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Turkmenistan 2015 Crime and Safety Report

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Rating: Medium

Crime Threats

Crimes of opportunity against foreigners, who are often perceived as wealthy, occur. Petty thieves tend to operate on buses during rush hour and in crowded environments (bazaars). In 2014, RSO saw an increase in the number of aggressive beggars outside Yimpash and other markets. Well-dressed foreigners, especially those driving cars with commercial (yellow) or diplomatic (blue) license plates are regularly targeted.

Violent crimes, to include rape and murder, occur. Unofficial sources claim that the murder rate in Ashgabat is about one per week. Violent crimes are often linked to the trade and use of narcotics and tend to involve the local population, as opposed to foreigners. Two cases of rape are alleged to have occurred in late 2013. Despite widespread rumors, police apparently had adequate evidence against the subject indicating he was the perpetrator.

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

Residential break-ins and burglaries have been reported in Ashgabat, spurred in part by the knowledge that many residents keep cash at home. For example, an apartment in a generally safe neighborhood where the American housing compound is situated was burglarized in late 2013. The criminals rang the apartment doorbell; a female victim opened the door, and they held her at knife-point while stealing approximately U.S.$300,000 that was stored in a safe. Even though burglaries against the expatriate community are rare, good residential security measures are recommended.

Alcohol related incidents—bar fights and drunk driving—are common. 

Prostitution, although in evidence at many hotels and restaurants, is illegal. In Ashgabat, foreigners are often solicited at the British Pub, the Grand Turkmen Hotel, the disco clubs at the Ak Altyn Hotel and Kopetdag restaurant (the Just Club), the bar on the top floor of the President Hotel, at the City Pub, among other places. Law enforcement entities are known to conduct prostitution raids. In November 2013, police reportedly detained and subjected numerous women to mandatory testing for sexually-transmitted diseases and drug use as part of a campaign to curb prostitution.

Gun crimes occur but are extremely rare.

Areas of Concern

Travel to the following border zones requires host-nation approval:
Akhal Province
Baharly district: Garawul district;
Gokdepe district: Germaw village of Yangala district;
Ak Bugday: Bagdat town, Babadurmaz district, Kasamly village of Gami district, Guryhowdan village of Garadamak district;
Kaka district: Dushak town, Shukur bagshi district, Arapgala district, Artyk district and Artyk railway station, Gowshut district, Gowshut railway station and 81 railway station, Gozgan, Kurengala, Mehinli, Hyrchyngan districts, Armansgat railway station and 79, 80 railway station;
Sarahs district: Sarahs, Gangaly town, Hanyap, Yalawach, Garaman, ata, Kichiaga, Ashgabat, alam, Watan, Chalcha districts
Balkan Province
Turkmenbashi district: Guzulsuw, Guwlymayak, Gyzylgaya town, Gatabogaz town, Chagyl, Tuver village in Goymat and Awlamysh district;
Esenguly district: Esenguly, Ekerem town, Chikechler, Ajayip, Chaloyuk, Garadegish districts; 
Etrek district: Etrek town, Akyala district, Bayathoja village of Bayathoja district, Garagach village of Garagach district, Garahan village of Gyzylbayar district, Gyzylay village of Madaw district;
Magtymguly district: Magtymguly town, Kuruzdey, gerkez, Yankel districts, Akkel village of Akkel district, Gyzylymam village of Gyzylymam district, ak village of Chendir district; 
In the limits of Border control - Konekesir, Hodjagala districts, Dayna village of Dayna district
Mary Province
Serhatabat district: Serhechi, Galaymor, Chemenebit districts, Engish village of Engish district;
Tagtabazar district: Tagtabazar town, Erden, Suhty, Gulja, Marchak districts named after S. Niyazow, Yashlyk village of Yashlyk district, Humly
Dashoguz Province
Gorogly district: Dashly village of Magtymguly district, Akjeren and Gorelde villages of Aksaray districts, Altyngol, Bedirkent, Buzgomen villages, Edermen and Yangyyap villages, Border zone from Gazojak town till Dashoguz-Gazojak;
S.A. Niyazow district: Niyazaow town, Yoldash Ahmedow village of Gulistan district, Shatlyk, Medeniyet, Dostluk, Dowlet districts, Shyhgala village of Nowbahar district, Bossan district named after Sadulla Rozmetow, Gulistan, Deryalyk, Kyyat, Yanguyer villages;
Gubadag district: Bereket, Gubadag, Yashlyk districts, Dowgala and Mannyt villages in Gokchage district, Gorelde, Dowletli villages of Dowletli districts, Shyhgala village of Amyderya district, Jemshit village of Azatlyk district, Yekederek village of Sadulla Rozmetov district;
Boldumsaz district: Guyanagyz we Ashgabat districts;
Koneurgench district: Galkynysh, Tazeyap, Tazeyol, Akgum, Ezberkol, Pagtachy districts, Maslahat, Saraygol villages;
Saparmyrat Turkmenbashi district: Ruhebelent, Bitaraplyk, Serdar, Yybowur, Turkmenistan, Yengish, Shahamy, Dowkesen districts
Lebap Province
Magdanly town;
Farap district: Farap, Jeyhun town, Teze village, Djendi,Bitik, Garamysh, Dostluk, Osty, Kurach, Nazarym districts; 
Hojambaz district: Hojambaz town, Beshir, Burdalyk, Gultak,Meken districts;
Birata district: Birata, Gazochak, Lebap towns, Lebap, Hojalyk, Charwadar named after Magtymkuli districts, Sadywar village of Sadywar districts, Sakazino railway station;
Atamyrat district: Bashsaka, Garamatniyaz town named after 15 years of Independences. 
Beyik Turkmenbashi district: Amuderya, Dostluk, Kerkichi town, Burguchy, Dashrabat, Surhy districts, azatlyk reailway station;
Koytendag district: Kelif, Mukry, Kogetang towns, Akgumolam, garahowuz, Garnash, Megejik, Garlyk, Koyten districts, Gokmiyar village;
Dowletli district: Tallymerjen district, Hojahayran district, Korkak, Hodjatutly, Guzdubuk villages

Border permission should be requested as far in advance as possible. 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. Travelers are required to indicate the exact location of their stay including the border areas they would like to visit in the request. A fee is imposed for this process. If travelers have a valid visa to a neighboring country that requires travel through a border zone, permission is not required to the border zone. Travelers are not authorized to stay on the Turkmen side of the border area.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Even though most city streets are well manicured and illuminated, especially in Ashgabat, the highway infrastructure is extremely poor. Some highways have been widened and paved, but most are narrow with little/no shoulder.

The streets outside Ashgabat are uneven and covered with large potholes. Slow moving trucks, agricultural vehicles, and livestock/camels 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.

Local driving practices can be erratic and result in accidents and traffic jams. Local drivers rarely respect lane markings and will drift through lanes without signaling. Vehicles will park indiscriminately on busy streets. Unmarked gypsy cabs regularly pull over without warning to pick up/drop off passengers. Frequently, drivers attempt to make left or right hand turns from the middle lane. 

Extra care should be taken regarding pedestrians. Pedestrians routinely step into the street without looking or walk/stand in the middle of the road on streets at night. Reflective clothing is rarely used. Drivers should not assume pedestrians are able to see or will yield to an oncoming vehicle. Visitors walking across a street or intersection should never assume the right of way and should use pedestrian underpasses when available. The local population rarely utilizes the pedestrian underpasses, usually choosing instead to cross a road or major thoroughfare.

It is not unusual for police to stop and question pedestrians and drivers at any time.

Travel to, from, and within Turkmenistan by road remains difficult and unreliable. Neighboring countries may close borders with no advance warning.

Headlights, if used, are generally not activated until after it has become completely dark. 

Many stoplights turn green as the stoplights for opposing traffic turn red. Drivers should exercise caution before entering intersections to ensure cross traffic has stopped.

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

When in a vehicle, doors should be locked; valuables should not be left in open view.

Public Transportation Conditions 

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

Locals use unmarked, gypsy taxis. Almost any driver will offer pedestrians a ride for a fee. Although the use of gypsy 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 make travel in groups of at least two people if gypsy cabs are used. The average cost of a gypsy cab—to anywhere in the city—is five Manat.

Yellow cabs are the only registered taxis and the recommended mode of public transportation; they are usually located at the airport and near major hotels. Yellow cabs are discernable by their bright yellow color, green license plates, and a light affixed to the roof. Even though these cabs have meters, most 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 and works closely with Boeing on aircraft maintenance and professional training for airline staff. The airline owns approximately 30 Boeing aircrafts. Turkmen airports do not support Instrument Flight Rules, which can lead to flight cancellations or delays, particularly due to fog in the winter.

Other Travel Conditions

The unofficial curfew begins at 2300 Hours.

Cellular reception is poor nationwide. This is a significant concern for individuals traveling outside the six major cities. The following information, from UNDSS, depicts coverage by each of the two carriers (MTS and Altyn Asyr) available: (see graphic)

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Political Violence Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Terrorist groups (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), al-Qai’da, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)) are active in Central Asia, have expressed anti-U.S. sentiment, and have conducted attacks against foreign interests. None of these groups or members are known to have conducted attacks against American targets in Turkmenistan.

An increase in security at official U.S. facilities worldwide has caused terrorists to shift their focus to softer civilian targets. Travelers should keep this in mind as they travel, remaining especially vigilant when traveling to remote locations along the Afghan border.

Terrorism Rating: Medium

Civil Unrest 

The government does not allow political dissent or organized opposition, so demonstrations and/or large unauthorized crowds are exceedingly rare. Police have dispersed the few that have occurred quickly. In June 2012, for example, authorities dispersed a group of meat vendors near the Russian Bazaar who were protesting their inability to sell beef above the price set by the government. There have been periodic, spontaneous protests in Ashgabat when the authorities have attempted to remove air conditioning units from the outsides of residential buildings.

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

For information related to religious or ethnic violence, please see the International Religion Freedom Report. 

Post-specific Concerns

Turkmenistan's national currency is the Manat, which is convertible only within the country. The exchange rate is fixed by the government at 3.5 Manat to the U.S. Dollar, which changed on January 1, 2015 for the first time since 2009. Although Turkmenistan has been a cash-only economy, RSO is starting to see subtle advances in ATMs: the Senegat Bank near Yimpash accepts Master Card (daily limit: $500); the International Bank near the International Business Center (daily limit: 600 Manat); and the Russian Vnesheconom Bank near the Ministry of Internal Affairs (daily limit: 600 Manat). The ATM at the Oguzkent hotel remains operational. The local government introduced a $1,000/day withdrawal limit to begin transitioning the Turkmen economy from cash to electronic transactions. The introduction of debit card reading machines has been made at Yimpas, which accepts only Turkmen cards (foreign debit cards followed by credit cards should be accepted soon). 

Environmental Hazards

Turkmenistan is located in an active seismic zone. In December 2000, an earthquake between Ashgabat and the Caspian Sea resulted in numerous injuries/deaths and severe damage to buildings and residences. In 1948, Ashgabat was nearly destroyed by an earthquake. Visitors should have an evacuation plan to implement in the event of a natural disaster.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

The Soviet-era infrastructure is not well maintained; electrical and telecommunication problems are common.

Turkmenistan does not have the equivalent of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with provisions in place to regulate industrial safety. As such, safety precautions should be taken when operating in and around industrial complexes and/or construction sites.

High winds have dislodged marble slab veneers on buildings. Serious bodily injury or death could result to anyone struck by falling marble slabs or fragments. Visitors should practice good situational awareness.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

Foreigners should utilize good operational security practices by safeguarding sensitive information with the assumption that all conversations are monitored. Pirated software, music, and films are widely available on the black market, and Turkmenistan is a watch-list country for intellectual property protection.

Privacy Concerns

Hotels and many public—and some private—establishments are reportedly monitored. In 2014, several constituents of private and diplomatic missions in Ashgabat reported an increase in counterintelligence-related harassment. Several anomalies (broken calls, strange caller ID data, automatic text replies of a random mix of numbers, letters, and characters from unknown contacts, etc.) related to cellular calls and text messaging, especially from overseas contacts, were observed. Visitors should avoid potentially compromising situations and discussing sensitive information.

All hotel guests—regardless of gender—must be registered prior to visiting a registered guest’s room. Unless married, guests cannot share rooms. Hotel security actively monitors traffic to/from hotel rooms and has been known to enter guest rooms.

Drug-related Crimes

Turkmenistan is a major transshipment route for narcotic traffickers to smuggle mostly opiates from Afghanistan to Turkish, Russian, and European markets, either directly or through Iran. It is not, however, a major producer or source country for illegal drugs or precursor chemicals. Most drug seizures occur along the rugged, remote 744-kilometer border with Afghanistan and its 992-kilometer frontier with Iran.

Counternarcotic efforts are a government priority. Internal narcotics sales have reportedly dropped since the government stopped the practice of granting pardons to prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes. 

In March 2012, a law related to the treatment of 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, not simply a criminal act. 

Major developments in 2014 included: the reported arrest of a suspected trafficker in Dashoguz province who was in possession of a large amount of opium in his residence; continuation of the major annual interdiction operation to identify and destroy domestic poppy production; and a notable expansion of the government’s anti-narcotics public information campaign. According to official statistics, the total amount of narcotics seized in 2013 was 440.7 kilograms, 0.41 percent less than the amount seized in 2012. Some 101.44 kilograms of drugs were seized during the first six months of 2014.

Drug-related crime is high in some areas but is considered to be average in Ashgabat. The city’s fourth, fifth, and sixth districts and Koshi, Hitrovka, and Gazha experience the highest volume of drug-related crime.

Police Response

The capabilities of law enforcement agencies do not meet Western standards. Many security personnel speak only Turkmen. Security assets are poorly paid and equipped, both of which result in widespread corruption. Police and military troops line the streets and act as a deterrent to would-be criminals; they are expected to report incidents that pose a potential risk to national security. Security personnel have been known to solicit bribes in the course of their official duties to supplement their income. Response times are often inadequate. 

Traffic police are posted at stationary positions, checkpoints, and along major roads at almost every intersection in the center of Ashgabat, but they are known for paying little attention to traffic safety issues. The police use a white and black striped stick when signaling drivers to stop for questioning. In Ashgabat, expensive cars and those with government license plates routinely speed past police, sometimes through stoplights, while other cars are flagged down for "document checks."

Laws are ambiguous—to ordinary citizens and police—and are randomly enforced. For example, a ban on smoking in public places is sporadically enforced. Also, police irregularly enforce regulations limiting tinted windows on cars. 

Laws governing weapons are very strict. A limited number of security personnel are authorized to carry handguns. Civilians are authorized to carry only hunting rifles, but they must first 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 gun owner must register the weapon with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Rifle owners must store weapons in a safe, separate from ammunition. Approximately once every six months, homes of gun owners are inspected to ensure compliance.

Customs authorities have the right to inspect all items imported/exported. The export of antiquities or cultural valuables (carpets) requires special permission and certification.

Security officials are extremely sensitive to being photographed and any photography of official buildings/monuments. Visitors should avoid taking photos of official buildings, sites, and personnel. Visitors have also been harassed and/or solicited for bribes by law enforcement officials after taking pictures of statues and non-government buildings; at a minimum, security officials will require the deletion of suspect photos.

Passports are required for many transactions and random document inspections by local police. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Authorities do not always contact the U.S. Embassy when a U.S. citizen is arrested. 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.

Traffic police are known for pulling over cars and exacting bribes. Police usually ask for U.S.$100; travelers have reported settling for 50 Manat or less.

Crime Victim Assistance

In the event of an emergency, dial “02” to contact police. American citizens should also contact the U.S. Embassy at 865 692 688 or 94-00-45. Individuals who are the victim of a crime are encouraged to contact the Embassy duty officer and to call or go to the nearest police precinct to file a report. Most investigations are untimely; additionally, the standards and processes are different than those seen in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Medical Emergencies

The quality of medical care is significantly below Western standards. Medical care is inadequate due to insufficient training and poor equipment/facilities. 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.

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

Ebola screening at the Ashgabat airport started in 2014 where authorities implemented an unannounced, three-week, quarantine on anyone traveling into Ashgabat from any African country. The authorities have screening technology that identifies heat signatures of passengers, which is used to determine whether a person has a high temperature.

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

It is recommended that travelers use the Central (Turkish) Hospital. The hospital can be reached by calling 45-03-03. The standard of care is far below Western levels. American citizens with medical emergencies are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy duty officer at 94-00-45. 

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance services are available, but the response time averages between 48-72 hours. Two companies have responded to Turkmenistan: 
Europ Assistance—offices around the world. The 24/7 numbers are: 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. Dr. Arslan Kurbanov is an English-speaking, local SOS representative; cell: 800-65-85-33-82.
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.

Recommended Insurance Posture

It is recommended that all travelers purchase medical evacuation insurance.

CDC 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 anything that may have been left sitting outside for extended periods. Tap water is not potable and should not be used for drinking, ice cubes, or brushing teeth. 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 also indicate a high rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/countries/turkmenistan/

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Even though Ashgabat is generally safe, the Embassy advises visitors to remain vigilant and to maintain a low profile. Residents and travelers should employ the same common sense practices as they would in any major U.S. city. Travelers should practice good situational awareness and avoid traveling alone to unknown areas. If in doubt, visitors should inquire at the U.S. Embassy or with their hotel staff for advice and/or information. The Embassy recommends visitors travel in pairs or groups and always inform a third party of their whereabouts.

Regardless of accommodation, visitors should always ensure their valuables are secure. Safety deposit boxes or room safes should be used for storing valuables. Door/window locks should be checked to make sure they work. Visitors should also practice using all emergency exits. Unknown individuals should never be invited into residences. When outside the hotel, visitors should keep cash/other valuables in secure pockets and avoid displaying cash/valuables in a public setting. 

At nightclubs, drinks should never be left unattended; moreover, drinks should never be accepted from unknown people. 

Travelers are advised to carry their identity documents with them at all times and to cooperate with police authorities if stopped for questioning. It is advisable for visitors to have a second copy of their passport’s photo and visa pages kept in a separate location.

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 in order to detect unauthorized use. Money should be changed at official exchanges only. U.S. bills printed prior to 1996 or any in poor condition are not accepted. Cash advances tend to be available only from the three foreign banks located in Ashgabat. Many banks require customers to present their passport when exchanging money.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

9 Pushkin Street
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 0900-1800

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator: 993-12-94-00-45
Embassy Fax: 993-12-94-26-14
RSO: 993-65-69-26-84
ACS (after Hours): 993-65-69-26-88
Marine Post One: 993-65-03-25-42
For emergencies, travelers should contact the Regional Security Office, Consular Section, Duty Officer, or Medical Office. During working hours, call 993-12-94-00-45 (94-00-45 from within Turkmenistan). Afterhours, call +993-65-69-26-88 (865-69-26-88 from a cellular phone within Turkmenistan).
Website: http://turkmenistan.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

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 country. Based on RSO experience, 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 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.

Travelers living in or traveling to Turkmenistan are advised to verify 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. For additional information, consult the U.S. Embassy website or email the consular section at ConsularAshgab@state.gov.

For additional security information, read the Turkmenistan Country Specific Information, current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts for nearby countries (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan), especially if a traveler’s itinerary will take them through these countries. The U.S. Embassy in each of these countries (except Iran), can provide up-to-date information about local crime and safety issues. Information on how to contact each U.S. Embassy directly is available on the internet at the Consular Affairs home page at http://www.travel.state.gov. 

The overseas Citizen Services call center can be reached at 1-888-407-4747 and is able to answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas from 0800 to 2000 Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except on U.S. federal holidays). Callers unable to dial toll-free may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 317-472-2328.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Embassy has an active OSAC Country Council. The co-chairman is U.S. Embassy Acting Regional Security Officer (A/RSO) Daniel Hanna who can be reached via e-mail: hannadc@state.gov or tel: 993-12-94-00-45. To reach OSAC’s South and Central Asia team, please email OSACSCA@state.gov.