The government of Turkmenistan has approved a constitutional amendment that will allow its President to rule for as long as he likes.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been president of Turkmenistan since 2006. His predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, died while still in office at the age of 66, having been president for 21 years. During that time he established a personality cult in which he became officially known as “Turkmenbashi” – leader of all Turkmens.
When Berdymukhamedov took over as president, he picked up where Niyazov left off, erecting a golden statue of himself, as Niyazov had done before him, and becoming known as Turkmenistan’s “Arkadag”, or protector.
The constitution previously stated that a president must stand down at the age of 70, but 59-year-old Berdymukhamedov has seen that rule scrapped. In addition, each presidential term has now been extended from five to seven years.
Central Asian leaders are renowned for their extended terms in office. In May, 94.5% of Tajiks voted for similar amendments to their constitution, and President Imomali Rakhmon has already been in power there since 1992. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov had served as president since 1989, before his death earlier this month, and the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has also ruled since 1989 and won 97.7% of the vote at the last election.
Turkmenistan is considered one of the most restrictive places in the world and its comparatively small population of just 5 million makes it “easier to control”, one local Christian told World Watch Monitor.
Dissenting voices are quickly silenced through imprisonment, brutality and hefty fines.
Open Doors estimates there are around 95,000 Christians in Turkmenistan, but just a dozen or so registered churches, the majority of which are Russian Orthodox. As most ethnic Turkmens are very unwilling to be associated with the Russian Orthodox churches, they have few options for practising their faith.
According to the World Watch List, “Non-registered religious activity is illegal … Even registered religious communities face regular check-up visits. There is strict control by the government and local authorities over the Turkmen population, and all communication is being monitored. Publishing and distributing religious literature is prohibited, and its import is monitored and censored. There is no Christian bookshop in the country.”
- Pray for Turkmenistan in the light of the changes to the new constitution, and the strict control that the government places over all aspects of Turkmen life.
- Pray for the President of Turkmenistan, and the government, to rule with justice and integrity, and to ease the restrictions placed on their people and on the Church.
- Pray for Turkmen believers, as they face ever growing restrictions on meeting together and have limited opportunity for teaching and worship. Pray for access to discipleship materials, and for opportunities to encourage each other in their faith.
- Pray for more Turkmen churches to be allowed to register and operate legally.
- Pray for the many Turkmen students studying outside of Turkmenistan. Pray that they will hear the Gospel and encounter Christ Jesus in life changing ways, that will also impact Turkmenistan for the Kingdom of God on their return home.
Psalm 22 vs 28: “For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.”