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This report is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Letter from Washington James Womack
I had been warned that DC was a city on the fritz, ragged around the edges, with a berserk president hiding in the storm drains dressed in a clown suit. This was not entirely true, but it was hard to get lost: you could measure your proximity to the White House by the number of people standing in the street and smoking. There was something in the air, and under the ground as well: a throb of power, maybe, but in whose hands was unclear. Despair on the cusp of becoming anger. Abandon. The idea that something had been lost. The best placard I saw in Lafayette Square read simply ‘MAKE AMERICA AGAIN’.

I was there because of Turkmenistan. In 2002, around sixty people (the so-called ‘Novembrists’) were arrested in the Central Asian republic and accused of planning a coup against the president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov. One of the alleged Novembrists was Batyr Berdyev, a former foreign minister. He was arrested in December 2002, and the last reliable reports of him date back to 2005. In 2007, Niyazov’s successor (and keen heir, and former dentist), Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, said that he thought Berdyev was still alive. Since then, nothing.

In 2003, Berdyev managed to smuggle a document out of prison. Not a manifesto, but a collection of thirty-six poems, addressed to his wife and infant son. We hope that Berdyev is still alive – he is a focus of the human rights campaign that aims to find out what has happened to the Turkmen disappeared (https://provetheyarealive.org) – but it ...


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