Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 285 - (01/10/04)
The state of the nation seen at school
In Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov has stamped out all opposition,
which sprang up from among his own ministers, and accused dissidents living in
exile of plotting to assassinate him. Ashgabat allows only a few NGOs to work on
Turkmen territory. And none have anything to do with politics.
Niyazov's portrait smiles from most buildings and his writings form the school
The state of education in a country can be a microcosm of how it is faring at
Turkmenistan has experienced a steady decline in educational standards over the
past decade, as the curriculum at all levels has come under the lamentable
influence of President Niyazov's utterly bizarre cult of personality.
Educational prospects in Turkmenistan appear to become bleaker by the year.
Since 1993, the education system has been governed by a rigid program, called
Bilim in Turkmen, that emphasizes political loyalty to Niyazov's regime over
independent thought Totalitarian blinkers, partially removed under Gorbaschev,
even in Turkmenistan, are now firmly back.
Since 1993, the government has closed the nation's Academy of Sciences.
Officials have also cut the normal length of university study from four years to
two. Enrollment at higher educational institutions has plummeted from roughly
40,000 to an estimated 3,500.
Conditions in primary and secondary education are not any better. Compulsory
education in Turkmenistan is now limited to only nine years. According to the
independent Turkmenistan Helsinki Initiative, the state has fired as many as
12,000 teachers over the past two years.
The cult of nescience and dottiness
A pro-government web site - Turkmenistan: the Golden Age - posted a commentary
in May that encapsulated the country's educational philosophy. Schools should
emphasize "the revival of native traditions" and promote "a
return to the natural spiritual values." As a result, the educational
system must abandon "several educational and scientific directions and
subjects of minor importance." As a result, the teaching of algebra,
physics and physical education has virtually ceased in Turkmenistan. The article
added that the chief task of the educational system is "to play a key role
in the national economic and social development of the state."
It is difficult to see how a country can function in the modern world under
these conditions. If physics and algebra are deemed of 'minor importance,' what
is regarded as major?
The answer is only too clear. Niyazov continues to take steps designed to ensure
that Turkmen statehood is identified with his own personal authority and
'spiritual and poetic genius'. Accordingly, Niyazov's spiritual guide, the
Ruhnama (or Book of the Soul), serves as the chief textbook for students at all
levels. The Ruhnama's influence extends far beyond the education system per se,
as, for example, all Turkmen citizens seeking a driver's license must now take a
16-hour course on Niyazov's tract, the Neytralny Turkmenistan newspaper reported
on August 2nd.
Students will soon be studying a second volume of the Ruhnama, due to have been
distributed in September, along with a book of poetry allegedly penned by
Niyazov. "I'd like to make the Ruhmama consist of two volumes. … I would
like to publish it in the month of Ruhnama [September]," Niyazov said
during the July 12 cabinet session. At the same time, the Turkmen leader
admitted he needed to "work on it [volume of poetry] a little more"
before it was ready for publication.
In addition to courses on the Ruhnama, subjects studied by Turkmen students
include "The History of Neutral Turkmenistan" and "The Policies
of the Independence of Great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi." To reinforce
Niyazov's personality cult, portraits of the Turkmen leader, along with the text
of the loyalty oath to the president and fatherland, are found in every Turkmen
This is the 11th year that the Bilim program has governed Turkmen education.
With an estimated 100,000 students leaving school annually, over 1 million
Turkmen, or roughly 20 percent of the population, have been educated according
to Niyazov's standards.
Child harvest labour to be ended?
However, as the new school year begins September 1, Niyazov appears to be
mulling a reform that even his fiercest critics could approve. For Turkmen
students, one of the worst legacies of the Soviet era is their forced and
uncompensated annual participation in the cotton harvest. It is not unusual for
students at the secondary and higher education levels to spend weeks working in
fields, rather than studying in classrooms. After decades of this practice,
Niyazov made a surprise announcement in May that he would put an end to the use
of child labour at harvest time.
Speaking at the third congress of the Turkmen Youth Association, Niyazov said:
"From now on let us not rely on schoolchildren to cultivate and pick
cotton, as happened before, during the Soviet period."
Given Niyazov's mercurial reputation, political analysts are unsure whether
Niyazov will actually follow through on these assurances. The start of the
school year offers an opportunity for Niyazov to either confirm or disavow the
The initial signals September 1 did not seem promising for students. In the
Dahoguz Region, for instance, there were reports that teachers and school
administrative staff would be dispatched on September 15 to pick cotton. A
skeleton staff would be left behind to teach grade-schoolers in shifts, with as
many as 100 students per classroom.
"I have no doubt that upper-classmen will be deployed to the cotton
harvest," admitted one urban teacher in Dahoguz. "There has been no
information about that yet, but the principal already told the parents of
fourth-graders that after the upper-classmen are sent to the cotton fields, the
fourth- and fifth-graders will study in the first shift." Other reports
indicated that students in rural regions would be dispatched to the fields in
mid September, and would likely not return to their classrooms until late
November at the earliest.
If Niyazov opts to keep students in school, the decision could have potentially
far-reaching ramifications not only for Turkmenistan but also for neighbouring
Central Asian countries. Other cotton-growing states, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
in particular, also have traditionally mobilized students to help with the
labour-intensive harvest. The abandonment of the practice by Turkmenistan could
put pressure on those states in the region to follow Niyazov's example.
In addition to the child labour issue, Niyazov has signalled a desire to crack
down on corruption. During a July 12 cabinet session, Niyazov railed against the
corrupt practices throughout the higher education system. "I am informed
about ongoing bribery at Turkmen State University," Niyazov said.
"Bribery also exists in a number of other higher education institutions. It
is not difficult to know about that in Turkmenistan."
Niyazov announces new construction projects
Turkmen President, Saparmurat Niyazov, announced the launch of a new phase in
the implementation of a large-scale construction programme in the capital and
its vicinity at a meeting of the cabinet or ministers of Turkmenistan on August
18th, Turkmenistan.ru reported.
The head of state reviewed a number of new projects planned on his instruction
by foreign construction companies French Bouygues, Turkish Gap Inshaat and
Turkmen architects. In particular, Niyazov approved a design for a new building
of the military institute to prepare officers for the ministry of national
security and the state border service. The president also approved the
construction of a marble and granite processing plant to the north of Ashgabat
among other projects to be implemented in the coming one or two years. It is
planned to build several 12-storey buildings with offices for the association of
bread products, Turkmenistan of agriculture machinery services,
Turkmenobakhysmat, as well as the ministry of water economy, the association of
livestock raising, Turkmenmallary, and the association of food industry.
On the president's suggestion underground tunnels will connect all these
buildings. There will be also erected a building for the Turkmen state cotton
concern, Turkmenpagta. Niyazov approved a general plan with few amendments for
Ashgabat Arcabil district development until 2030 (former Firuza, a resort place
30km from Ashgabat) designed on his instruction.
Niyazov signed a decree on the same day authorising the Turkmen state cotton
concern, Turkmenpagta, to sign a contract worth 26m Euro with French Bouygues
Batiman International for the construction of a new building for the concern on
a "turn key" basis and improvement of an adjoining territory with a
total area of 12,700 sq metres on condition of completing the construction by
October 27th, 2006.
Itera, NRB confirm interest in Turkmenistan oil project
International energy group Itera and Russia's National Reserve Bank (NRB)
reiterated their commitment to the Zarit offshore oil project in Turkmenistan,
the Turkmen president's press said on September 7th, Interfax News Agency
Igor Makarov, the head of Itera, briefed Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov on
progress towards an agreement to explore and produce oil at three offshore
blocks (Nos 29, 30 and 31) at a meeting in Ashgabat.
"The high interest of all the Zarit (joint venture's) co-owners in
participating in the joint project was reiterated," the press office was
quoted as saying.
"Development of the Caspian's colossal hydrocarbon reserves is one of
Turkmenistan's economic priorities," Niyazov commented at the meeting.
"3D seismic exploration indicates that the off-shore blocks contain huge
energy resources, hence the strong interest shown by potential investors and
developers," he added. "Their plans to tie their business with
Turkmenistan are stimulated by the successes of a number of foreign companies,
which are conducting fruitful oil and gas exploration and production in the
Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea," the Turkmen leader said.
Makarov and Yury Kudimov, the chairman of NRB, which intends to finance the
project, told a news conference after the meeting with Niyazov that the session
had resolved most issues regarding preparations for the Zarit project. They were
quoted as saying an agreement to develop the three blocks could be signed in the
near future. It is two years since Itera, Turkmenistan's Turkmenneft and
Russia's Zarubezhneft and Rosneft formed the Zarit joint venture to deliver the
Power transmission line connects Turkmenistan, Iran
One more energy corridor has connected Turkmenistan with neighbouring Iran,
Turkmenistan.ru reported recently.
An inauguration ceremony of the 220 kilowatt Sarakhs (Turkmenistan) Sarakhs
(Iran) power transmission line with a capacity of 100 megawatt hours was held on
the border between the two states on August 22nd, thus giving a start to
electricity supplies from the Mary hydropower plant (Turkmenistan) to Iranian
According to the Turkmen Ministry of Power Engineering, electricity exports will
total 375m kilowatt hours a year accounting for 7.5m Euro. This project is the
next stage in the implementation of the memorandum on long-term cooperation in
the power energy sector between the governments of Turkmenistan and Iran signed
a year ago.
The implementation of the first stage of work to establish energy bridges
between the two countries took place in June 2003 when electricity supplies with
a volume of 562.2m kilowatt hours per annum started via the 220 kilowatt Balkan-abat-Gonbad
power transmission line. This line also became part of the
Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey energy corridor through which Turkey will annually
receive 600m kilowatt of electricity generated by power stations in the western
regions of the country. President Saparmurat Niyazov addressed constructors and
energy workers of the country on this occasion.
According to the Turkmen leader, the launch of the new high-voltage power
transmission line was more evidence of the dynamic development and strengthening
of economic relations. Niyazov stressed the importance of further increasing
electricity exports to Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and other Central Asian states.
According to the ministry of power engineering, the overall capacity of the
country's power plants, many of which are equipped with General Electric's gas
turbine installations, has grown to 3,106 megawatts. Meeting Turkmenistan's
electricity needs in full, the country's power plants plan increase electricity
export. A 400 kilowatt power transmission line connecting Mary (Turkmenistan)
with Meshked (Iran) will be built in the very near future. The total amount of
electricity supplies from Turkmenistan to Iran will be close to 2.4bn kilowatts
a year on the completion of this project. Turkmenistan also supplies 325
kilowatts of electricity a year to Afghanistan's northern provinces at a reduced
rate, helping to reconstruct the neighbouring state's economy
Turkmen gas output at 35.2bcm
Turkmenistan's natural gas output rose 1.1% to 35.2 billion cubic metres (bcm)
in January-July on the year, according to information released by the National
Institute of Statistics and Information, Turkmenistan.ru reported on August
12th. Natural gas exports amounted to 25.5bcm in 7 months, up 1.0% on the same
period of last year. Turkmenistan shipped most of the export gas to Ukraine,
which will receive 36bcm annually under a contract until 2006, to Iran (7bcm),
and to Russia, which will buy 5bcm this year under a 25-year deal. Oil output in
the reported period remained practically at the last year's level, up 0.4% on an
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Iran, Turkmenistan discuss ways to boost bilateral cooperation
Turkmen President, Saparmurat Niyazov, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal
Kharazi, have discussed Turkmen-Iranian cooperation, New Europe reported.
Kharazi was accompanied by Iran's Caspian envoy, Mehdi Safari, and Iranian
Ambassador to Turkmenistan Gholamreza Ansari. Bilateral and international issues
were addressed during the talks, the Turkmen presidential press service
announced. The parties stated that annual trade between Turkmenistan and Iran is
likely to reach €1bn in the near future. Both Niyazov and Kharazi spoke about
a fast pace of cooperation, primarily in trade, the energy sector, transport,
the oil and gas complex, and the construction of motorways. The talks also deal
with the definition of the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Kharazi said,
"A large step has been made in this direction." The parties will
advance along this way "until the problem of the Caspian's Sea's legal
status is finally settled," he said.
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