Turkmen activist in Turkey fears that the authorities of Turkmenistan will forcibly take her and her children home

The authorities of Turkmenistan continue to persecute dissidents and their relatives. The human rights organization Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (THF) published a story by Zarina Akhtyamova , a 36-year-old activist based in Turkey, who spoke about the pressure on her family in Turkmenistan and the attempt by the Turkmen authorities to take her and her children home, where the woman was threatened with arrest.

Akhtyamova actively participates in various opposition groups and records videos critical of the Turkmen authorities.

According to the woman, she was spurred on by the indifference of the Turkmen embassy in Turkey, who refused to help her get a new passport after she lost her old one. Without a document, she cannot formalize her marriage and register her two young children.

To silence the activist, her parents and their eldest daughter, who lives with them in Turkmenistan, were visited by house administration workers, police officers, and representatives of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, who said that Zarina had allegedly joined a terrorist group and demanded that her activities be stopped.

Here are brief excerpts from the activist's story, the full text can be found on the THF website.

Zarina Akhtyamova left for Turkey in 2006 because she could not find a job in Turkmenistan. At home, the woman left her parents and a daughter from her first marriage.

In 2010, Akhtyamova married a Turkish citizen through the Muslim ritual nikah, but the newlyweds could not formalize the marriage due to the loss of their Turkmen passport.

In January 2010, when asked to issue a new passport, the embassy employees replied that they did not deal with this issue and that in order to receive a document, a woman had to return to her homeland.

As a result, Zarina remained in Turkey illegally.

This point is omitted from the story, but, as a rule, Turkmen migrants do not want to return home, as they are afraid that they will not be released back. In Turkmenistan, there is a secret list of people not allowed to leave the country who are forbidden to leave the country. This list includes citizens who have committed offenses, violated the rules of stay in third countries, even if their authorities have no claims against violators, as well as "unreliable" persons and their relatives. Citizens are not informed about being included in the list, and they learn about the ban on leaving the country only at passport control when trying to travel abroad.

In January 2019, the pregnant Akhtyamova again turned to the Turkmen embassy to certify the remaining copy of her lost passport. Such a certificate was demanded from a woman in the maternity hospital. However, she was refused.

In April, Zarina gave birth to a premature baby girl at a state clinic, who was placed in the intensive care unit of a private hospital. For their services, the medical institution demanded to pay 40,000 Turkish liras ($7,200 at the time). The family didn't have that kind of money. To get a discount, the hospital offered the woman to draw up documents as a single mother.

To do this, Akhtyamova again needed a certificate from the Turkmen embassy on civil status (about the absence of marriage).

On April 6, the woman went to the embassy and demanded a meeting with the consul, who took away her phone so that she would not record the conversation, shouted at her and again stated that the certificate should be obtained in Turkmenistan.

As a result, it was possible to obtain this certificate by issuing a power of attorney for a relative in Turkmenistan and paying a bribe to officials who issued a confirmation of the absence of marriage. After that, Zarina was able to pick up her child from the hospital.

Then the woman once again applied to the embassy to be issued a new passport, but there she was again told that they were not involved in paperwork and agreed only to give a temporary certificate with which she could fly home.

According to the activist, the validity of the certificate is limited to three months, during which she could not leave, as her daughter was constantly ill, and in October 2020 she gave birth to her second child.

It was not possible to issue Turkish documents for the children, since by that time the validity of the certificate of absence of marriage in Turkmenistan had already expired and it was necessary to issue a new one. According to Akhtyamova, she unsuccessfully went to embassies “15-20 times” and, despairing of getting help, began to speak openly on the Internet, demanding that her rights be respected.

On March 12, 2022, the activist went to the consulate for the presidential elections in Turkmenistan. They recognized her there, asking why she criticizes so much on YouTube and Tiktok. Three employees who approached her, one of whom was named Merdan, said that they could help her get birth certificates for her children, but for this she had to travel to Turkmenistan. They also refused to issue a certificate of marital status so that the woman could officially legalize the marriage with a Turkish citizen, saying that she must first return to her homeland. They were ready to issue documents for departure to their homeland.

On March 13, an employee of the embassy Merdan said by phone that Akhtyamova's new passport was ready and asked the woman to come and pick it up along with the children, for whom he promised to make birth certificates later.

Akhtyamova is afraid to go to the embassy, as the eldest daughter who remained in Turkmenistan, who lives with the activist’s parents, said that they were visited in turn by employees of the house administration, policemen and even representatives of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry who came to Turkmenabat from Ashgabat. Representatives of the authorities demanded that Akhtyamova's relatives influence the woman so that she would stop speaking on social networks and threatened with arrest. The woman's father had a heart attack after being shown one of Zarina's videos and being told that his daughter had allegedly joined a terrorist group.

“After each of my speeches on the air, consular workers call me, write, demand to stop these speeches. I am afraid that they want to forcefully take me and my children to Turkmenistan,” the activist said.

Source: Chronicles of Turkmenistan