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Human Rights among the Stalinist Relics of Turkmenistan: the Case of Geldy Kyarizov

by Sandra de Blois, of Canada

This is the story of a Turkmenistan citizen, Geldy Kyarizov, a brilliant and gifted horse breeder whose life in prison holds by a thread. It is also the story of three young women, his wife and sisters-in-law, who have been courageously defying the government of Turkmenistan.

Geldy Kyarizov was born on January 18th, 1951 in Ashgabat. Kyarizov grew up surrounded by the exotic and magnificent Akhal Teke horses, a breed originally endemic to Turkmenistan. Known as “Celestial Horses”, Akhal Tekes date as far back as antiquity. They were then a prized mount, so much that Emperors from China and Rome sent armies to the Silk Road to acquire them. As a child, Geldy Kyarizov spent most of his free time at the Ashgabat hippodrome where he learned the age-old traditions of the most ancient horse breed in the world. Kyarizov pursued higher education and obtained a degree from the department of Economics at the Turkmen State University. He also received a degree from the Turkmen Agricultural University. His dream of owning Akhal Tekes was realized after the Perestroika.

In the old Soviet days, Akhal Teke horses were of little value. All privately-owned breeding farms were forbidden. The nomadic lifestyle of the Turkmen slowly disappeared and with it the need for a war mount. Akhal Tekes became destined for the slaughter house. Geldy Kyarizov organized several campaigns with others to draw attention to the terrible fate of the Akhal Teke horse in Turkmenistan. The best known features of his campaigns were endurance rides which culminated in the monumental Ashgabat-Moscow ride in 1988. Kyarizov’s strategic rides were successful in attracting press coverage and raised the public’s interest to the problem of the Akhal Teke breed. On the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence in 2001, Geldy Kyarizov organized the “Parade of the Horses” with over one thousand Akhal Tekes parading at the hippodrome in Ashgabat.

In the late 1980s, Geldy Kyarizov created his own stud farm. He traveled tirelessly throughout Turkmenistan as well as Kazakhstan and the Caucasus to collect horses for his stud farm. His expertise and talent as a breeder rapidly grew. But Geldy Kyarizov also volunteered his expertise to many Akhal Teke stud farms. It was not unusual for him to allow other breeders to use his stallions in their breeding programs. In 1998, Kyarizov became the General Director of the Turkmen state equestrian organization called "Turkmen Atlary". He tirelessly continued to improve horse breeding in Turkmenistan and he was successful at attracting the attention of equestrian communities worldwide regarding Akhal Tekes and the horse breeding traditions of Turkmenistan. Geldy Kyarizov is indisputably one of the most respected and knowledgeable authorities on purebred Akhal Tekes. He also was awarded several medals, one of them called “For Love of the Nation”.

Geldy Kyarizov was at the height of his career in 2001. His stallion Yanardag became the national symbol of Turkmenistan. He had secured government funding for the establishment of a large equestrian complex in the capital Ashgabat, complete with veterinary laboratory able to perform the DNA testing necessary to set up a new stud book for the Akhal-Teke. But on January 30th 2002, Kyarizov’s life took a drastic turn. He was arrested by Turkmenistan’s secret police without a warrant, and the investigation and trials that followed were carried out with serious breaches of the law. Kyarizov’s case was entirely fabricated by the KNB (National Security Committee, formely known as KGB), headed at the time by M. Nazarov. He was asked about his relationship with a member of the opposition party. Having failed to get a confession about conspiring with the opposition, the KNB began to pressure Kyarizov to appear on national television and to admit that he stole horses (his own, nonetheless), as well as money, cars and state property. To encourage Kyarizov to confess, he was given a taste of the KNB’s torture methods. Kyarizov viewed footages of prisoners receiving electrical courant through their genitals. Moreover, Kyarizov’s brother was subjected to cruel mistreatment and torture in jail in an attempt to force him to testify. Exhausted mentally and physically, Kyarizov confessed on National television on February 2nd 2002. Afterwards, the KNB demanded that his wife reimburses the damage in the amount of 53 million manats (2,300 USD), which she did. The KNB confiscated all belongings including documents and a computer. Fortunately, his wife managed to keep some of the documents which later helped to prove his innocence on several points.

During the trial, Geldy Kyarizov suffered a heart attack. Regardless, the KNB forced him to remain for the entire trial duration. The claims of theft of horses, property and money that Kyarizov was incriminated for initially were later dropped. The witnesses admitted that officers of KNB forced them in to giving false accusations against Kyarizov. Money, property and horses were returned to the family. But the KNB fabricated other accusations. He was found guilty on the account of negligence and overstepping his authority (sections 181 part 1, 181 part 2 and 188 part 1 of the Criminal Law of Turkmenistan). Apparently, Kyarizov signed a paper to authorize old items such as sports cups and bowls to be put on a different account. The Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation states that there is no doubt the KNB put Kyarizov in jail on President Niyazov’s orders. Nyazov publicly announced a request for the KNB to sort out Kyarizov’s case. Niyazov added: “sort out in accordance with the law but make sure to punish.” Naturally, after such a request the KNB could do nothing but to put Kyarizov in jail. He was sentenced to six years of imprisonment.

Mistreatment of Geldy Kyarizov did not stop after the trial. Due to his heart attack he found himself in the KNB jail’s hospital. Despite his poor health and the fact that he had lost 30 kg, he was continuously questioned and threatened for the next three months. Kyarizov’s wife, Yulia, wrote a letter to the government drawing attention to the critical health condition of her husband and the abuse by the KNB. As a punishment, Kyarizov, who suffered another heart attack a day prior, was kicked out of the hospital and sent to prison. He has been held since then in the LBK-12 prison. In addition to two heart attacks, Kyarizov has suffered a stroke which led to paralysis on his left side and rendered him unable to move unassisted. He has also had pneumonia and developed chronic high blood pressure. In the three years that Kyarizov spent so far in LBK-12, he was not allowed to return to the prison hospital to have his health monitored.

Below is a description of the prison given by Kyarizov’s wife:

The prison is in desert. The water is awfull. There are sand in it, so it is very bad. When you are drinking that water you can feel the sand. It is not clean. It also contains some ingredient which is very bad for the kidneys. He sleeps in the small room with 50-60 man. Very difficult with fresh air in that room. That is why it is better to stay outside, espesially in summer. Course it is very very hot, something like 63 - 70 degree above zero.

The directer of the prison, people from procurater said to him that this conditions are normal, they tried to scared him saying that they could send him into another close prison. They pressed on him psycologically.

They has a special place where they beat the prisoners.

He did not get any medecine from prison, all he has is what we are sending to him. There are no docters in prison. He has no medical cheking during 3 years.

People are dieing there. Duiring last month 5 people died. We send him food. If you will eat prisoners food you will die. Everything is so awful so I even can't describe it! The worker in prison looking at the prisoners as if they are pigs or something like that, but not a people. There are pigs in prison so that pigs has much better conditions than people. Because the pig could be sell and will have money and the prisoners are nothing. There are no toilet there, and you can understand what the air is. And everything is cleasning perhaps ones in 2or 3 month. There are a lot of insects there.

So you can imagine what conditions are there.

In addition to being forced to live in appalling conditions, Geldy Kyarizov has been abused, threatened and degraded by prison employees. Below is an email from Kyarizov’s sister-in-law Diana where she describes one such instance.

“We have received a letter from the director of the prison who has written to us that they can not release Geldy in conditional release because of “bad behaviour” - because he did not dance and sing a song and also he did not receive the salary*. To dance and sing songs should come from a man’s good will; I mean if he wants to dance and sing songs he can do it, and if he doesn't want no one must not press on him to do it. He can't do it. He is ill. This is a violation of human rights. That mean that they are putting pressure on him, making him dance and entertain the Administration of the prison. They are humiliating him! How can a man who has had heart attacks, and whose left side is paralysed, dance and entertain the Administration of the prison?! He has high blood pressure and he can't breathe normally. It is torture!”

Kyarizov’s family members have been harassed and threatened on a regular basis. They were told they should worry for their lives and the safety of their children. Kyarizov’s wife and two sisters-in-law have been unable to find work because of the repression against them. Kyarizov’s herd of eighty extremely valuable Akhal Teke horses, some of the very best in the world, has been reduced to starvation. Many have already died. Recently, a new prison director was assigned at LBK-12. On September 23rd, Kyarizov’s wife went to deliver food and medicine to her husband. The new prison director sexually harassed her and made it clear that she would neither see her husband nor be able to give him food and medicine unless she sleeps with him. Since then, her internet connection has been cut off.

Despite the tremendous hardship of the last three years, Kyarizov’s wife and family have remained hopeful and extremely resourceful. They were determined not to let Geldy Kyarizov’s precious horses die of starvation. They turned to the international Akhal Teke community for help. Within a short time, breeders and owners from around the world got organized and sent moneys to support the horses. Yulia and her family have been receiving money monthly which they use to buy hay. The horses went from being on the brink of starvation to being in good flesh by Turkmenistan standards. Yulia, Diana and their sister Yelena care for the horses daily and keep the premises clean and sanitary. This is by no means a small task for three women only. They occasionally hire help when extra funds are available. Kyarizov’s wife has sent countless letters and petitions regarding her husband’s unlawful treatment. These letters were addressed to the President, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan and the Attorney General of Turkmenistan, among others. She is constantly cheated and lied to. For instance, she has been guaranteed by Shaposhnikov of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that her husband would be under constant monitoring from the doctors of LBK-12 hospital. Yet, the Procurator has forbidden that Kyarizov visits the prison hospital to receive treatment. It is quite obvious that the government of Turkmenistan patiently waits for Geldy Kyarizov to conveniently die in prison. As Yulia put it in an email “My husband is intentionally being murdered”.

The government of Turkmenistan is fully intended on keeping Geldy Kyarizov in prison for his full six-year sentence. Kyarizov has even been threatened that he would stay longer. It is obvious that he should be released on humanitarian grounds and Akhal Teke breeders from around the world have written to President Nyazov asking for clemency. President Niyazov has been asked “uncomfortable questions” about Kyarizov on several occasions. On a press-conference during the Caspian Summit in Ashgabad in April 2002, a journalist from the Russian newspaper “News Time” asked the President about it. Niyazov talked his way out by saying: “Kyarizov is not a danger to society, not a political convict, not an ideological one, who does it benefit to keep him in prison? We will release him, he will be considered for pardon, we have a pardon annually”. Geldy Kyarizov has been waiting for the annual pardon for two and a half years now, while his guilt was never proven. It is no surprise that the Russian journalist did not receive information about Kyarizov’s case or the meeting with the President he had been promised. The former chairman of KNB, General Poran Berdyev, put the people at ease by stating that “everything was proven and that Kyarizov confessed everything.” By now, one knows very well how they “prove” in Turkmenistan

The injustice towards Geldy Kyariov goes even further. Indeed, there are actual sections in the Criminal Law of Turkmenistan which make Geldy Kyarizov entitled to be released on parole. Hence, section 76 states:

For a person undergoing a punishment in the way of imprisonment for a crime of low or medium severity, the Court, considering the person’s behaviour during the time of imprisonment, may substitute the remaining time of his punishment with a softer option of the punishment. This person may be cleared partially or completely from the remaining punishment.

The substitution of the remaining time of the punishment with a softer option of the punishment may be applied after the person in question has served no less then one third of their original punishment term.

When substituting the remaining time of the punishment with a softer option of punishment the court may choose any softer option of punishment listed in the section 44 of this Law, within the limits set for the appropriate type of punishment.

In accordance with section 3 part 11 of the Criminal Law of Turkmenistan, the crimes for which Kyarizov is accused are considered to belong to the medium severity category. Therefore, section 76 applies in full in his case. Yet, the government of Turkmenistan has continuously denied the application of this law in Kyarizov’s case.

The human rights violations in Geldy Kyarizov’s case are straightforward. They include (a) Threat of torture and instances of abuse of a disabled person while in prison, (b) Denial of medical care, leading to multiple instances of critical illness and continuous threat of a fatal heart attack and death, and (c) Failure to provide the legal recourse such as parole, appeals, legal representation, to which he is entitled under the Constitution of Turkmenistan. Geldy Kyarizov is one of hundreds of Turkmenistan citizens whose human rights have been abused and denied since President Nyazov took power and established himself as “President for life”. Amnesty International cites how Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record is in stark contrast with its commitment to uphold key human rights principles that it made when ratifying a series of important international human rights treaties. Also, as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkmenistan is bound to uphold the organization’s commitments with regard to the “human dimension”, which include the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, the right to a fair trial, freedom of thought, conscience, religious or belief, freedom of movement and freedom of expression, free media and information.

A small group of Akhal Teke breeders and owners have been contacting Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to seek help for Geldy Kyarizov. To date, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross, Red Crescent Society, International League of Human Rights, Organization for Safety and Cooperation in Europe, and Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation have all been informed of Kyarizov’s situation. But very little has been accomplish given the extremely repressive regime of Turkmenistan. All NGOs have been banned for operating and the Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies are forbidden to visit prisons. None of the UN special mechanisms who have requested to visit the country have so far been able to do so.

Geldy Kyarizov is a man who has been stripped of all his rights and who has been left to die in one of Turkmenistan’s worst prisons. Yet, he is a man who has been decorated by his country several times and who has dedicated his life to his country and to the preservation of Akhal Teke horses, Turkmenistan’s national symbol. It is nothing short of a miracle that he is still alive despite his poor health and the horrific conditions he must endure. It is also remarkable that his wife and sisters-in-law have managed to keep most of his horses alive and continue to work bravely and incessantly for rights and to free Geldy Kyarizov.


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