Turkmenistan has been in the grip of a dictatorship ever since they achieved independence from the Soviet Union. And their government has developed a culture of secrecy and cover-ups, says Turkmen.news editor Ruslan Myatiev. As a result, it’s hard to know how much to trust the official government figure of zero coronavirus cases in the country, despite its close trading partner, China, and many of its neighbors reporting heavy impacts.
“Even if Turkmenistan had reported cases of COVID-19, trust me, they would not report it to the world,” explained Myatiev.
The Turkmen government’s penchant for secrecy stems from Turkmen culture, Myatiev explained. “In the past few years we had several cases when we had floods in Turkmenistan, and none of the local media reported on that. That’s the culture of Turkmen politics – they tend not to tell the world – and their own citizens in fact – about bad things,” he noted.
As a result, Turkmenistan’s numbers of zero cases are questionable at best. But there are signs that all is not as rosy as the Turkmen media may want their people to believe – food prices have shot up drastically, in large part due to border closes with Iran, says Myatiev.
“The closure of borders, especially with Iran, has significantly impacted food prices in the markets...the state purchases food like meat, chicken, etc., from overseas...but the amounts of foodstuffs they bring into Turkmenistan is clearly not enough for the population,” said Myatiev, explaining that the closures, working in concert with Turkmenistan’s fragile financial position following a terminated Russian deal for Turkmen natural gas, have caused food shortages around the country.
But despite government assurances that everything is fine, the Turkmen government has taken precautionary measures, severely limiting movement in the country, and they were the first to evacuate their citizens from abroad.
“They have shut down all of the international flights. They don’t allow foreign flight operators to operate in Turkmenistan...It was one of the first countries to take such restrictive measures, and perhaps the fact that there are no reported cases is thanks to that,” commented Myatiev.
But if those measures fail, and the outbreak becomes serious, then Turkmenistan’s health system may not be up to the task. “If, god forbid, Turkmenistan sees an outbreak of COVID-19, local doctors will be completely unprepared to handle the issue.”
While the Turkmen government has built “gleaming marble hospitals” equipped with “state of the art technology”, its medical staff was “ruined” under a former health minister and now president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
“Under [Berdimuhamedow’s] control, this entire industry, this entire sector of life was completely ruined,” Myatiev believes. “This government, this country, does not have prepared physicians to handle the problem if there is an outbreak in the country.”