Turkmen Women Kicked Out of Capital for Trying to See President

Some 30 women ended up in a police station in Ashgabat after travelling to the capital to seek an audience with Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov. Sources told turkmen.news that the women wanted to complain to the head of state about the inaction of the police and prosecutor’s office, but instead of meeting the president they were taken to a police station, questioned, and then taken back to their registered addresses.

Square near the president’s palace in Ashgabat

On March 6, around 30 women from different parts of the country gathered outside the presidential palace in Ashgabat. They wanted to meet Serdar Berdimuhamedov to tell him about problems that have remained unresolved for years at the regional level. Letters do not reach the president, while the law-enforcement agencies in the regions openly protect the criminals.

To go to the presidential palace is practically unheard of. Even the presidential guard were amazed. The women were told that Serdar Berdimuhamedov was busy but the prosecutor general would receive them. The women agreed to wait, and soon a bus arrived and took them to the police station in the capital’s Kopetdag district, not the prosecutor’s office. They were kept there until late into the night without food or water, filmed, and made to write explanatory statements.

Sources say the women were practically treated as terrorists. No one was bothered that they had committed no crime and just wanted to get help from the president whom they genuinely consider their protector.

One of the women was a resident of Tejen, who wanted to tell the president that for three years the police had failed to open a criminal case over the rape of her daughter. The rapist’s identity is known but the victim’s family cannot get justice. The prosecutor’s office does not respond to complaints. Such cases are not rare in Turkmenistan: in 2021 turkmen.news wrote about a girl who committed suicide after being raped. Her family could not get a criminal case opened for five years (and we don’t know if they ever succeeded).

Another participant wanted to tell the head of state that her house in Mary had been burgled. The suspect is also known, but the law-enforcement agencies are in no hurry to punish him.

A young disabled woman from Balkanabat wanted to complain to Serdar Berdimuhamedov. She had been beaten up several times in an attempt to take away her apartment granted by the state. An employee of the local branch of the Altyn Asyr cell phone provider has designs on the apartment. He used to live there but the state evicted him and gave the apartment to the young woman.  The courts upheld the decision four times, but the man does not accept it. He himself and his hired thugs regularly attack the young woman, tipping her out of her wheelchair onto the street.

All these women hoped that at least on the eve of March 8 the president would take notice of them and deal with the injustices that local officials refuse to tackle. During the night of March 6-7, the detained women were sent to their registered addresses.

Police officers from Ashgabat handed the women over to their regional counterparts on the administrative boundaries. It’s thought that the women were taken to police stations in the regions, questioned again, and then released. They still haven’t lost faith in Serdar Berdimuhamedov though. They have written an appeal to him, describing what happened and hoping that they can finally meet him.

Women in Turkmenistan are on average more socially active than men. Since they are the ones who stay behind in the country, women sometimes decide to take protest actions. This might be a one-person protest, like the woman who in 2020 sat on the carriageway and refused to move, complaining about her tough living conditions, or a mass action, for example over the gas shortage. Unlike emigrant activists who protest abroad, the women at these demonstrations do not criticize the authorities, but call on them to improve their living conditions and meet other obligations.