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Turkmenistan: No to Foreign Education

Isolationist regime sacks thousands of professionals for being educated outside the country.
By Murad Novruzov

Public-sector workers in Turkmenistan who gained their qualifications at foreign universities are to lose their jobs on June 1, after the authorities branded their education null and void.

The ruling applies to doctors, lawyers and teachers, and thousands are to lose their jobs in the cull, after the government decreed that foreign qualifications are not as good as those gained inside Turkmenistan, and that diplomas won outside the republic since 1993 are now invalid.

In most cases, these “foreign” degrees were obtained in Russia and other former Soviet neighbours of Turkmenistan.

One education ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR that an order to sack everyone who had qualifications from elsewhere had come from the highest level, “This order is not our initiative; instead it was handed down from the top some time ago. Since then, we have been going through the archives and collating information about which state employees have gained their diplomas abroad.

“A worker who studied outside Turkmenistan is then considered to be ‘incompatible’ regardless of how long he or she has worked for the state, and no matter how good their reputation. The order was to fire everyone who has a non-Turkmen diploma.

“Now I am afraid that receiving an education abroad will mean a complete ban on using that knowledge and skills within Turkmenistan,” the official added sadly.

There is no information available on how many people will be affected, but analysts believe that education will be hardest hit, with as many as ten teachers in each school losing their jobs. The legal system and the health sector will also suffer.

These sectors have suffered a number of body-blows in recent years. The most recent was in February, when President Saparmurat Niazov – who likes to be called Turkmenbashi, or Leader of the Turkmen – announced that 15,000 people in the healthcare sector would be sacked and replaced with conscripts from the Turkmen army. The move – which has largely been seen as a money-saving exercise designed to cover up a large deficit in the government budget – was heavily criticised by local and international groups alike.

News that the industry is to lose further skilled workers has been greeted with dismay as the first dismissal letters begin to be handed out.

One such letter, bearing the education ministry’s official letterhead, stamps and signatures, reads, “Your diploma is considered invalid. For this reason, you are notified that starting from June 1, you are dismissed from work. In order to receive a position matching your specialism, you need to visit the district department of education.”

One of those affected by the new raft of job losses, Ashgabat resident Anna, told IWPR, “I worked for 16 years as a senior operating-theatre nurse, but I have been given a letter of dismissal because my Russian diploma from the Samara Higher Medical School, which I received in 1994, has been deemed incompatible with the Turkmen medical education.

“This seems absurd to me, as my foreign diploma didn’t stop me saving lives all these years. No one questioned my qualifications before, and that hurts me,” she added.

To add insult to injury, Anna – who did not give her surname – has been asked to provide a written guarantee that she will not appeal against her dismissal. If she refuses, the state could blacklist her, effectively cutting off all hope of getting another job.

There is little doubt that Turkmenbashi’s decree is intended to dissuade people from sending their children abroad for a university education – a practise that is increasingly common since a series of reforms cut Turkmen higher education courses down to just two years. Observers fear that it may also have the effect of reinforcing the country’s isolation, by sending out the signal that “foreign” equals “bad”.

The authorities insist that the measure is simply designed to stop people coming back with second-rate degrees from commercial colleges that have sprung up in other former Soviet republics.

But this explanation is not accepted by the many people who gained their qualifications at reputable universities.

“I graduated from Moscow State University and consider my diploma to be very prestigious,” said a lawyer who gave his name only as Merdan. “I have been working in a bank’s legal department for five years, and all of a sudden I am told that my qualifications are unacceptable.

“Some of my colleagues have received the same notice – young people who studied in Ukraine through an intergovernmental agreement between Ashgabat and Kiev. The fact that this educational pact was later cancelled by the two states is hardly their fault.”

Murad Novruzov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Ashgabat.

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