Gas-rich Turkmenistan has remained one of the most isolated and repressive states in the OSCE region since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Its first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, turned the country into a sort of post-Soviet North Korea, isolated, and with an all-embracing cult of the leader and repressive policies that brooked no opposition or respect for human rights. Following Niyazov’s death in 2006, he was succeeded by current President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov. Although expectations for reform were high, they did not materialize. While the country is somewhat less isolated and a token second political party was created in 2012, opposition is not tolerated, there is no independent media, space for civil society is extremely limited, travel is regulated, and non-traditional religious groups face harassment. The State Department has declared Turkmenistan a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom since 2013, and has ranked Turkmenistan as a Tier 3 country – the lowest category - for several years in a row. The OSCE established the Centre in Ashgabat in 1998 in order to assist Turkmenistan with its transition and implementation of its OSCE commitments. The OSCE has not yet conducted a full observation of an election in Turkmenistan; limited assessment missions have concluded that the country lacks the prerequisites of a genuinely democratic electoral process.
The Helsinki Commission has closely followed developments in Turkmenistan since its independence, and has held hearings and briefings on human rights and religious freedom since 1993. Most recently, the Commission has focused on the plight of persons who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s notorious prisons.
Staff Contact: Janice Helwig, senior policy advisor