Last Updated: Friday, 27 November 2015, 12:04 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Turkmenistan

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Turkmenistan, 2004, available at: [accessed 27 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 4.8 million (2.0 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 29,000 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 17
Voluntary recruitment age: 17
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II

The minimum age for both voluntary recruitment and conscription was lowered to 17 years. Conscripts were employed for non-military duties designed to reduce state expenditure. The armed forces planned to deploy between 20 and 25 thousand recruits annually to different sectors of the economy from 2003.


Turkmenistan maintained its neutral and nonaligned status but a military reform program continued to increase defence spending and the size of the armed forces.1 Civil society groups and religious minorities were subjected to severe harassment by the authorities. In November 2002 an alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov, who had been made president for life in 1999, resulted in a government crackdown on opposition supporters and their families, many of whom faced harassment, eviction from their homes and in some cases detention and ill-treatment. At least 55 people were sentenced to long prison terms, including in some cases life, for involvement in the attack after unfair and closed trials. In January 2003 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) appointed a fact-finding mission to look into the authorities' investigation into the attack on the president, but the mission was denied access to the country.


National recruitment legislation and practice

Voluntary military service was available under the Law on Conscription and Military Service which had set the minimum recruitment age at 18.2 However, this provision was abolished by the president in 2001.3 A form of voluntary service was reintroduced in April 2002, allowing voluntary recruitment by written application from a new, lower, age of 17.4 In March 2003 the President further decreed that the minimum conscription age, which was fixed at 18, be lowered, stating that "a reduction in the number of years in schooling from 10 to 9 meant that young people were left with little to do, as they were too young for either work or military service".5 It was not known how many 17 year olds were actually conscripted or serving voluntarily in the armed forces.

Conscription is provided for in the constitution which states that "The defence of Turkmenistan is a sacred duty of each person. For citizens of Turkmenistan, it is established that men are obligated to perform general military service" (Article 38).6 Males are liable for conscription up to the age of 30 years and under an amended conscription and military service law of 2002, the term of service was extended from 18 to 24 months.7 Conscripts were apparently specifically assigned to military units outside their traditional tribal region to reduce the likelihood of desertion and the potentially destabilizing effect of concentrating armed individuals amongst their own tribe.8

Conscientious objectors continued to be imprisoned.9 In 2001 a conscientious objector was detained and tortured although, following international pressure, no criminal charges were brought against him.10 There is no alternative military service or constitutional right to object to military service on conscientious grounds. Conscripts nonetheless performed non-military service. The surplus conscripts resulting from the lowering of the minimum recruitment age were employed in a range of non-military activities designed to reduce state expenditure. The effect was mass unemployment among public sector workers. In August 2002 the Chief of General Staff of the armed forces said that, in compliance with a decision of the president, 20 to 25 thousand conscripts would be posted to different sectors of the economy annually.11 Firemen, security guards, traffic police and transport workers were replaced by army conscripts.12 In February 2004 the president announced that 15,000 healthcare workers would be dismissed and replaced with conscript soldiers.13

Military training and military schools

Children may enter a number of military educational establishments from the age of 16. There are no military organizations for children or military-patriotic training in the general education system as there was under Soviet rule.14 School children's patriotic education is instead focused upon study of the Rukhnama, a spiritual guide written by President Niyazov and other materials that foster the cult of his personality.15 Higher military education is provided at the Military Institute.16

1 Michael Fredholm, The prospects for internal unrest in Turkmenistan, Conflict Studies Research Centre, April 2003,; Anton Alexeyev, "The Armed Forces of Turkmenistan", Eksport Vooruzheniy Journal, No. 3, May-June 2002, at Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies,; Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 28 January 2004,

2 Law on Conscription and Military Service (in Russian), original 1993, with amendments dated 1998, at Law Reform in Transition States, This was replaced under reforms in 1999 – see Anton Alexeyev, op. cit.

3 Interfax/RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), "Turkmenistan To Abolish Contractual Military Service", 31 March 2001, in RFE/RL, Turkmen Report, 8 April 2001,

4 RFE/RL, Turkmen Report, 8 April 2002.

5 "Turkmen youths may enter military at 17", RFE/RL, Newsline, 11 March 2003.

6 Constitution,

7 Anton Alexeyev, op. cit.

8 Anton Alexeyev, op. cit.; For brief information on the Turkmen tribes and a security analysis generally, see Michael Fredholm, op. cit.

9 Amnesty International, Concerns in Europe and Central Asia, January to June 2003, 10 October 2003,

10 Amnesty International Report 2002.

11 RFE/RL, Turkmen Report, 2 September 2002.

12 Prima News Agency, "Epidemic militarization in Turkmenistan", 3 September 2002,

13 Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Reporting Central Asia, No. 268, 25 February 2004,

14 Confidential source, 14 March 2004.

15 RFE/RL, Turkmen Report, 2 September 2002; Izvestia (Moscow), 31 July 2003.

16 "Ashgabat Turkmen Television First", 9 December 2003, posted on Post-Soviet Armies Newsletter,

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