By Aisha Berdyeva Only a few people are aware that many laws in Turkmenistan are drafted well. Yet, every citizen of our country knows that these laws are not enforced. An «ocean of lawlessness» of the Turkmen authorities lies between what is stated in the legislative acts and the real state of affairs.
As is known, over the past 10 years a significant part of the Russian-speaking population left Turkmenistan. The outflow of migrants increased along with the deterioration of the situation in the country. Desperate people fled Turkmenistan in the hope of a better life and better education of their children leaving their elderly parents in Turkmenistan. Some «broke» all connections with the motherland selling all property; others simply «de-registered from their apartments» as their parents or other relatives stayed there. All those who emigrated from Turkmenistan have one thing in common: they have Turkmen passports as a guarantee of holding Turkmen citizenship and dream of returning to their motherland again.
At this point the problems and discrepancies between the «written» and «unwritten» laws mentioned above arise. As is shown in practice, holding a Turkmen passport does not guarantee citizenship to the holder, at least this is how the Turkmen authorities see it.
Yet, the Law on Citizenship of Turkmenistan runs as follows: Article 10: A passport of a Turkmen citizen serves as a document which confirms Turkmen citizenship.
Article 17: Residing of a Turkmen citizen on the territory of another state does not result in the termination of his/her Turkmen citizenship. However, a large number of people who left Turkmenistan at different times and for various reasons, who however still held Turkmen passports faced the problem of returning to their home country.
As was discovered, even when holding a Turkmen passport one also needs to obtain a Turkmen visa in order to enter Turkmenistan. The situation is absurd and is highly unlikely to be the case in any other country of the world. Yet, the Turkmen authorities are not confused by this commonly accepted practice. And if you go to the office of the Turkmen Airlines in Moscow to buy a ticket to Ashgabat it will simply not be sold to you! You will be sent to the Embassy to obtain a visa due to the fact that since you have no «registration» inside Turkmenistan, it means you have no citizenship either.
After visiting an embassy of Turkmenistan it becomes clear that the dream of visiting the home country should be abandoned forever. While 90% of applications of foreigners are rejected, citizens who used to reside in Turkmenistan are particularly disliked by the Embassy. They are not considered compatriots despite possessing a «green» passport; rather on the contrary, all are taken as enemies and spies. Eduard Z. left Turkmenistan in 2004 and moved together with his family to Germany on a permanent basis. In addition to Turkmen citizenship he also holds a Russian passport. His story is as follows: «I decided to go to Turkmenistan as my father fell seriously ill. My retired parents stayed in Ashgabat. I travelled via Moscow as I had something to do there. When I tried to buy a ticket at the office of the Turkmen Airlines, a young woman checked both my Turkmen and Russian passports and said that I needed to obtain a visa at the Turkmen embassy. Embarrassed I went to the embassy and explained that I am a Turkmen citizen and would like to visit my parents. After the second inspection of my two passports, an officer looked at me with surprise: «And why did you think you are a Turkmen citizen? You were «de-registered» in 2004 and left the place of residence in Turkmenistan!». I tried to explain that registration and citizenship are two different categories and I never terminated my citizenship, so it means that I still have it! However, the officers of the embassy did not agree and said that since I do not reside in Turkmenistan my citizenship had been automatically annulled! Thus, I cannot enter the country as its citizen and I need an invitation from my family member to obtain a visa. I had to agree with the variant as I needed to be with my ill father. I applied for a visa and a month later my application was refused!»
The abovementioned Law on Citizenship states in Article 4 that a citizen of Turkmenistan cannot be deprived of citizenship or have the right to change citizenship. Article 7: A citizen of Turkmenistan cannot be exiled from Turkmenistan or be deprived of his right to return to the homeland.
Yet, it appears that the Turkmen officials do not read the laws of their country or just do not want to follow them. Ludmila Reshetina who was born in Turkmenistan and lived there all her life; yet, left the country in 2006. She currently lives in the Moscow region. She explained: «Half a year after our departure my mother died. I went three times to the embassy with a telegram about the death requesting the officers to issue me a visa to attend my mother’s funerals. Yet, I received a visa in 1,5 months, so I was late both for the funeral and the commemoration day. It is ridiculous that even in such cases our authorities act so inhumanely».
Since up until recently only Turkmen Airlines had flights from Russia to Turkmenistan it was almost impossible to get there without visiting the Turkmen embassy. However, the situation changed when the Moscow-Ashgabat flight operated by Sibir Airlines was opened. Naturally, it did not occur to the employees of this company to request a Turkmen visa from the clients holding Turkmen passports. Therefore, people were given the opportunity to buy a ticket without obstacles and to go to their homeland. However, the «brave ones» faced disappointment at the passport control where they were stopped and sent back to Moscow on the same flight. No arguments and showing two passports – Russian and Turkmen – have no effect.
As was discovered, there is an instruction which the officers of the Turkmen embassy in Moscow do not like to talk about for some reason. Yet, former compatriots pass it on «from mouth to mouth». All Turkmen citizens who left the country («de-registered») after 2003 are entitled to visa-free entry to Turkmenistan on certain terms: they should be registered at the Turkmen embassy. In order to do that, they need to show three passports: Turkmen, Russian international and Russian general passports with the registration in the Russian Federation. After being registered, one should notify the embassy in advance about the trip to Turkmenistan in order to avoid problems. Yet, as was noted before, such «manna from heaven» is available only for the holders of three passports. If people have no general Russian passport, do not own housing in Russia and they live and work there only with temporary registration, then they cannot get into Turkmenistan and they cannot even be registered in their «native» embassy. It remains a secret why the authorities are so selective regarding former Turkmen citizens as to who may remain a citizen and who may not. It should be pointed out that Turkmenistan is the only post-Soviet state which introduced a visa regime with all former Soviet Republics.