Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Turkmenistan’s Population has Recently Declined Back to Where It was in the 1980s

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 3 – If there is one demographic given most observers accept about the former Soviet space, it is that all of the Muslim countries which emerged from the disintegration of the USSR are experiencing rapid population growth. But there is a signal exception to that: Turkmenistan, where the population has now declined back to where it was in the 1980s.

            Three Turkmen officials who are working on plans for a national census next year and who spoke to Radio Liberty’s Turkmen Service on condition of anonymity say that preliminary “test” census show that the current population is not the 6.2 million Ashgabat regularly claims but only 2.7 to 2.8 million (

            Turkmenistan, far and away the most closed country in the former Soviet space, conducted a census in 2012 but never released the results ( As a result, all the figures the government does release are estimates, inevitably boosted to get the approval of the country’s success of dictatorial rulers.

            It is far from clear whether the results of the 2022 census will suffer the same fate, but the results of the partial surveys conducted in advance are now leaking out as with the statements of the three demographic experts to RL’s Turkmen Service (

            According to the three officials, “the main causes of depopulation [in Turkmenistan] are the deterioration in the quality of life [which has sent death rates up and birth rates down and as a result of outmigration.” Some data suggest that roughly two million Turkmens left the country over the last 12 years.

            The situation is obviously critical, but no one can be exactly sure just how bad because for the last 30 years, the rulers of the country have not put out any reliable statistics. The rulers always say things are getting better and better and the population is flourishing and growing larger but that is a fantasy which exists only in their heads.

            Accurate data about the country’s demographic situation was assembled in June, but senior officials were afraid to report to the Turkmen dictator or give the information to the media. Apparently the three officials who did talk to RL Turkmen concluded that the information they had was too important for the people not to know.

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