Turkmenistan: No Residence Rights? No Job

Budget difficulties and a desire to hide unemployment levels are blamed for latest purge.

Turkmenistan: No Residence Rights? No Job

Budget difficulties and a desire to hide unemployment levels are blamed for latest purge.

Turkmenistan’s beleaguered workers are facing another setback after the authorities decided to enforce a Soviet-era law limiting where they are allowed to live and work.


Thousands of public and private sector workers lost their jobs recently, after the government announced that they would no longer be allowed to work in the capital Ashgabat unless they were officially registered as living there.


Such registration – a throwback to the Soviet era – is expensive and difficult to alter, and after the country became independent in 1991, most people who came to Ashgabat from impoverished rural areas in search of work never bothered to go through the process.


But after years of looking the other way to this widespread practice, the authorities instructed state institutions to gather all Ashgabat employees’ passport details – and dismiss those who were registered as living elsewhere in Turkmenistan.


Shemshat Allabedyeva, who worked as a nurse at an Ashgabat hospital, told IWPR that she was fired because of her registration details.


“I have been living in Ashgabat for four years. My husband was born here and when we got married, I naturally came here. However, I remained registered in my parents’ house in Dashoguz. I don’t understand this - we are citizens of Turkmenistan, just like everyone else,” she said.


As well as the public sector, this new rule has also affected commercial firms and private organisations.


One private firm owner, who gave his name only as Eldar K., said that he had been pressured by one of the company’s trustees, a member of the secret police, to fire employees who were not registered in the capital


“In a friendly way, he asked me to [fire those individuals] as quickly as possible, because otherwise I might have problems at the end of the year, when all firms are inspected and I have to submit certain documents.


“My chauffeur is from Mary. He’s a good person and we’ve been working together for many years, but I’ll probably have to sack him.”


Some time ago, President Saparmurat Niazov ordered state institutions to make 50 per cent cutbacks in all budget areas, and this believed to have promoted the sudden zeal to enforce the registration law.


Analysts in Turkmenistan note that it follows a spate of other decrees seemingly designed to cut the number of people on the state payroll. Turkmenistan is desperately poor in spite of its vast reserves of natural gas, and the public-sector job cuts are believed to stem from a revenue crisis facing the government budget.


Earlier this year, some 15,000 medical workers were sacked and replaced with conscript soldiers – effectively free labour. Not long afterwards, another decree rendered all qualifications gained outside Turkmenistan invalid, leading to further job losses.


Some observers believe that as well as trying to reduce the strain on the treasury, the authorities are also trying to disguise the high level of unemployment in the republic, and the associated ills of poverty, crime and rising drug abuse. As unregistered people are pressured to leave the capital, job opportunities will open up for unemployed people who do have the right to live there.


One Ashgabat activist, who spoke to IWPR on condition of anonymity, said, “Unemployment in the country has reached a critical level, but instead of creating workplaces, the regime is trying to artificially stimulate the job market.


“They claim that it’s being done to allow a rise in the salaries of state employees. But the Turkmen authorities don’t seem to be worried about the people who are thrown out onto the street, as if they were citizens of another country.”


Murad Novruzov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Ashgabat.


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