Conscripts were sent to pick cotton in several districts in the southeast Mary region at the end of November. They wore military uniform and travelled to the fields in army Ural and Kamaz trucks.
Just two years ago many families would not have contemplated selling off their clothes, but now, in what the government calls the Age of Might and Happiness, they have no alternative. Many depend on remittances from relatives working abroad, as there are no jobs in Turkmenabat or the surrounding countryside.
In July and August the only state company in the country’s oil and gas sector to have any money left was the Turkmenbashy Oil Refineries Complex. All other companies in the industry – Turkmengaz, Turkmennebit and Turkmengeology – had run out of money.
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.
Night-time temperatures already fell below zero in the first 10 days of November. It’s cold during the day too, but people are still being sent from the cities to the cotton fields. This will continue until the capital gives the go-ahead for the end of the cotton season.
Instead of changing this long running practice in order to ease the pressure and criticism from the international community, the government of Turkmenistan is carrying on as it always does – using threats and blackmail to force people from different professions to take part in the cotton campaign.
President Berdimuhamedov, as commander-in-chief and protector of the country’s Constitution, should initiate an inspection in the Punishment Implementation Department and its activities throughout the country’s prison system, in an effort to stop the arbitrary harassment of ethnic minorities.
Oil and gas rich Turkmenistan is in the grip of a food and economic crisis. Long lines for basic foodstuffs have become the new normal in a country that once boasted free gasoline allowances and, more recently, free utilities.
Governor Tangryguly Atakhallyev treats local employees, directors of administrations and departments, like dirt. He insists that they are in the cotton fields day and night and get cotton out of nowhere. But what can they do if there’s no cotton?