Geldy Kyarizov’s family allowed to leave Turkmenistan

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Geldy Kyarizov in historical costume.
Geldy Kyarizov in historical costume.

Accomplished Long Rider Geldy Kyarizov has described his joy at being reunited with the rest of family.

Geldy Kyarizov with his wife Julia, daughter Sofia, and sister-in-law Elena after being reunited in Moscow.
Geldy Kyarizov with his wife Julia, daughter Sofia, and sister-in-law Elena after being reunited in Moscow.  They are pictured with an Akhal Teke horse.


Kyarizov, a long-time advocate of Turkmenistan’s iconic Akhal Teke breed,  stepped safely on to Russian soil earlier this month, following his controversial detention in his homeland.

Now, it has been confirmed that on the evening of September 20, his 14-year-old daughter, Sofia Kyarizov and sister-in-law Elena Serebryannik flew to Moscow to join Geldy and his wife, Yulia Serebryannik.

For many years, Kyarizov and his family were forbidden to leave Turkmenistan. He was able to finally leave on September 14, after years of detention and trouble with Turkmenistan authorities.

Kyarizov is credited with bringing the Turkmen Akhal Teke horse back from the brink of extinction. The horse is the symbol of Turkmenistan.

He was imprisoned on questionable charges in 2002 and served over five years, including in the notorious Ovadan Depe prison.

Following his imprisonment, his family continued to have trouble with the authorities and were unable to leave the country.

Previous attempts to travel abroad, including most recently in August 2015, were thwarted by the Turkmen authorities at the airport in Ashgabat.

“When I saw my daughter and sister-in-law as they got off the plane, I was overjoyed,” Kyarizov said.

“Seeing them reminded me that the road is long, but if we keep on fighting and keep on walking, we will overcome our obstacles. We are so very happy to have our family reunited outside of Turkmenistan.”

Kate Watters, a coordinator of the Prove They Are Alive! campaign, said: “This is an important step by the government of Turkmenistan to move away from the legacy of former President Niyazov.

“Lifting the ban on travel for the Kyarizov family and allowing them to be reunited sends a positive message to the world, which can give hope to those in Turkmenistan who continue to be barred from travel.”

When Saparmurat Niyazov was president, more than 11,000 people were banned from traveling abroad for political reasons. Many were restricted from traveling abroad because they were relatives of former political prisoners, civic activists or exiled dissidents.

The research coordinator for Prove They Are Alive!, Vitaly Ponamarev, said thousands in Turkmenistan continued to be barred from leaving the country.

“The procedures for banning travel and appealing those decisions continue to be arbitrary and opaque. All of these cases must be resolved on the legal and political levels without delay, and this practice should be stopped.”

The freedom of the Kyarizov family is the culmination of ongoing behind-the-scenes efforts by his supporters, with Kyarizov considered a political prisoner by many.

Kyarizov was recently honored, 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 honored by both organisations.

In the late 1980s, he had 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 the 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.

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.

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 the USA have excelled in breeding pure Akhal Teke horses.

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