Turkmenistan Slowly Joining “Internet Age”.


Turkmenistan, a mountainous former-Soviet state in Central Asia, is one of the many “-Stan” countries of which most people have no clue exists. For many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan was dominated by the dictatorial President Sapurmat Niyazov, a bizarre and totalitarian leader known for banning numerous practices of foreign origin on the grounds of being “un-Turkmenlike”, such as the Opera.

Niyazov also immensely hated the internet and worked to prevent most Turkmen from having access to cyberspace, as many oppressive dictators are apt to do. However, since his death in 2007, the new Turkmenistan government has allowed a great deal of liberalization in the area of private computer use, with confirmed internet access in this nation of 6 million increasing from only about 5,000 under Niyazov to over hundreds of thousands by the present time.

However, even in the post-Niyazov age, the Turkmen government continues to be tight-fisted with internet use, being regularly rated alongside Iran and North Korea as one of the most Internet-antagonistic nations in the world. As The Nation reports:

“Access is regulated by state firm TurkmenTelekom, which became a monopoly in 2000 when several independent providers lost their licences and the few Internet cafes in existence shut up shop. Getting online is a pricey affair: the company charges nearly $7,000 (5,300 euros) per month for unlimited Internet at a zippy 2,048 kilobytes per second. By comparison, GDP per capita in Turkmenistan is estimated by the US Central Intelligence Agency’s latest World Factbook to be $8,900. At the country’s several dozen cyber cafes, visitors are required to show their passports to use the Internet. An hour-long session costs 6 manats ($2.1). Wifi is only available at the few expensive hotels that usually cater to foreigners.”

In spite of this hardcore attitude on the part of the Turkmen State, regular citizens who desire a connection to the outside world still find their ways and means to surf the web.

Bans exist so that we can get around them,” the 22-year-old told AFP with a smile. “For me the Internet is like a ray of light in the darkness,” said Dovran, who asked that his last name not be published. “The speed may be low and the glitches constant, but I already cannot live without it.” In Turkmenistan, where the government controls nearly every bit of information, there is no confirmed data on the current number of Internet users. Observers say that the government will not be able to resist the growing popularity of the Internet for much longer and expanding public web access will inevitably lead to a more open society.”

“Bans exist so that we can get around them.” This sort of marvelous attitude is what brings a smile to my face, as it is proven yet again that the spirit of freedom in humanity can’t be wiped out. Tight government control ain’t gonna work, no matter how badly they want to keep normal people in the dark. Communication technology not only gets better every year but also cheaper. When something is cheaper, more will be demanded. 

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