Turkmenistan cracks down on youth as revolutions continue abroad
Media and Internet, Politics and Society, Turkmenistan9 Comments
Editor’s note: As revolutionary tremors continue to be felt throughout the Middle East and possibly the Caucasus, Turkmenistan is rolling out its usual assortment of repressive tactics, but with new robustness and an extra anti-youth edge, reports neweurasia’s Annasoltan with quotes from the Turkmenet. “[These remarks] should send chills up the backs of the authorities,” she writes. “They can’t expect to keep giving and taking from the rising generation without creating the very revolution they’re trying to avoid.”
Whenever a revolution happens in the Muslim world, Turkmenistan’s youth usually suffer. That’s because our nation’s authorities have real ambivalence about youngsters. So, as they did during Kyrgyzstan’s revolution, as North Africa, the Middle East, and now the Caucasus rumble, our government is nervous about a ripple effect here, and the authorities have stepped up their efforts of monitoring young Turkmens studying abroad and have imposed new restrictions on schools and universities back home.
Because the education system is in a very poor state and highly corrupt, worried parents who can afford to do so send their children to foreign countries to study. Many young Turkmens, especially women, also leave the country in search of a job, particularly to Turkey. In many cases, they’ve frequently chosen to put roots in the countries of their expatriation, while paying regular visits to home; most others return, motivated by family connections or idealism.
Those who return home, especially our students abroad, generally worry about how they will be received in Turkmenistan by the authorities once they have returned home. They wonder whether their diplomas, having been issued by foreign universities, will be accepted, or whether they will be able to get the jobs they want. The government is pretty much clear about its concerns: it’s not so much interested in how their freshly-gained knowledge and skills can benefit the country, but whether their perspectives, activities and contacts are still, so to speak, halal.
On popular Turkmenet chat sites and elsewhere, students are reporting that their parents have been compelled to complete detailed questionnaires during home visits by authorities; some have even been interrogated. Some students themselves, while on brief furloughs to visit home, have been called in for interviews. They say that the questions concern their siblings, contact information and social circles abroad, the source of their financial support, their parents’ professions, and their religion. Some students in Russian and Ukrainian universities report that they’ve had to complete questionnaires, as well.
Meanwhile, there may very well be a kind of shadow-campaign to clamp down on internet access in our nation’s universities. For example, a few months ago the government vowed to equip students with laptops (notebooks), but not only have they not fulfilled this promise, but students in chat sites report that the authorities have effectively banned laptops from dormitories, ostensibly because some students were caught watching pornographic videos. Another example, since the suspension of MTS’ operations, the new telecoms promised by the government have yet to materialize, further shrinking internet penetration in the country.
“The authorities are afraid…”
Of course, blacklists that bar certain people from leaving the country are nothing new — our country loves this tactic, and will even apply it to entire family lineages. As for being suspicious about foreign education, that’s nothing new, either. Turkmenistan’s conflicts with the American University of Central Asia, and the injustices inflicted upon its students who attended there, are legendary. And penetrating questionnaires, shady interviews, and sharply limiting Internet access were mainstays of the Niyazov regime.
However, the Turkmenet believes that this latest wave of restrictions has been inspired by real fear of Turkmenistan’s rising generation. Many students planning to return home for a summer break this year fear that they may now not be allowed to leave the country again to continue their studies. Here’s what one student from the Balkan province said to me, on condition of anonymity:
“There are some villages in Turkmenistan, like in Mary and Lebap provinces, from which dozens of young people are studying abroad. The authorities may fear that these students may gather for a protest action during the summer when they return home. Therefore, the authorities are making home visits with questionnaires or are calling the people for interviews. There is also a record when students from these areas where interrogated in the past. In the area where I live I haven’t heard about interrogations and I guess that’s because there aren’t so many who have gone from here to study abroad.”
Eziz, a student in Turkey, had this to say me over the phone:
“It is clear at hand that our government is not doing the right things and that the country is going in the wrong direction. There is a lack of reform and corruption is running high. The authorities are afraid that the young people may demand democratic reforms.”
Another student said this to me, also on condition of anonymity:
“The authorities may also perceive the contacts made between some Turkmen students and the members of the local societies in those countries as a threat, because the students may start thinking differently about their own country.”
Yet another student lamented the situation as a kind of group punishment, and had this advice to give to his fellow students:
“It is bad because, if they find one single person not complying with the official policy, all others are going to suffer from their deeds, too. I personally stay away from everything which the government dislikes. I think if students stayed away from religion and don’t get involved in politics, they won’t face a problem.”
However, not everyone agrees with that course of action. One student said to me, on condition of anonymity,
“The last thing I am ready to give up is my religion. Religion is the most necessary thing for me.”
That last remark should send chills up the backs of the authorities: they can’t expect to keep giving and taking from the rising generation without creating the very revolution they’re trying to avoid.