Serdar Berdymukhamedov, rising son of Turkmenistan

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Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP) – After an accelerated rise to the top of his father’s secret government, Serdar Berdymukhamedov won a landslide victory in a presidential election that marked the start of a dynasty in authoritarian Turkmenistan.

In a landmark announcement in February, leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 64, revealed his intention to step down as president and allow “young leaders” to rule.

The plan followed years of speculation that he wanted to put his son Serdar Berdymukhamedov, now 40, in the saddle of one of the world’s most closed regimes.

The energy-rich Central Asian country on the Caspian Sea has no free media, honors its authoritarian rulers with ostentatious gold statues and has admitted no coronavirus cases since the pandemic hit.

Young Berdymukhamedov burst into public view as a lawmaker in 2016.

His exposure in the flattering state media quickly increased as he became the second most powerful official in the country.

Last year, Serdar Berdymukhamedov boosted his international profile with a four-day visit to Russia and talks in the capital Ashgabat with Wang Yi, the foreign minister of Turkmenistan’s main trading partner, China.

But the young man’s stone-faced appearances on national television offer little clue as to whether his view of the country differs from that of the “protector” of the impoverished desert nation.

A visit to Moscow

Serdar Berdymukhamedov was born in Ashgabat in 1981 and is the only child of three children born to Berdymukhamedov and his wife Ogulgerek.

During the reign of the first president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, he graduated as an engineer from a state agrarian university named after Niyazov.

He then headed a department overseeing the production of “non-alcoholic beer and wine” in a state association, according to his official biography.

But the elevation of former dentist Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov from health minister to leader after Niyazov’s sudden death in 2006 also signaled a change in fortune for his son.

From 2008 to 2011, Serdar Berdymukhamedov studied international relations in Moscow, working in parallel as an adviser in one of the most important embassies of Turkmenistan.

A stint in Geneva with the Turkmenistan Mission to the United Nations Office followed, as well as jobs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Administration which were not made public at the time.

Coverage of his work in government newspapers began to grow when he was reported to have won a parliamentary by-election in his home province of Akhal – the traditional home of Turkmenistan’s elite – in late 2016.

“Honored Dog Breeder”

The past two years have seen Berdymukhamedov move from post to post at breakneck speed, becoming deputy foreign minister, governor of Akhal province and minister of industry before a triple promotion in February 2021 that confirmed his status as second in command.

The career boost came on the anniversary of his father’s first election victory and saw him become deputy cabinet minister, holder of a security council seat and auditor general all at once.

Junior Berdymukhamedov’s margin of victory of 73% was significantly more modest than his father’s first election victory with 89% in 2007 and subsequent wins in 2012 and 2017 with 97 and 98%, respectively.

Regular Turkmenistan watchers predict the older man will still hold the reins, having pledged to remain in politics as head of the senate.

One thing that seems unlikely to change under his son is the country’s openly neutral foreign policy, which Berdymukhamedov junior pledged to maintain when answering a reporter’s foreign affairs question on election day.

Young Berdymukhamedov is well decorated for his age.

In 2017, he received a state medal named after his grandfather, Malikguly Berdymukhamedov, and received an award for his “love of independent Turkmenistan” in 2019.

Last year he was awarded the title of ‘Honored Dog Breeder’ – a reference to his role leading an association promoting the welfare of the alabai sheepdog – another revered national animal .

Since last year, he has also headed a similar association supporting the Akhal-Teke horse breed, famous for its shiny coat and a powerful symbol of state propaganda.

The role was previously held by his eldest brother Berdymukhamedov, an avid equestrian with a passion for horses.

Serdar Berdymukhamedov is married with four children.

One of his children is Kerimguly Berdymukhamedov, a teenage guitarist who is regularly shown on public television composing songs and playing sports with his grandfather.

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