Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan Deny They have Coronavirus Infections But Take Measures Anyway, Dubnov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Arkady Dubnov, who writes for Moscow’s New Times, completes his survey of the response of Central Asian countries to the pandemic. In his first article, he focused on the three – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan – which have adopted draconian measures (

            Now in the second (, he discusses the two, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which officially deny that anyone in their populations has been infected but which are in fact taking a wide variety of often repressive measures anyway that call into question the claims of Dushanbe and Ashgabat.

            Tajikistan has introduced a quarantine even though officials say there is not a single case of coronavirus infection in the country.  Dushanbe has closed the borders and limited the movement of cars from one district to another.  But it has not explained how it has blocked the pandemic given that many Tajik gastarbeiters in Russia have the disease.

            The Tajik embassy in Moscow acknowledges that 15 Tajik migrants in Russia have been infected, with one death. The independent news agency says that there are no 70 Tajik migrants in Russian hospitals.  In Tajikistan itself, there appear to be no tests for the virus and so those who apparently have it and are dying are classified as victims of other diseases.

            But the way in which relatives of the victims of these other diseases are being treated strongly suggests they have the coronavirus, Dubnov says; and in one case, a Tajik who died from one of them was taken away and buried in an unknown place so that relatives could not attend the funeral.

            The local Academy of Sciences has been promoting “silver water” as a cure for all lung diseases, and the republic’s Muslim community has cancelled services at mosques and announced the cancellation of the haj this year. 

            Foreign governments don’t especially trust Dushanbe’s claims, the Moscow commentator continues. The US and the EU are offering assistance as are Germany and Uzbekistan.  But the Tajik media are downplaying the significance of this.

            According to Dubnov, a major reason for the official silence is the decision of the country’s president Emomali Rakhmon to install his 33-year-old son, Rustam, as speaker of the country’s senate and thus the second-ranking person in the state. It wouldn’t do to have this event overshadowed by a disease.

            The situation in Turkmenistan is similar, Dubnov continues. There, officials deny the existence of any coronavirus cases; and with rare exceptions, officials do not speak of it except in terms of its existence in other countries and the wisdom of the Turkmen president in cutting off the country from them.

            But independent news agencies reporting on developments in Turkmenistan say that there not only have been a number of cases but that those suffering have been confined in a facility surrounded by guard towers to keep them in and others out.

            Four days ago, the US embassy in Ashgabat declared that it appears that the Turkmen authorities are hiding coronavirus cases. That came after the host government rejected an offer of US aid to fight the pandemic. 

            Despite its claims, Ashgabat has introduced new restrictive measures apparently designed to block the spread of the virus. It has announced that organizers of weddings and family celebrations must not allow more than 200 people to attend and that no more than six people can sit at tables in restaurants.

            It has introduced restrictions as well on movements among regions, requiring those who want to travel to collect a large number of approvals (and likely pay a large number of bribes, if history is any guide) and provide proof that they have been examined by doctors and are in good health.

            According to Dubnov, there is a special reason for Ashgabat to go into denial. Before he became president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was in charge of Turkmenistan’s health care system. If the coronavirus has spread there, that would be a political disaster for him and his government.

            At the same time, however, the New Times writer points out, Berdimuhamedow can be proud that among those he trained was Denis Protsenko, most recently the chief doctor of the Moscow hospital Vladimir Putin visited and who is a symbol of the anti-pandemic efforts in Russia.

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