No less idiosyncratic than its architecture, Turkmenistan’s laws are the stuff of laughter and legend. Though locals may plead ignorance or flat out deny that some of these laws ever existed, here’s what we discovered about some of the more notable whacky entries conjured up by the former president, Sapmurat Niyazov (otherwise known as Turkmenbashi, Leader of all Turkmens).
What’s true and what’s Turkmenbashi urban myth? Here’s the scoop based on our peek inside Turkmenistan.
- Cars must be clean: A dirty car offends the President, so all cars must be clean! One foreigner we spoke to confirmed that she recently received a firm reprimand from a policeman in Ashgabat because her car was a bit dusty. Fortunately, her diplomatic status saved her from fines and her car from the impound lot.
- No beards: Unfortunately for barbers, all Turkmens we spoke to indicated to us that this rule was myth. No doubt the law was on the books (or in someone’s book, or maybe on Turkmenbashi’s palm), but it was never enforced.
- No gold teeth: The story goes that while Turkmenbashi attended a televised ceremony, he caught sight of a woman with a set of gold teeth, found it inappropriate, and publicly told her so. He kindly sent her to his favorite dentist, the Minister of Health (now president), to have her gold teeth replaced with a white enamel set. Although apparently not explicitly against the law, gold teeth did fall out of favor with Turkmenistan’s elite during the era of Turkmenbashi. As preferences go, we can’t argue.
- No Opera – it’s un-Turkmen: Circus is also banned. This one’s true. The Turkmen government closely controls what goes on in Turkmenistan’s many theaters. Who knows what opportunities may knock with the passing of Turkmenbashi. The Ringling Brothers and Cirque du Soleil may yet have their day in the Turkmen sun.
- No smoking in public places: Turkmenbashi inhaled. When he tried to quit, he instigated this ban so as to eliminate temptation from people smoking on the street. Even after Turkmenbashi’s death, the ban continues. Smoking is definitely allowed. Cigarette stands on every corner are a testment to that. However, the rule of no public smoking is enforced. One of the drivers of the Aston Martin Tokyo-to-London team was fined $100 by the Turkmen highway militsia for smoking in his own car.
Update: This article tells what happens if you are a high-ranking government official and get caught smoking in public. We like the charge of an act which “does not become a leader.” Just think of the possibilities.
- Spandex ban: Another ban in the vein of “it’s un-Turkmen.” No one we spoke to seemed to know much about this rule. It’s not like Turkmen women have a propensity to wear spandex anyway. We couldn’t find any for purchase at the bazaar. We do know that bathing suits are not banned.
- Limit on the number of people allowed to celebrate a wedding: This rule is supposed to help families avoid going broke when throwing weddings for their daughters. No one that we spoke to could provide confirmation of weddings being raided by the attendance police. Could you imagine enforcing this law in the U.S…or India?
- Abandon a car, go to prison: Drivers we spoke to from the Ice Cream Adventure Van said they were given only one piece of advice from the Mongol Rally organizers before they departed London for Ulaan Baatar: “Do not leave your car in Turkmenistan. Do everything you can to get it across the border, even if you have to push it or drag it. Otherwise, we may never see you again,” implying that prison or worse awaited perpetrators of orphaned vehicles.