Raids Target Night Spots in Ashgabat, but Spare Venues Belonging to President’s Relatives

Raids Target Night Spots in Ashgabat, but Spare Venues Belonging to President’s Relatives

Since about May 20, raids have been under way on cafes, restaurants, karaoke clubs and other nighttime venues in Ashgabat.Large numbers of the establishments are closing down, as they are no longer profitable without the income from their late night clients.

Only a few places are still open to customers at night these are venues that no one touches as they belong to the president’s relatives.Closed night clubs and restaurants in AshgabatThere has been a rule in the capital that night spots have to close at 23.00 since the times of Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov.

It’s basically an unofficial curfew, as police patrols may stop pedestrians on the street and if someone is only mildly inebriated they will be taken to the police department.The owners of some establishments have got round these restrictions by paying their local policemen a “tax” of 10 to 15,000 manats ($500-750) a week, depending on the size of the venue and number of seats.

The police would pass on most of the bribes to their management.For payment local policemen practically played the role of security guards for the night spots, giving the owners advance warning of raids.

When raids happened, it was enough to warn the clients, turn off the lights and music, and close the doors from the outside it would look as though the venue wasn’t working.

But as soon as the inspectors left, the policeman would say the word and the revels would resume.The system worked like clockwork.But there’s been a considerable tightening of control in the past week.

The police “protection” has proved unreliable.Every night after 23.00 people come to inspect the venues.If, say, a restaurant or bar is open, the management are fined 600 manats ($30) and forced to escort the guests off the premises.

If an establishment does not have a license to sell alcohol (and most of them don’t), another 1,000 manats ($50) is added to the fine, and all the alcohol is confiscated.

But it’s not profitable to open only until 23.00.Establishments that used to pay for “protection” would change the menu after 23.00, exactly doubling prices for food and drink.

The customers knew that the restaurateurs had to pay bribes so were understanding about the price increases.There are no customers any more as bohemian society in Ashgabat does not want to go out only at the permitted times.

They are used to relaxing in restaurants or night clubs until well after midnight, often visiting several venues until the small hours.Moreover, the establishments that used to pay the local police centered all their advertising on late-night parties and shows, promoting stand-up comedians and holding various lotteries after midnight.

A range of venues have closed down in the capital including the popular clubs Mukam, Metro and Hoshal, the restaurant clubs Brooklyn and Angar, the Diamond Pub and Zip.90 (known mainly as the Zip Cellar), and the Texas karaoke club.

Their owners have been left without an income and the employees sent home.The raids do not touch a network of establishments belonging to the relatives of President Serdar Berdimuhamedov though.

For example, the Kopetdag restaurant and night club, its offshoot Kopetdag Pizza, the Ashgabat entertainment center, and Chatma and Magat restaurants are working almost round-the-clock.They all belong to Shyhmyrat Shaharliyev, husband of Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s cousin.

Shaharliev is also the general director of the country’s only cellphone operator, Altyn Asyr.He is married to Yazgul Shaharliyeva, daughter of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s sister Durdynabat Rejepova.

The Mandarin restaurant and Chocolate club are both open all night too.They are owned by Ibabekir Bekdurdiyev, who goes by the nickname Guga a fan of ultra-expensive watches and husband of another of the current president’s cousins.

Ibabekir’s wife is Ogulsheker Bekdurdiyeva, the daughter of Gulnabat Dovletova, another of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s sisters.In fall 2022 Guga lost two of his restaurants the Botanical Garden and Georgia after a fatal stabbing took place in one of them.

It emerged that the restaurants had been built illegally on the territory of the Ashgabat botanical garden.The establishments were demolished in just a few days.Finally, Ashgabat’s new Sha-Abbas restaurant, which opened in December 2023, has nothing to fear from raids.

Its secret owner is Annanazar Rejepov, a multimillionaire and uncle of Serdar Berdimuhamedov.He is the father-in-law of the aforementioned Shyhmyrat Shaharliyev.Left to right: Annanazar Rejepov, Shyhmyrat Shaharliyev and Ibabekir BekdurdiyevThe Sha-Abbas restaurant is known for its expensive décor and specialization in a variety of pilafs.

Rejepov paid for his chefs to travel to several regions of Uzbekistan to learn how to make a range of very different pilafs.On Saturdays the restaurant becomes a club and remains open all night.But man shall not live by pilaf alone… In 2019 Annanazar Rejepov’s firm Nusay Yollary and other companies received from Berdimuhamedov Senior a contract for $2.3 billion to build an expressway.

Several sources in the restaurant business that are independent of one another think that it is the relatives of the president and his father who are behind, and benefitting from, the raids on night clubs in Ashgabat. “When there were a lot of restaurants and clubs in the city with protection’, the Family’s establishments lost custom,” one of the sources says. “The Ashgabat elite likes variety: to spend an hour or two in one place, then go somewhere else and so on until morning.

This means a reduction in earnings for the president’s relatives.”Now, according to the source, the untouchable night clubs are on top again because of the lack of competition.

And while that is good for the members of the big Family, it’s a disaster for the large number of other businessmen without relatives in high places and for their many employees.

Dozens of people have been left without work, the state has been left without taxes, and the night clubbers without their favorite haunts.No normal local entrepreneur or foreign investor will ever invest their money in a country where at any moment the law-enforcement agencies and tax officials can close down your venture on the instructions of the influential relatives of the head of state.

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