We are used to dealing with “fake news” regarding North Korea, Turkmenistan less so, but did the country really ban the word coronavirus? The short answer is no.
On March 31st, Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) published a rebuke of Ashgabat for allegedly “banishing the word ‘coronavirus’ from the Turkmen vocabulary.”
On April 1st, this was changed to Turkmenistan TV being ordered to self-censor the word coronavirus, and use COVID-19, but holy wow that cat was out of the bag, and no correction can get in the way of mocking a country.
The story went like wildfire with the mainstream, and western media cottoning onto it, and outlets like ABC, Newsweek, and NPR not only reporting it as “fact” but doing so in the standard casual racism way that usually occurs when reporting about “pariah states.” We all remember the North Korean hair cut story, right?
There are numerous reasons that this ended up becoming a “story,” one of which is a report by an exile based newspaper, but the fact remains that currently, and unlike its neighbour, Iran, Turkmenistan, like North Korea thankfully currently reports no cases of COVID-19, and much like other states is very much in lockdown.
And to be fair to the government of Turkmenistan, and regardless of what you think of them, they are definitely taking the virus seriously, something we know only too well after having to cancel tours there.
The sad fact is that much like North Korea, Turkmenistan is already a very interesting, and dare we say a unique country, with there really not being any need to sensationalize them to get a story.
Sometimes the truth is much more interesting than fiction, and Turkmenistan is certainly one of those places.