Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Turkmenistan's Unwanted Newspapers

The only way to get people in Turkmenistan to take out a subscription to one of the country’s stiflingly dull government newspapers and magazines is to threaten them with dismissal.
Twice a year, just before subscription time, district and municipal government offices around the country send out instructions telling public-sector institutions and companies exactly how many newspapers and magazines their employees should sign up for. It’s two titles per person – one national and one local.

The measure are designed to maintain artificial demand for the press, which otherwise no one would buy.

People generally agree to part with some of their hard-earned cash to avoid angering their superiors and possibly losing their jobs – a big risk at a time of high unemployment.

All newspapers and periodicals belong to the state and are strictly censored, and as a result the material they carry is designed to please the authorities rather than the readers.

According to Babageldi Gurbanova, a resident of Atamurat district, all the newspapers are exactly alike. Local newspapers simply reprint material from the national papers, making them even more tedious.

People have already become accustomed to the fact that huge swathes of every newspaper are taken over by excerpts from President Saparmurat Niazov’s book, the “Ruhname”, and his other works. As if this were not enough, they carry laudatory reports about him and lengthy articles about events that revolve around his person.

Ayjemal Rozyeva from Sayat district says that with a few rare exceptions, it is impossible to find anything out about other developments in Turkmenistan. Information about how much cotton or grain a farmer sowed and what the harvest was does not interest her.

Alisher, a businessman in Turkmenabat, agreed, saying people have no idea what is happening in their locality, for example about what local government is doing. Local government chiefs are only publicised when President Niazov sacks them for some transgression.

A straw poll of 10 merchants selling goods at markets in Turkmenabat indicated that none has subscribed to a newspaper or magazines for many years.

A further reason why there is such reluctance to subscribe to periodicals is that the switch from Cyrillic to Latin script for the Turkmen language creates problems for people over 30, who learned the Cyrillic alphabet at schools. According to Agamyrat Perdaev, a pensioner from Seidi, the switching to Latin deprived her of the ability to read the press since it is hard for pensioners to adjust.

A resident of the village of Zynkhary in the Khalach district said another reason was that the postal service only delivers newspaper once every two weeks. By the time they receive them, people have already heard the news several times over on television or radio. He added that the situation is the same in other villages.

Atamurat resident Ashir Sapaev said that in the Soviet period, newspapers had their uses. You might not learn anything from them, but you could use them to wrap things up. But proper wrapping paper is now available in the shops, so newspapers have no value at all.