Memos from Asia

5 Common but Actually Wrong Misconceptions About Turkmenistan

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The majority of foreigners know almost nothing about Turkmenistan except travelers and researchers.

Indeed, Turkmenistan is a mysterious and closed country. The majority of information we have today about the country is not fully reliable. Hence, there are many erroneous and overgeneralized perception of the country in the outside world.

Here, we will discuss the common beliefs about Turkmens and Turkmenistan.

1. Police state with unhappy and unsociable people

It is a widespread and popular belief of foreigners that Turkmenistan’s ethnic majority – Turkmens do not like to talk with non-natives due to the fear of authorities.

However, the reality is that many Turkmens are curious to know about your home country and the outside world. You can find smiles and happy faces in the country, which can break the particular stereotype. According to a visitor, Daniel Noll, pleasant curiosity, and engagement of locals became the highlight of their group’s travel to Turkmenistan. (Uncornered Market, https://uncorneredmarket.com/reflections-expectations-and-delivery-in-turkmenistan/)

2. Turkmen – uneducated desert dweller

Turkmenistan is a highly deserted country. Deserts occupy more than 70% area of the country. However, it does not mean that Turkmens are people who live in tribes in deserts. In fact, 51.6% of the population lives in cities and urban places. (Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Turkmenistan/People#ref342790)

Besides, Turkmenistan is a country with high literacy rates, which is 99.7%. (Macrotrends, https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/TKM/turkmenistan/literacy-rate). The state language is Turkmen but many people can speak in Russian.

3. No access to the outside world

This is a very oversimplified impression of Turkmenistan. Yes, indeed, the press is not free, freedom of speech is not guaranteed and many international social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter are banned.

However, it is wrong to say that no internet, no television, or smartphones exist in Turkmenistan. In fact, Turkmens use the internet but it is slow and expensive. Several organizations such as Counterpart and American Centre provide free access to locals. Satellite dishes get some international channels such as BBC in English and Russian Channels. (Uncornered Market, https://uncorneredmarket.com/reflections-expectations-and-delivery-in-turkmenistan/).

4. Turkmens always wear – Papaha

(Photo Credit: Gulzar Nurlyyeva, CC BY-CA 4.0)

Papaha is a big traditional shady fur hat, which is very popular in Turkmenistan. People wear them even in 40-degree hot weather, which evolved the wrong stereotype that Turkmens always wear them. (Advantour, https://www.advantour.com/turkmenistan/treasures/papakha.htm)

Especially, in festivals like Melons’ day or Nawruz, you can see many locals wearing the caps. Although the headdress is a national treasure, not everybody wears it among youngsters.

5. Fear is everywhere

The press wrote so much about human rights abuses, autocratic regimes, corruption, and unfair arrests in Turkmenistan. Consequently, many people started to think that Turkmens live in a depressing country, where everybody is afraid of everything around.

We should admit here that, people are afraid of criticizing the authorities. However, if you visit Turkmenistan, you do not feel fear in your everyday lives. Your conversation with locals would not be secretly recorded or your neighbor would not be an agent provocateur like some people expect to happen in Turkmenistan. (Ferghana News, https://enews.fergananews.com/articles/2287)

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