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Dual Nationality Holders Face Obstructions

Officials are creating problems for people with dual nationality when they apply for new passports in Turkmenistan, NBCentral Asia observers say.

On March 2, the independent website Gundogar, which is based outside Turkmenistan, reported on a press conference held in Moscow to highlight the difficulties facing Turkmen nationals who also hold Russian passports.

At the event, timed ahead of a visit to Moscow by Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov later this month, participants told journalists that the rights of people with dual Russian-Turkmen nationality were being violated because they were being prevented from obtaining new-style Turkmen passports.

Since the new passports were launched six months ago, officials have been telling those applicants who also possess Russian citizenship that they need to renounce it.

“The applications of 500 people were rejected in Ashgabat alone, and there are hundreds of similar cases in the provinces,” said the Gundogar report.

Turkmenistan and Russia signed a dual citizenship agreement in 1993. Ten years later, when relations between the two countries had cooled, Ashgabat unilaterally withdrew from the agreement.

Legal experts say the agreement is still valid, and in practice people with dual nationality travel on their Russian passports when they go both to Russia and to other former Soviet states that do not require visas for citizens of that country, but do for Turkmenistan.

There are no official statistics for how many Turkmen nationals hold Russian passports, although human rights activists put the figure at about 100,000.

Last July, Turkmenistan’s government announced the launch of new biometric passports which would initially be issued to people intending to travel abroad and would later become mandatory for all citizens.

Observers in Turkmenistan confirmed the Gundogar report’s findings. When one of them phoned the migration service in Ashgabat to ask whether it was possible for someone with dual citizenship to apply for a new Turkmen passport, the reply was that the matter was “still under consideration”.

In practice, people are finding that the answer is no when they submit their application complete with all relevant documents.

“Officials immediately make it plain that you must renounce your second passport in order to get a new [Turkmen] one,” said the local observer, adding that people who refuse to do so have found their applications held up for months.

Vyacheslav Mamedov, a human rights expert and head of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan, based in the Netherlands, says the situation applies all over the country.

In the capital, he says, officials are “bluntly refusing” to issue the passports, while in the western Balkan region, applicants are being asked to wait until some unknown ruling is issued, and in Mary in the southeast, the pretext is that certain application forms are not available.

“The word from everywhere in Turkmenistan is that it is currently impossible for Russian-Turkmen citizens to get the new passports,” concluded Mamedov.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)