President’s Aunt Leaves Turkmenistan’s Red Crescent

Gulnabat Dovletova, sister of Turkmenistan’s former President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, has left her post as head of the local branch of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Her nephew Serdar Berdimuhamedov took the decision after his election as head of state, according to’ sources.

Gulnabat Dovletova (left) with her sister at the mourning of their father, Malikguly Berdimuhamedov. State TV grab

Gulnabat Dovletova had been in post since 2014, first as executive director and then general director of the National Red Crescent Society of Turkmenistan. The chairwoman of the organization during this period was Maral Achilova, but as sources reported in 2017 it was Gulnabat Dovletova that wielded the real power. Dovletova resigned in April, which our sources reported at the time. A source in the country’s Foreign Ministry has now confirmed the report.

Maral Achilova has become the real, rather than nominal, leader.

Berdimuhamedov Senior was president since 2007, and his sisters, their husbands, and children had enormous influence throughout his rule. In the early years Gulnabat Dovletova worked in the administration of Niyazov district, named after the country’s former president, in the capital Ashgabat, but she was caught meddling in tenders and moved to the Red Crescent.

Sources said that after her arrival the charity practically stopped performing its primary function and became a milch cow for Dovletova. She had the right to tariff-free imports, set out in law for the needs of the Red Crescent, but imported goods for sale, and also opened separate companies for her own profit. For example, Berdimuhamedov and Dovletova’s nephew Shamyrat Rejepov managed pharmacies that had been opened under the aegis of the Red Crescent.

Gulnabat created a huge office for herself in the main building and sent all the staff to work in the semi-basement. They were not allowed up to the ground floor without good reason, nor could they sit on the upholstered furniture outside the leader’s office. The president’s sister placed a fish tank in the foyer with one large fish, which the staff called the Shark, and other small fish to supply it with food.

All this expensive furniture has now been replaced with plain office tables and chairs.

Under Dovletova’s leadership the Red Crescent hardly did any charitable work. The society did not help people who were badly affected by the hurricane in 2020 in Lebap and Mary regions. At the time the state media covered up the natural disaster. Only businessmen and civil activists helped the victims in a private capacity. Moreover, one of them, programmer Dmitriy Medvedev, was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison. He was accused of giving the victims money that supposedly came “from the West.”

In March 2022 Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s son, Serdar, was declared the winner of the presidential elections. He is reportedly not as well disposed as his father towards his aunts, uncles, and cousins. In December 2021 while he was still deputy prime minister, he initiated the closure of the Ashgabat night
shops belonging to Gurbanguly’s nephews. On his advice Shamyrat Rejepov’s friend, Maksat Bayramov, head of the Russian Bazaar, was arrested (he was released in February, however). And now it has emerged that the new head of state would not put up with his aunt as head of the National Red Crescent Society.

It should be noted though that Serdar Berdimuhamedov and Gulnabat Dovletova are known to share many views. In three months as president, Serdar has made a name for himself in the foreign media as a “woman-hater”: under his leadership stricter control is now exercised over women’s appearance in Turkmenistan; women are banned from using most of the services of beauty salons, and are even
criticized for sitting in the front passenger seat in cars. In similar fashion Gulnabat Dovletova introduced a strict dress code during her time at the Red Crescent, obliging all female staff to wear long, national dresses. She said that women who chose any other clothes were “frivolous and sluttish.” She also banned gifts for the residents of old people’s homes, claiming that only “former prostitutes” lived there.