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Russian in Turkmenistan

Last month, the Dunya Turkmenleri (Turkmen of the World) radio program, produced by Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL’s) Turkmen Service, launched a series of talks looking at current and historical trends of Russian-language usage in Turkmenistan, arguably the most authoritarian and isolated of the 15 republics that became independent countries after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

According to the show, Russian usage has been reduced in the country, which pursued a policy of “Turkmenization” soon after independence, but it is still significant.

Turkmen president Serdar Berdymukhammedov made Russia his first foreign trip in 2022, less than three months after replacing his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. Putin thanked his visiting counterpart during their talks for “the country’s caring attitude toward the Russian language and culture.”

Putin also mentioned a Russian-Turkmen school in Ashgabat named after Russian poet and playwright Aleksandr Pushkin. The school uses a Russian curriculum and is a popular destination for children of the local political elite, according to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service.

The new Turkmen leader suggested furthering cooperation in education with the creation of a Russian-Turkmen university, a proposal that “was met with full understanding and support from [Putin],” according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

This was in contrast to Russian press reports in 2020, which warned that Russian-language education in Turkmenistan was on the way out after RFE/ RL’s Turkmen Service reported then that an order went out demanding ethnic Turkmen employees of law enforcement agencies transfer their children to Turkmen-language schools. Parents also reported dramatic reductions in Russian-language class time and, in some cases, the cessation of Russian-language instruction.

No official order was ever made to end Russian-language education in the country, but Russian media outlets were critical. “Without the Russian language, Turkmenistan is plunging back into the Middle Ages,” announced Vzglyad.

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