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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Turkmenistan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Turkmenistan, 28 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fedb3ebc.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
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.

It remains difficult to access information about minority issues in Turkmenistan because of the lack of press freedom and restrictions on civil society. There is no disaggregated national data available on the demographic composition of the population and the enjoyment of rights. Extrapolating from a mid-1990s census, the country has Uzbek, Russian and Kazakh and other minority communities. It is clear that minority groups continue to be sidelined from many educational, training, employment and political opportunities as a result of the government's continuing policy of Turkmenization, which sets out preference for persons of Turkmen origin, especially in the field of education and employment. The authorities have not undertaken measures to prevent these practices, or to improve the situation.

There are no ministers or deputy ministers from minority ethnic communities in Turkmenistan. Heads of regional and district administrations are likewise all ethnic Turkmen. Even in predominantly national minority areas, persons from these minorities only occupy low-ranking posts. The President is required to speak Turkmen, and all 14 candidates for the 2012 elections were ethnic Turkmen.

Marking a new development in the Turkmenization strategy, in September it was reported that, for the first time, school children were being required to give personal information on immediate family members going back three generations. Authorities gave no explanation for this new requirement, which resembles previous policies for those applying for public employment and higher education that the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also expressed concern about in November. Meanwhile, in spite of specific legislative provisions, the possibilities for ethnic minorities to study in their mother tongues are limited. It is reported that the country's few remaining Russian-language schools are in great demand, with parents paying large bribes to administrations or local education authorities for admission.

In January, new travel restrictions were reported for those planning to enter or exit the country. This is likely to have particular repercussions for those with dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship, which has been made invalid in recent years by the authorities in Turkmenistan.

In more positive news, Turkmenistan has made progress in combatting statelessness. Several thousand persons were registered as stateless, and 3,000 received citizenship in 2011. In December, the country acceded to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Most of these people were left stateless at the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, having moved to Turkmenistan originally from former Soviet republics such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The Kazakh minority in Turkmenistan numbered around 90,000 in 1995, but many have taken advantage of Kazakhstan's Oralman scheme, which supports ethnic Kazakhs abroad voluntarily repatriating to the country. In May, a court in Turkmenistan announced it had conditionally freed Bisengul Begdesinov, a prominent ethnic Kazakh, following a fraud and bribery trial. Among his activities within the community, Begdesinov helped ethnic Kazakhs to privatize property and relocate to Kazakhstan under the Oralman scheme. Despite being freed, Begdesinov was refused an exit visa to leave Turkmenistan in December, leading to speculation that this was an attempt to intimidate Kazakhs residing in Turkmenistan to discourage them from privatizing their apartments.

Religious minorities in Turkmenistan continue to suffer discrimination. Plans to revise the Law on Religion, after a December 2010 report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticized many of its provisions for violating international human rights standards, have been shelved until 2012. The OSCE recommendations included an end to the ban on unregistered religious activity and on the private teaching of religion. The law also has no provision for conscientious objection to military service. Two Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned in the summer for their conscientious objection. While one was amnestied in August 2011, the other was sentenced to two years in a labour camp, after which he may be sent to another labour camp, where seven other Jehovah's Witnesses and one Protestant pastor are known to be held. Meanwhile, there have been further reports of harassment of Protestants by the police and religious authorities.

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