Berdimuhamedov’s first 2 years in office: What did he accomplish?

President Serdar Berdimuhamedov did not share any policy agenda, neither when he was running for presidency nor after his election in March 2022. He has not articulated any policy priorities, specific goals, and measurable targets. In 2022 Progres team had laid out feasible and measurable short-term priorities for his presidency and evaluated his first 100 days and then 1 year of his presidency to understand if any reforms to improve the life of citizens had been undertaken in that period.

During the past two years Turkmenistan continued to perform poorly on various international indexes measuring economic and fundamental freedoms.

Corruption: In 2023, the endemic corruption in the public sector in Turkmenistan has worsened further. Turkmenistan’s score makes it one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Authoritarian control over state institutions by Turkmen ruling elites has firmly taken root, with corruption being used to sustain power and evade accountability.

Economic data: The World Bank and IMF both continue questioning the credibility of economic data. The World Bank has not included data from Turkmenistan into its reporting since 2018. EBRD is ranking Turkmenistan’s “transition qualities” as the lowest in Central Asia. The devastating dual exchange rate policy (or a lack of policy) continues.

Access to Internet: In December 2022, the government of Turkmenistan has introduced the idea of development of a “sovereign internet” which will be partitioned and will not connected to the rest of the Internet. This has been announced in the context of ongoing Internet blockade and aggressive censorship. Turkmenistan is the worst performer in Europe and Central Asia region, falling behind Afghanistan in digitalization in the public sector.

Media freedom: The ranking has deteriorated from 3 to 1 in the last two years. Quality information is extremely limited in Turkmenistan. The vast majority of it is not editorially independent, not based on facts, and it is intended to harm. People in Turkmenistan do not have the rights, means, or capacity to access a wide range of information; they do not recognize or reject misinformation; and they cannot make choices on what types of information they want to engage with. During her visit to Turkmenistan in June 2023 the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro discussed a number of challenges to media freedom in Turkmenistan including restrictions on the free flow of and limited access to information, both online and offline. She urged the Turkmen authorities to uphold the commitments of the OSCE regarding freedom of expression and media freedom.

Fundamental freedoms: CIVICUS Monitor rates Turkmenistan as the 6th most ‘closed’ country in the world out of 197 countries. Turkmenistan has consistently rated as a ‘closed’ country since 2018.

What is your list of issues and areas of life that President Serdar Berdimuhamedov has failed to act on? Where has he made progress?

Here is our list of issues that President Serdar Berdimuhamedov has failed to act on and some areas where he made little progress.

Major setbacks for the Turkmen society


  • Denial of COVID-19 pandemic victims – Serdar Berdimuhamedov, just like his father and former president, did not publicly admit and share statistics related to COVID-19 infections, deaths and overall impact on the lives of Turkmen people.
  • Lack of detailed and reliable health statistics – the government continues the practice of data ignorance by not publicizing important health data including on patients with HIV/AIDS and TB in Turkmenistan. These data could help curb the spread of these diseases and help people enjoy healthier, longer and safer lifestyles.
  • Limited access to foreign healthcare goods and services – it remains difficult for Turkmen nationals to bring medicine from abroad, especially if those that are not available in Turkmenistan. A lot of sick people depend on life saving medicine sent by their relatives abroad. Similarly, medical tourism to Iran, India, Turkey, and other countries, where Turkmen citizens receive lifesaving treatment and care remain restrictive. For example, from March-Mary 2023 nearly 800 citizens of Turkmenistan went to Mashhad in Iran to receive medical treatment.
  • Criminalization of and shortening the period for abortion – Shortly after Serdar Berdimuhamedov took office, the government made public the vague guidelines to abortion care in April 2022 whereby reducing the gestational age for abortion from 12 weeks to 5 weeks without any public consultation and going against international standards. The UN CEDAW committee is asking the government to revise these regressive guidelines without further delay.


  • Lack of economic data – President Serdar Berdimuhamedov did not prioritize collecting and publishing macroeconomic data including on inflation, unemployment, poverty. The Open Data Inventory (ODIN) measures how complete a country’s statistical offerings are and whether their data meet international standards of openness. In 2022-2023 Turkmenistan took the last spot in the data openness among a total 195 countries. The country received 1 point out of 100 on the degree of openness in economic data while scoring 0 in all other areas.
  • Limited fiscal transparency – Government continues to publish incomplete budget information. Information on debt obligations including for state-owned enterprises, government revenue from the exports of natural resources and taxes, government’s off-budget stabilization fund or the sovereign wealth fund including its sources and withdrawal conditions were not publicly available.
  • Unknown rates of inflation – Serdar Berdimuhamedov continued the legacy practice of the former president and his father who from 2008 introduced annual increases in salaries, pensions and stipends by 10%. However, in the absence of reliable and publicly available data on inflation, it is unclear if it has kept pace with the annual inflation and was sufficient to support the welfare of the population. IMF reports annual inflation rate as 10.5% and Palaw Index reports food inflation as -7.1% in 2022 and -13.1% in 2023. Nonetheless, price fluctuations are aligned with global trends, as indicated by the FAO’s Food Price Index, showing an average decrease of 13.7% in 2023 primarily attributed to increased global supply of vegetable oil and wheat flour. These two key ingredients in the Palaw Index, which are imported, significantly contributed to the price decline. Therefore, the decline in the Palaw Index in 2023 cannot be attributed to the economic policies of Serdar Berdimuhamedov but rather to external factors.
  • Damaging effect of dual exchange rate – the dual exchange rate of the manat continues to negatively impact the population and small businesses while the government of President Serdar Berdimihamedov did not take any steps toward unifying the two rates. Restrictions on the free exchange of foreign currencies started in 2016 and resulted in creation of dual exchange, where the official exchange rate was kept at 3.5 manat per US dollar and the black market rate fluctuated from 40 manat in 2021 to 19.5 manat in 2023. Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Turkmenistan, which is responsible for maintaining price stability, low inflation rate and setting official exchange rates, remains under strong political influence and interference.
  • Lack of economic optimism – the Central Asia Barometer’s public opinion survey in December 2022 revealed that very few Turkmens are optimistic about jobs and the economy in Turkmenistan. For example, only 7% of respondents thought prices and the healthcare system in Turkmenistan were doing well and only 5% noted a positive state of affairs in the national economy. Respondents rated jobs (2.8%) and energy (only 1 respondent) as the least positive areas in Turkmenistan. On the Index of Economic Freedom Turkmenistan scored 46.5 in 2023, placing the country 161st out of 176 countries. It is the lowest rank among all post-Soviet countries. However, it is a slight improvement from 2022 Turkmenistan scored 46.2 and ranked in the 165th place in the Index.
  • Lack of employment opportunities – In 2023 the state media announced that Turkmenistan exceeded its job creation target by nearly threefold (7,607 new jobs vs planned 2,688). However, after a closer look Progres team has discovered that job creation in Turkmenistan has declined over the past years, new jobs only met the needs of 7% of unemployed people while half of the working age people simply gave up on employment.
  • Restricted internal labour migration – the use of Propiska (a residency permit), which hinders the free movement of labor and their access to medical and social services, continued under the leadership of Serdar Berdimuhamedov. At the meeting of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, held on August 21, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Vepa Khadzhiev tried to justify this policy by saying “Residence registration (…) is just a registration system; you can move freely anywhere in our country. It doesn’t limit the right to work, it doesn’t limit socio-economic rights”. However, in practice it is near to impossible to get a job or send a child to a school outside the place of registration, especially in Ashgabat city.

Turkmen passports and international travel

  • Turkmen citizens relocating abroad – more and more citizens of Turkmenistan relocate abroad, both temporarily as labor migrants and permanently. For example, the number of Turkmen citizens applying for the Green Card has increased by 5.7 times from 2013 to 2022 with 547 people receiving an immigrant visa to the US. Similarly, as of 22 February 2024, citizens of Turkmenistan rank first among holders of long-term residence permits in Turkey with 110,863 Turkmen citizens living there and among holders of short-term visas with 71,089 Turkmen nationals. Turkmenistan ranked fifth with 6,923 nationals living with family residence permit and ranked third with 19,640 nationals living on student term visa. In total that is 208,515 Turkmen citizens who are legally residing in Turkey. Moreover, the number of Turkmen tourists going to Russia in 2023 increased by 9.5 times compared to 2022, increasing from 3,600 in 2022 to 34,700 in 2023.
  • Restrictive visa regimes – In 2024 Turkmenistan took 89th place in the passport ranking compiled by Henley & Partners out of 194 countries and 83rd place in the Passport Index out of 179 countries. This is consistently the last position among the countries of Central Asia and the CIS. Citizens of Turkmenistan can enter 16 countries without a visa. However, Turkmenistan has no direct flights with any of these countries, making this figure a mere formality. After taking office, Serdar Berdimuhamev’s administration requested Turkey to repeal the visa free regime in September 2022. Authorities justified their decision saying it’s for the safety of citizens and visas could be canceled “if issues related to the prevention of human trafficking improve”. It became difficult for Turkmen citizens to obtain a Turkish visa while the dire situation and status of Turkmen migrants in Turkey has not improved. Meanwhile, from August 1, 2023 Russia introduced electronic visas for 55 countries but it does not include Turkmenistan. The former Russian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Alexander Blokhin shared “We are fully prepared from liberalization to complete abolition (of visa), as the Turkmen side decides”.
  • Closed for international visitors – Turkmenistan remains one of the hardest countries to travel to for tourism and business purposes. At the meeting of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in August 2023 one UN representative called Turkmenistan a closed country with problems for the entry of foreigners and the exit of citizens. In response the Turkmen delegation claimed that the number of foreigners entering the country has increased by 10-12% compared to times before COVID-19. In 2023, 70,142 foreigners entered Turkmenistan, and 267,330 citizens went abroad. However, it is unclear if these are only official visits or if it also includes tourism and transits through Turkmenistan. In comparison, in 2016 only 9,000 foreign tourists visited Turkmenistan.


  • Climate change – very little was done to prepare the country for the changing environment. As research shows Turkmenistan can become uninhabitable in the near future due to extreme temperatures and lack of water resources. The country may lose up to 50% of its water supply when Afghanistan completes the Qosh Tepa Canal. The tenant farmers and rural residents are especially at high risk given that extreme weather, increasing drought, dry climate and insufficient water endanger their livelihoods as well as the country’s major crops such as cotton, wheat and rice.
  • Absence of public communication on increased incidences of sandstormsthe government does not forecast, communicate to the public or report on natural disasters in the country. Public is unaware how they can mitigate the negative health impact of these sand storms.


  • Lack of legislation against gender based discrimination and violence – Turkmenistan still lacks appropriate legislation and programs to prevent and protect women against gender based violence including domestic violence and gender based discrimination and guaranteeing protection for victims.
  • Women and girls face hateful speech online – as the first ever social media listening project by Progres Foundation revealed, women and girls in Turkmenistan are not safe online and their chances of encountering hateful content have been increasing over the last two years. Since Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s presidency the content encouraging violence against women and girls has increased since 2020 (10%) and 2021 (2.8%) reaching 18% of posts and comments on social media. The two topics that dominated conversations were hate speech against women and gender roles.
  • Women are still underpaid and underrepresented – as shared by the government representatives at the meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in February 2024 women receive less salaries, pension and social benefits compared to men. The salary gap between men and women is 12% while in the mining industry it reaches 23%. The share of women at various levels of government does not even reach 30% while only 9.7% of Turkmen diplomatic missions staff abroad are women. The share of women as heads of agricultural associations (dayhan birleshik) is 13.9% while only 22.4% are entrepreneurs and in leadership roles.
  • Driving licenses for women – the understanding of this issue is exacerbated by misinformation and denial of the problem by the government officials. Women continue to experience challenges in obtaining and renewing their driving licenses. The explanation the authorities of Turkmenistan gave at the 44th session of the Working Group of the UN Universal Periodic Review in Geneva was that a large number of women were allegedly found driving cars without any licenses. So to ensure safety, an investigation was launched, during which the ability of women to drive was “temporarily suspended”. In 2018 authorities stopped issuing and renewing driver’s licenses to women. From the end of 2020 to the beginning of 2021, driving licenses began to be selectively renewed for some embassies, relatives of disabled people and cancer patients, and women over 40 years old. However, in the summer of 2022, the conditions tightened again and only women who owned a car were able to acquire licenses. Meanwhile, women could not register a car to themselves unless they were more than 40 years or older. At the end of 2022 women were required to submit a marriage certificate, a job reference, a certificate from the housing management about family composition and other documents, which were not required from men.

Some progress, must try harder

  • Taking steps toward WTO accession – Turkmenistan is in the process of accessing the World Trade Organisation. We summarized the chronology of the steps Turkmenistan took so far towards integrating into the global trading system which, if the government cooperates, might only happen by 2030.
  • Joining the Global Methane Pledge – Turkmenistan, the fourth-largest contributor of methane emissions globally, after two years of consideration has finally joined the Global Methane Pledge at COP28 in Dubai in December 2023. With this Turkmenistan joined other 154 countries to voluntarily reduce its global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. It will be assisted by the US and other international actors in its effort to reduce its emissions. We have examined what joining the Pledge will mean to Turkmenistan and how the US should approach its engagement with Turkmenistan.
  • Sharing preliminary census results – Turkmenistan conducted a national census on December 17-27, 2022. Unlike the census from 2012, preliminary data was shared with the public on the State Statistical Committee website. We have shared our concerns with census results including the reliability of census data and lack of information on when and where citizens can access the full results of the census. The UN Committee Members of the CERD were also concerned that complete results of the census were still not shared with the public. According to the globally-agreed standards a census is considered complete when all elements have been fulfilled including publishing and disseminating the data.
  • Reporting on its progress on SDGs – Turkmenistan published its second Voluntary National Review (2023) updating the country’s progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We summarized the key statistics related to people’s wellbeing in areas such as education, health, social and economic spheres in Turkmenistan. However, neither of the two reports addressed all 17 SDGs. Limited and outdated information is available on the UN’s SDG Global Database under country profiles while this data is not publicly available on the websites of the relevant ministries and government agencies.

What is your list of issues and areas of life that President Serdar Berdimuhamedov has failed to act on? Where has he made progress?

Hepdelik täzeliklere: / Weekly newsletters: