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In New Crackdown, Turkmenistan Orders Young Men To Shave Their Beards, Prevents Bearded Men From Flying

Turkmen police detained a large group of bearded men and forcibly shaved their beards with the same razor, witnesses said. (illustrative photo)
Turkmen police detained a large group of bearded men and forcibly shaved their beards with the same razor, witnesses said. (illustrative photo)

ASHGABAT -- Police in tightly controlled Turkmenistan have launched a nationwide crackdown on men’s facial hair, forcibly shaving young men’s beards and barring bearded men from boarding planes or trains, witnesses said.

A 30-year-old bearded man told RFE/RL on May 17 that authorities at the Turkmenbashi International Airport didn’t allow him to board a plane because of his facial hair.

“They said, ‘Shave your beard first…. You must look like your passport photo,’” the man said on condition of anonymity. “Otherwise, we can’t identify you.”

The man added that police also confiscated his passport and said it will be returned only after he shaves his beard.

Several other residents of the coastal city in western Turkmenistan confirmed that local police in recent days have been targeting young, bearded men on the streets, demanding they shave their beards or be taken to a police station.

Police patrol the Turkmen city of Mary. (file photo)
Police patrol the Turkmen city of Mary. (file photo)

Authorities are also demanding that men sign a written pledge that they won’t grow a beard in the future, witnesses said.

RFE/RL tried to contact Turkmenbashi officials for comment but didn’t receive a response.

In Turkmenistan and other parts of Central Asia -- the predominantly Muslim, former Soviet regions -- a bushy beard is perceived as a sign of being a follower of religious extremism or what many locals describe as “unconventional Islamic traditions.”

There have been numerous reports that bearded men were rounded up and forcibly shaven by police in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The latest crackdown in Turkmenistan started in mid-May without any announcement, comment, or explanation from the government.

Police raids were also reported in the northern city of Dashoguz, where witnesses say men are being “detained en masse” and having their beards shaven at police stations against their wishes.

One Dashoguz resident who was among the detainees said all the men brought to the police station were shaven with the same razor.

Mosque-goers say imams have begun preaching to their congregations that growing a beard is only appropriate for older men who have reached retirement age.

Turkmenistan last year launched a string of restrictions against women, banning them from wearing “tight-fitting” clothes, coloring their hair, or having cosmetic surgery, such as breast enhancement.

Dozens of beauty salons closed across the country for offering some of these “banned” procedures and services.

At least 20 female flight attendants and some 50 female employees of the national rail service were fired for allegedly having had their lips or breasts surgically enhanced.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service

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