Home » Central Asia and Afghanistan, Politics and Society, Turkmenistan

Is the dentist-dictator drilling a hole into the drug cavity?

Map from the United Nations Department of Crime (UNDOC).

Map from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Editor’s Note: Turkmenistan’s strongman president has made the fight against drugs a major priority of his regime. How’s he faring? In a rare breeze of good news from the country, NewEurasia’s Annasoltan reports that his actions may actually be faring somewhat well!

Ever since Berdimuhamedov — a former health minister and dentist by training — came to power in 2007, Turkmenistan has been engaged in a very radical struggle. During the Niyazov era, wider availability of drugs combined with a grave socioeconomic situation led to a spike in addiction. It was estimated by a former foreign minister that approximately 50% of the population was involved in either the use or sale of drugs! Almost every family had a loved on doped up on narcotics.

There were even allegations that Niyazov himself had a personal stake in the drug business. These allegations arose from his very weird policies on the issue; for instance, he legalized carrying five grams of opium. It’s almost a certainty that some elements of the government, high or low, are involved in the drug business. After all, our country is located on a major transit route between Afghanistan and Europe. In fact, we lie at the intersection of several consumers, including Iran and (via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) Russia.

The Berdimuhamedov regime has done many bad things, but maybe its fight against drugs isn’t one of those. He outright declared war on the phenomenon, and it was one of his administration’s official top ten priorities in 2011. I’m also told that Turkmenistani is cooperating a lot more with international anti-drug agencies than under the old regime.

Now, the impression one gets, at least in a bit city like our capital, is that only the wealthy, courageous, flippant or just plain desperate are going to do drugs. I’ve heard that the price of has increased three- or four-fold. Punishments for mere possession, intent to sell, are very harsh. For example, if you’re caught with six grams of opium, it is not possible to have a reprieve via one of the many presidential amnesties that are quite routine in our country.

I haven’t been able to consult experts, but I would love to hear any anecdotes (good or bad, of success or failure) from readers about the fight against drugs in our country. Hopefully the situation really is looking up, because it’s nice to report on something positive about my country for once.

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