I watched a Youtube video the other day describing Turkmenistan’s capital city of Ashgabat.
Weird place. Huge monuments and white marble buildings all over town, but hardly any people to be seen. It looked like a mix between Pyongyang and Atlantic City, like an authoritarian Las Vegas.
The city turned out this way because of two dictators who have run the show since the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1991. The first dude was Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006 and was followed by a guy named Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, which is a mouthful.
He’s decided to combat Coronavirus by going the Fight Club route, which means you can’t talk about it. He simply banned the word entirely, according to France-based Reporters Without Borders:
By banning use of the word “coronavirus” on the streets and never mentioning it in official documents and in the media, in a radical move to suppress all information about the pandemic, Turkmenistan’s government is putting its citizens in danger, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.
It’s as if it had never existed. The state media are saying nothing about the effects of coronavirus in Turkmenistan and the word has even been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces, according to Turkmenistan Chronicles, one of the few sources of independent news, whose site is blocked within the country.
Apparently they’re also arresting people who wear masks or even talk about the pandemic, which seems very on-brand.
The particularly shitty thing for the non-dictators who make up 99% of the population is that Turkmenistan shares a border with Iran, which has been hit particularly hard by the virus. If would be one thing if Turkmenistan bordered Antarctica, but Ashgabat is 40 minutes north of Iran and a four-hour drive from Masshad, which is Iran’s second largest city.
Interesting strategy here from Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, but it’s probably not going to be very effective. If you had plans to travel to Turkmenistan this summer, you should probably go ahead and cancel.
Reporters without borders issued the following correction –
“A previous version of this article, posted on the RSF site on 31 March, unfortunately was based on an error. Contrary to what we initially reported, the term “coronavirus” was not as such censored in the Turkmen media. We apologize to our readers for this mistake, which was corrected as quickly as possible.”
I’ve emailed Turkmenistan and will let you know what they say.