UPDATE: Researching the Turkmenistan Legal System
By Dovran Orazgylyjov
Dovran Orazgylyjov, Ph.D., is a private lawyer in Turkmenistan. He is the founder and Chief Editor of Atavatan Turkmenistan Magazine. Dovran received his Ph.D. in Law authoring a thesis titled Production Sharing Agreement Under the Turkmenistan and Turkish Law, as well as an LL.M. and bachelor’s degree from Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey. He also received the Rumsfeld Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University SAIS in 2010. He is a writer of International Direct Investment and Joint venture (Turkey, Izmir, 2005) and a co-writer of a book titled Entrepreneurship (Turkmenistan Ashgabat 2013).
Published September/October 2022
(Previously updated by Oleg Stalbovskiy & Maria Stalbovskaya in November/December 2008; and by Aylar Mamiyeva & Mirfozil Khasanov in March 2014 and November/December 2017)
Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Legal System of Turkmenistan
- 2.1. A Hierarchy of Turkmenistan Laws
- 2.2. Constitution of Turkmenistan
- 2.3. Constitutional Laws
- 2.4. Codified Laws
- 2.5. Ordinary Laws
- 3. The Principle of Separation of Powers
- 3.1. Legislative Power
- 3.2. Executive Power
- 3.2.1. The President of Turkmenistan
- 3.2.2. The Cabinet of Ministers
- 3.2.3. Local Public Administration
- 3.3. Judicial Power
- 4. Official Print Sources of Turkmenistan Law
- 4.1. Newspapers
- 4.2. Legal Magazines
- 4.3. Where to Find Laws, Decrees, and Cases
- 5. Useful Links
Turkmenistan is a democratic, law-based, secular presidential republic. The territory of Turkmenistan covers 491.21 thousand square kilometers, stretching 1,100 km from west to east and extending 650 km from north to south. In the north Turkmenistan borders the Republic of Kazakhstan, in the north-east and in the east Turkmenistan shares borders with the Republic of Uzbekistan, in the south-east Turkmenistan borders with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and in the south with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the west the country’s natural boundary is the Caspian Sea, through which Turkmenistan borders with the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The population of Turkmenistan is more than 6.2 million people. Turkmenistan is a multinational state, with more than 100 nations within the country. Ashgabat is the capital city of Turkmenistan, with a population of over 1 million. The Turkmens, who are largely Sunni Muslims, make up the vast majority of the country. The remainder of the population are Uzbeks (5%) and Russians (7%), as well as smaller groups of Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Armenians.
Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty on October 27, 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Along with ten other former Soviet Republics, Turkmenistan now associated a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Turkmenistan consists of several types of territorial-administrative units in which national governmental organs form, such as provinces (velayat), districts (etrap), and certain cities which are equivalent to districts. There are also towns, villages, and settlements in which local organs of self-government are founded.
According to Article 1 of the Constitution, Turkmenistan is a democratic secular state operating under the rule of law, whose government takes the form of a presidential republic.
The Turkmen language is the state language. The use of their native language is guaranteed to all citizens of Turkmenistan. Schools in Turkmenistan ensure education in three languages: Turkmen, English and Russian. In addition, the higher educational institutions and some specialized secondary schools include study of French, Chinese, German, Japanese, and some other foreign languages.
2. Legal System of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan’s legal system is currently transitioning from Soviet law. Article 2 of the Constitution establishes the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan, citing the recognition of this status by the United Nations on 12 December 1995.
According to Article 4 of the Constitution, the highest value is placed on the individual by both the government and society. The government is responsible to the citizens for providing conditions for free development of individual personality, and commits to protect their life, honor, dignity, freedom, individual inviolability, and natural and inalienable rights of citizens.
2.1. Hierarchy of Turkmenistan Laws
Turkmenistan is a civil law country in which the laws are hierarchically organized, with the Constitution of Turkmenistan at the top. The hierarchy of laws is as follows:
- The Constitution of Turkmenistan
- Constitutional laws
- Ordinary laws and Codes
- Decrees of the Halk Maslahaty (People’ Council) and the Mejlis (The Parliament).
- Decrees and acts of the President
- Resolutions and orders of the Cabinet of Ministers
- Normative acts of the organs of state power and government
- Resolutions of the hyakims
- Decisions of local meetings (gengeshi)
2.2. Constitution of Turkmenistan
The Constitution of Turkmenistan was approved on 18 May 1992, amended in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2008, and revised on September 14, 2016. One of the primary changes to the Constitution was the extension of the office of President from five to seven years. Turkmenistan's Constitutional Law "On Amendments and Additions to the Constitution of Turkmenistan" was adopted in 2020. With these changes, the Legal system of Turkmenistan is improved. It established Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan as a representative body having the legislative authority.
The present Constitution of Turkmenistan is the Supreme Law of the state, and the norms and provisions of the Constitution have direct effect. According to Article 140 of the Constitution, in the event of any conflict between laws, other legislation and the Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail. The legal acts of governmental organs are published for general notice or are made public in some other manner, except for legislation that contains state secrets or other legally protected information. Legal acts which affect the rights and freedoms of citizens, and for which there is no general notice, are not valid from the moment of their adoption.
2.3. Constitutional Laws
The next level in the hierarchy of laws in Turkmenistan includes Constitutional laws, which either amend and modify the Constitution or are established by the Constitution, such as laws regarding independence, fundamental principles of the state and its organization.
2.4. Codified Laws
Currently, the laws of Turkmenistan are in the process of being codified. Subsequent emergence of a fundamentally new compasses for society, politics and economics, the government has engaged in reforming the law and the legal system of the country. Currently, there are following codes:
- Civil Code of Turkmenistan
- Administrative Procedure Code of Turkmenistan
- Sanitary Code of Turkmenistan
- Water Code of Turkmenistan
- Civil Procedure Code of Turkmenistan
- Code of Turkmenistan on Administrative Offenses
- Electoral Code of Turkmenistan
- Air Code of Turkmenistan
- Customs Code of Turkmenistan
- Criminal Code of Turkmenistan
- Criminal Procedure Code of Turkmenistan
- Tax code of Turkmenistan
- Labor Code of Turkmenistan
- Merchant Shipping Code of Turkmenistan
- Code of Turkmenistan "On Land"
- Budget Code of Turkmenistan
- Forest Code of Turkmenistan
- Penal Code of Turkmenistan
- Family Code of Turkmenistan
- Code of Turkmenistan on social protection of the population
- Housing Code of Turkmenistan
- Arbitration Procedure Code of Turkmenistan
2.5. Ordinary Laws
The next level includes current laws, constituting the bulk of legislation in Turkmenistan. Under the Soviet legal system, economic law-making was designated to the legislative branch of government, which regulated the economic activity of socialist enterprises. Legal norms which created economic laws were not codified in universal code. There is widespread belief that economic relations should be regulated by state.
According to Article 12 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the right to property is inviolable. Turkmenistan affirms the right to own private property such as the means of production, land, and other material and intellectual property. The role of the state in the regulation of all economic processes is very large (See, for example, the general list of ordinary lawsregulating business activity and related legal relationships.)
Also the legislative system is comprised of decrees and orders of government branches and divisions, such as decrees and acts of the President of Turkmenistan, resolutions of the Mejlis and Halk Maslahaty, resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers, normative acts of the organs of state power and government, resolutions of regional governors (hyakim), or decisions of local meetings (gengesh).
Some of the laws regulating business activity include the following:
- On Certification (2013)
- On Enterprises (2000)
- On Joint-Stock Companies (1999)
- On Tourism (2010)
- On Entrepreneurship (1993)
- On Investment Activity (1992)
- On Foreign Investments (2008)
- On Licensing of Certain Types of Activity (2019)
- On Economic Zone of Free Entrepreneurship (2017)
- On Commodity Exchanges and Trade (2014)
- On Trade Activity (2016)
- On Name of Firm (2021)
- On Industry Marks (2017)
- On Names of Places of Good Origin (2019)
- On Rate (2017)
- On Patent (2017)
- On Property (2015)
- On Advertisement (2016)
- On Foreign Economic Activity (2014)
- On International Commercial Arbitration (2014)
- On State Support to Small and Medium Entrepreneurship (2019)
- On Hydrocarbon Sources (2008)
- On Leasing (1999)
- On Cooperation of State and Private (2021)
- On Copyright and Mix Right (2012)
3. Separation of Powers
This principle establishes the distinction between representative, judicial, and executive power in Turkmenistan. According to Article 66 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the highest state power in Turkmenistan is exercised by the President of Turkmenistan, Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan (Halk Maslahaty and Mejlis), the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, and the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan. Article 6 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan states that the government is based on the principle of separation of powers into three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Article 6 proclaims that all powers function independently, “balancing each other.”
3.1. Legislative Power
The Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan is a representative body exercising legislative power. The Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan consists of two chambers: the Halk Maslahaty (People’ Council) and the Mejlis (The Parliament).
Halk Maslakhaty consists of 56 members, 48 of which are elected from each welayat (region) and the city of Ashgabat on the basis of indirect electoral right by secret voting at the Halk Maslakhaty (People’ Council) sessions in the regions, including Ashgabat and eight are appointed by the President of Turkmenistan. Mejlis is composed of 125 deputies elected on the basis of general, equal, and direct electoral right through secret ballot.
According to Article 78 of the Constitution, the term of members and deputies of the Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan is five years. The same person cannot simultaneously be a member and a deputy of two chambers of the Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan.
According Article 80(2), the Halk Maslahaty is empowered to:
- Approve or reject the Constitution, constitutional laws, and other laws adopted by the Mejlis;
- Consider the law of Turkmenistan adopted by the Mejlis on the issues of the State budget of Turkmenistan;
- Decide on the holding of nationwide referendums;
- Appoint elections for members of the Halk Maslakhaty;
- Consider, at the proposal of the President of Turkmenistan, issues of appointment and dismissal of the Chairman of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan, the Prosecutor General of Turkmenistan, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan, the Minister of Adalat of Turkmenistan;
- Award the President of Turkmenistan with state awards, confer military ranks and other state ranks on him;
- Resolve the issue of changing the State Border of Turkmenistan;
- Consider issues of peace and security;
- Solve other issues referred by the Constitution and laws to the competence of the Halk Maslakhaty.
According Article 81, the Mejlis is empowered to:
- Consider and adopts the draft Constitution, constitutional laws and other laws submitted to the Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan, exercises control over the implementation of the adopted laws and their interpretation;
- Consider the issue of approving the program of activities of the Cabinet of Ministers;
- Consider issues on the approval of the State budget of Turkmenistan and the report on its implementation;
- Consider the main directions of domestic and foreign policy of the state and programs of political, economic, social and cultural development of the country;
- Determine the date elections for the President of Turkmenistan; deputies of the Mejlis; members of the velayat, etrap, and city halk maslahaty and Gengeshes;
- Upon recommendation of the President of Turkmenistan, elect the Authorized Representative for Human Rights in Turkmenistan;
- Establish state awards;
- Ratify and denounces international treaties;
- Solve the issue of changing the administrative-territorial division of Turkmenistan;
- determine the compliance of the normative legal acts of public authorities with the Constitution;
- Resolve other issues referred by the Constitution and laws to the competence of the Mejlis.
3.2. Executive Power
Executive power in Turkmenistan is divided between the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, other ministries, and local self-government units.
3.2.1. The President of Turkmenistan
Saparmurat Niyazov, officially referred to as Turkmenbashi (Father of Turkmens), led the country as president for 21 years, from 1985 to 2006. After his death on December 21, 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was named the new Turkmen leader on February 11, 2007. Presidential elections were held in Turkmenistan on March 12, 2022. As a result, Serdar Berdimuhamedov became the new President of Turkmenistan.
According to Article 71 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the President of Turkmenistan is empowered to:
- Enforce Constitutional and other laws;
- Manage the implementation of foreign policy, represent Turkmenistan before the foreign governments, appoint and recall ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives of Turkmenistan in other countries and in intergovernmental and international organizations, and accept the credentials and departures of the diplomatic representatives of foreign governments;
- Serve as the Supreme Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces, issue orders to begin general or partial mobilization, to place the Armed Forces in operational readiness and to use them;
- Form and lead the Presidential Apparatus;
- Approve the military doctrine of Turkmenistan;
- Appoint and dismiss the top command of the Armed Forces, other forces and military units of Turkmenistan;
- Form and lead the State Security Council of Turkmenistan;
- Approve programs and the main directions of political, economic and social development of the country;
- Present for review and approval to the Milli Genesh the governmental budget and a report on its utilization;
- Sign laws; he has the right not later than two weeks, using the right of the suspensive veto, to return the law with his objections in Mejlis and Halk Maslahaty for new discussion and re-vote. If not less than with two thirds of the Mejlis deputies and Halk Maslahaty confirm their previous decision, the President of Turkmenistan signs bill into law. The President of Turkmenistan doesn't have the right of the suspensive veto concerning laws on changes and additions in the Constitution;
- Make annual state-of-the-nation address discussing the situation in the country and main domestic and foreign policy dimensions;
- Form the Central Election and Referendum Commission;
- Schedule referenda, and convene chamber of Milli Genesh ahead of schedule;
- Decide questions regarding the granting of Turkmenistan citizenship and asylum;
- Bestow orders and other awards of Turkmenistan, confer honorary, military, and other special state titles, ranks, and distinctions;
- With Halk Maslahaty consent, appoint and recall the Chair of the Supreme Court, and the General Procurator, Minister of Interior Affairs and Adalat Ministries;
- Propose to the Mejlis a nomination for the Human Rights Ombudsman;
- Grant pardons and amnesties;
- Impose a state of emergency throughout or in parts of Turkmenistan in the interest of ensuring the safety of citizens. The emergency regime is regulated by appropriate laws of Turkmenistan;
- Decide other issues ascribed to her or his jurisdiction by the Constitution and other laws.
The President issues decrees, resolutions, and orders, which have mandatory force across Turkmenistan. The President enjoys immunity. His dignity and honor are protected by law.
3.2.2. The Cabinet of Ministers
The Cabinet of Ministers is an executive and management body. The President chairs the Cabinet of Ministers. According to Article 92 of the Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is appointed by the President within one month upon the latter’s taking of the office. The Cabinet of Ministers issues regulations and executive orders that have mandatory effect.
Based on Article 94 of the Turkmenistan Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is empowered to:
- Organize the enactment of the laws of Turkmenistan, the legal acts of the President of Turkmenistan, and of the Milli Genesh;
- Implement measures to secure and protect citizens’ rights and freedoms, and to safeguard property, public order, and national security;
- Develop proposals regarding key areas of domestic and foreign policies of the state, as well as programs for the country’s economic and social development, which are then submitted to the Mejlis for review;
- Ensure state management of economic and social development;
- Organize management of state enterprises, organizations and institutions;
- Secure rational use and protection of natural resources;
- Take measures to strengthen the monetary and credit system;
- Form committees, head offices and other agencies under the Cabinet of Ministers, if necessary;
- Implement external economic activities and ensure the development of cultural ties with foreign states;
- Manage the activities of government institutions, state enterprises and organizations, and may also repeal the decisions of ministers and other agencies, and local executive power bodies;
- Decide other issues ascribed to her or his competence by laws and other regulations of Turkmenistan;
For more information regarding the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, see State Information Agency of Turkmenistan and https://www.atavatan-turkmenistan.com/
3.2.3. Local Public Administration
Local representative bodies, or halk maslahatys, are available in each velayat, etrap, and city with the authority of a velayat or etrap; their members are elected by citizens, according to Article 109 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan. Executive authority in velayats (provinces) is represented by the hyakims (“governor”) of velayats, in the cities by the hyakims of cities, in the etraps by the hyakims of etraps. The hyakims are appointed and dismissed by the President of Turkmenistan, and are accountable to him.
Administrative and territorial structure: The capital city of Turkmenistan is Ashgabat, which is an administrative and territorial unit with province-wide powers (velayat). Ashgabat consists of four districts (etraps): Bagtyyarlyk district, Berkararlyk district, Kopetdag district, Buzmeyin district. Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces – Ahal, Balkan, Dashoguz, Lebap, and Mary. Each province is divided into districts. There are 43 districts, six etraps within towns, 51 towns, of which 11 towns with etrap rights, 62 villages and 605 rural councils (rural municipal units), and 1719 rural settlements in Turkmenistan.
3.3. Judicial Power
Please note that Turkmenistan does not have a Consttitutional Court. The courts within Turkmenistan are:
- The Supreme Court
- The High Commercial Court
- The Ashkhabad City Court
- Courts of velayats, etraps, shakhers, obas, and gengeshys
- Commercial courts of velayats
Judicial power in Turkmenistan is vested in the courts only. The judicial power is intended to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and the legally protected interests of the government and society. The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, and other courts that might be established according to the legislation. The establishment of emergency courts and other structures endowed with the powers of a court is not allowed.
Judges are independent, they obey the Constitution and laws only. Interference by whichever party in their activities is prohibited, and punishable by law. The immunity of judges is guaranteed by law. Judges are appointed by the President. The manner of appointment and dismissal of judges is determined by law. Judges may not occupy any other paid position and get paid for it, unless it is teaching, writing and research positions.
4. Official Print Sources of Turkmenistan Law
Turkmenistan has a few official publishers in charge with the publication of laws and other legislative and governmental enactments.
- “Turkmenistan: Golden Age", an online and print daily; Language: English, Turkmen and Russian
- “Neutral Turkmenistan”, a print weekly; Language: English
- “Turkmenistan " - Issues: daily; Language: Turkmen
- Neitralnyy Turkmenistan - Issues: daily; Language: Russian,
- Adalat (Justice) - supported by the Law Enforcement Bodies of Turkmenistan. Issues: weekly; Language: Turkmen;
- Watan - Issues: 2 times a week; Language: Turkmen
- Esger – Issues: on Thursdays; Language: Turkmen
4.2. Legal Мagazines
- Türkmenistanyň Mejlisiniň Maglumatlary «Vedomosti Mejlisa» (Periodical Publication of all laws and resolutions issued by the Turkmen parliament). Issues: Quarterly; Language: Turkmen/Russian
- "Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin namalarynyn we Turkmenistanyn Hokumetinin cozgutlerinin Yygyndysy," or «Sobraniye Aktov Prezidenta» (Periodical Publication of all resolutions and decrees issued by the President of Turkmenistan). Issues: Monthly; Language: Turkmen/Russian
- "Turkmenistanyn Halk Maslahatynyn Maglumatlary," or “Vedomosti Halk Maslahaty”
Мagazines that may from time to time publish legal acts:
- Возрождение – Issues: monthly; Language: Russian
- Altyn Asyrynyň Ykdysadyýeti – Language: Turkmen, Russian, English
- Türkmenistanyň daşary syýasaty we diplomatiýasy
- Standart, hil we howpsyzlyk
- Atavatan Turkmenistan Magazine
4.3. Where to Find Laws, Decrees, and Cases
The State News Agency “Turkmenistan Today” has a section with updates on the government decisions in English. The Center of Legal Information under the Ministry of Adalat (Justice) of Turkmenistan offers the texts of legislation in Turkmen and Russian. The Official Gazette and primary newspapers in the country are called “Turkmenistan” (Language: Turkmen), "Neytralnyy Turkmenistan" (Language: Russian), and “Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin Metbugat Çapary.”
Former Halk Maslahaty decisions were published in "Turkmenistanyn Halk Maslahatynyn Maglumatlary." Law of Turkmenistan and Mejlis resolutions are issued in "Turkmenistanyn Mejlisinin Maglumatlary." Acts of the President and of the Cabinet of Ministers are issued in "Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin namalarynyn we Turkmenistanyn Hokumetinin cozgutlerinin Yygyndysy." Acts of ministries and other state bodies of Turkmenistan, including local governments, are published in “Turkmenistanyn ministrliklerinin, pudaklayyn dolandyrys edaralarynyn, welayatlaryn hakimlerinin, Asgabat saherinin hakiminin kadalasdyryjynamalarynyn Yygyndysy.”
Cases from the high courts should be available in the following publications: “Adalat,” “Neytralnyy Turkmenistan,” and “Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin Metbugat Çapary.” These cases should also be published by “Vedomosti Mejlisa” and “Sobraniye Aktov Prezidenta.” The publishing house which issues legal publications is the state-run “Turkmenistanmetbugat,” the only publishing house in Turkmenistan which specializes in legal books.
5. Useful Links
General country information can be found on the website of the Embassy of Turkmenistan in the UK.
- “LEGISLATIONLINE—libraries without walls” —free online OSCE countries legislation database
- Lexadin—site with good links to Turkmenistan laws (English, Russian and German).
- World Legal Materials from Asia: Turkmenistan—Cornell Legal Information Institute
- Guide to Law Online: Turkmenistan - Law Library of Congress
- FAOLEX—Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- ICNL—International Center for Nonprofit Law
- World Law Index: Turkmenistan—Australasian Legal Information Institute
- NationMaster—Governmental and legal information on Turkmenistan
- Intute: Social Sciences (archive)
- U.S. Law Library of Congress, Turkmenistan – Republic of Turkmenistan – part of library’s Guide to Law Online.
- Main State tax service of Turkmenistan – a prominent Turkmenistan legal site
- Turkmenistan: The Golden Age—News, State, Politics, Economy, Society
- WIPO Lex – collection of laws on intellectual property
- World Law Guide – a collection of laws in English
Legal information in Russian and Turkmen:
- Center of Legal Information of the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan
- OSCE Database of Legislation of Turkmenistan
- Ecology Club CATENA Database
- Internet-newspaper Turkmenistan.ru
- Turkmenistan: The Golden Age (Also available in ENG)
- Gas and Oil Legislation of Turkmenistan
- Atavatan Turkmenistan
- Transparency International – Turkmenistan
- Atavatan Turkmenistan