On a knife edge: Turkmen authorities once again check population’s pulse

During the last days of 2017, foreign media spread information on the prohibition of black cars in Turkmenistan. Since December, police impound lots have filled up with dark-colored cars. Those who managed to avoid getting their private property confiscated had to promise to get their cars repainted immediately.

In January 2015, exactly three years ago, Turkmenistan banned imports of black and dark-colored cars. Circulation for these vehicles is now prohibited.

For Turkmenistan observers, it is useful to run through all secret decrees and legislative measures concerning motor vehicles chronologically.

  • In 2007, Right-hand-drive cars were banned from circulation.
  • In 2009, imports and circulation were prohibited for two-door coupes and other high-speed sports cars.
  • In 2010, Turkmenistan importing cars with engine capacity larger than 3.5 liters was prohibited.
  • In 2013, imports and circulation were prohibited for cars with tinted windows or red rear-turn signals (as opposed to yellow ones).
  • In 2014, cars with black rims or rear spoilers, such as Toyota Camry or Toyota Corolla, were banned from circulation.
  • In 2015, Turkmenistan banned imports of black or dark-colored cars, as well as cars with engine capacity smaller than 1.3 liters. Some Lada cars were also prohibited and could not be imported from Russia because they lacked airbags.
  • In 2017, cars with US-standard license plate recess could no longer circulate.
  • In 2018, black or dark-colored cars were banned from circulation.

The Turkmen authorities failed to timely inform the public about the newly-introduced bans. Usually, motorists have to learn about the new rules as they get stopped by traffic police.

At the end of March 2015, for example, dozens of Lada cars, manufactured by VAZ, were held at the Kazakh-Turkmen border as their entry was denied. The drivers were surprised to learn that new restrictions had been introduced, banning Lada cars that lacked passenger airbags. At the checkpoint, the drivers asked permission to cross into Turkmenistan or to obtain an official document prohibiting their entry with Lada cars.

The authorities failed to give either permission or written confirmation of the ban, leaving the drivers stalled for weeks. In the end, the drivers left the cars at the border and went back home with other means, amid the indifference of Turkmen authorities.

In the first week of the new year, women were banned from driving. Girls and women are used to driving in Turkmenistan. All of them were trained to drive. For each of them, learning to drive became a necessary skill. Now, they will have to stop driving, according to the latest restrictions. Should they violate the ban, they will be stripped of their driver’s license and their vehicle will be impounded.

President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, perhaps the most important racing car driver in the country, popularly known as “Schumacher”, seems to be constantly checking the population’s pulse to see how much more authorities will be able to squeeze out of the common citizens before they react.

In Iran, people took to the streets after the price of eggs increased. This should be a warning for Turkmen authorities. Berdymuhamedov’s actions on a knife edge could prove dangerous.