Lies, Damned Lies, and Turkmen Statistics

When it comes to statistics, the Turkmen government remains committed to the time-honored Soviet principles of book-cooking, data fudging and avoiding the uncomfortable truth at all costs. Five-year plans exist, and the targets set in them are regularly exceeded, while failures such as the abject performance of the country's youth football team at the 2012 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Cup or the deadly explosions at an Abadan arms depot in July 2011 are simply not reported.

But a more stark exhibit of Ashgabat's reckless attitude to facts and data can be seen in the official statistics on the number of people living with HIV in the country. According to Index Mundi, which compiles country profiles on a host of issues based on multiple sources (in this case, apparently, just one), the last HIV-infected person in Turkmenistan ceased to exist – statistically speaking – in 2008. Even prior to that breakthrough, though, the recording of cases seems to have been somewhat arbitrary, with a preference for round figures: 100, 100, 100, 200, 200, 200, 200…

Index Mundi
Turkmenistan HIV/AIDS situation

And while HIV-infected people have dropped off the map, the wheat harvest keeps going up. The government-run website has reported [ru] triumphantly:

Хлеборобы Туркменистана доставили на заготовительные пункты страны более миллиона тонн пшеницы. Достижение этого результата говорит о том, что земледельцы смогут справиться с главной задачей страды-2012 – без потерь собрать богатый урожай хлеба и доставить в закрома Родины 1 миллион 600 тысяч тонн зерна.

Turkmen grain-growers have delivered to the country's procurement centers more than one million tons of wheat. This achievement suggests that farmers will be able to meet the principal target of the 2012 harvest season, that is, to reap a rich harvest without losses and deliver 1.6 million tons of grain. added [ru] boastfully that even Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, said he was envious of the Turkmen grain harvest. Another government-run news website reported [ru] that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov had presented a Cadillac Escalade to the wheat growers of Lebap province, in the north-east of the country.

But back in the ‘real world,’ on the dissident-run media portal, Turkmen netizens are less than impressed with the government's preference for good news over bad. One individual suggested [ru] that despite the ‘rich’ harvests reportedly reaped each year, the price for bread continued to rise.

Several other individuals wondered what the farmers that had received a Cadillac from the Turkmen leader were going to do with it. As one user, Toyli, commented [ru] sarcastically:

Ну и что? Теперь эти хлеборобы будут по очереди ездить на этом Кадиллаке? Ай да Бердымухаммедов!..

 So what? Will all those grain-growers now take turns to drive the Cadillac? Great job Berdymuhamedov!..

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