Accessibility links

Breaking News

What Is Life Like For Ordinary People In Turkmenistan?

Turkmen line up outside a grocery shop to buy food in the capital, Ashgabat.
Turkmen line up outside a grocery shop to buy food in the capital, Ashgabat.

Things don’t seem to change in Turkmenistan, and if they do, it’s never for the better.

Throughout its entire post-Soviet history, the country has been ruled by eccentric dictators. It has long been at the bottom of international rankings on press freedom and civil liberties. Most of the population scrapes by, even though the state is rich in gas and oil. Corruption is rife. And the government controls most aspects of life.

The new president -- Serdar Berdymukhammedov -- took over in March from his father, Gurbanguly, who had ruled for over 15 years. And he seems determined to continue his father’s repressive course.

For ordinary citizens, life has become even harder since the start of the coronovirus pandemic despite the fact the Turkmen authorities declared the country COVID-free.

In a live discussion on June 2, hosted by RFE/RL, Bermet Talant spoke with Gozel Khudayberdieva, a reporter with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, and Ruslan Myatiev, an editor with, about subsidized food rations, border closures, new restrictions on women, and more.

Some key takeaways:

“There are no official bans or regulations on paper. But if you show up, you are told that you need some kind of permission, and they will not explain to you why or where it’s written. And you can do nothing with it. Even if you want to buy bread, you’ll be given only two or three loaves on that day, and you can’t buy more and nobody can explain why,” said Gozel Khudayberdieva.

“In total dictatorships, things can be unpredictable. On the surface, it seems to be a stably run state. Inside, it is far from that. So the boiling point can be anything,” said Ruslan Myatiev, answering the question of how much more Turkmen citizens could put up with.

“Nobody expected that, in the summer of 2020, dozens of Turkmen citizens abroad would march on the streets and scream anti-government, anti-president things. The past two years have shown that there are activists who can’t cope with these things. Some of them have become already so prominent. If they continue this way, their number of supporters in Turkmenistan could grow. We also see movements inside Turkmenistan. There have been anti-government leaflets after a devastating hurricane hit two regions in April 2020,” he said.

Listen to the full conversation here:

please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:32:26 0:00

Read more from RFE/RL on this subject:

Beauty Ban: Turkmenistan Puts Severe Restrictions On Women's Appearance, Ability To Travel

Turkmen Consumers Face Jail Time If Caught Buying Too Much Bread

Subsidized Food Rations Cut In Turkmen Capital Amid Shortages, Price Hikes

Think Turkmenistan Is Funny? Think Again

Follow @RFERL on Twitter so as not to miss our regular conversations on life and social change in Central Asia every Thursday at 7 p.m. local time in Bishkek (3 p.m. CET/9 a.m. EST).

  • 16x9 Image

    Bermet Talant

    Bermet Talant is a journalist from Kyrgyzstan who is currently based in Sydney. She previously worked as a political reporter for the Kyiv Post and completed a Reuters Institute fellowship at Oxford University. She has also written for The Guardian, the Lowy Institute, Eurasianet, openDemocracy, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.