It's not easy being the holder of a Turkmen passport. The passports, in use since the early days of independence, have no expiry date -- inevitably that means suspicious looks and a long wait at passport control. But now there could be another sign of Turkmen society loosening up.
As of July 10, Turkmenistan has introduced new biometric "travel passports." (The previous passports were used as documents both in Turkmenistan and abroad.) According to the authorities, the introduction of the new passports aims "to further strengthen friendly relations with foreign countries and to expand mutually beneficial trade, economic, scientific, technological, and cultural partnerships with foreign countries, and to also ensure the legitimate rights of Turkmen citizens for free travel home and abroad."
Current passports are valid for domestic and foreign travel until July 10, 2013. (It might be worth someone passing that information on to the world's passport officials.)
Chary Ishanyazov, a member of the Republican Party of Turkmenistan in exile, told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
that there were two sides to the introduction of the new passport. On the one hand, he said it is good to have passports that meet international standards, because of the problems Turkmen citizens are facing abroad.
But while Ishanyazov thinks it's clear that the old passports with no expiration date were created intentionally by Niyazov's regime to restrict citizens traveling abroad, are President Berdymukhammedov's reforms really so well-meaning? The Turkmen authorities can still limit the issuance of "travel passports" for ordinary citizens. So, good news if you're in line at passport control, but for the majority of Turkmen who are not fortunate enough to travel, well, the jury's still out.
-- Oguljamal Yazliyeva