuhammedova, sister of former President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who pulls the strings in this institute.  

Turkmen State Institute of Economics and Management

Officially Oguljemal Geldimuhammedova is a doctor of economics and a professor in the department of the world economy. However, her office is not located with the other teaching faculty offices. It is in the main building next to the offices of the rector and pro-rectors. She has her own outer office and secretary. Rector Aknabat Atabayeva does whatever the former president’s sister tells her to do.

Sources say that Geldimuhammedova isn’t so bad. She may help a student or teacher in a difficult situation if they approach her, say, on her way from a lecture to her office. She might use her contacts if someone’s child has fallen sick and needs to go to hospital. Having said that, Geldimuhammedova is surrounded by informers, including the aforementioned secretary. They often use Berdimuhamedov’s sister to settle their personal scores. For example, the professor is told that a teacher has done something wrong and said teacher is punished or dismissed by the rector.

Geldimuhammedova also uses her contacts to protect the institute in delicate situations. She helped to hush up the affair when a student committed suicide or a female student was caught doing sex work. 

Sources also said that a large number of former senior officials have been put out to grass at the institute. Members of the government are constantly reshuffled by President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, as they were under his father Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. This is done not only because of the incompetence of state officials, but also so that no one manages to become too influential.

The former deputy chairman of the government for finance, Gochmyrat Myradov, is now a teacher at the institute, while the former minister of the economy and development, Babamyrat Taganov, was initially a senior teacher and is now a head of department.

“If Taganov was a good minister, why was he sacked? If he wasn’t, why is he now trusted to prepare the country’s future economists?” asked one turkmen.news source. 

The institute’s chief accountant is the sister of the former deputy prime minister for construction, Deryageldi Orazov. Former Trade Minister Orazmyrat Gurbannazarov and former Deputy Prime Minister for Finance Muhammed Muhammedov are her subordinates in the accounts department.

The former deputy minister of public utilities, Atamyrat Rejepov, now heads the administrative department. There are complaints that he does not issue paper or refill printer cartridges for ordinary teachers, though he is never short of either for the management.

Working at the institute is not the plum job it might appear to be. Salaries are low while there is an onerous burden of public duties — chare — “voluntary” mass events that are really compulsory. In order to give the teachers some encouragement, they are unofficially allowed to let one or two of their relatives a year become a student without having to pay for it. And no one checks whether these are really relatives or strangers. As a result, the teachers simply take bribes to let somebody become a student at the institute. 

The academic process at the institute also comes in for criticism. For example, according to an unspoken instruction of the rector, students are not marked as having “failed.” They might have to take re-sits but there has to be at least a satisfactory assessment at the end of the process. Moreover, Atabayeva has made the department of labor economics a “dumping ground,” a place where teachers who have slipped up are sent. It’s not clear why this is the case. Labor economics is a serious subject, and this approach to selecting faculty does not help the students. 

Higher education institutions are places where yesterday’s schoolchildren have their first taste of adult life. Turkmen students learn very quickly that the ex-president’s sister is a very influential person, and that it is not official positions and laws that have real clout in the country but hidden connections and backroom deals. Students enter the world at large convinced that corruption and lies are inevitable. 

It’s hardly a surprise though. Even the International University for the Humanities and Development was initially set up as a “Western” university with teaching in English, but soon acquired the characteristics of an ordinary Turkmen institute, where lecturers sing the praises of North Korea and justify censorship of the media. So this was to be expected from the institute, which was set up in 1980 and from the beginning fitted in with the facts of life in Turkmenistan.