Accomplished Long Rider and a long-time advocate of Turkmenistan’s iconic Akhal Teke breed, Geldy Kyarizov, has stepped safely on to Russian soil, following his controversial detention in his homeland.
Kyarizov’s son, Daud, who lives in the United States, confirmed to supporters that his father had arrived in Moscow.
His arrival is the culmination of ongoing behind-the-scenes efforts by his supporters to secure his freedom through diplomatic channels, with Kyarizov considered a political prisoner by many.
Kyarizov, who once completed a remarkable 4300km ride to highlight the strength of the Akhal Teke horse, played a crucial role in preserving the breed under Soviet rule.
Kyarizov was recently honoured, becoming the first Turkmen to be made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He has also been made a fellow of the Long Riders’ Guild, joining an elite group of equestrian explorers to be honoured by both organisations.
In the late 1980s, Kyarizov recognized the desperate need to save Turkmenistan’s endangered Akhal Teke horses. He immersed himself in protecting, preserving and promoting the breed.
This ancient line, which dates back to days of antiquity, had become endangered during the time of the Soviet Union.
To promote the cause, Kyarizov rode 4300km from Ashgabat to Moscow. The journey, which took him across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, required him to ride 360km across a waterless desert.
Upon his arrival at the Russian capital, Geldy successfully petitioned Soviet government officials to intercede on behalf of Turkmenistan’s horses.
His induction into the Guild recognised him as the greatest Turkmen Long Rider in the history of modern equestrian travel.
In the years after his ride, he has continued to make valuable contributions as a historian and breeder of Akhal Teke horses.
After extensive travels to various parts of the Soviet Union he managed to locate prized specimens of the Akhal Teke blood line. He then began a breeding programme to preserve the horses for posterity.
The most renowned success in his breeding programme was Yanardag. He was an Akhal Teke stallion considered so beautiful and perfect that the president of Turkmenistan placed his image on a national stamp, ordered a statue erected in his honour and named Yanardag as the national symbol of the country.
Maksat was another stallion that marked the breed’s resurgence. This stallion, who has a pedigree going back thousands of years, was presented to then British prime minister John Major as a gift from the Turkmen nation.
Following Kyarizov’s initial success as a breeder, traveller, lecturer and educator, he secured government funding to establishment a large equestrian complex in the capital, complete with the nation’s first veterinary laboratory able to perform the DNA testing necessary to set up a new stud book for the Akhal Teke.
On the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence, he organized the “Parade of the Horses”, during which more than 1000 Akhal Tekes marched through the hippodrome in Ashgabat.
His educational conferences, equestrian journeys, academic investigations, and genetic research have proved invaluable in promoting the national breed.
Kyarizov has been acknowledged by scientists, breeders and equestrians worldwide as an expert on Akhal Teke horses.
As a result of his efforts, in 1998 the president at the time, Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov , appointed him the General Director of “Turkmen Atlary”, a Cabinet level government position which placed him in charge of the state equestrian organisation of Turkmenistan.
Long Riders’ Guild founder CuChullaine O’Reilly, writing on its website, described how Kyarizov became a man condemned by his past.
Turkmenistan, he said, had once hailed him as a champion because of his efforts to save the breed, following the country’s declaration of its independence in 1990.
Kyarizov, in his senior government role, secured state funding for a large equestrian complex in the capital, complete with the nation’s first veterinary laboratory.
O’Reilly asserts that Kyarizov’s life began spiralling out of control the moment he publicly argued that impure horses – specifically thoroughbred crosses introduced to bloodlines from 1997 to 2002 – had to be weeded out from the breed.
It provoked the resentment of other Akhal Teke breeders, and incited the anger of the Turkmen government, he wrote.
O’Reilly says Kyarizov was stripped of power, publicly humiliated, imprisoned on “fabricated charges” and denied medical treatment. He was, he said, effectively held as a political captive.
Following President Niyazov’s death 2006, he was succeeded by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist turned politician who also worships Akhal Teke horses. The new president even wrote a book about Akhal Tekes.
Following his release from prison, Kyarizov was granted a Russian visa, but was prohibited from leaving Turkmenistan.
O’Reilly assert in his September report: “We believe Kyarizov’s unlawful detention is connected to the government’s unjustified concern that Akhal Tekes will be revealed to have been genetically diluted by the deliberate introduction of thoroughbred blood.
“Thus politicians in Ashgabat may mistakenly believe that by silencing Kyarizov they can protect the equestrian myth enshrined by their leaders.
“Turkmenistan might wish to continue that pretence but the rest of the world need not agree. The truth about Akhal Tekes is widely known and easily accessible.
“A quick check of a public source such as Wikipedia instantly reveals that it is common knowledge that Turkmenistan’s Akhal Tekes are genetically suspect.
“At present Akhal Teke horses in Turkmenistan are not registered with any other studbook. The main reasons for this are allegations of a heavy infusion of thoroughbred blood into the breed to create faster horses for racing in Turkmenistan.
“There are estimates that as many as 30% of the horses in the Ashgabat hippodrome were not purebred. This may have also been a main reason for the fabricated charges against … Kyarizov, who tried to avoid and remedy the secretive out-crossing and found himself in severe opposition to fellow breeders.”
O’Reilly notes that, ironically, in the intervening years since Kyarizov’s arrest, other countries such as Italy, England and America have excelled in breeding pure Akhal Teke horses.
He called at the time for Berdymukhamedov to recognize and respect Kyarizov’s human rights; to review his case without delay; to provide justification for keeping him and family detained; to either release Kyarizov or face the condemnation of the world.