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Cablegate: Turkmenistan: Russian-Sponsored Victory Day

VZCZCXRO1565
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #0604 1330920
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 120920Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0785
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 3758
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 1576
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1443
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 2012
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2511
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS ASHGABAT 000604

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI RS TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: RUSSIAN-SPONSORED VICTORY DAY
CELEBRATION BRINGS OUT TURKMEN VETERANS

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Russian embassy hosted the annual
dinner/reception for the dwindling Red Army veteran
community. While the event celebrated the end of the Great
Patriotic War and the end of the Fascist threat, it was
understandbly interwoven with strong USSR patriotic themes
that made it feel as if the Soviet Union were the entity
being honored. Unfortunately, those from Turkmenistan who
helped the Red Army fight and win over 60 years ago are now a
largely forgotten demographic. Nevertheless, the reception
offered a chance for the ever-dwindling number of veterans to
relive their glory days. END SUMMARY.

3. (SBU) In honor of Victory Day, when the former Soviet
states commemorate the defeat of Fascism in World War Two,
the Russian embassy hosted a large dinner/reception on May 7
for the aging Soviet veteran community, Western diplomats and
former Soviet Union defense attachs. Some 40 elderly men
and women, most proudly wearing rows of medals, attended the
event, some with family members at their sides.

4. (SBU) The Russian defense attach's office organized the
event, which included several hours of dance and song
presented by multiple groups of students from the Russian
school, as well as poetry recitations. The Turkmen Army Band
provided musical accompaniment, which began with the
"Internationale" and the Turkmen national anthem, but then
performed a variety of old Soviet favorites that soon had
folks singing along. The veterans quieted and stood to
attention when the Soviet anthem was played, sending a
powerful wave of nostalgia through the room.

5. (SBU) Later, as the elderly crowd dove into the heaping
platters of food and the cadres of former Soviet attaches
initiated a long series of vodka toasts, the children sang
well-loved Victory Day songs that every veteran still knew by
heart. When a group of very young children crisply recited
Konstantin Simonov's most famous Russian Victory Day poem,
"Wait for Me," you could hear a pin drop as people around the
room quietly dabbed away tears.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: This rapidly diminishing demographic is
not doing well economically. At independence, the new
Turkmenistan government assumed responsibility for payment of
pensions to war veterans. In January 2006, former President
Niyazov drastically cut back pension provisions and
established a one million manat monthly pension maximum.
Although President Berdimuhamdov reversed some of Niyazov's
cuts, the one million manat (now worth about $70 per month)
pension maximum still stands, leaving veterans and other
elderly far below the poverty line. Few in this fragile
population, given its advanced age and the lack of quality
medical care, will likely see the longer term benefits of
reforms currently underway. Yet the event was a chance for
veterans to reconnect with each other and relive their glory
days in a fitting way. END COMMENT.
HOAGLAND

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