Saving Jahan – Interview with American Novelist Who Spent Two Years in a Turkmen Village
Aleksandr Nikolayevich Zhadan, a power behind the Turkmen throne, died in Ashgabat on March 22 at the age of 85. He was the first deputy head of the presidential administration of Turkmenistan from the early years of the country’s independence until mid-2019. In recent years, he managed the Ruhyyet Palace of Congresses and the Arts. News of the politician’s death came from a turkmen.news source in one of the country’s security agencies, and was later confirmed by two members of staff at Ruhyyet Palace.
It is widely accepted that Aleksandr Zhadan, and two other éminences grises – Viktor Hramov and Vladimir Umnov (who were both assistants to the president) – were sent by Moscow to the first Turkmen leader, Saparmurat Niyazov. But that is not the case – or at least, not entirely the case. Aleksandr Zhadan was born in the Turkmen city of Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi). He studied mechanical engineering in Moscow at the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, then married Galina Zhadan, who was also a native of Krasnovodsk.
In 1990-1991 Aleksandr Zhadan was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmenistan SSR (now the Mejlis of Turkmenistan) for the Kandymovskiy constituency in Vekilbazar district, Mary region. It’s not known why he didn’t stand in his native Balkan region.
In the early years of independence Aleksandr Zhadan somehow became part of President Niyazov’s inner circle. He retained the post of deputy head of the presidential administration and the Cabinet of Ministers under Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov too, until at least the end of August 2019. This is when he visited Singapore on one of his last foreign trips.
At the presidential administration Aleksandr Zhadan dealt with administrative issues; for example, he approved souvenirs that were given in the president’s name to members of foreign delegations. He was also responsible for the Turkmen president’s appearance; i.e. he was something of a court image-maker. Only when he was “over 80” did Zhadan finally leave, not for retirement but to take up the post of manager of the Ruhyyet Palace. Yusupguly Orazov took his place in the presidential and government administration.
Zhadan, Hramov, and Umnov had mythical status in Turkmenistan and beyond – Turkmen presidents were practically called the officials’ puppets. This is probably an exaggeration: at least in the case of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, his family clan had more influence (his son Serdar even “inherited” the role of president in 2022). But these three officials really did play a major role in deciding Turkmenistan’s domestic and foreign policy.
As far as is known, Umnov is now a senior investigator in the personnel department at the Ministry of National Security. Hramov is still an assistant to the president, i.e. he retains influence even with Berdimuhamedov Junior. This is nonsense for Turkmenistan: officials are constantly “shuffled” between different jobs to prevent them gaining undue influence. If someone becomes an exception to this rule, then they must have already gained that influence.
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