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National identity and political legitimacy in Turkmenistan
journal contributionposted on 1999-01-01, 00:00 authored by Shahram AkbarzadehShahram Akbarzadeh
This paper traces political events and modes of generating legitimacy in Turkmenistan since the Soviet collapse. The emphasis here is on state policies and social movements that relate to 'nation building' for their contribution to political legitimacy. The extent of nation-building success is not an immediate subject of inquiry, for this paper is not about public perception and bottom-up response to state policies, but the reverse. It is certain that state-sponsored proclamations and nationalist ideas espoused by the intelligentsia do not always find resonance among the national population at large. However, attention given to social movements in this paper may compensate for this shortcoming in a small way. It must be stated that social movements in Turkmenistan, and Central Asia, as a whole, have been top heavy. They were principally initiated and steered by the urbanized intelligentsia. The extent of mass involvement in such movements is suspect and hard to gauge. Political legitimacy in Turkmenistan is understood in terms of unreserved popular support for the leadership. With this in mind, I begin with a brief look at the Turkmen leadership. I then proceed to examine symbols and state structures used to tie the state with the perceived Turkmen national community. Widespread belief in the reality of the Turkmen nation is essential for the Turkmen state, hence special attention is devoted here to the populist posturing of the state and its concerted efforts to re-evaluate past history. The subnational pull of tribal loyalty and the supranational message of Islam could pose a challenge to the national narrative. For this reason the Turkmen state has responded with vigor to these potential challenges. Before concluding this paper, I shall examine the way in which the state has pacified these potential threats to its authority.