President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan likes to call his second term the “Era of Supreme Happiness of the Stable State” and refer to himself as “The Protector.” Some of his citizens might call themselves his “inmates.”
The Chronicles of Turkmenistan reports that secret blacklists barring certain individuals from leaving the country continue to exist, much as they did during the “Golden Age” of Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in office in late 2006.
The Chronicles website, run by Turkmen exiles in Vienna, says 48 Turkmen citizens were prevented from boarding Istanbul-, Dubai- and Moscow-bound flights on just one recent day. Despite having tickets and brand-new biometric passports, border guards told the grounded travelers on January 24 that they were banned from leaving the country. "However, no documents were produced to the frustrated passengers, nor reasons given for the ban on leaving," the website said.
When these would-be travellers sought explanations from the Border and Migration Service, they were sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of National Security. Both maintained they had nothing to do with the decision, said the report.
Unsuspecting Turkmen citizens often do not know that their names are on the secret blacklists until they attempt to pass through immigration. Others reportedly have been pulled off airplanes on the tarmac.
Officials voice no reasons for banning citizens from travelling abroad, but the usual victims are critics, activists and students who plan to study abroad in countries that Ashgabat regards as suspect for unexplained reasons.
In recent months, there have been increasing reports of Turkmen citizens working in dangerous conditions doing unskilled labor in Turkey (one of the few countries citizens of Turkmenistan can visit without a visa) and neighboring countries (to which they are smuggled from Turkey).
Turkmen officials are habitually tonged-tied, so we’ll probably never know if the blacklists are designed to protect their citizens. But with such embarrassing reports tarnishing the “Era of Supreme Happiness,” it’s no wonder The Protector keeps his people on such a short leash.