In Turkey, certain sectors of the population suffer from constant human rights violations, such as the Kurds or Syrian refugees. However, the plight of Turkmen activists living in the Eurasian country has recently been highlighted by several organisations and media outlets.
According to Human Rights Watch, Turkmen activists critical of the Turkmen government are being subjected to threats, "presumably as a result of pressure exerted by Turkmen authorities on Turkish law enforcement authorities". The NGO also points to "physical attacks" against these citizens residing in Turkey.
"We urge the international community to monitor this worrying situation closely and help to resolve it," it stresses. HRW also calls on the Ashgabat Executive and Ankara to "stop this harassment and respect their international legal obligations, ensuring the protection of the rights and freedoms of Turkmen citizens residing in Turkey".
Turkmen enjoy a special status in Turkey. It is one of the few countries where they can enter without a visa and where they can apply for and obtain a residence permit. Moreover, the similar language and culture allow Turkmen citizens to integrate easily into Turkish society. According to sources reported by HRW, more than one million Turkmen live in Turkey, including workers and students.
However, this situation has changed in recent years. Turkmenistan's consulates in Turkey have refused to renew the passports of their nationals, in violation of Turkmen law, forcing them to return to the country for all procedures. If they do not travel, their documents would expire, making them illegal without the possibility of employment, education or medical care.
In response to this situation, Turkmen citizens have organised protests and demonstrations to force their country's authorities to comply with the obligations of the law. Initially, Turkey did not sanction these citizens for having expired documents, but in view of the upcoming meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, Ankara has changed its position. In an attempt to get Turkmenistan to join the organisation, the Turkish authorities have begun to treat Turkmen activists differently.
Ankara has begun to threaten them with deportation, even transferring some to deportation centres. Moreover, Turkmenistani consulate staff are busy creating false charges against activists so that the Turkish authorities can arrest and deport them. "We believe that Turkey is trying to convince Turkmenistan to join the Council and is making efforts to ensure that this happens during the next session," HRW explains.
"The changes in the Turkish authorities' policy towards Turkmen activists have apparently been in response to requests from the Turkmen government, which is seeking to put an end to the civic activities of its citizens abroad," the NGO also notes.
Akhmed Rakhmanov, Kamil Abulov and Bayram Allaliyev were among the latest activists detained and transferred to immigration detention centres. Rakhmanov was released on 26 October, while there is no news on the other two. According to sources told HRW, "there are plans to deport them imminently".
In this regard it is necessary to mention Dursoltan Taganova, one of the most renowned Turkmen activists in Turkey. Taganova, as a result of her involvement in this issue and attending demonstrations, has been arrested and threatened. She is also a member of the Democratic Election of Turkmenistan (EDT).
Turkmenistan is one of the most authoritarian and secretive countries in the world. The media is under total control of the regime, while dissidents or critics are persecuted. According to Amnesty International, the whereabouts of at least 120 prisoners subjected to enforced disappearance are unknown. Turkmenistan has not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as have other countries such as China, the USA and Turkey itself.
For these reasons, returning these activists to the country would put them in grave danger, with a high risk of arbitrary arrest or torture. In addition to the critical human rights situation, Turkmenistan suffers from a severe economic crisis. On the other hand, the government has refused to recognise cases of the coronavirus.
However, citizens critical of the regime of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow not only suffer oppression on Turkmen territory, but also in Turkey by other pro-government compatriots. HRW says there are "numerous alarming reports" that Berdimuhamedow's supporters "regularly attack Turkmen civilian activists in Turkey and threaten them and their families with reprisals".
Unsurprisingly, Turkish judicial and law enforcement authorities do not investigate these cases, despite the victims showing screenshots with the names of the perpetrators. "They regularly intimidate activists and their families with serious threats, including murder, both in Turkey and Turkmenistan."
"These attacks and threats are egregious examples of foreign nationals persecuting Turkmen activists in Turkey. The inaction of Turkish law enforcement authorities in relation to this crime cannot be justified and contradicts Turkish and international law," reaffirms HRW.