Staunton, March 7 – Serious food shortages and even food riots have been a feature of rural areas of Turkmenistan since the end of last year; but the situation now has deteriorated to the point that it has reached the major cities, including the capital Ashgabat, thus posing a direct challenge to one of the most repressive regimes on earth.
Since the end of last year, the Fergana news agency reports, the few independent agencies that cover Turkmenistan have described the food situation in that country “in terms that recall wartime,” with empty shelves, crowds attacking delivery trucks, and hunger a real threat to the impoverished rural population (fergananews.com/articles/9839).
The Turkmenistan government media, on the other hand, have not reported any of these events, preferring instead in the manner of authoritarian government’s like Stalin’s or Kim Jong-il to broadcast fake stories about how well everyone is doing and how some Turkmens are in fact suffering from too much food.
The authorities are likely to continue such broadcasts, but now it will be far harder for them to hide the real situation. Up to the end of last week, all the food riots had been in difficult to reach rural areas. But now, the Alternative News of Turkmenistan is reporting that food shortages have reached the capital (habartm.org/archives/8729).
Virtually the only positive step President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has taken occurred on March 2 when he freed from certain tariffs a few goods, including some foodstuffs, potentially opening the way for an expansion of imports or at least restraining the price increases that have resulted from the collapse of the food sector (hronikatm.com/2018/03/v-turkmenistane-dlya-podderzhaniya-ptitsevodstva-otmenyat-tamozhennyie-poshlinyi-na-nekotoryie-tovaryi/).
In many places in Turkmenistan, there is little food available; and what there is is being rationed. People clearly fear that the situation will get worse and have taken the unusual step of storming delivering trucks in the hopes of getting flour, eggs or other basic goods. So far, no deaths have been reported in any clashes with police (habartm.org/archives/8500).
Radio Liberty’s Turkmen Service reports that it has received reports that women have blocked a highway to demand the government supply them with flour and that angry people near the city of Mary have beaten up the head of the local government council in their efforts to get flour (rus.azathabar.com/a/29079647.html).
In an indication of just how serious the situation is becoming, President Berdymukhamedov made a quick visit to Mari where he visited the local garrison to ensure that his soldiers are being fed.