Hunger in Turkmenistan

The Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, once a vital stop on the renowned silk roads, has made significant progress over the years in regards to alleviating hunger. The dictatorship has achieved this by having an abundance of natural resources, a high education rate, and political alliances with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Considering that Turkmenistan is the fifth-largest gas reserve in the world, the country has been endowed with plenty of natural resources, making rapid economic growth inevitable. In 2016 alone, the GDP rose by 6.2 percent. The influx of capital from exports allows for the country to be more liberal in their spending to assuage problems such as hunger, malnutrition and lack of education.

The improving economic condition coincides with the improvement in Turkmenistan’s hunger problem, as the undernourishment rate is merely 2.5 percent. An increase in agricultural production due to economic growth was the vital factor in bringing the malnutrition percentage down. Furthermore, Turkmenistan now falls into the moderate category with a score of only 12.3 on the Global Hunger Index – 4.8 points less than in 2008. This places Turkmenistan not far behind countries such as the United States and Canada.

Hunger in Turkmenistan is further combated through an active enforcement of education. With almost a 100 percent literacy rate, residents of Turkmenistan have a wider array of career choices, leading to more opportunities to increase their income. Access to additional income per capita allows for families to purchase more food, which leads to lower malnutrition rates.

The United Nations have duly noted the progress that Turkmenistan has made in regards to hunger. Not only has it attained the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of hungry individuals, but also it has succeeded in being one of the noteworthy countries to reach the World Food Summit’s goal of reducing the absolute number of undernourished people by one-half.

Although Turkmenistan has made notable progress when it comes to hunger, they still are not perfect. Affluent people often have a monopoly over the natural resource industry, and therefore don’t leave quite enough for the ordinary person. Honing in on this problem could make further strides to improve hunger in Turkmenistan.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in TurkmenistanTurkmenistan is a landlocked state in Central Asia with a population of 5,439,000 people. Turkmenistan was a constituent republic within the Soviet Union until 1991 when it gained independence. The following year, Turkmenistan joined the United Nations. Like most nations, Turkmenistan hosts a refugee population. Here are 10 critical facts about refugees in Turkmenistan:

  1. According to the World Bank, 26 refugees officially registered in Turkmenistan in 2015. This puts the number of refugees in Turkmenistan substantially lower than neighboring countries such as Afghanistan (257,554), Iran (979,437), Kazakhstan (708) and Uzbekistan (107) when it comes to official accounts of stateless persons.
  2. For a number of reasons, no one really knows how many refugees in Turkmenistan there are. However, it is likely greater than the official count of 26. The U.N. once estimated that there are at least 40,000 Afghan and Tajik refugees in Turkmenistan.
  3. International organizations criticize Turkmenistan for its many human rights abuses, with the Human Rights Watch characterizing Turkmenistan as “among the world’s most repressive and closed countries, where the president and his associates have total control over all aspects of public life.” Reports of torture, suppressed speech and forcefully disappeared persons makes Turkmenistan an undesired destination for refugees. Still, war and political violence in countries like Afghanistan and Tajikistan render Turkmenistan preferable–albeit less than ideal.
  4. One such human rights abuse–and a barrier to estimating the number of refugees in Turkmenistan–is Turkmenistan’s policies regarding nongovernmental organizations and human rights organizations. Nongovernmental organizations are illegal in Turkmenistan, and organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are not allowed entry.
  5. The government of Turkmenistan has strategically driven refugees in Turkmenistan from neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan back across borders. Many Russians have endured deportation as well.
  6. A pretext for deporting refugees in Turkmenistan is marriage; if a non-Turkmen refugee marries an ethnically Turkmen person, they will likely not receive citizenship in Turkmenistan and face deportation.
  7. Though refugees in Turkmenistan often can’t marry someone with Turkmen heritage, the nation still expects them to adopt a traditional Turkmen way of life. Ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs and others must speak the Turkmen language and dress in traditional Turkmen clothing. Even the children of refugees must abide by these standards or face punishment like expulsion from school.
  8. Despite being an ethnically diverse nation, ethnic Turkmen people receive favor and hold virtually all public offices in the country. The purging of non-Turkmen government employees, unofficial banning of inter-ethnic marriage and mandating that refugees in Turkmenistan adopt the Turkmen way of life are all part of Turkmenistan’s strategy of “Turkmenization,” a set of official government policies started by former President Saparmyrat Niyazov in 1992 to emphasize Turkmen heritage over that of other ethnic groups. All stateless people and refugees in Turkmenistan must conform to “Turkmenization” if they wish to remain in the country. This is to the point that Uzbeks in Turkmenistan sustain punishment for non-Turkmen religious practices.
  9. In 1995, Turkmenistan allowed the U.N. Refugee Agency to open an office in Ashgabat–an unusual move, considering Turkmenistan’s policies on nongovernmental human rights organizations. Since then, the U.N. has invested millions of dollars in improving conditions in refugee-hosting areas, giving the refugees access to medicine and even helping to register them as Turkmen citizens.
  10. The government has done some good when it comes to helping refugees in Turkmenistan. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, while upholding most of Niyazov’s “Turkmenization” policies, has granted more than 3,000 refugees Turkmen citizenship since 2007. Previously, President Niyazov granted about 10,000 refugees in Turkmen citizenship. However, the criteria for granting citizenship was suspected as ethnically based; refugees fleeing the Tajikistan civil war gained citizenship, but the government often denied citizenship to Afghan and Azerbaijani refugees. Now holding Turkmen citizenship, these former refugees in Turkmenistan can take part in civil society and vote. The U.N. protection officer in Ashgabat, Batyr Sapbiyev, called Berdimuhamedov’s decree an “outstanding humanitarian act.”

While Turkmenistan has long been an ethnically diverse country, it has been considerably hostile towards non-Turkmen people living in the country, including refugees. Proponents of “Turkmenization,” an ideological set of public practices and laws, claim that they are preserving Turkmenistan’s cultural heritage. The cost is the shunning of the Tajik, Uzbek and other cultures existing in close proximity to Turkmenistan. Refugees in Turkmenistan do have some reasons to be optimistic, as more and more are granted citizenship. They are expected, however, to conform to the Turkmen way of living if they expect to stay in Turkmenistan.

David Mclellan

Photo: Google

Human Rights in Turkmenistan
Human rights in Turkmenistan have a long-held reputation as among the harshest in the world, a reputation still held today. The current president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, and his close advisers control nearly every facet of public life.

In September 2016, the Turkmen parliament enacted a new constitution, removing the 70-year-old age limit for the office of the presidency and also eliminating presidential term limits.

According to the Turkmenistan Human Rights Watch report of 2017 and the U.S. State Department’s 2012 Turkmenistan Human Rights Report, three primary liberties appear to be at the forefront of persecution. Listed below are these freedoms and details describing the severity of these particular human rights in Turkmenistan.

1. Social Activism

Those who publicly and even sometimes privately advocate for a civil or free society in Turkmenistan take a great risk. They live in constant fear of governmental retribution, and not only endanger themselves but often their families too.

In October 2016 three activists were arrested. Two were sentenced to supervised, forced labor. While one was released after ten days, the other was sentenced to three years in prison based on fabricated fraud charges. The third, Galina Vertryakova, while in police custody awaiting trial, managed to post dissenting comments about the Turkmen government on Russian media channels. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested on unfounded extortion charges.

In August 2016, Akmukhammet Baikhanov, a Turkmen exile, was in Moscow when two men in masks attempted to abduct him. This took place one month following his publication of a book that revealed specific abuses of human rights in Turkmenistan prison “Ovadan-Tepe,” a facility known for torture and terrible conditions. In April 2016, the Turkmen government detained Baikhanov’s brother, stating that they did so because of Baikhanov’s book.

However, the case of Geldy Kyarizov best depicts the lengths to which the Turkmen government will go to silence activists. In the early 2000s, Kyarizov sustained a six-year prison sentence, convicted on fabricated criminal charges. But, the government finally granted him permission to leave the country in 2015. In November of 2015, Kyarizov interviewed publicly for the first time and described his experience at the prison. Following this interview, Turkmen government officials cut off all communication between him and his family, threatened his siblings and briefly jailed one of them after alleging drug charges.

2. Press and the media

Freedom of the press does not exist in Turkmenistan. Instead, the state oversees all media, whether print or digital, and almost never allows foreign media outlets access to Turkmen media. Also, if someone catches a Turkmen citizen providing media content to foreign media agencies, that citizen will face retaliation from the government. The government also has eradicated most private satellite dishes, and the internet remains heavily restricted and monitored. In fact, the internet in Turkmenistan is among the most expensive in the world.

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a journalist for RFE/RL and Alternative News of Turkmenistan, an exile-run news outlet, received a three-year prison sentence in August of 2015 for unfounded drug charges.

In the early 2000s, former dissident and journalist, Chary Annamuradov, fled persecution from Turkmenistan. He gained asylum and citizenship in Sweden in 2003. When going on vacation to Belarus in 2016, Belarusian authorities arrested Annamuradov upon arrival for having an outstanding international arrest warrant for leaving Turkmenistan illegally. However, shortly after Belarus denied a Turkmen extradition request for Annamuradov in September, unknown individuals kidnapped Annamuradov’s brother from his home in Turkmenistan, holding him for four days. During that time the kidnappers severely beat and interrogated him about his brother. Altymurad Annamuradov died shortly after his return home by his kidnappers.

3. Political imprisonment and enforced disappearances

The abuses of human rights in Turkmenistan society is arguably seen most ostensibly in their treatment of political dissidents. The number of individuals jailed for political reasons remains unknown, due to the lack of transparency within the justice system. Trials often close off the public; independent monitoring of criminal cases can result in imprisonment or other forms of punitive action.

Due to this lack of transparency, the whereabouts of political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniazov, arrested in 2008, was not known publically until 2015. Annaniazov continues to serve an 11-year sentence. The fate of at least dozens of other political dissidents remains unknown. Despite its membership in the U.N., the Turkmen government ignored all requests to release certain victims of these enforced disappearances.

According to the “Prove They Are Alive,” campaign, three government officials died of unknown causes within the last two years. This includes Yolly Gurbanmuradov, a former deputy minister in charge of the gas industry, who died in December 2015; Annadurdy Annasakhedov, the former head of the department of counterintelligence, who died in February 2016; and Vekil Durdyev, a former state security officer, who died in August 2016.

In addition to this, both the U.S. State Department’s report, as well as the Amnesty International’s report, details the treatment of many inmates in Turkmen prisons. Torture appears as a commonality and is carried out in various ways including electric shocks, asphyxiation with a plastic bag, rape, forcing inmates to stay outside in extremely hot or cold temperatures for long periods of time and even forcibly administering hallucinogenic or psychotropic drugs.

Unfortunately, despite its constitution declaring the country as a presidential republic and secular democracy, an authoritarian regime runs the nation; ensuring that the citizen’s ability to change the government is futile. In order to reform the abusive human rights in Turkmenistan, a reform in government is mandatory.

Hunter Mcferrin

Photo: Flickr

Forty percent of Turkmenistan’s population is under the age of 15, which according to UNICEF provides the country with an opportunity for growth if this young population is able to receive a good education. However, they also recognize that this growing population could be a problem for the country if the quality of education in Turkmenistan begins to decline. It is important for the school systems to continue to grow over the coming years to prepare for this rising generation of students.

In order to ensure the continuation of this necessary growth, the country’s government has partnered with UNICEF to create an educational review program to monitor the progress of schools. They are working to analyze the needs of schools and make necessary improvements to their programs. These improvements appear to be making an impact in the nation since there is a 97 percent attendance rating in primary schools.

However, secondary schools have a lower attendance rate of 85 percent and for pre-primary schools, this number is even lower. This lack of attendance is due to the lack of school buildings and the deterioration of current ones. A UNICEF report states, that as more buildings become unusable, attendance rates will decrease.

According to UNESCO, the literary rate for ages 15 and up in Turkmenistan is almost 100 percent for both sexes. In addition, data from UNICEF indicates that education in Turkmenistan is in a state of equity, with no enrollment gaps between genders or across social classes. Education in Turkmenistan is now mandatory for students ages six to 17 and this is making a great impact, according to UNESCO.

This is because the rate of illiterate members in the population ages 15 and older have been steadily declining. There are half as many illiterate adults as there were in 1995, according to a UNESCO report on literacy and education in Turkmenistan. Despite many improvements in education over the last few decades, UNICEF warns that the government needs to work to assure that these improvements are not lost due to issues that the country is facing, particularly as it pertains to the lack of facilities that can be turned into schools.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr

A Need for Reform and Research of Education in Turkmenistan
With 40 percent of Turkmenistan’s population under the age of 15, educational training and youth services are an absolute must for the country. According to experts, there needs to be more research and improvement for education in Turkmenistan if the country wishes to continue gaining economic success. UNICEF believes, however, that the new government in Turkmenistan is beginning to make headway in education reform, which shows a promising future for Turkmenistan.

There is currently a primary net enrollment rate of 97 percent and secondary net enrollment rate of 85 percent in Turkmenistan. These numbers sit above average for the Central Asian and Central Eastern European regions. However, there is very little access to pre-primary education, especially for isolated populations. School quality is also questionable, but impossible to analyze due to the lack of research into education in Turkmenistan.

Additionally, current research shows that many of the school buildings are deteriorating due to the lack of financial investment in education over the past few decades. UNICEF states that “as school buildings crumble, classrooms become more crowded, intake rates drop and enrollments decline.” Overall, it is evident that the people of Turkmenistan are still impoverished, and there is room for educational improvement.

After President Berdimuhamedov was elected in 2007, the change in government has brought hope for education in Turkmenistan, because the new president is making the education system a priority. President Berdimuhamedov was formerly the minister of health and later became deputy prime minister, a role in which he was responsible for education, science and health. His experience and passion show his potential for positive impact on education in Turkmenistan.

President Berdimuhamedov has invited the U.N. to partner with Turkmenistan, where the government and nonprofits will focus on Turkmenistan’s social and education agenda. Additionally, the Ministry of Education has partnered with UNICEF in order to create curriculum guides for education in Turkmenistan. These guides bring new and innovative approaches to teaching, testing and administering.

In cooperation with UNICEF, Turkmenistan’s government is also undertaking a comprehensive education sector review. This is absolutely crucial since there are huge gaps in data and research for education in Turkmenistan. Once research is compiled, the government will be able to create effective reforms that will address issues within Turkmenistan’s education system.

It is hopeful that with the execution of education research and the implementation of improved education reforms, current issues regarding education in Turkmenistan will be addressed.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

education_in_turkmenistanFrom 2000-2006, Turkmenistan experienced a 500 percent growth in its GDP. Despite this increase, no funding went toward education in Turkmenistan. Instead the focus was on infrastructure development. Even though the stance on education in Turkmenistan was nearly invisible 10 years ago, in recent years there has been a push for change.

Education in Turkmenistan is now a national priority. By partnering up with UNICEF and the U.N., Turkmenistan has been able to provide structure to their education system. Since this team formed, the amount of schooling that children were required to attend has increased.

President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow also announced that in all five regions of Turkmenistan, there would be model schools built so that they could promote interactive teaching and learning methods.

Higher education has also been included in the spotlight. One of the primary objectives, underpinning the development and also the improvement of education in Turkmenistan, is the increase in the qualifications and profile of scientific personnel. Currently, young students have the opportunity to receive a professional education that meets international goals.

In 2008, research projects that were supported by the state commenced. Scientists involved in the projects have aimed to address important issues of social development. The goal is to develop and introduce technologies in industry. The advancements have lead to the decision to increase the amount of technology involved in education, which has provided support and a platform for the future of science education in Turkmenistan.

There is, however, some push back from citizens. The teachers feel that the amount of education that is forced may be too much and is producing overstressed students who haven’t grasped the concepts.

Though some of the policies that have been created aren’t perfect, education in Turkmenistan is headed in the right direction. “The conditions have been created in Turkmenistan for young people to receive a world-class education and for companies and organizations to be furnished with highly qualified cadres,” said the president.

– Erik Nelson

Sources: Eurasianet, European Commission, UNICEF
Photo: Turkmenistan Info

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Turkmenistan was granted independence for the first time in over 100 years.

According to data gathered by the Soviet government officials in 1991, at that time Turkmenistan’s population was nearly completely literate. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, education in Turkmenistan has significantly changed. Here are five facts about education in Turkmenistan.

1. Reform

President Berdimuhammedov, appointed in February 2007, encouraged hope for the people of Turkmenistan that reforms in education would occur. In addition, in 2007, Turkmenistan underwent an over 500 percent increase in their gross domestic product (GDP) due to increased oil and gas prices. Since 2007, the Turkmenistan government has made a number of educational reforms, such as raising the amount of compulsory education, the proliferation of “model schools” and the creation of curriculum guides.

2. Attendance

In Turkmenistan, there is a primary school attendance rate of 97 percent. However, there is only an 85 percent attendance rate for secondary schools.

3. Equality

Despite the relatively high percentage of attendance, education in Turkmenistan is not equal for all citizens. While there is near gender equality, there is significantly higher attendance in urban instead of rural areas. Enrollment in primary education is at 67 percent for Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgahat, but only 11 percent for Lebap, a rural region.

4. Completion

Only 0.1 percent of students who attend primary school in Turkmenistan drop out, while 0.8 percent of students in Turkmenistan repeat a grade. However, 99.8 percent of students who attend, finish primary school.

5. Infrastructure

A challenge that education in Turkmenistan is facing is the quality of its educational buildings. Due to the lack of investments in education prior to 2007, many school buildings are deteriorating. Around 15 percent of schools have structural problems that make them too dangerous to use for classes.

While there is a greater wealth access to education in Turkmenistan than in surrounding countries, there is still a necessity for further educational reforms in Turkmenistan.

— Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, CountryStudies, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Of all of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Turkmenistan has the smallest population and is made up of mostly just desert regions. The extremely strict isolation enacted by dictator Saparmurat Niyazov ended around the time of his death, but the government still remains autocratic. According to Turkmenistan officials, the country is estimated to have the world’s fifth largest natural gas reserves, but despite the wealth that comes from these reserves, there is still a large number of people in the country living in poverty.

The country came into an age of isolation after achieving independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, which has only recently shown signs of improvement. The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan is the only political party in the country and was led by the former president Saparmurat Niyazov until his death in 2006. After making himself president for life, he spent much of the country’s money on daunting projects while heavily cutting social welfare at the same time. Kurbanguly Berdymuhamedov took control of Turkmenistan after the former president’s death and has not fulfilled many of his promises toward political reform in the country.

Turkmenistan was considered the poorest of all of the Soviet-occupied territories and in 1989, 45 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. The country generally has a limited infrastructure with an insufficient workforce, poor communication and signaling equipment, and a general lack of paved roads. The roads are not regularly maintained or developed, and only 30 percent of households have a telephone. The medical facilities in Turkmenistan are minimal and hard to come by as well, with very low standards compared to Western countries. Military and police presence is very common in public areas because of crime rates and corruption in the country. These authorities often monitor and apprehend people that are perceived as a military or security threat, for example, the people that are simply taking pictures of government buildings.

The economy is underdeveloped because foreign investors have been steering clear of the country for years due to rising conflicts with the legal status of offshore oil and the lack of export routes. The country has been struggling to fully benefit from their massive gas and oil deposits as a result. Each year Turkmenistan produces nearly 70 billion cubic meters of natural gas and about two-thirds of that goes to the Russian gas monopoly, Gazprom. Fortunately, in 2006, a protracted dispute between Russia and Turkmenistan ended with Gazprom agreeing to a 54 percent increase in pay to Turkmenistan. Since then, vast gas pipelines have been opened to China and Iran in efforts to break Russia’s hold on its natural gas experts. There have also been efforts to take part in a project with the European Union called the Nabucco Pipeline, which would provide an alternative to the current Russian gas supplies to Europe. Though over 40 percent of developing countries in Central Asia are experiencing the same hardships, Turkmenistan has a brighter future because of its greater fiscal capacity and great natural gas reserves.

-Kenneth W. Kliesner

Photo: Daily Mail
Asia News, BBC, Mahara

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, social services have progressed slowly in Turkmenistan.  According to the Human Development Index, Turkmenistan is ranked 109th out of 177 nations.  While the country has seen a remarkable increase of 500% in its GDP over the past few years, a huge gap remains in funding for social programs.

Roughly 10% of the population of Turkmenistan has access to the Internet and contemporary technology.  With a lack of qualified teachers and access to education, stimulating technological literacy could be a key factor in creating a sustainable model of schooling.

In 2010, USAID partnered with the Turkmen government to create an “e-Governance” strategy of public record keeping.  Not only has this initiative promoted more transparency as Turkmenistan forges its own identity and moves further away from anachronistic Soviet governance, but it also serves as a key step for placing technology at the forefront of Turkmen education.

Through the PICTT project (Promotion of Information and Communication Technology in Turkmenistan), USAID provided Internet access for over 9,000 current and future teachers.  Another 2,100 were trained specifically on IT and communication equipment.  Furthermore, distance-learning classes are now provided for teachers to work on professional development and share curriculums to provide schooling in rural areas.

While strides have been made in creating a more sustainable infrastructure to support Turkmenistan, more funding for educational programs remains essential in order to capitalize on these gains.  97% of Turkmen children attend primary school, thanks in part to the technological overhaul.  However, that number drops to 85% for secondary school.

– Taylor Diamond

Photo: Beyond Access

Recently Jennifer Lopez traveled to Turkmenistan to sing in an event hosted by the China National Petroleum Corp., and, in participating, inadvertently praised the nation’s repressive leader. Although it wasn’t on the set list for the evening, at the last minute J. Lo was asked by the executives of the company to sing “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the leader of Turkmenistan, who was attending the concert. Human Rights Watch has listed the dictator as one of the most repressive leaders in the world.

Lopez herself has worked on many philanthropic projects involving human rights. Recently she worked with Amnesty International to curb violence against women in Mexico. She also made an appearance for the Children’s Defense Fund and is currently working for increasing health care in Panama. Despite being involved with several human rights organizations to improve life for others, she claimed that she was unaware of the repressive conditions in Turkmenistan.

J. Lo’s situation should be a reminder to all of us to raise awareness and keep in touch with what is going on around the world. It is important for both cultural icons and ordinary citizens to learn about which countries struggle with obtaining even the most basic rights, and discover the reasons behind those struggles.

– Katie Brockman

Sources: ABC News, Variety
Photo: University UN