Turkmenistan: Dentists in Mary Forced to Pick Cotton

Every day dentists, assistants and support staff at the Mary Сity Dental Сenter – five people in all – are forced to work in the cotton fields. The list of employees sent to pick cotton is updated weekly and displayed at the Center reception, located on Gowshut Khan street.

The hand-written lists are drawn up on the basis of staff rotation and approved in advance by management at the regional health department’s personnel allocation center. These lists show that each employee is obliged to go pick cotton two to three times a week and to stay all day in the fields. Some names on the lists are crossed out and replaced with others, which indicates that the employee in question hired someone else to work in their place.

ATN observers in the southern city of Mary have talked with the dentists at the center. On condition of confidentiality, they revealed that the management forces them to pick cotton or they will be fired. Most of the dentists and assistants are experienced professionals who trained either in the USSR or in Turkmenistan in the early years of independence. Management says should staff refuse, they can easily be replaced by recent graduates of medical universities of Turkmenistan and the CIS countries. These testimonies and photos are yet more proof that forced labor in the country is organized by central authorities.

“If we are fired we will be unemployed or have to work somewhere in the remote regions where city residents do not want to live,” one of the center employees told ANT. “And even there employment is only guaranteed until the next cotton season.”

The situation is the same in all Mary region’s medical institutions. Every day every hospital and clinic sends dozens of specialists who have nothing to do with cotton production. According to the source, people are unhappy, but there is nothing they can do about it. “It would’ve been fun to see our Head Dentist [President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov] sent to pick cotton, standing ankle deep in mud in the cold. But he is only shown excellent figures for progress in the harvest,” one of the employees of the Mary Dental Center said.

On November 9 state-owned media reported that all four regions where cotton is cultivated “have honorably achieved the state plan.” ATN’s independent observers who monitored the use of forced labor in the cotton fields of all regions, question whether the planned target of 1 million 50 thousand tonnes really has been harvested.

“The picture in the cotton fields was about the same everywhere – stunted, puny crops. There’s no way you can harvest the planned 1800 to 1900 kilos from fields like that. Nevertheless, the labor success reports have been signed,” a tenant from Garagum district told a local observer on November 11.

The harvesting of cotton by hand is continuing. Nowadays the temperature in Mary and the regions is around five degrees Celsius during the day, dropping to minus five at night.