A tough economic situation while President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s relatives live the highlife with Versace-themed parties; shortages of essential foodstuffs while the president’s nephews scatter money like trash at their celebrations; banking restrictions, bans on leaving the country, no jobs. What was life like in 2019 for the people of Turkmenistan, one of the richest countries in the world in terms of oil and gas reserves?
The president of Turkmenistan has instructed the heads of three regions – Ahal, Balkan, and Lebap – to gather in the remains of the cotton harvest by December 25. He gave the order at a working meeting on December 16.
At least two secondary schools in Turkmenabat are easing up on compulsory participation in the annual cotton campaign, according to teachers at the schools. The teachers used to have to pay three times a week or more to hire cotton pickers, but this season they have to hand over money only once a week. The weekend routine remains the same, though: either the teachers go to pick cotton themselves two Sundays a month, or they give money to hire someone else. Overall teachers shell out between 60 and 90 manats a month ($3.3-5)
Turkmen labor rights activist Gaspar Matalaev walked free from prison on September 6, having served a spurious three-year sentence in full. He is now back home with his family.
On Sunday September 1 schoolteachers from Turkmenabat in northeast Turkmenistan were sent to pick cotton. They assembled outside their schools at 6.30 in the morning, having received the instructions from the deputy principals on Friday evening (turkmen.news has screenshots of the messages).
Men in white fur caps proudly ride horses across the steppe, rows of modern machinery glisten, Barbie-pink flamingos strut before clear blue skies and a white yacht cuts through the turquoise waters of the Caspian Sea.
These are idyllic scenes from a one-minute video promoting the inaugural Caspian Economic Forum, which between August 11 and 12 will see heads of state from Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan descend on Awaza, a new resort town that has been touted by Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry as the country's Las Vegas
The economic crisis in Turkmenistan, caused by the fall in hard currency revenue from gas sales, is forcing residents of the “Motherland of Prosperity” — this is the country’s slogan for 2019 — to keep finding new ways to earn money. Turkmen.news has already written about Turkmen citizens travelling abroad as shuttle traders. Our fellow countrymen have taken crockery and household items to Zhanaozen (Kazakhstan), domestic appliances to Urgench (Uzbekistan), and foodstuffs to Istanbul, while huge bags of Turkmen textiles caused a malfunction in the baggage system at Almaty airport.
For the fourth year in a row, the Government of Turkmenistan failed to meet the minimum standards to address human trafficking outlined in the 2019 US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, resulting in a Tier 3 ranking – the lowest possible ranking.
It claims to be the Motherland of Prosperity but Turkmenistan’s economy is in chaos and its financial system isn’t working. Many Turkmen begin their day not with a cup of coffee or journey to work, but with a trip to the shops at 6 a.m. to buy a kilo of sugar, as it may disappear from the shelves later, or to stand in line outside the bank.
Last month the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan overtook North Korea to become most repressive media environment in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index. The media watchdog described the Central Asian nation as a news “black hole” where all media is controlled by the government and where the few independent journalists working for foreign-based news sites have been harassed, arrested, and tortured. Just 15 percent of the country can get online, and even then the version of the internet they have access to is highly censored.