How does the Turkmen government neglect millions of people?

The Turkmen authorities have counted the number of citizens in the country. At an extended meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, Chairman of the State Committee on Statistics Dovletgeldi Amanmuhammedov announced the results of the population census conducted in December 2022. If you believe the reported data, 7,057,841 people live in Turkmenistan.

Of these, in Mary velayat – 22.9% (1,616,246 people), in Dashoguz velayat – 22% (1,552,725), in Lebap velayat – 20.5% (1,446,857), in Ashgabat – 14.6% (1,030,445), in Ahal velayat – 12.5% (882,230) and in Balkan velayat 7.5% (529,338). There are slightly more women in the country than men. 47.1% are city residents and 52.9% live in villages.

At first glance, such statistics may look optimistic to those who care about the Turkmen people. In 1989, according to the Central Statistical Office of the USSR, 3.5 million people lived in the then Soviet republic. That is, in fact, since the collapse of the Union, the population of Turkmenistan has increased exactly 2 times. However, is this true?

The data on which most international sources rely comes from Ashgabat. The state is so closed from the outside world that it is virtually impossible to obtain information in any other way. The only alternative source is the CIA World Factbook, which states that as of 2023, the population of Turkmenistan is 5.7 million.

This is followed by the addition: “Some sources suggest that the population of Turkmenistan may be 1-2 million people lower than current estimates due to large-scale emigration over the past 10 years.”

It is difficult to imagine how strictly classified information is about the real number of residents of the state, that even the largest intelligence agency in the world does not have accurate data, and easily allows an error of a million or two from the current figure. It is significant that the American data are in any case significantly less than the official ones.

But this is not the limit, because modern data and analysis allow us to draw other indirect conclusions and assessments. First, let’s give two examples. In 2010, Russia’s population was 142 million, with more than 200 million active mobile phone users. That is, there was approximately one and a half telephones per person. In 2013, in Ukraine, with a population of 45 million people, the number of mobile phones was more than 60 million. The situation is similar here – there are significantly more devices than the entire population as a whole, including pensioners in extreme old age and newborn babies.

What is the situation in Turkmenistan? In 2014, when according to official statistics the country had a population of 5.6 million, there were only 3.5 million mobile subscribers. Moreover, in 2010, the Russian operator MTS was deprived of its license, and the state operator Altyn-Asyr became a monopolist. Accordingly, this is the only source of information that, in order to demonstrate success, could exaggerate the indicators.

This number of users, especially considering the lower level of digitalization of Turkmen society, corresponds to the opposition’s data on calculating the real number of residents of the country. So the data varies from 1.8 million to 3.3 million people in the last few years. Even if the more positive American assessment is correct, the Turkmen government is clearly publishing large-scale disinformation.

A few years ago, a conspiracy myth spread on English-language social networks, allegedly the population of China is not the well-known one and a half billion people, but only 500 or 700 million. The motive for deceiving the international community was supposedly intimidation, saying that everyone around would be afraid of a billion soldiers. Although all indirect indicators of consumption and many other data completely destroy this theory.

However, the authoritarian Chinese government cannot be compared with the total isolation of the current Turkmen regime. The motive of the current authorities is also completely different – to create the illusion of a prosperous country, which in fact is suffering a disaster. Up to half a million Turkmen fled to Turkey alone to work, and this is only according to Ankara’s rough estimates.

According to official data, the average salary of Turkmens is $228 per month – in the world ranking Turkmenistan is in 101st place, between the Philippines and Senegal. Of the post-Soviet countries, the situation is worse only in Tajikistan, which, unlike Ashgabat, experienced a bloody civil war.

Refugees from Turkmenistan managed to tell journalists that they actually receive about $50 in cash, while official statistics lie. It is not surprising that in such conditions the country’s population cannot grow. And the ruling regime is doing literally everything to make people’s living standards only get worse.