The plight of ethnic minorities in Turkmenistan remains bleak, despite claims to the contrary by the Turkmen government during this month's session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
"Each of Turkmenistan's ethnic and racial minorities bears a heavy burden of discrimination and exclusion in the environment where preferential treatment is openly afforded only to ethnic Turkmen," Robert Arsenault, president of the International League for Human Rights (ILHR), asserted from New York. He went on to describe the human rights situation in the largely desert but energy rich state, as alarming.
"The president for life, Saparmurat Niyazov, has defined the newly created country of Turkmenistan as the glorified home of ethnic Turkmen," Erika Dailey, director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project, added from New York. "In that conceptualisation, there is no room for non-ethnic Turkmen in Turkmenistan. So the state has attempted to "turkmenify" its non-Turkmen population," added Dailey.
According to activists, racial and ethnic minority populations were excluded from employment in the public sector, denied access to education in their native language, restricted in their practice of religion and continuously intimidated by police.
"Such important religious confessions as the Armenian Apostolic Church and Shia Islam, remain unregistered and thus illegal," the ILHR official added. He noted that Uzbeks, traditionally a rural population in the northern and eastern parts of the country, represent a special case as they are viewed with particular suspicion by the authorities as people not loyal to the regime.
Meanwhile, Dailey accused the government in the capital, Ashgabat, of fabricating population data that significantly underestimated the actual numbers of ethnic minorities in the country.
In a further discriminatory move, the government reportedly coerced other Turkic people such as Uzbeks and Kazakhs, to assimilate and "pass" as Turkmen under threat of a loss of job, which in Turkmenistan is tantamount to being sentenced to a lifetime of poverty.
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