A Research Guide to the Turkmenistan Legal System

By Oleg Stalbovskiy & Maria Stalbovskaya

The authors of this article worked as librarians at the Tashkent Open Library for Legal Information. They have been involved in important projects in the Republic of Uzbekistan, including the development of the Digital Library on Human Rights, providing organizational and methodical support for regional public law centers, providing legal information and support for people under judicial investigation, creating the website of the Open Library for Legal Information, and the development of electronic legal resources at the Open Library for Legal Information.

Published June 2006
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1. Introduction

Turkmenistan is unitary state in the southwest of Central Asia, bounded by the Caspian Sea to the west, Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the east, and Iran and Afghanistan to the south. Turkmenistan covers approximately 488,000 square kilometers and has a population of 6,000,000. Ashkhabad (Ashgabat) is its capital and largest city with a population of 550,000. The state language is Turkmen. The Turkmens, who are largely Sunni Muslims, comprise over 85% of the population. The remainder of the population is comprised of Uzbeks (5%) and Russians (7%), as well as smaller groups of Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Armenians

Turkmenistan was once part of the ancient Persian Empire, when the territory was ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century. The Mongols of Ghenghis Khan conquered the land in the 13th century and dominated the area for the next two centuries, until they were deposed in the late 15th century by invading Uzbeks.

In 1869, an area of Turkmenistan known as the khanate of Khiva was made part of the Russian Empire, and became known as the Transcaspia Region of Russian Turkistan.

Modern Turkmenistan was formed out of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, founded in 1918, and was made an independent Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, known as Turkmenia, on October 27, 1924.

Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty on October 26, 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union; along with ten other former Soviet Republics, Turkmenistan also became 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 regions (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.

Turkmenistan’s legal system is currently transitioning from Soviet law. Due to the nation’s historical background, the legal development is also influenced by the traditions of Islamic law.

Such influences are particularly clear in relation to the new principles of legal reform. The republic supports ideological and political pluralism, and the market economy is socially-oriented.

Article 1 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 3 of the Constitution, the highest value is placed on the individual by both the government and society. The government is responsible to the citizen to ensure conditions for the free development of individual personality, and also commits to protect the life, honor, dignity, freedom, individual inviolability, and natural and inalienable rights of the citizen.

2.1. A 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
  • Codes
  • Ordinary laws
  • Decrees and acts of the President
  • Resolutions of the Mejlis
  • Resolutions and orders of the Cabinet of Ministers
  • Normative acts of the organs of state power and government
  • Resolutions of the governor (hyakim) of the region
  • Decisions of local meetings (gengeshi)

2.2. Constitution of Turkmenistan

The current Constitution of Turkmenistan (Translation Eric W. Sievers and LEEP, 1997) was approved on 18 May 1992. Unfortunately, no authentic English language version is available which contains the latest amendments from 1995 to 2008.

The last time the Constitution of Turkmenistan was reformed was on September 26, 2008; this version is available in Russian language here. One of the primary changes to the constitution was the abolition of the Halk Maslahaty, or People’s Council. This legislative body, whose 2,500 delegates approved important legislation and constitutional matters, transferred some its powers to an elected 125-member parliament, the Mejlis, and others to president. Now the head of state is responsible, for example, for appointing regional governors and mayors directly.

The present Constitution of Turkmenistan is the Supreme Law of the state, and the norms and provisions secured in the Constitution have direct effect. Laws and other legal acts which contradict the Constitution have no legal force. The legal acts of governmental organs are published for general notice or are made public in some other manner, except for those acts which contain state or other legally protected secrets. Legal acts which affect the rights and freedoms of citizens, and for which there is no general notice, are invalid from the moment of their adoption.

2.3. Constitutional Laws

The next level in the hierarchy of laws in Turkmenistant consists of Constitutional laws, which either amend and modify the Constitution or are established by the Constitution, such as laws regarding independence, fundamental principles of state organization, or on the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan. Some examples of Constititutional Laws include: “On the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan” (1995), “On the election of deputies of the Mejlis” (1994), and “On introducing changes and additions into the Constitution of Turkmenistan ” (2008).

2.4. Codes

Currently, the laws of Turkmenistan are in the process of being codified. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the consequent emergence of a fundamentally new orientation to society, politics and the economy, the government has been engaged in reforming the law and system of jurisdiction in the republic. The following were changed in Turkmenistan: the Economic Procedure code, Sanitary code, Customs code, Air code, Criminal code, and Civil Code. However, some other codes were changed very little. The present codes of the republic are as follows:

2.5. Ordinary Laws

The next level consists of current laws, which constitute 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, civil, administrative, or other laws. Still, the new constitution also legitimises market economics, requiring the state to support private enterprise. According to Article 9 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 items of value.

But the role of the state in the regulation of all economic processes is very large. See, for example, the general list of ordinary laws regulating business activity and related legal relationships.

The lowest level of 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, 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 (gengeshi).

3. The Principle of Separation of Powers

This principle establishes the distinction between representative and governmental power in Turkmenistan. According to Article 48 in the new redaction of Turkmenistan Constitution, the highest governmental power is exercised by the President, Parliament (Mejlis), the Supreme Court, the Supreme Commercial Court, and the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan.

Article 4 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan states that the government is based on the principle of separation of powers into three branches:

  • Legislative
  • Executive
  • Judicial

Article 4 proclaims that all powers function independently, creating a system of checks and balances.

3.1. Legislative Power

The Parliament, or Mejlis, is the highest representative body, and holds legislative power. It consists of 125 deputies, elected from territorial districts. According to Articles 59 and 60 of the Constitution, deputies of the Parliament are elected for a term of five years.

According Article 63, the Mejlis is empowered to:

1) Adopt amendments to the Constitution and other laws, and exercise control over their execution and interpretation;

  • Approve action plans of the Cabinet of Ministers;
  • Approve the budget of Turkmenistan and the report of its utilization;
  • Approve basic directions of the government’s domestic and foreign policy activity, and programs for the economic and social development of the country;
  • Decide questions of general referenda may be conducted;
  • Determine the date of elections for the President, Parliament, and local self-government units and Gengeshes;
  • Decide, at the President’s proposal, questions regarding the appointment and displacement of the Chair of the Supreme Court, and the General Procurator, Interior Affairs and Adalat, or Justice, Ministries;
  • Create state awards, present the President with state awards, and confer upon the President honorary titles, military ranks, and distinctions;
  • Determine whether the normative acts of the organs of state power and government are in accordance with the Constitution and other laws;
  • Ratify and/or denounce treaties concerning intergovernmental unions and other formations;
  • Alter state borders and administrative-territorial delineations;
  • Decide questions of conditions of war and peace;
  • Deal with any other issues determined to be within the powers of Parliament by the Constitution and laws;

The nature of the powers of Parliament, its organs, and deputies, as well as those of its functions and powers not regulated by the Constitution, are established in law.

3.2. Executive Power

Executive power in Turkmenistan is divided between:

  • the President,
  • the Cabinet of Ministers,
  • Other ministries
  • 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 Berdimuhammedow was named the new Turkmen leader on February 11, 2007. The new length of the term in office of national presidents, including Berdymuhammedov, remains five years.

According to Article 53 of the Turkmenistan Constitution, the President of Turkmenistan is empowered to:

  • Enact Constitutional and other laws;
  • Manage the implementation of foreign policy, represent Turkmenistan in relations with 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, and issue orders of general or partial mobilization
  • Form and head The State Security Council
  • Present for review and approval to the Parliament the governmental budget and a report on its utilization;
  • Sign laws, but not to delay by veto laws on amendments and additions to the Constitution;
  • Form the Central Election and Referendum Commission
  • Schedule referenda, and convene Parliament 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 Parliament’s preparatory consent, appoint and recall the Chair of the Supreme Court, and the General Procurator, Interior Affairs and Adalat Ministries
  • 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 throughout Turkmenistan.

The President has the right of immunity.

For more information on the President of Turkmenistan, see here.

3.2.2 The Cabinet of Ministers

According to Article 75 of the Constitution, the highest level executive and efficient authority is the Cabinet of Ministers, chosen and headed by the President. The Cabinet consists of the deputies of the Chairman of Ministries and the ministries.

Based on Article 75 of the Turkmenistan Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is empowered to:

  • Organize the enforcement of the laws of Turkmenistan, the legal acts of the President of Turkmenistan, and of the Mejlis of Turkmenistan;
  • 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 internal and external 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, and 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:

3.2.3. Local Power

Local representative bodies, or halk maslahatys, are formed in each velayat, etrap and city with the authority of a velayat or etrap; members are directly elected by citizens for a term of four years, as described in Article 78 of the Turkmenistan Constitution.

Executive authority is locally exercised in the velayats by the hyakims of velayats, in the cities by the hyakims of cities, in the etraps by the hyakims of etraps, and by archyns.

The hyakims, as described in Articles 80 and 81, are representatives of the President of Turkmenistan, who is the head of state in all localities, and are thus accountable to him.

3.3. Judicial Power

  • The Supreme Court
  • The High Commercial Court
  • The Ashkhabad City Court
  • Courts of velayats, etraps, shakhers, obas and gengeshys
  • Commercial courts of velayats
  • Military courts
  • Note: Turkmenistan does not have a Constitutional Court

Judicial power in Turkmenistan is invested only in the courts. The judicial power is intended to defend the rights and freedoms of citizens and the legally protected interests of government and society.

The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, and other courts whose establishment is enshrined in law. The establishment of emergency courts and other structures endowed with the power of a court is not allowed.

Judges are independent, are subordinate only to the law, and are controlled only by their internal convictions. Intercession in the activity of judges is prohibited, regardless of the identity of the interceding party, and doing so incurs legal liability. The immunity of judges is guaranteed by law.

Judges of all courts 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, except teaching and research positions.

4. Official Print Sources of Turkmenistan Law

Turkmenistan has some official print issues for publication of laws and other legislative and governmental enactments.

4.1. Newspapers

  • “Turkmenistan ” – Issues: daily; Language: Turkmen
  • «Neitralnij Turkmenistan» – Issues: daily; Language: Russian,
  • Turkmenistanyň Prezidentiniň Metbugat Çapary” – a supplementary issue for «Neytralniy Turkmenistan» Issues: bimonthly; Language: Turkmen
  • «Adalat» (Justice) – supported by the Law Enforcement Bodies of Turkmenistan. Issues: weekly; Language: Turkmen;
  • «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”

4.3. Where to Find Laws, Decrees, Cases

The Official Gazette and primary newspapers in the country are called “Turkmenistan” (Language: Turkmen), “Neitralnij 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 kadalasdyryjy namalarynyn Yygyndysy.”

Cases from the high courts should be available in the following publications: “Adalat,” “Neitralnij Turkmenistan,” and “Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin Metbugat Çapary.” These cases should be also 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.

General country information:

REENIC Turkmenistan

Legal information

Legal information in Russian

Ecology Club CATENA Database


Internet-newspaper Turkmenistan.ru

Turkmenistan: The Golden Age

Ecology Legislation of Central Asia Countries

Gas and Oil Legislation of Turkmenistan

Mass-media Legislation

Turkmenistan Open Society Institute Project

Eurasian Home

Russian Tax Portal


Turkmenistan Patent Agency

Transparency International Russia

WWF Russia

Law and Mass-media