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Turkmenistan 2018 Crime & Safety Report

South Central Asia > Turkmenistan; South Central Asia > Turkmenistan > Ashgabat

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Turkmenistan has been assessed as Level 1: Exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ashgabat as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please 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

The government does not publish crime statistics; therefore, data is based on unofficial sources. 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 are known to have higher, but not high, rates of crime.

Crimes of opportunity against foreigners do occur. Petty thieves tend to operate on buses during rush hour and in crowded environments (bazaars). Well-dressed foreigners, especially those driving cars with commercially or diplomatically accredited license plates (yellow and blue, respectively), are often targeted.

The threat of residential break-ins and burglaries is high, especially for local nationals, as they generally keep large amounts of cash at home. Even though burglaries against the expatriate community are rare, good residential security measures are recommended.

The main crimes are fraud, bribery, and institutional corruption.

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

Following is a year-in-review of substantiated criminal incidents:

  • January 2018: 9 district, next to Merdem café, Ashgabat – A school teacher from School #44 was murdered at home. Her car, jewelry, and money were stolen, and her 11-year old son was kidnapped.

  • December 2017: On Magtymguly Street near Pushkin Drama Theatre – A man was arrested for selling drugs.

  • November 2017: A 9th grader was reported raped in Mir 2 district, Ashgabat.

  • September 2017: Mir 6 district, Build, 85, Ashgabat – A young woman gave birth to a baby in entrance to the apartment building and abandoned it. The police found the young woman and made her take the baby.

  • May 2017: A murder of a grandmother and 13-year old girl (knife murder) occurred in Turkmenabat, Khojabas.

The below criminal incidents were reported but were unable to be confirmed by other sources:

  • December 2017: 11 micro district, Ashgabat – A woman and her child were killed at home and were discovered a few days later.

  • December 2017: Abadan, Ashgabat – Knife assault on a family.

  • November 2017: Mir 2 district, Ashgabat - A 16-year old girl jumped out of a multi-story building, possibly as a result of the Blue Whale Challenge phenomenon.

  • June 2017: Kemine, Chekov Streets, Ashgabat – An apartment burglary; no other information known.

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

Cybersecurity Issues

The majority of the population that uses the internet does so via cell phone. With limited opportunities for online shopping and only Ministries and a few large corporations having websites, internet crime is not prevalent.

Other Areas of Concern

Instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan negatively impacts the security situation throughout Central Asia.

Neighboring countries may close borders without advance warning. Travel to many border zones requires host-nation approval. Border permission should be requested as far in advance as possible. Travelers are required to indicate the exact location of their stay, including the border areas they would like to visit. The official travel request requires a copy of the visitor’s passport and exact dates of the visit; the request should be sent to the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan. A fee is imposed for this process. 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 have a valid visa to a neighboring country that requires travel through a border zone, border permissions are not required. Travelers who are transiting the border area are not authorized to stay on the Turkmen border side. Added care should also be taken along the Turkmen/Afghan border. If in doubt, visitors should inquire at the U.S. Embassy or with their hotel staff for advice/information.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

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 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. Frequently, drivers attempt to make turns from the middle lane. Headlights, if used, are generally not activated until after it has become completely dark. Many stoplights turn green simultaneously as the stoplights for opposing traffic turn red. Drivers should 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 are made from materials that make the road appears to be shiny and clean, which also affects vehicle traction, resulting in sliding or being unable to stop quickly. Other roads are often poorly maintained.

The streets outside Ashgabat are uneven 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.

The highway infrastructure is extremely poor. Most highways leading out of Ashgabat have been widened and paved for a short distance outside Ashgabat, but beyond that, roads have numerous potholes, no traffic lines, lights, signs, etc.

Traffic police are posted at stationary positions, checkpoints, and along major roads in the center of Ashgabat. Traffic police are seen 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 drivers to solicit bribes. In Ashgabat, expensive cars and those with government license plates routinely speed past police and sometimes through stoplights, while other cars are flagged down for "document checks." Police usually ask for payments, drivers are often expected to pay a 20-100 manat bribe. Diplomatic vehicles are not stopped.

Drivers should take extra care to avoid hitting pedestrians. Pedestrians routinely step into the street without looking. They tend to walk/stand in the middle of the road on dark streets at night, and reflective clothing is rarely used. Drivers should not assume pedestrians are able to see or will yield to an oncoming vehicle. Police regularly stop jaywalkers. 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 tends to force people to jaywalk to avoid lengthy walks. Pedestrians should never assume the right-of-way and should use pedestrian underpasses when available, but the local population rarely uses them.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

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

Public Transportation Conditions

Public buses in Ashgabat are inexpensive but overcrowded during peak times.

Many locals use unmarked, gypsy taxis. Almost any driver will offer pedestrians a ride for a fee. However, the use of unlicensed cabs is not recommended—especially by those who 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 10 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 Turkmen license plates, and a light affixed to the roof. Berkarar Cabs are white with green lettering on the door and green Turkmen license plates. Even though both cabs have meters, most taxi drivers do not use them; passengers are encouraged to agree on a price prior to using their services. Yellow Cabs can be reached at 32-97-74. The average response time is 20 minutes.

Trains, although slow, are generally safe and reliable.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Turkmen Airlines has a good safety record. Turkmen airports do not support Instrument Flight Rules, which can lead to flight cancellations or delays, particularly due to fog during the winter.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ashgabat as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ashgabat as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

There was no known or reported civil unrest in Turkmenistan in 2017, although there were sporadic reports of public demonstrations.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Turkmenistan is located in an active seismic zone.

  • In December 2000, an earthquake centered between Ashgabat and the Caspian Sea resulted in numerous injuries/deaths and severe damage to buildings and residences.

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 by fragments.

Visitors should have multiple evacuation plans to implement in the event of a natural disaster.

Critical Infrastructure

Turkmenistan does not have provisions in place to regulate industrial safety.

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 following map depicts coverage by the only carrier, Altyn Asyr:

Economic Concerns

Pirated software, music, and films were widely available on the black market, and 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 request carbons copies made of the credit card and verify charges made to their account.

Privacy Concerns

Foreigners should assume that all conversations are being monitored.

Personal Identity Concerns

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

Per Article 5 of the Turkmen Citizenship Law, Turkmenistan does not recognize multiple citizenships of its citizens. Dual Turkmen-U.S. citizens are likely to have a difficult time returning to the U.S. after visiting Turkmenistan, and it might be necessary for them to renounce Turkmen citizenship in order to be allowed to depart. The renunciation process can take six months or longer. Dual Turkmen-U.S. citizens are strongly urged to 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, please visit the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan, Citizenship Office.

Drug-related Crimes

Turkmenistan is a major transshipment route 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 744-kilometer border with Afghanistan and its 992-kilometer 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.

In March 2012, a law related to the treatment of persons suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, or dependence on psychoactive substances was enacted. The law reduced mandatory treatment programs for addicts from two years to six months, signaling a tacit acknowledgement by the government that drug addiction is a disease and not a criminal act.

Kidnapping Threat

Rates of kidnapping are believed to be low, although they do occur. For more information, please 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 are also expected to 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 than those seen in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Turkmenistan ranks very poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Security personnel are poorly paid and equipped, resulting in widespread corruption. Substandard salaries and training opportunities contribute to corrupt practices and a lack of professionalism. Security personnel have been known to 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:

  • A ban on smoking in public places is sporadically enforced. There are several reports of individuals being harassed for smoking on publically visible apartment balconies.

  • Police irregularly enforce regulations on tinted windows on vehicles and residences.

  • An unofficial curfew begins at 2300 hours.

Laws governing weapons are very strict. A limited number of security personnel are authorized to carry handguns. Civilians are authorized to 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. Once the application is approved, 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, homes of gun owners are inspected to ensure compliance. Gun crimes are extremely rare.

Turkmen security officials are extremely sensitive to being photographed and to any photography of official buildings and monuments. Visitors should avoid taking photos of official buildings, sites, and personnel. Visitors have also been harassed/solicited for bribes by law enforcement officials after taking pictures of statues and non-government buildings; at a minimum, security officials will require photos to be deleted. For more information, please 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 are advised to carry their identity documents with them and to cooperate with police authorities if stopped for questioning. Visitors should have a second copy of their passport photo and visa pages kept 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 a U.S. citizen is arrested, but this practice is not always followed. U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained 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 are encouraged to 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.

Police/Security Agencies

In August 2012, the State Counter Narcotics Service of Turkmenistan (SCNS) was renamed the State Service of Turkmenistan for the Protection and Security of a Healthy Society.

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. It is recommended that all travelers bring an adequate supply of prescription and non-prescription medications. For more information, please 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

American citizens with medical emergencies are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy duty officer at 94-00-45.

In the event of a medical emergency, it is recommended that travelers use the Central (Turkish) Hospital, Tel: 45-03-03. The standard of care is far below Western levels.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance services are available, but the response times vary. Two companies have responded to Turkmenistan:

  • Europ Assistance—offices located around the world. The 24/7 numbers are: Toll free: 877-710-4082; U.S. 240-330-1523.

  • International Air Ambulance (SOS)—Turkmenistan falls under the UAE regional office in Dubai: +971 460 18 777.

These organizations will guide callers through the process. A consent form requiring the patient’s insurance information is required. Contact with the insurance company will be made prior to scheduling transport.

Insurance Guidance

It is recommended that all travelers purchase medical evacuation insurance.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Food sanitation is an issue at markets and restaurants. Travelers are encouraged to avoid eating unpeeled fruits, uncooked vegetables, and any items that may have been left sitting outside for an extended period.

Tap water is not potable and should not be used for drinking, ice cubes, or brushing teeth. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?” Bottled water and other drinks purchased in cans or bottles are generally safe for consumption.

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 meets on a regular basis. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

9 Pushkin Street, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0900-1800

Embassy Contact Numbers

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

After-hours: +993-65-69-26-88 (865-69-26-88 from a cellular phone within Turkmenistan).

Marine Post One: 993-65-03-25-42

Website: http://turkmenistan.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

For additional security information, please read the Travel Advisories and Security Alerts for nearby countries (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan), especially if a traveler’s itinerary will take him/her through these countries. The U.S. Embassies except for Iran can provide up to date information about local crime and safety issues.

Travelers should double check their visas in order to ensure they are valid through the length of their stay and are also advised to enroll in the Smart Traveler program prior to arriving. This allows the Department of State to offer better assistance in the event of an emergency. Any visitor staying longer than three days must register with the State Migration Service.

Additional Resources

Turkmenistan Country Information Sheet