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ASHGABAT — Young Turkmen studying abroad are angry with a new government decision to only recognize diplomas from certain foreign universities and to not recognize certain degrees of study. “Why are [Turkmen officials] doing this?” asked Nurgeldi Berdiyew in a Facebook post. “They’re killing the last piece of hope in us [for a better future].” Rayat, who gave only his first name, said the new decree enforces the perception that Turkmen education is laughable– and aimed only at glorifying Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, known by the honorific “arkadag,” or “protector.” “For Turkmen officials, the real ‘educated youth’ is the one who spends all his/her study time taking part in the mandatory mass-crowd events,” Rayat told RFE/RL. “Turkmenistan’s education is dead. In Turkmen universities, we learn only one thing: how to properly chant ‘Long live Arkadag!'” The latest restrictions, issued April 23, are part of a series of actions in recent years to prevent Turkmen students from studying abroad or creating conditions that force them to give up their studies. It’s also the latest in a series of draconian measures that have tightened control of all aspects of life in Turkmenistan under the mercurial Berdymukhammedov, who has led the former Soviet republic since 2006. Students from the Central Asian country of some 5.6 million people have repeatedly complained of being unable to transfer money from their bank accounts to the countries in which they are studying. Hundreds of other students have been prevented from leaving Turkmenistan after going there to visit family during vacations from their study abroad. It’s unclear exactly how many Turkmen students study in foreign universities every year, but the number is believed to be in the thousands. A statement by the Education Ministry, published on the pro-government Turkmenportal website, explained the new regulations that will limit both the universities whose diplomas will be recognized after September 1 and the type of degrees that will be accepted after that date. The new lists include only one university in both Belarus and Georgia and two in Kazakhstan. Dozens of schools in Russia, India, and China are listed, though many that are currently being attended by Turkmen students are not on the list. No universities in Western European countries are on the list — nor are any in the United States or Canada. To add to the confusion, however, there is a clause that says diplomas from universities on the list of the “Top 1,000” most respected universities in the world will, as an exception, be recognized. There are no Tajik universities on the new accepted list of schools, which leaves some 4,000 Turkmen students in limbo as to whether the degrees they are working toward will be recognized back home. Dunya Kholdorova, a 31-year-old graduate engineering student at the Tajik State University of Finance and Economics in the capital, Dushanbe, told RFE/RL that many of her fellow students are refusing to fly to Turkmenistan because they are afraid officials will not allow them to return to Tajikistan. Kholdorova said it’s unfortunate because teachers, which many of her compatriots are studying to become, make about $500 per month in Turkmenistan, a decent salary there. She said that from her village alone, with a population of some 5,000 people, there are about 50 students studying in Tajikistan. The new lists — of both accepted universities and approved disciplines — were reportedly based on a government decree issued on March 16. Although the list of accepted colleges was a big concern to the country’s students abroad, the new list of accepted degrees is also worrying to the students. The list of studies and the associated diplomas that will not be recognized after September 1 includes: sports journalism, international journalism, banking, finance, business accounting, world economics, international relations, diplomacy, law, management, sociology, anthropology, and theology. “Is it necessary to adopt the laws that are in the worst interest of ordinary people?!” asked Berdiyew on Facebook. “Or perhaps [Turkmen] officials are doing this on purpose, as it’s always been easier to rule an uneducated mob.” For at least one student, the latest moves by the Turkmen government may be the final straw. “From now on, whatever happens…I will never return to this country,” another student, identified only as Roman1, wrote on his Facebook page. Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Relatives of inmates at a prison in Kazakhstan say soldiers with service dogs entered the facility, while concerned activists and familiy members were denied entry.

Relatives of inmates at Correctional Colony LA-155/14 near Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, told RFE/RL on April 24 that they saw several military cars carrying armed men into the prison the previous day.

Relatives said their requests to visit their loved ones were rejected, sparking uncertainty about what was happening inside. Troops are often brought to prisons in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics to put down riots.

The warden, Major Bauyrzhan Qalymov, told RFE/RL that prison guards and National Guard troops were conducting “planned search measures” and that the inmates’ rights were “not being violated.”

Human rights activist Konstantin Gudauskas told RFE/RL that he tried to enter the prison on April 23 after receiving relatives’ complaints, but that administrators refused to let him in.

Prisoners in Kazakh penitentiaries have rioted numerous times in recent years to protest the conditions, sometimes maiming themselves to draw attention to their plight.

Last week, relatives of inmates at Correctional Colony AK-159/6, in the central Qaraghandy region, said that a large number of military personnel were brought into the facility.

The Kazakh Penitentiary Service suggested that it was a drill, saying that that “special tactical drills of the penitentiary service’s troops, regional police and the National Guard’s personnel” were being held in the prison.

Another human rights defender, Ruslan Ozdoev, said that wide-scale measures in penal colonies across Kazakhstan are usually conducted on the eve of important political events.

Ozdoev alleged that during such measures guards often intimidate or beat inmates who demand that their rights be respected, and their leaders are usually isolated or taken to other penitentiaries.

Kazakhstan is holding a snap presidential election on June 9, in the wake of President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s resignation in March after 30 years in power.

Nazarbaev still heads the ruling Nur Otan party, which on April 23 nominated interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as its candidate in a choreographed transition. He is almost certain to win.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, an authoritarian leader who has tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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