Washington 'Committed To Strong Relationship' As Netflix Film About Turgistan Angers Turkmenistan

The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat says Washington remains committed to “a strong relationship” with Turkmenistan as officials in the Central Asian nation appear to be infuriated by a Netflix movie allegedly “inspired” by authoritarian Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

The $150 million film -- 6 Underground -- focuses on the story of a U.S. tech billionaire who wants to bring democracy to the fictional country of Turgistan by taking down its evil dictator.

Turkmen authorities have in recent weeks been taking measures against private video rental stores that lent out 6 Underground as the movie reportedly became a hit with many Turkmen.

Access to Netflix has long been blocked in the strictly controlled Turkmenistan, which has also banned many independent news websites and social-media sites.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondents in Turkmenistan reported that several video rental stores were fined for allowing 6 Underground to be rented, while others were closed down by tax officials.

In Lebap Province, officials launched what seems to be an anti-U.S. campaign that portrays the United States as the “enemy of the Turkmen government,” an RFE/RL correspondent reported.

As part of the campaign, designated groups -- which include representatives of security services, police, and prosecutors -- conduct meetings with officials and students.

“The lecturers tell the gatherings that America is the enemy of the Turkmen government and that the United States puts in a lot of effort to destroy Turkmenistan,” the correspondent reported, citing several people who attended the meetings.

“It seems the authorities are doing everything to cause displeasure among the people [in regard to the movie],” a local resident was cited as saying.

The lectures condemn the movie, which according to one Lebap resident “has seriously frightened Turkmen officials.”

'Work Of Fiction'

The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, meanwhile, insists 6 Underground “is a work of fiction produced by a private entertainment company.”

“The United States of America and the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat remain committed to a strong and productive relationship with Turkmenistan, as evidenced by the recent successful Annual Bilateral Consultations in Washington, strengthening regional cooperation through the C5+1 framework, our growing economic and trade cooperation, and the multitude of educational and cultural programs on which we collaborate,” it wrote to RFE/RL.

One of the characters is reportedly named after the Turkmen president's favorite horse, Rovach, pictured here as a foal.

C5+1 is a format for dialogue and a "platform for joint efforts to address common challenges faced by the United States and the five Central Asian states," according to the U.S. State Department website.

Streaming giant Netflix released 6 Underground on December 13, 2019. State symbols of the fictional country of Turgistan bear a striking resemblance to those of Turkmenistan, while residents of Turgistan seem to speak Turkmen and also bear Turkmen names.

The unnamed billionaire, played by Hollywood star actor Ryan Reynolds, plots a coup to topple Turgistan strongman President Rovach Alimov, and install the president's jailed brother, Murat, as the country's new leader.

After a series of events, the people of Turgistan rise up against the president, prompting him to flee the country.

There are other similarities between the fictional Turgistan and Berdymukhammedov's Turkmenistan.

Both are repressive states run by unpopular dictators and, in fact, the Turgistan leader's first name -- Rovach -- is the same as the favorite stallion of the equine-mad Berdymukhammedov.

One of Berdymukhammedov's latest songs, Rovach, was dedicated to his horse and broadcast on state TV in April 2018.

Berdymukhammedov has brutally suppressed dissent, imprisoning opponents and forcing critics into self-exile abroad.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service