While doing my daily routine of skimming the web and visiting the usual websites that provide some sort of information with regards to the current events in Turkmenistan, I found out that a shopping mall called Yimpash is being forced to shut down. To anyone who doesn’t have any connection to Turkmenistan this name won’t ring a bell, but if you’re like me, born and raised in Turkmenistan, you will understand the bitter sadness I am feeling in response to this piece of news.
To give you a little bit of context of the significance of this place, I would like to say that Yimpash was probably one of the only decent shopping malls in the country. Now I know, people that live in Ashgabat might say that quite a few new malls have opened in recent years, but for me, Yimpash is a sweet memory of my childhood.
I remember how some of my friends would celebrate their birthdays on the 3rd floor of the shopping mall. How first we would start out by playing in the kids’ section (which was one of the two places in town that had an electronic gaming room with a bunch of different machines) and then we would proceed towards eating the delicious Turkish food in the restaurant near by. I even remember how that restaurant had a see-through wall made of glass in order to make it convenient for the parents to watch their kids while lounging and eating.
I remember how one of my favorite activities to do with my mother was to go to Yimpash for grocery shopping because it was the only place in town to have certain imported items. For me, their cakes were some of the most delicious cakes you could have, and it was pure joy every time we got one for the house.
It represented something beyond of just being a shopping mall. It was a getaway for a lot of people to experience a life that most people across the world get to experience freely at no cost. For us in Turkmenistan, it was our little get away trip to the foreign land. For people out of Ashgabat, it was truly an attraction.
This action taken by the government to force Yimpash into closure is nothing but racketeering and thuggish behavior by the government officials. It is not the first time something like this appears in the news.
In the case of Yimpash it happens to coincide with the fact that the president’s nephew, Samyrat, owns a shopping mall called Berkarar. In a capitalist society this would encourage the two to have a healthy competition and try to provide the best possible service. Yet this is Turkmenistan we are talking about, where there can’t be any sort of competition to anything related to the president.
Unfortunately the people inside and outside the country are used to hearing news about the government shutting down businesses that pose any competition to the presidential entourage. The threat is either neutralized, by being shut down, or it is just plainly taken away from the owner and handed over to the president’s relatives.
My family personally experienced this type of racketeering when more than 20 government officials appeared at our horse farm. Presented with false charges you are given a chance to buy your freedom by signing over all you have to the almighty president.
Turkmenistan has truly shifted back in time. While most of the world is trying to progress and prosper, our country is regressing and, at the same time, it is suffocating our people. It is entangled in a feudal system where president Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov is the king, his closest relatives are the lords, and the people are the peasants.