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Since the passing of Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, in late 2006, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ruled over Turkmenistan. Although authoritarian regimes occasionally undergo reform following a transition from one leader to the next, the dictatorship in Ashgabat remains intact and Berdymukhamedov has not modified his predecessor's foreign policy doctrine. Why though has Turkmenistan chosen not to revise its “permanent neutrality” status under new leadership? This article stipulates that the ruling elites in Ashgabat have preserved Turkmenistan's neutrality for three reasons. First, in contrast to other isolated dictatorships, the government of Turkmenistan does not have to contend against any state adversaries or antagonize a foreign power to legitimate its rule. Instead, Turkmenistan portrays itself in the United Nations General Assembly as an exemplary neutral state and this affords the regime latitude in navigating geopolitics. Second, while Berdymukhamedov has revised aspects of the Niyazov dictatorship, the Arkadag personality cult heralds him as the “protector” of Turkmenistan's sovereignty. “Permanent neutrality” thus undergirds the president's political legitimacy to some degree. Third, Turkmenistan's neutrality contributes to the ruling elites' maintenance of a corrupt and repressive regime through which they exert control over the economy. Hence, in spite of many challenges facing the country, the ruling regime will likely endure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-794
Number of pages16
JournalAsian Affairs
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Authoritarianism
  • Berdymukhamedov
  • Neutrality
  • Niyazov
  • Personality Cult
  • Turkmenistan
  • foreign policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law

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