It’s the end of an era. The Peace Corps will close all its Turkmenistan programs by December.
The US Embassy in Ashgabat has announced that the remaining 18 volunteers in Turkmenistan will be sent home this month, and the Peace Corps offices will close by the end of the year. The program has been operating since 1993, and has sent more than 740 volunteers to regions all over the country to work as English language teachers and help with health projects, said an August 31 statement on the Embassy’s website.
Though, according to the statement, “Peace Corps considers its program to have been extraordinarily successful in terms of achieving its development and cultural exchange goals,” it seems the Turkmen government has been wary of the program for some time. In March six Peace Corps volunteers were refused visa extensions and had to leave the country before completing their service. An Embassy official told EurasiaNet.org at the time that, “Peace Corps leadership and the US Embassy leadership are in an on-going dialogue with the Turkmen government about the future of the program, including its size and scope.”
Apparently “the size and scope” has now been decided.
The closing of the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan doesn’t come as much of a shock. Volunteers attempting to enter the hermetic Central Asian country have sometimes been denied visas only to have them issued months later. In the past decade, moreover, neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have seen Peace Corps programs close suddenly and without explanation.** After Peace Corps's closes up shop in Turkmenistan, then, Kyrgyzstan will be the only Central Asian country to continue hosting the American volunteers.
Volunteers in Turkmenistan have said the Embassy regularly warns them not to speak with journalists or publicly discuss their work. But with nothing left to lose, the last 18 may have some interesting stories to tell about the slow death of the Turkmenistan program.
**Editor's Note: An earlier version of this blog said the Peace Corps had been kicked out of Kazakhstan last year. A State Department spokeswoman took issue with that characterization of events. We've modified the text and asked her for more information about the mysterious and rapid pullout, on which neither the Peace Corps nor the American Embassy would comment at the time. Stay tuned.