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: 274 - (27/10/03)
Russian - Turkmen relations strained
The Turkmen are smarting from a long- term gas deal signed with Russia earlier this year, which effectively puts their exports under Russian control for twenty-five years at terms which are very disadvantageous. They are to be sold at $22 per 1,000 cubic metres, one fourth or less of world prices. Another $22 is supposedly paid in kind with Russian goods, but they would be unsaleable on the world market.
The Turkmen have had little option but to accept. Their negotiating tactics with Western companies over alternative pipeline routes were so inept that the Westerners left disgusted. This was due to their inimitable president, Saparmurat Niyazov, a bungler on the international stage.
Niyazov has just a residue of survival instinct. He almost never goes abroad, which would give his enemies a chance to remove him. He was absent, for instance, from the recent CIS summit in Yalta. That he has enemies at home aplenty was shown by an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him on November 25th last year, in which foreigners were implicated. These are most unlikely to have been Russian. On the contrary his political survival suits Moscow down to the ground, quite literally - the ground on which those pipelines run.
Meanwhile, he has started a spat with the local Russians to divert attention from his own only too manifest shortcomings. The local Russians are being deprived of their dual citizenship. Many are leaving.
The crackpot of Central Asia
The Turkmens are amongst the most unfortunate of the former citizens of the USSR. They have exactly the same ruler as under communism. But he is no longer restrained by communist ideology, which after all preached egalitarianism and democracy (without being too punctilious about putting it into practice). Now his egotism and arrogance know no bounds. He is probably certifiably mad. But there is no one to produce and sign the certificate.
He has issued a new religious oeuvre, said to replace the Koran and the Bible. The month of April is now named after him; his mother is deemed the source of all bounty, the bearer of the name of bread and the fount of justice. He has changed the calendar, which now has only eight months of forty-five days each. His verses are on every tongue.
Despite all this it is difficult to see how he could be removed, except by assassination. The members of the regime either stay mum or hope that they can become ambassadors and defect, as has been happening a lot recently, notably with the ambassador to Turkey.
Ambassadors can go abroad with their families, although how they get the money out is another matter.
There is the situation - a president who wants to stay put and an entourage many of whom are dying to leave. Not all of them, of course, some are doing very well feathering their nests, the local oligarchs.
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay."
Merv on the brink of collapse
Turkmenistan is actually a very ancient place, with a fascinating history. One day when the crackpot dictator has gone, with his deep suspicion of foreigners, it could become a tourist attraction, precisely being the more appealing for being well off the beaten track. But its historic monuments and remains need to be preserved until that happy day dawns.
Archaeologists and environmentalists have expressed their concerns about the current state of Merv, Turkmenistan. Ruins of five settlements, dating from the 6th century BC to the 18th century AD, are located side by side, dotted across more than 3,500 acres. Merv was at its ultimate height in the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Sultan Kala fortress was the eastern capital of the Turkish Seljuk Empire and one of the world's largest cities.
According to legend, the blue dome of the Sultan Sanjar mausoleum could be seen from a day's journey away. But now, although the mausoleum is still Merv's crowning landmark, the dome's blue tiles disappeared a while back. Despite Soviet efforts about two decades ago to preserve the structure by capping the dome with concrete, it did more harm than good. The end result is that water was trapped inside and put a lot of pressure on it.
Experts were quoted as saying the Soviet-era irrigation projects are not great for Merv. Although the fairly deserted area was given a new lease on life, the water is now seeping from the ground into corrugated mud-brick castles. They are now on the verge of collapse. Preservationist organisations, including the New York-based World Monuments Fund and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), caution Merv is in desperate need of protection.
"The situation is pretty critical," Tim Williams, head of the International Merv Project at University College London, was quoted as saying. "Structures that have stood for hundreds, even thousands of years won't last more than another decade without urgent conservation work," he was quoted as saying.
The government of Turkey granted US$1.5m for a two-year project to restore the mausoleum. Another 20 buildings in Merv have yet to be properly examined. According to Williams, they too are threatened with irreversible damage.
Designated as a park 13 years ago, Merv is still open territory for camel herders and irrigation canals that criss-cross the landscape. Power lines extend along newly-built roads, and part of the park is closed off by military installation. The Turkmen government has given international experts permission to work at the site, but Rejepmurat Jepbarov, director of the park, said little financial support gets to them.
US$63bn investment for Turkmen oil industry at hand
Turkmen Oil and Gas Industry Minister, Tachberdy Tagiyev, announced at the opening of the global forum "Turkmenistan's Oil and Gas" in Ashgabat on September 25th that US$63bn will be available for the state's oil industry from now until 2020, Interfax News Agency reported.
Of that total, US$25.6bn will be earmarked for production sharing agreements, Tagiyev explained. Turkmenistan has been introducing five such agreements, with two on land and three in the Caspian Sea. Companies involved in the projects include Burren Energy Ltd, Dragon Oil (Turkmenistan) Ltd, Maersk Oil Turkmenistan BV, Maitro International Ltd and Petronas.
Started in 1996, investment for these oil sector projects stands at more than US$800m. This year alone should see an investment of US$180m.
"Production sharing agreements are being negotiated with numerous companies," Tagiyev said. The state plans to distribute 32 licences for developing promising areas on the Caspian seabed, he said.
Turkmenistan to refine 32m tonne of oil annually by 2020
Turkmenistan will refine 32m tonnes of oil annually by 2020, Turkmenneftegaz State Trading Corporation president, Ilyas Charyev, said in a speech at the 8th Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan international conference in Ashgabat on September 25th.
He said that steps to upgrade the Turkmenbashi and Seidi plants, the country's largest oil refineries, will help achieve this goal. In addition to this, Turkmenistan's socioeconomic development strategy envisions the construction of another two oil refinery plants in the Akhal and Mary regions, which will produce seven million tonnes of oil a year each.
Charyev noted that most of Turkmenistan's oil products intended for export are now sold through auctions at the country's State Commodities and Raw Materials Exchange. He said that this strategy "is in line with market economy trends and prospects the interests of both Turkmenistan and foreign oil traders." More than 120 oil delivery contracts were signed with 18 foreign companies over the first eight months of the year. About 5.7m tonnes of oil were refined at the country's oil refineries in 2002, which is 10% more than the year before.
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