Love can be dear in Turkmenistan. A recent decree requires foreigners to pay $50,000 for official permission to marry a Turkmen citizen. Authorities have implied the move is designed to protect women from being duped into abusive relationships, and suggest that it is in keeping with long-standing cultural traditions. However, critics say the decree places an almost insurmountable barrier to international marriages. The legislation, they add, constitutes another measure taken by Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov to isolate Turkmenistan.
Resolution No. 3407, which Niyazov authorized on June 4, stipulates that a special contract is required for marriage between Turkmen citizens and non-citizens. The contract establishes both "the obligations and property rights of the parties to a marriage, and their duties in providing for their children in the case of dissolution." As a guarantee for a child's welfare, Resolution 3407 requires a $50,000 deposit with the State Insurance Organization from non-Turkmen citizens wishing to marry. In addition, the decree specifies that any marriage-minded foreigner must have lived in Turkmenistan for at least a year, and own his or her own living space.
According to the website Turkmenistan.ru, which has close ties to the Turkmen government, Resolution 3407 primarily aims to protect "young women who often either fall into rich Asians' harems, or suffer materially at the hands of wandering adventurers posing as rich foreign businessmen."
Critics point out that there are few rich foreigners or con-artists operating in Turkmenistan. The foreigners most affected by the decree are primarily citizens from neighboring states, including other former Soviet republics, Iran and Turkey. A large number of foreigners desiring to marry a Turkmen citizen will be unable to meet the contract requirements -- in particular the $50,000 security payment for prospective children.
Other conditions pose daunting obstacles. As a rule, foreigners working in Turkmenistan do not own their residences. Throughout the former Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of foreign employees rent, rather than buy, their living space.
Resolution 3407 is consistent with recent government actions to limit the contact of Turkmen citizens with outside influences. The government has reduced educational opportunities, curtailed access to the internet and reintroduced travel restrictions, including the requirement that Turkmen citizens obtain "exit visas." In June 8 talks with a visiting OSCE dignitary, Niyazov defended his moves, saying democratization efforts had to take into account national traditions.
Niyazov has also clamped down in the cultural sphere. Perhaps he most notorious government move was Niyazov's April 5 decision to close the ballet and opera theaters in Ashgabat, the capital. Niyazov has also tightened controls on state media and has been critical of the Culture Ministry.
Niyazov has often stated a desire to promote Turkmen culture. For example, he described opera and ballet as "alien" to national culture. Before ordering a shake-up of state television and radio, he likewise assailed media outlets as not adequately reflecting "national features."
In its analysis of Resolution 3407, the pro-government Turkmenistan.ru describes the $50,000 payment as "a sort of kalym," or a traditional payment made by the parents of the groom to the parents of the bride.
Kalym is an engrained, centuries-old Turkmen tradition that survived even under the Soviet regime. At the close of the 1970's, Turkmen poet Toushan Esenova published a scathing article entitled "This Cursed Kalym" in the journal Literaturnaya Gazeta, in which she lamented that not even the Soviet state had been able to eradicate the "feudal" practice. During the waning years of the Soviet Union, a kalym price for a bride from the Tekke tribe in Ashgabat and Mary reportedly could reach as high as 30,000 rubles. This at a time when a typical monthly salary was about 250 rubles and a Volga auto cost approximately 15,000 rubles.
Whether or not Resolution 3407 is in keeping with Turkmen cultural tradition, the decree, in establishing large obstacles to marriages involving foreigners, helps deepen the cultural and political isolation of Turkmenistan. This trend ultimately serves to reinforce the Niyazov's authority, while further restricting the already greatly limited freedoms of the general population.
Rustem Safronov is the special correspondent to the United States of Novaya Gazeta (Moscow), and a frequent contributor to the BBCs Russian and Central Asian Services. He worked in Turkmenistan during the Soviet period for the State Archives and for the Central Committee of Komsomol in Ashgabat where he hosted television and radio programs about the history of the country. From 1993-1996 he was special correspondent to the Duma, and political commentator for Russian State Televisions "Vesti" program. He has written, hosted and directed two television programs about Turkmenistan broadcast nationally on RTR. He has published widely in all of the major Russian press, and contributed a chapter on "Islam in Turkmenistan" for The Center for Political & Strategic Studies book "Islam in Central Asia." He received his MA from Moscow State Historical Archive Institute, and graduated from Moscows Super Komsomol Schools Department of Journalism.