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Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1925. It achieved its independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. President NIYAZOV retains absolute control over the country and opposition is not tolerated. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country if extraction and delivery projects can be worked out.
Update No: 263 - (26/11/02)
When the people of Turkmenistan buy bread these days, they must no longer ask for chorek, the Turkmen word for it, but for Gurbansoltan-edzhe, the name of his long-dead mother. President Sapurmurat Niyazov, the increasingly eccentric leader of his country is taking his fondness for his matriarch to extremes.
The Caligula of Central Asia
It is not only bread that bears her name, but so do countless towns, villages, street, public buildings and factories - and even the month once known as April. She has been virtually deified in a collection of the president's ideological ramblings called the Rukhname, which is claimed by some suppliers to render the Bible and Koran obsolete.
Gurbansoltan-edzhe has been named the Mother of Justice, and an enormous statue of her dressed in flowing robes stands outside the supreme court in Askhkabad, the capital. She has also inspired a statue to commemorate the victims of an earthquake that almost razed the city in 1948. It depicts her clutching a baby - representing the orphaned future president and the only one of her three children to survive the cataclysm.
Her worship is the latest extension of an overweening cult of personality of Niyazov, or Turkmenbashi, the Great Father of all the Turkmens, as he declared himself on independence. The usual paraphernalia of such a cult abound, his portraits everywhere, public works bearing his name.
But here it takes bizarre forms. He has changed the names of the days of the week and months of the year. He has reclassified the ages of man so that adolescence begins at 25 and old age at 85.
Plans are afoot to declare that a year has eight months - each of 45 days. "Whether that means that people will only receive their salary eight months a year, who knows. But it will play havoc with international airline timetables," said a Turkish businessman in Ashkabad.
Niyazov had been asked by foreign diplomats to explain the extent of the cult. His justification is that Turkmenistan had five main tribes before communism in its huge desert land and that communism and the cult of Stalin forcibly unified them. A substitute had to be found if they were to stay together. The cult of his own personality provides this at a cheaper cost than communism.
This is an ingenious and not altogether false idea. But other Central Asian republics, say Kazakstan, manage without it and yet are huge, with a history of tribalism.
An intriguing aspect of the recent Central Asian Cooperation Group, meeting was that while the presidents of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan all attended in person, greeted by President Emomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan, the Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, was conspicuous by his absence. He seems to fear machinations behind his back so much that he cannot vacate his own country for a day, because it has become routine that he does not show up at such gatherings.
An opposition is forming against him, wedded to democracy. Yet they are still pitifully weak and mostly out of the country. For political opponents are locked up or deported and their families then harassed.
"We have an institute of human rights, but not rights," said a third-generation member of the Russian minority, who wants to move his family back to their former homeland. "We have a Democracy Party, but no democracy. It is forbidden to mention those who disappear, but it happens. There are many political prisoners."
The regime looks very secure. Yet so did the USSR. But Niyazov is no Turkmen Gorbachev. He is being seen as vital in offering stability for a US$2bn, 9,000-mile pipeline project for gas that runs though Afghanistan, which is seen as possible and highly desirable to many parties. He looks set for the duration.
Turkmen leader says 2002 cotton harvest an "utter failure"
Turkmenistan this year collected 500,000 tonnes of cotton, falling way below the 2m-tonne target, ITAR-TASS News Agency has reported. President Saparmyrat Nyyazov described this as utter failure of the national cotton industry.
"Effort, funds and resources, including bank loans, have been virtually wasted," Niyazov said at the 4th November meeting of the cabinet. The Turkmen leader blamed the poor performance of the cotton growing industry on the lack of true owners of land, capable of running their farms independently, without instructions from superiors.
Such people are still very few. It is clear government support for land leaseholders and landowners should be fundamentally revised, Niyazov said.
Turkmenistan to put US$192m into agriculture in 2003
A new programme for overcoming the current crisis in Turkmenistan's agriculture provides for extending loans to agricultural producers and restructuring their debts, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov told the Cabinet, Interfax News Agency has reported.
Niyazov ordered the allocation of one trillion manats (US$192.3m) from the state budget to agriculture. This money will be transferred to the Extra-Budget Agricultural Fund. Niyazov also ordered to enter the one trillion manats as a spending item of the budget and instructed the economics and finance minister to "control their utilization."
Turkmen, Uzbek moot water use, cooperation in oil and gas sector
An Uzbek delegation, led by Prime Minister Otkir Sultonov, held talks in Turkmenistan on the joint use of water and cooperation in the oil and gas and railway transport sectors, Turkmen Press News Agency reported on 8th November. Poor exploitation of water structures by Uzbekistan has caused the ecological destruction of 75,000 ha of land in Turkmenistan, the report said. An accord on Turkmenistan's ownership of a section of the 142-km Mubarek-Kelif gas pipeline was also discussed.
The two countries' activities regarding the use of water, oil and gas, railway transport and mutual commitments of finance between economic entities were on the talks' agenda which were held in a constructive and businesslike atmosphere.
To consider the progress of cooperation in the water resources sphere, the sides discussed the issue of the rehabilitation of the Karshi [Uzbekistan's southern Kashkadarya Region] cascade of pumping stations with a capacity of 195 cu.m. of water per second. Since the Uzbek side had failed to fulfil earlier decisions and agreements to remove the damage caused by the exploitation of water structures through the release of drainage water, over 75,000 ha of land in Turkmenistan had become unsuitable for farming and also for living and inflicting serious ecological damage and is giving rise to social problems among the people.
As over 90 per cent of the Karshi main canal runs through the territory of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen side proposed that all project and contract work to restructure and rehabilitate the Turkmen section should be carried out by Turkmen experts. To help finance project and construction work carried out by Turkmenistan, it was proposed that Uzbekistan open a special account at the Central Bank of Turkmenistan.
In addition, it was proposed that the Karshi cascade of pumping stations be run jointly. The Uzbek side will study all the proposals made by the Turkmen side for rehabilitating the Karshi cascade. And talks will continue.
320,000 foreigners visit Turkmenistan in 2002
320,000 foreigners, among them 8,000 tourists, visited Turkmenistan in January-September 2002. This is 1.7 times more people than last year, Interfax News Agency reported quoting the Turkmenmillikhasabat National Institute of State Statistics and Information.
Citizens of 56 countries, mostly Iran, Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, the United States, Turkey and Japan, bought tourist vouchers to Turkmenistan. Most of the CIS tourists came from Russia and Uzbekistan.
"69% of the foreign tourists who visited our country named sightseeing as the reason for their visit on their customs declarations," the report runs.
Turkmen citizens prefer tourism to other sorts of rest. 72,000 Turkmen citizens made trips abroad in January-September 2002. The most popular destinations were Iran, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and China.
Tourism proceeds amounted to 41.4 billion mantas, 90% of that amount came from services given to Turkmen citizens on their trips abroad.
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