“Thank Goodness, It’s Not a War!” Military Drill Ignites Fear among Locals


Military in Turkmenbashi

In the night of March 26, the national army was alerted for a snap drill on the order of President Berdimuhamedov. The order was immediately passed on to the commanding officers, and, soon after, everything was set in motion: personnel of all arms was alerted and equipped with weapons and munitions. They set up military headquarters and deployed columns of armored vehicles in city streets and on roadways outside settlements. Gunmen in military uniforms emerged at all entry and exit points. All aircrafts, warships, missile and artillery systems and other technical resources were demothballed and made ready for operation.

However, up until the evening of the same day, the local civilian population was not notified of what was going on, which, according to ATN readers, set many people in panic and dismay.

«Just imagine that you wake up on a Saturday morning and see armed soldiers and tanks outside your window. My first thought was that a war had begun,» wrote a resident of Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk) in a letter to ATN, inclosing this photograph. He made it in the afternoon, on the road leading to the Awaza resort.

According to ATN’s source, the city was immediately consumed by rumors «one worse than the other.»

«A colleague told me that a group of armed soldiers had deserted one of the units, and supposedly they were looking for them. In the evening, our neighbors were whispering that those were not soldiers, but terrorists, who had already killed several people,” he said.

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Check-point in Lebap province

The unexpected check of combat readiness in the absence of information gave rise to a variety of assumptions both locally and in the other regions of the country.

«We took a cab to Ashgabat, and at the checkpoint at the entrance to the city, it was stopped by a military patrol with machine guns at the ready. They told us to step out of the vehicle, and began to search it. They even checked the lining in the trunk. At first, we were at a loss. Earlier, we had heard rumors that some prisoners had escaped. Only much later, it turned out that all of this was part of a military drill,” said a resident of Mary province.

According to reports from Turkmenistan, the night alert gave a fright even to the soldiers and officers in the units stationed in the south of the country, on the border with Afghanistan. According to ATN sources, in that area, «they have long been living in expectation of some trouble.”

«When at 4 am my husband was alerted and summoned to his military unit, I thought in horror: this is it. I couldn’t sleep. All sorts of disturbing thoughts plagued me. Only when he called and explained that this was only a drill, I said, thank goodness, it’s not a war,” said a wife of a border guard officer from Tagtabazar.

On 27 March, the situation has cleared up. Everyone has settled down. Military personnel with machine guns at the entries and exits of large cities, columns of armored trucks on the roads, and vehicle inspections at checkpoints cause panic no longer. Military drill was over on April 5.