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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Turkmenistan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Turkmenistan, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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. However, it is clear that minority groups continue to be sidelined from many educational, employment and political opportunities in Turkmenistan as a result of discriminatory government policies. Observers state that in the local and regional elections held on 5 December only ethnic Turkmen stood as candidates. Although three ethnic Russians reportedly have significant informal political roles, official government positions are dominated by ethnic Turkmen with a disproportionate number of government positions held by Turkmen belonging to President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov's Akhal Tekke clan. It has been reported that some Turkmen from outside Ashgabat speak Russian in the capital in order to hide their regional accents and avoid discrimination.

While the primarily Orthodox Russian-speaking community continues to enjoy more educational, cultural and religious opportunities than in the last years of former President Saparmurat Niyazov, there are indications that Turkmenistan's diversification from dependence on Russia for its gas exports means it feels less need to accommodate dual Russian-Turkmen nationals. Human rights activists estimate that about 100,000 Turkmen nationals – of Russian as well as Turkmen ethnicity – also hold Russian passports. On 7 July, the government issued a statement saying that the Constitution made no provision for dual citizenship. This followed several reports that Turkmen nationals who also held Russian citizenship were not being allowed to leave the country, and were being told they must give up one of the two passports.

Despite a groundbreaking meeting between the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in October, ethnic Uzbeks in Turkmenistan are unhappy at the continuing policy of 'Turkmenization', which requires their children to learn Turkmen and wear Turkmen costumes at school. The regions of Dashoguz and Lebap in north-eastern Turkmenistan have significant ethnic Uzbek populations. Human rights organizations in Uzbekistan state that self-identification as ethnic Uzbek is decreasing in Turkmenistan, because of the difficulties this causes. There have also been violations of the right to family life: in June, a group of 30 women from Uzbekistan in Lebap province who had married Turkmen nationals and given birth to children eligible for Turkmen citizenship were summarily deported, simply because their marriages as foreigners were not recognized. Reports of fees as high of US$ 50,000 to validate such marriages have been received by the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights. Mosques in Dashoguz continue to be led by ethnic Turkmen imams, with some local Muslims stating that they believe this is direct discrimination.

There are also reports that restrictions on crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have become tighter this year, despite the thaw in government relations. In October it was reported that Dashoguz residents who had already been forcibly resettled were removed even further away from the Turkmen-Uzbek border by the Turkmen military. The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights says that residents were given only a few days notice to leave before their homes were bulldozed.

All religious activity remains under strict control. The Muftiate (Muslim Board) is controlled through state appointments of the chief mufti and other imams. Although the government allows Sunni Islam to operate (within tightly controlled limits), this is not the case for Shi'a Islam, which is mainly professed by the ethnic Azeri and Iranian minorities in the west of the country. In certain areas, such as near the border with Iran, it is reported that beards and the hijab are not allowed.

Other religious minorities in the country also suffer discrimination. While Ashghabad's Catholic community finally gained legal status in March 2010 after 13 years of negotiation, some Shi'a Muslim communities, the Armenian Apostolic Church, a number of Protestant communities and Jehovah's Witnesses have been unable to register. Many religious communities have reportedly stopped applying for registration, and have decided to operate quietly without legal status. The lack of legal provision for conscientious objection or alternative service meant that eight Jehovah's Witnesses were in jail in November 2010 after refusing to perform military service, with a further three serving suspended sentences.

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