Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 287 - (29/11/04)
Niyazov's offer to retire is rejected
The Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, is a power freak who likes to pretend
he is quite the opposite. One particular pantomime is played out regularly - his
offer to retire, which is then refused by his plaintive subjects.
He raised the issue of his retirement in October at a session of the Halk
Maslahaty, or People's Council. Though Niyazov's ideas are usually greeted with
unanimous zeal, this particular request was rejected outright. The announcement
was timed to coincide with the country's independence day, 27 October, and had a
less-than-genuine ring to it. This was not the first time Turkmenistan's
"president for life" has offered to go -- nor the first time the
Turkmen people have begged him to stay.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov addressed the Halk Maslahaty, or People's
Council, on 25 October, ahead of the country's 27 October Independence Day
celebration. In his address, he asked the council to consider holding
presidential elections in 2008 or 2009, as he approaches his 70th birthday.
"Dear people, let me make a plea if you don't object. I am grateful to you
for your proposals, but I say that one person, a single person alone, cannot
manage everything. Other people are maturing. If you are not against it, in 2008
or 2009 let's hold presidential elections. No, esteemed people, there are other
people growing up. After I will become 70, let me go, because nothing is
forever," Niyazov said.
The usually compliant People's Council, the very body that amended the
constitution in 1999 to make Niyazov "president for life," rejected
the proposal immediately. "Our dear leader, our father, you are our
president for life, so stay! There should not even be discussion about [holding
Murad Sopiev, the head of Turkmenistan's farmers' association, was one of the
council members who spoke up against Niyazov's proposal. "Dear people,
there cannot even be talk about presidential elections," he said. "Our
dear leader, our father, you are our president for life, so stay! There should
not even be discussion about [holding presidential elections.]"
The chairman of the state oil company, Saparmammet Veliev, also voiced
disagreement. "We must say 'no' to what our leader says. We do not agree
with this request [to leave office]. You were sent to us by the Almighty and we
want you to remain [as president] until the end of your life," Veliev said.
The event, however, had a familiar ring to it. This was not the first time
Niyazov has mentioned leaving office one day, nor was it the first time the
Turkmen people, in this instance the People's Council, energetically insisted
that he remain president until death.
Niyazov made a similar proposal to the People's Council in February 2001,
telling the body that by 2010 he would step down. Niyazov said no leader of any
country should be older than 70 years of age, which Niyazov will be in 2010. The
council rejected the offer.
Niyazov urges parliamentary elections according to international standards
The farce deepened when the whimsical dictator was speaking at a session of the
Cabinet of Ministers. He urged the regional electoral commissions to help hold
parliamentary elections in the republic "in accordance with international
standards and on the alternative basis." The leader of Turkmenistan
emphasized that "elections must become a new step toward creation of a
democratic state." He noted that many of constituencies have four-five
candidates for each parliamentary seat.
At the same time the head of state rapped local authorities and the leadership
of the National TV and other mass media over the knuckles for not providing
adequate opportunities to candidates to present their programmes to the
"Our parliament is elected and works on a permanent and professional basis.
That is why parliamentary seats should be occupied by honest and educated people
with a high sense of civic duty. There are certain standards in the world on
these issues. And we have to live, work and elect according to them,"
There is a danger in all this hypocrisy of which the president seems blithely
unaware. One day somebody might just take him at his word.
Not likely all that soon, however. His security apparatus is very tight.
Saparmurat Niyazov's book "Ruhnama" translated into Hindi
The invocation of the Almighty by one delegate is not inappropriate. Niyazov
claims a direct line to God, which is adumbrated in a holy tome. This remarkable
fact is attested not just by his own domestic toadies, but by foreign
businessmen wanting to do well there.
A presentation ceremony of a Hindi-version of his "Ruhnama" book, the
official and one of the literary languages of India, was held in the capital of
Turkmenistan. As the Ashgabat correspondent of Turkmenistan.ru reports, the
translation was initiated by Indian Ajanta Pharma Limited company that set up a
Joint Venture in the Turkmen capital to produce medicaments.
Speaking at the presentation ceremony, President of Ajanta group of companies,
Purushottam Agrval, in fact said that "Ruhnama" by Saparmurat Niyazov
is "a unique book which carries a quenchless light of eternal wisdom."
According to this Indian businessman, Indians that want to learn more about the
history, culture and rich spiritual traditions of Turkmens take great interest
in the book.
Purushottam Agrval also noted that he admired the policy of the Turkmen
president, thanks to which modern clinics and medical centres with
state-of-the-art equipment have been built in the country in recent years. This
is another evidence of the social orientation of the course pursued by the head
of state, the businessman said.
Assessment of the situation by another foreigner
The Turkmen republic has been called the "hermit kingdom" and the
North Korea of Central Asia. Foreigners are watched when they enter the country,
and the Turkmen government goes to great lengths to keep foreign media from
reaching its people. Many businessmen visit Turkmenistan, as the country is rich
in oil and natural gas, but few people visit as tourists, and fewer yet have
visited more than once. Gregory Gleason is an expert on Central Asian affairs.
He is also one of the few people who spent a lot of time in Turkmenistan during
the first years after the country became independent. Gleason just returned from
Turkmenistan after more than 10 years away. He spoke with RFE/RL about the
changes he witnessed.
The Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, and the city of Albuquerque, in the southwestern
US state of New Mexico, are sister cities. The Turkmen government extended an
invitation to officials in Albuquerque to attend celebrations marking the
country's 13th year of independence on 27 October.
Gregory Gleason -- a professor of political science and public administration at
the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque -- accompanied the city delegation
to Turkmenistan and spent about two weeks in Ashgabat. He returned to the United
States on 6 November.
It was not Gleason's first trip to Turkmenistan. His last visit was in 1993, his
most memorable in December 1991.
"I recall vividly just by chance being in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, as the
Soviet Union was disintegrating in December 1991, sitting around the floor with
my Turkmen colleagues, my friends who were scholars and officials in the
Turkmenistan government at the time. And I recall the sense of euphoria at
becoming an independent country and the sense of great uncertainty about what
the future would hold for Turkmenistan as an independent country," Gleason
"One of the other things that's striking is the improvement in the material
standards of many of the people who live in Ashgabat."
At the time, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov promised that he would turn
the country into a second Kuwait. Things haven't worked out that way. While much
of the country's oil and gas wealth has been sunk into grandiose public works
projects, ordinary Turkmen have seen little real improvement in their lives. The
government has drastically cut many social services and spending on education.
According to human rights and media freedom organizations, Turkmenistan has one
of the most repressive governments in the world. A recently released report from
the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, for example, lists Turkmenistan as
one of the worst countries in the world in terms of media freedom, ranking it
164th out of 167 nations.
Gleason says the appearance of the capital has changed dramatically since his
"The contrasts [between the early 1990s and now] are striking. One thing,
it's the capital of a country that's undergone significant transformation in
terms of its physical features. Ashgabat is now home to a number of magnificent
public buildings -- the buildings of the ministries in particular. In addition
to a number of quite beautiful mosques and public museums, the roads are without
question some the best I've seen, and there's quite a lot of new housing
construction that's going up. So, the physical features of Ashgabat are
certainly an impressive sight," Gleason said.
Gleason says many residents of Ashgabat -- a city of some 700,000 -- appear to
be better off than they were a decade ago.
"One of the other things that's striking is the improvement in the material
standards of many of the people who live in Ashgabat. It's very clear that
people who lived in the city 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and who experienced at
that time a great deal of depravation have undergone a transformation. There's a
very marked increase in the number of consumer goods available in stores,"
Gleason said "There's criticism, of course, that this is simply a populist
technique that's designed to satisfy mere acquisitiveness on the part of
individuals and that the government thereby can basically purchase the political
support of many of the population," Gleason said.
"The political situation in the country obviously strikes a sharp contrast
with the material situation. Although the material situation has improved
markedly, the political situation clearly has deteriorated in the respect that
the country has a human rights situation that merits close international
attention. There is a sense, an atmosphere of political repression, that I think
prevents people from speaking openly with respect to the government, with
respect to their feelings as to how the government is organized and
operates," he added.
It is vital for the international community to pay attention to Turkmenistan and
to pressure the government to implement badly needed reforms. The question of
succession is crucial, as Niyazov's sudden death could spark widespread turmoil,
as groups inside the country and opposition figures in exile compete for power.
Turkmenistan is a moderate Islamic state in a volatile region. Ensuring the
stability of future Turkmen governments is in the interest of the world
Turkmenistan oil production up 3%, gas production slips 0.3%
Turkmenistan produced 8.092 million tonnes of oil in the first 10 months of
2004, up 3% year-on-year, according to a monthly report by the National
Statistics Institute, Interfax News Agency reported.
Natural gas production slipped 0.3% year-on-year in the period to 47.08 billion
cubic meters. Most of that or 39.8 billion cubic metres was produced at
Gas exports were down 2% to 33.9 billion cubic meters. Turkmenistan exported to
Ukraine, Russia, and Iran.
Oil refineries operated by state trading company Turkmenneftegaz - the
Turkmenbashi and Seidi refineries, processed 5.605 million tonnes of oil in the
period, up 0.1% from the same period last year.
Production of lubricants was up 95% to 39,600 tonnes, liquefied gas production
increased 25% to 287,900 tonnes, polypropylene production was up 14% to 71,500
tonnes, and gasoline production was up 4% to 1.752 million tonnes.
Turkmenistan exported 34% more petroleum and gas chemical products than in the
same period last year.
Naftohaz plans to up gas imports 36% from Turkmenistan in 2007-2028
Ukraine's national oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny plans to increase
natural gas imports from Turkmenistan, the company's press service said citing a
speech by Naftohaz Ukrayiny First Deputy CEO, Vadim Chuprun, at the
'Turkmenistan Oil and Gas 2004' conference in Ashgabad, Interfax News Agency
"Ukraine sees itself in future as a leading consumer of Turkmen gas.
Naftohaz Ukrayiny has already made a 25-year agreement with RosUkrEnergo AG,
which envisages increasing natural gas imports to 60 billion cubic metres in
2007-2028 from the current 44 billion cubic metres a year," Chuprun said.
Naftohaz Ukrayiny has already begun preparatory work to increase input capacity
of Ukraine's gas transport systems from Turkmenistan, he said.
"The construction of the Novopskov-Uzhgorod gas pipeline under the
International Gas Transport Consortium will significantly increase Ukraine's
possibility to import and transport Turkmen natural gas," Chuprun said.
Ukraine will increase development of Turkmenistan's gas transport systems in the
He said Ukraine is ready to support any Turkmen project to develop the Central
Asia-Centre (SATs) gas pipeline system or to set up new routes to deliver
Turkmen gas to Ukraine. Kyiv's VNIPItransgaz Institute designed the SATs system,
which has information on preparing the project's rehabilitation and development.
Chuprun confirmed Ukraine's interest in implementing the projects, which propose
carrying out geologic and exploratory work and to develop fields in
Ukraine, Russia and Iran are the biggest importers of Turkmen gas. Ukraine is
expected to import 36 billion cubic metres of gas for $44 per 1,000 cubic meter
in 2004, as it did in 2003. Ukraine pays for 50% of the gas in cash and 505 in
goods and services.
Canadian firm to construct gas refinery in Turkmenistan
The state concern Turkmenneft and Canadian Thermo Design Engineering Ltd signed
a contract worth US$42m on October 20th to build a gas refinery at the
Yashyldepe gas field on a turn-key basis, Turkmenistan.ru reported.
The refinery's annual capacity will be one billion cubic metres of gas. It would
have installations on gas desulfurisation, on condensate gas production
amounting to 200,000 tonnes and on liquefied gas production amounting to 50,000
tonnes a year. The work is expected to begin soon and finish in May 2006. During
the signing ceremony, the President of the Canadian company, Jim Montgomery,
underlined the complex nature of Turkmenistan's oil and gas sector development,
in which the great importance is attached to liquefied gas production.
Currently, production capacities allow Turkmenistan to produce some 500,000
tonnes of liquefied gas a year, and this figure is expected to rise to one
million tonnes in the coming five years, considering an increase in demand for
this type of fuel from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Turkmen President
Saparmurat Niyazov highlighted that Thermo Design Engineering Ltd has a
successful record of work in the republic. Taking into account the new contract,
a total cost of all signed and implemented contracts by the company has got
closer to US$110m.
Ashgabat secures new digital phone exchange
Turkmen Communications Ministry experts, with their counterparts from Chinese
Huawey Technologies Co Ltd jointly commissioned a new digital telephone
exchange, increasing the capacity of the city communications network by 20,000
new users. The exchange replaces the previous obsolete 47-exchange designed for
10,000 users. Along with traditional telephone services the new telephone
exchange provides users with extra services. With the new exchange's
inauguration, the capacity of Ashgabat city telephone network has reached
148,811 users with 82.5 per cent of them being users of digital exchanges.
According to the communication ministry, this is one of highest indicators among
the CIS capitals, Turkmenistan.ru reported.
Ashgabat was the first in the CIS to start installing digital telephone
exchanges. More projects produced by leading foreign companies, Huawey
Technologies being one of them.
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