Peace Corps Problems in Turkmenistan?
Reports have circulated this week that the Peace Corps is once again having troubles in Turkmenistan, the independent émigré site chrono-tm.org reports. An anonymous tipster said that the latest batch of volunteers from the US were supposed to come to Ashgabat in early October, but were delayed, and may possibly even have been reassigned. The current group of volunteers was said to be facing the expiration of their visas on October 1.
Yet the US Embassy in Ashgabat denies the alarmist claims. In response to a query from EurasiaNet, William B. Stevens, the Public Affairs Officer for the Embassy, had this carefully-worded reply:
The GOTX and the Peace Corps are working together to identify the best method for moving forward with the next influx of Peace Corps Volunteers. As with any mutually beneficially partnership, the Peace Corps and the GOTX are interested in identifying an approach that addresses the goals of both organizations.
We are unaware of any visa problems for current volunteers.
More than 750 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Turkmenistan since the program was established in 1993, and Peace Cops looks forward to continuing its work with the government and people of Turkmenistan.
TX -- not to be confused with the TX for Texas -- is the State Department code for Turkmenistan. And "identifying the best method for moving forward" could be the code for "overcoming obstacles unexpectedly put in our way."
Back in 2009, right at the time when Turkmen students were facing the unexpected blocking of their departures for foreign study, the US Peace Corps also began having problems.
The volunteers had already received their visas and orientation, but the day before their scheduled departure, the US received a diplomatic note saying they would be invited the following year, but could not come at that time, according to a CBS report. Eventually, as with the students, they were able to go -- much later.
Informed observers say that the process of placing US volunteers can have its ups and downs -- evidently there are variables involving the wishes of both national and local officials and opportunities available. Peace Corps volunteers in Turkmenistan, as in other countries, take on a variety of tasks, from teaching English to helping with social and health care work. The progress of these volunteers bears watching now as a barometer of how well the government of Turkmenistan is handling closer cooperation with the US under pressure to do more to assist logistics for the war in Afghanistan.
The US has just issued a critical report on the lack of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, but stopped short of declaring Turkmenistan a "country of particular concern," like neighboring Uzbekistan. In the past, as now, Ashgabat appears to have ignored the US report.