Turkmenistan has big plans for its tourism industry in 2013, seeking to become a destination vacation spot. This year will see the construction of new hotels, campgrounds, resorts, and development of the Avaza resort on the Caspian coast. Since assuming office in 2006, Berdymukhammedov has put a reported $1.4 billion into developing Turkmenistan’s tourism infrastructure, with Avaza claiming a large chunk of it. But Avaza has little to show; last summer, an RFE/RL reporter went there to find the resort’s eight luxury hotels practically empty. This was bound to be the case – as Turkmenistan is not an easy place for foreigners to get an entry visa, and the hotels are expensive. Telegraph.co.uk published an article entitled “Awaza, Turkmenistan: the most ill-conceived resort ever built?” which concludes that the main draw for tourists may be the sheer weirdness of the place, described in the article as “ornate to the point of kitsch."
Turkmenistan’s very first Law on Mass Media is coming into force, and is heralded by the state controlled press as it, “guarantee[s] mass media the freedom to express their opinion. Nobody can prevent or hinder mass media from disseminating information in the public interest, unless the law permits so.” The announcement, according to Turkmenistan’s authorities, will form the basis of Turkmenistan’s policy in the area of mass media, and that for the first time, Turkmenistan’s citizens now have the right “to use any forms of mass media to express their opinions and beliefs,” and “to receive from mass media information regarding activities of state bodies, non-governmental organizations, and governmental officials.”
These pronouncements by the government bear little resemblance to the current situation in the country’s mass media. Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, from RFE/RL’s Turkmen language service was threatened and then jailed for covering the July 2011 explosion in Abadan, near Ashgabat. Released by a presidential pardon, the criminal charges against him for “disseminating defamatory information” and “causing domestic unrest,” have not been dropped. Last month, Yazkuliyev was awarded the 2012 Hellman/Hammett grant for his commitment to free expression and his courage in the face of persecution.
Also, counter to the government’s purported encouragement of using “any form of mass media to express opinions and beliefs,” are the numerous attacks on the website Turkmenistan Chronicles, which often presents to the world outside critical information of what is taking place inside this closed country. In 2012 alone, the site was attacked six times and the last attack in December left the site down for nearly a month. Back in operation again, the site’s Editor-in-chief Farid Tukhbatulin issued a statement saying “As a response to regular attacks and threats, we are expanding our information-related activities, launching cooperation with foreign reporters and experts and also providing support to peaceful civic initiatives inside Turkmenistan, at the request of activists and groups of Turkmen.” Turkmenistan’s authorities are struggling with how to develop Internet in the country, as described in a recent study from the SecDev Group, which highlights the ambivalent policies and practices that have left Turkmenistan “mired in the digital doldrums, torn between its desire to join the worldwide web and its compulsion to control cyberspace.”