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Yelena Myatieva: "Turkmen society is inert, fragmented, and intimidated.”


Over the last few days, the media space has been filled with the topic of strange bans in Turkmenistan. In particular, on May 14 "Meduza" published a news story with the following headline: "Turkmenistan detains people who hold hands, and women are prohibited from wearing makeup”.

The online publication, based in the Netherlands and specializing in events in this closed Central Asian country, covered the topic of fines and discrimination, among other details.

Journalist Elena Myatieva agreed to tell more about the bans, which are overwhelmingly related to the fairer sex - from teenage girls to mature women - and, by a strange coincidence, have become more frequent in the last month.

It was just over a month ago that a new president, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, ascended the Turkmen throne.


"Ascended to the throne" is not a figure of speech, but the very truth: Serdar succeeded his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, having been admitted to the elections with numerous violations of the Basic Law of Turkmenistan and the voting procedure itself.

Ladies were the first to feel the "hand" of the new ruler. They were suddenly forbidden to occupy the front passenger seat. And not only in a cab, but also in the car of her husband, brother or father. Police officers stop cars and demand that female passengers move to the back.

There is a word "bolanok" in Turkmen language that everybody who has lived or lives in Turkmenistan knows. It is translated as "not allowed" or "forbidden" and is used everywhere. When asked why you can't sit in the front seat, the short answer is, "Bolanok!". No further explanation follows.

Another unexpected ban was beauty salon beauty services.

The list of undesirable, read prohibited, included contouring procedures, false nails and eyelashes, any hair coloring, except the color of a raven's wing. Those who ignore the ban are punished with fines and imprisonment.

Dress-code in Turkmenistan is in force for many years, to be exact - as long as the country is independent. Free cut dress with no figure accentuation, floor length, sleeves at least three-quarter - it's the basis.

And then - the obligatory details. For the women employees of budget organizations and institutions - primarily educators, school teachers, university teachers - the national embroidery on the collar is mandatory. During official and festive events it is important the material from which the dress should be made. As a rule - it is an expensive velvet. The head must be covered with a headscarf.

Photo: Chronicles of Turkmenistan

Now the authorities have gone even further: pants, shorts, skirts and knee-high or over-the-knee dresses are in disgrace. sources inside the country find different explanations for these and other bans. Some believe that Serdar Berdymukhamedov - despite the fact that he studied in Moscow and Geneva and that his two sisters live in London and Dubai - was much more conservative than his father about how a Turkmen girl, a woman, should look and behave. Allegedly, he raises his three daughters in the same "national" spirit.

Photo: Vladimir Smirnov / TASS

Other sources remind us that even Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who resigned as president in March of this year, is not as fluffy as they are now trying to show him against the background of his recently elected son.

Back in 2018, for example, women drivers licenses were revoked, and those who had already begun their studies in driving schools were banned from continuing. No woman has been able to renew her expired license for more than two years.

In one of his articles, wrote: "In September 2020, about three dozen Ashgabat women residents went on several spontaneous protests outside the building of the Traffic Police. They also tried to get an appointment with Interior Minister Mammetkhan Chakiev. As a result, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov gave Chakyev a stern reprimand, and those who wanted to talk to him were summoned to the police one by one and threatened. After that, the protests stopped.

In fact, Turkmen society is inert, fragmented and intimidated. Few people dare to resist or come out to protest like this.

Flight attendants are fired for false eyelashes or plumped lips and they leave silently; the woman, who is driving, is fined, her car is taken to the impound lot - the lady complies and remains silent; schoolgirls are thrown out of class and sent home to change clothes - parents, with few exceptions, do not stand up for the rights of their child. sources were able to talk to some women about what they think about the bans. Surprisingly, for example, some Turkmen female teachers agree that natural brunettes with brown eyes should not be blondes.

"Even if you dye your hair differently, you still won't be blonde. That's why they should ban it if they don't understand.”

"It looks awful when you can see the dirt under your own fingernails."

"Painted black eyebrows do not decorate, but make women ugly. So do pouty lips.”

Photo: Igor Sasin (AFP)

There are also those who believe that all this fashion is transient and should simply outlive, outgrow it.

"Turkmenistan is a country where everything comes much later than in Europe or Russia, and people themselves will give up what doesn't suit them. Prohibitions only do harm and nothing more."

There is also an opinion that the Turkmen authorities are tightening pressure on the population just on the eve of the events in Ukraine, so the democratic countries and international human rights activists have no time for Turkmenistan now, especially as these are all "minor" bans, which are tacit and are not supported by any decrees.

The ombudsman even advised complainants, for instance women with expired driver's licenses, to apply for an extension. However, the process of extension has not moved forward.

In Turkmenistan, which is closed to the whole world, they know: if a rumor is circulating particularly persistently, it means it will happen soon. In the last few days, a rumor has been spreading about a ban on women traveling abroad. An exception will be made for the seriously ill who have a referral from the Ministry of Health for treatment abroad, and for those who have a second citizenship.

Given that, since the start of the pandemic in Turkmenistan, regular flights to any country have not yet been resumed, and that only the Extraordinary Commission to Combat Disease permits certain categories of citizens to travel abroad, it is not difficult to guess what awaits those who want to study abroad, visit relatives living abroad, or simply go to see the world.

It is interesting that there is such a committee in Turkmenistan but officially there is no covid! It penetrated into the country neither during the pandemic nor later, though hundreds of people died of this virus and its consequences`.

The most pessimistic experts fear the negative influence on the Turkmen government and, in particular, on Serdar Berdymukhamedov of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. At least, discrimination against women, very similar to that on the other side of the border, is increasingly visible in a country that considers itself a secular state.

If it goes on like this, will the burqa be the next step for Turkmen women?

Author: Yelena Myatieva