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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Turkmenistan 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Turkmenistan at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided. 

Review OSAC’s Turkmenistan-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password

Crime Threats 

There is moderate risk from crime in Ashgabat. The government does not publish crime statistics; therefore. In general, Ashgabat is safe for foreigners, but has many of the same crimes found in any major city. The city’s fourth, fifth, and sixth districts, and Koshi, Hitrovka, and Gazha have higher, but not high, rates of crime. Of significant concern in Turkmenistan are crimes of fraud, bribery, and institutional corruption. 

Crimes of opportunity against foreigners do occur. Petty thieves tend to operate on buses during rush hour and in crowded environments (e.g. bazaars). Criminals often target well-dressed foreigners, especially those driving cars with commercial or diplomatic license plates (yellow and blue respectively).  

The threat of residential break-in and burglary is a concern, especially for local residents, as they generally keep large amounts of cash at home.

Unofficial sources claim that the murder rate in Ashgabat is about one per week. Violent crimes often involve the trade/use of narcotics, and tend to involve only the local population.

Below is a year-in-review of substantiated major criminal incidents: 

  • In January in Ashgabat micro district #9, an unidentified criminal murdered a woman in her home; stole her car, jewelry, and money; and kidnapped her 11-year old son.  
  • In February, the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested several individuals for selling drugs (tramadol). 
  • In March, authorities arrested four Iranians and seized 8 kg of opium from their boat on the Caspian Sea. 
  • In December, a criminal killed an intoxicated male during an attempted robbery at a bus stop in Ashgabat micro district #7. 

 

Anecdotal reporting and rumor indicate that there has been a recent increase in crime overall, including the targeting of residences for robbery by people using various pretexts to gain entrance. 

2018 Corruption Cases: 

  • Authorities arrested the Minister of Agriculture for taking bribes from subordinates and foreign companies bidding on tenders. Authorities confiscated apartments, cars, and jewelry.
  • Authorities arrested the head of the Dashoguz vegetable oil production plant for illegally selling 1,500 tons of cotton oil. 
  • Authorities arrested the head of Ashgabatgurlushyk, a government-owned construction company operated by the Ashgabat mayor’s office, for theft of building materials and fictitiously creating 243 positions and taking their salaries.  
  • Authorities arrested the Deputy Director of the State Committee for Television, Radio Broadcasting, and Cinematography for taking bribes when procuring equipment.
  • Authorities arrested the Head of Section in Ministry of Agriculture for taking bribes from foreign companies when buying fertilizers.
  • Authorities arrested the head of the LPG plant for taking bribes from foreign oil companies. 
  • Authorities arrested the head of a government gas station and three colleagues for under filling gasoline, keeping 0.8 liters for every 10 liters sold.
  • Authorities arrested the Chief of a sand and gravel pit for forging financial paperwork. 
  • Authorities arrested the head of motor transport agency for forging documents involving sale of 598,000 liters of gasoline.
  • Authorities arrested the head of Turk-Turkish Bank’s credit department for taking bribes.
  • Authorities arrested the head of the Turkmenhimiya government agency for taking bribes from managers of foreign companies for export of urea.
  • Authorities arrested the head of a chemical factory in Hazar for selling factory equipment.
  • Authorities arrested the head of the fourth department (economic) of the Ministry of National Security for black market activity, confiscating $27 million.
  • Authorities arrested the director of a sugar factory in Mary for selling black market sugar from warehouses.
  • Authorities arrested the head of the Turkmen Demir Onumleri government agency for buying state-produced products at government rates and reselling at inflated prices.
  • Authorities arrested officials in the Textile Industry Ministry for forging documents and selling government products.  
  • Authorities arrested the head of Ashgabat railway station for forging financial documents and theft of customs duties.
  • Authorities arrested the Textile Industry Minister for taking bribes.
  • Authorities arrested the Deputy Chairman of the Industry Ministry for taking bribes, corruption, forging documents, and misappropriation of government property.

 

Alcohol-related incidents, bar fights, and drunk driving are common. Prostitution, although in evidence at many hotels and restaurants, is illegal. In Ashgabat, prostitutes reportedly solicit many foreigners at the British Pub, the Grand Turkmen Hotel, Zaman Club, and the disco clubs at the Ak Altyn Hotel and Kopetdag restaurant (the Just Club); this is not a complete list; solicitation can happen anywhere. Law enforcement entities conduct prostitution raids at local establishments. At nightclubs, never leave drinks unattended, and never accept drinks from unknown people. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Exercise good residential security measures, even though burglaries against the expatriate community are rare. Use safety deposit boxes or room safes for storing valuables. Check door/window locks to ensure they work. Practice using all emergency exits. Never invite unknown individuals into residences or hotel rooms.

Cybersecurity Issues 

The majority of the population that accesses the Internet does so via cell phone. With limited opportunities for online shopping and censored websites, Internet crime by Turkmen actors is not prevalent. However, cyber monitoring and censorship are widespread. 

Other Areas of Concern 

Instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan negatively affects the security situation in Central Asia as a whole. Neighboring countries may unilaterally close borders with no advance warning. Foreigners may not travel to “restricted zones” without special permission from the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan (SMS). These areas include the border areas with Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, and some areas along the Caspian coast. Travel to these zones requires host-nation approval; request permission as far in advance as possible. Travelers must indicate the exact location of their stay, including the border areas they would like to visit. The official travel request requires submission of a copy of the visitor’s passport and exact dates of the visit to the SMS; a fee applies. When/if attempting to cross the border by vehicle, ensure that the driver has the original “technical passport” (vehicle registration) for the vehicle being driven. If travelers already have a valid visa to a neighboring country that requires travel through a border zone, border permissions are not required. Travelers transiting the border area may not stay on the Turkmen border side. Take added care along the Afghan border. If in doubt, inquire at the U.S. Embassy or with hotel staff for advice/information. 

It is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Ask before taking pictures of anything of possible military or security interest, including government buildings and food markets. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don'ts for Photography.

If you stay overnight in a location other than the one where you register with the SMS, you may be subject to arrest.

Transportation-Safety Situation 

Road Safety and Road Conditions  

Travel to, from, and within Turkmenistan by road remains difficult and unreliable. Local driving practices can be erratic and result in accidents and traffic jams. Local drivers rarely respect lane markings and will regularly drift through lanes without signaling. Vehicles park indiscriminately on busy streets. Unofficial, unmarked taxis regularly pull over without warning to pick up/drop off passengers. Drivers frequently attempt to make turns from the middle lane. Headlight use (if at all) may occur only after it has become completely dark. Many stoplights turn green as the stoplights for opposing traffic turn red; exercise caution before entering intersections to ensure cross traffic has stopped. 

The main roads in Ashgabat and other administrative centers are in good condition. Many of the main roads in Ashgabat contain materials that ensure the road appears to be shiny and clean; this affects vehicle traction, resulting in sliding or being unable to stop quickly. Other roads often suffer from poor maintenance.

The streets outside Ashgabat are uneven, many with large potholes. Slow moving trucks, agricultural vehicles, and livestock crossing roads are frequent hazards. Erratic driving and car accidents are extremely common, especially at intersections and traffic circles. Since roads outside the city are not illuminated, driving at night is perilous and not recommended. With the exception of the M-37, highway infrastructure is extremely poor. Most highways leading out of Ashgabat are wide and paved for a short distance outside Ashgabat; much past the city limits, though, they contain numerous potholes, and few or no traffic lines, lights, or signs.

Traffic police work at stationary positions and checkpoints, and along major roads in the center of Ashgabat. Traffic police are at almost every intersection; they use a white-and-black striped stick when signaling drivers to stop for questioning. It is not unusual for police to stop and question pedestrians and drivers. Traffic police are widely believed to be corrupt, and they often stop cars simply to ask drivers for bribes. In Ashgabat, expensive cars and those with government license plates routinely speed past police, sometimes through stoplights, while officers flag down other cars for "document checks." Police often expect drivers to pay a 20-100 manat bribe. Police do not stop diplomatic vehicles. 

Western visitors have reported being presumed guilty in car accidents with locals because of the perception that foreigners have money. 

Take extra care to avoid hitting pedestrians. Pedestrians routinely step into the street without looking. They also tend to walk/stand in the middle of the road on dark streets at night, and rarely use reflective clothing. Drivers should not assume pedestrians are able to see or will yield to an oncoming vehicle. Police regularly stop anyone trying to jaywalk. To avoid encounters with traffic police, and an increased risk of being struck by a vehicle, avoid jaywalking. Intersections are often very far apart, which almost forces people to jaywalk to avoid lengthy walks. Pedestrians should never assume the right-of-way and should use pedestrian underpasses when available. The local population rarely utilizes them, usually choosing to cross at unmarked points between intersections. 

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices

Public Transportation Conditions  

Public buses in Ashgabat are inexpensive but overcrowded during peak times. Trains, although slow, are generally safe and reliable. 

Almost any driver will offer pedestrians a ride for a fee. Many locals use these unmarked taxis. Avoid using unlicensed cabs—especially if you do not speak the local language, are unfamiliar with the city, or are traveling alone. It is best to establish the price for service prior to entering the vehicle, and travel in groups of at least two people. The average cost of an unlicensed cab—to anywhere in the city—is ten Manat. 

Yellow Cabs and Berkarar Cabs are the only registered taxis in Ashgabat, and the recommended mode of public transportation; they are usually located at the airport, near major hotels, and at the Berkarar shopping center. Yellow Cabs are discernable by their bright yellow color, green license plates, and a light affixed to the roof. Berkarar Cabs are white with green lettering on the door and green license plates. Even though both cabs have meters, most taxi drivers do not use them; passengers should agree on a price prior to using their services. Reach Yellow Cabs at 32-97-74; the average response time is 20 minutes. 

“Ferries” crossing the Caspian Sea are actually cargo ships that also take on passengers as space permits. They do not provide food and water; sleeping and sanitary facilities are basic. Ships arriving in Turkmenbashy may take a week to find a vacant dock.

Aviation/Airport Conditions 

Turkmenistan Airlines historically had a good safety record. However, in January 2019, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended Turkmenistan Airlines flights to and from the European Union airports pending confirmation that it meets international air safety standards. Travelers should consider the EASA suspension when booking travel. Turkmen airports do not support Instrument Flight Rules, which can lead to flight cancelations or delays, particularly due to fog during the winter.

If you plan to transit through Turkmenistan, but miss your connection, you will have to purchase a ticket for on onward flight before being allowed to leave the arrival area.

Terrorism Threat 

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Ashgabat. While there has been no known terrorist activity in Turkmenistan, a continuing threat exists in Central Asia. Turkmenistan shares a long, porous border with Afghanistan.

Extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al-Qaida remain active in Central Asia, and the Turkistan Islamic Party remains active in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. government or private interests in the region.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

Civil Unrest  

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Ashgabat. There was no known or reported civil unrest in Turkmenistan in 2018, although there were sporadic reports of public demonstrations. 

Post-specific Concerns  

Environmental Hazards 

Turkmenistan is located in an active seismic zone. In 2000, a deadly earthquake centered between Ashgabat and the Caspian Sea resulted in severe damage to infrastructure. Plan multiple evacuation routes in the event of a natural disaster. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Central Asia Earthquake Preparedness.

High winds have caused marble slab veneers on buildings to detach and fall to the ground. Serious bodily injury/death could result if struck by falling marble slabs or fragments. Practice good situational awareness. 

Critical Infrastructure  

Turkmenistan does not have provisions in place to regulate industrial safety. As such, take safety precautions when operating in/around industrial complexes and/or construction sites. 

Satellite phones and other forms of communication are illegal. Cellular reception is poor; this is a significant concern for individuals traveling outside the six major cities. The attached map depicts coverage by the only available carrier, Altyn Asyr, also known as TM CELL.

Economic Concerns 

Pirated software, music, and films are widely available on the black market. Turkmenistan is a watch-list country for intellectual property protection. 

Even though Turkmenistan is a cash-only economy, some hotels accept credit cards. Hotel guests should verify charges made to their account in order to detect unauthorized use. 

Privacy Concerns 

Foreigners should practice good operational security practices by safeguarding sensitive information by assuming that the government monitors all conversations. Avoid potentially compromising situations and discussions of sensitive information. 

Personal Identity Concerns 

Women in isolated surroundings may be at an increased risk for harassment/assault.

Same-sex sexual contact between men is illegal and carries criminal penalties. Social norms in Turkmenistan are extremely conservative; harassment, detention, and prison sentences are possible. The Embassy cautions homosexual and heterosexual couples alike against displays of affection in public.

Turkmenistan does not recognize multiple citizenships of its citizens. Dual Turkmen-U.S. citizens are likely to have a difficult time returning to the United States after visiting Turkmenistan; it might be necessary for them to renounce Turkmen citizenship before departing. The renunciation process can take six months or longer. Dual Turkmen-U.S. citizens should contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat if they are considering visiting Turkmenistan. For more information on dual citizenship and renunciation of Turkmen citizenship, visit the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan, Citizenship Office. 

Public transportation, sidewalks, many buildings, and public areas are not wheelchair accessible.

Drug-related Crimes 

Turkmenistan is a transit area for narcotic traffickers smuggling mostly opiates from Afghanistan to Turkish, Russian, and European markets, either directly or through Iran. It is not a major producer or source country for illegal drugs or precursor chemicals. Most drug seizures occur along Turkmenistan’s rugged, remote 500-mile long border with Afghanistan, and its 700-mile long frontier with Iran. Money laundering in Turkmenistan involves proceeds from the illegal drug trade. 

Counter-narcotics efforts continue to be a government priority. Internal narcotics sales have reportedly dropped since the government stopped granting pardons to prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes. Drug-related crime is high in some parts of Turkmenistan, but considered average in Ashgabat. The city’s fourth, fifth, and sixth districts, and Koshi, Hitrovka, and Gazha experience the highest volume. 

A Turkmenistan law related to the treatment of persons suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, or dependence on psychoactive substances has reduced mandatory treatment programs for addicts from two years to six months, signaling a tacit government acknowledgement that drug addiction is a disease and not simply a criminal act. 

Kidnapping Threat 

Rates of kidnapping are low, although instances do occur. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: the Basics.

Police Response 

A heavy police presence in most major cities deters petty crime. Police and military troops line the street and act as a deterrent to would-be criminals; they also must report on incidents that pose a potential risk to national security. However, local police often appear unable to respond to or intervene in ongoing events, raising safety concerns. The capabilities of law enforcement agencies do not meet Western standards. Many security officials speak only Turkmen, which makes it difficult for many foreigners to communicate. Response times are often inadequate. Most investigations are slow; additionally, the standards and processes are different from those seen in the U.S. criminal justice system. 

Turkmenistan ranks very poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Substandard salaries and training opportunities contribute to corrupt practices and a lack of professionalism. Security personnel solicit bribes in the course of their official duties to supplement their income.

Laws are ambiguous—to ordinary citizens and police alike—and are randomly enforced. For example: 

  • A ban on smoking in public places is sporadically enforced; officials may harass individuals for smoking on publicly visible apartment balconies.
  • Police irregularly enforce regulations on tinted windows on vehicles and residences.
  • An unofficial curfew begins at 2300 hours. 
  • The government prohibits beards for local men over 40 and colored hair for women. 

 

Laws governing weapons are very strict. Only a limited number of security personnel may carry handguns. Civilians may carry hunting shotguns, but they must apply for a license. The licensing process includes a psychiatric evaluation and a doctor’s statement confirming that the applicant is not addicted to narcotics. With an approved application, the owner must register the weapon with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Gun owners must store weapons in a safe, separate from the ammunition. Approximately every six months, the government inspects homes of gun owners to ensure compliance. Gun crimes are extremely rare. 

Turkmen security officials are extremely sensitive to any photography of official personnel, buildings, and monuments. Avoid taking photos of official buildings, sites, and personnel. Officials have also harassed/solicited visitors for bribes after taking pictures of statues and non-government buildings; at a minimum, security officials will require photo deletion. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography

Passports are required for many transactions and random document inspections by local police. Travelers should carry their identity documents with them, and cooperate with police questioning. Carry a second copy of your passport photo and visa pages in a separate location.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and certain bilateral agreements, local authorities must contact the U.S. Embassy anytime they arrest a U.S. citizen. In practice, this does not always happen. Arrested or detained U.S. citizens should ask to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately at 865-692-688 or 94-00-45 and ask for the duty officer.

Crime Victim Assistance 

Individuals who become the victim of a crime should contact the Embassy Duty Officer (865 692 688 or 94-00-45) and to call or go to the nearest police precinct (02) to file a report. 

Medical Emergencies 

The quality of medical care is significantly below Western standards. Medical care is inadequate due to insufficient training, though modern equipment and facilities are available. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems should be aware that medical care is very difficult to access. Basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics, are often in short supply. Those with a serious medical condition should check with a physician before planning travel to Turkmenistan. Some private clinics have refused to admit patients with serious conditions, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. All travelers should bring an adequate supply of prescription and non-prescription medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications

In Ashgabat, Turkmen or Russian speakers can dial 03 for an ambulance. 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services 

U.S. citizens with medical emergencies should contact the U.S. Embassy duty officer at 94-00-45. The standard of care at the International Cardiology Hospital in Berzengi, Tel: 48-90-09, is far below Western levels. However, it is the priority emergency room for patients in Ashgabat.

Available Air Ambulance Services 

Air ambulance services are available, but response times vary.

 

Insurance Guidance 

All travelers should purchase medical evacuation (medevac) insurance.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance  

Food sanitation is an issue at markets and restaurants. Avoid eating unpeeled fruits, uncooked vegetables, and any items that left sitting outside for an extended period. Tap water is not potable; do not use it for drinking, ice cubes, or brushing teeth. Bottled water and other drinks purchased in cans or bottles are safe for consumption. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?  

Significant disease outbreaks are possible due to population shifts and a decline in some immunization coverage among the general population. Throughout Central Asia, rates of infection of various forms of hepatitis and tuberculosis—including drug-resistant strains—are on the rise.

Unconfirmed reports indicate a high rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Turkmenistan

OSAC Country Council Information  

The Ashgabat Country Council currently meets on a regular basis. Please contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information  

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation  

9 Pushkin Street, Ashgabat; Open Monday-Friday, 0900-1800.

Embassy Contact Numbers 

Embassy Operator: +993-12-94-00-45 (94-00-45 within Turkmenistan) 

  • For emergencies, travelers should contact the Regional Security Office, Consular Section, Duty Officer or Medical Office at U.S. Embassy Ashgabat 24 hours/day. Afterhours, please call +993-65-69-26-88 (865-69-26-88 from a cellular phone within Turkmenistan). 
  • RSO: +993-65-69-26-84 
  • American Citizen Services (after hours): +993-65-69-26-88 

 

Embassy Guidance 

Double check that your visa is valid through your entire stay. Enroll in the Smart Traveler program prior to arriving. Any visitor staying longer than three days must register with the State Migration Service. For additional information, consult the U.S. Embassy website or email the consular section.

Additional Resource: Turkmenistan Country Information Sheet 

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