Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 289 - (27/01/05)
Weight of the past
Historically, autocratic rulers have governed the lands of Central Asia. Tribal
and clan connections still play a significant role in the political, social and
economic interactions amongst the populations, but are now effectively utilized
to maintain the ruling elite in power, not to successfully mobilize any
Turkmenistan stands apart even amongst other Central Asian republics in the
degree to which the executive has a dominant role in the country. Its leader has
cultivated a Stalin-like cult of personality, wiping out any hint of opposition
to his autocratic rule. According to Turkmenistan's leadership, the people are
not yet ready for real democratic reforms, and will be potentially granted that
opportunity in the yet-to-be-determined future.
President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov rules Turkmenistan with apparent disregard
for all but himself even as his country's isolation deepened and the outside
world nervously eyed reports of a society in perpetual crisis and potential
collapse. Gas-rich Turkmenistan, already a rentier state by some assessments,
moves in an economic fog, with official statistics trumpeting triumphs and
international financial institutions insinuating otherwise. In his New Year's
speech, President Saparmurat Niyazov said Turkmenistan's gross domestic product
(GDP) grew 21 percent in 2004.
One bright event for the regime is that Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam
Karimov ended several years of strained ties with a summit in Bukhara,
Uzbekistan on 19 November. The dictatorial rogues of Central Asia know that they
have to hang together or risk being hanged separately.
But Niyazov still has his caprices in foreign policy. Moscow has long pushed for
the creation of a "Eurasian Alliance of Natural Gas Producers,"
including Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The ability to
develop the energy grouping has been hampered by the mercurial behaviour of
Niyazov. On December 31, Turkmenistan cut off natural gas supplies to Russia and
Ukraine, with Niyazov describing the move as in "Turkmenistan's national
interests." Gas deliveries to Russia were suspended for a week for
"maintenance operations." At the same time, Turkmen authorities
expressed a desire to renegotiate an agreement in January covering gas sales to
Election noteworthy for lower official voter turnout
It seemed nothing unpredictable could happen during parliamentary elections in
Turkmenistan. Only one political party - the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan -
was allowed to take part. And the parliament - the Mejlis - plays only a
symbolic role in the country. The Halk Maslahaty - a 2,450-member "people's
council" - is considered the main legislative body.
However, the election did bring at least one surprise. The reported turnout was
"only" 76.88 percent, compared to 99.6 percent for the last
parliamentary election five years ago. Russia's "Kommersant-Daily"
assessed it as "almost a revolution" for Turkmenistan. Independent
observers say actual turnout might even have been much lower.
Some district governors organized concerts to encourage people to come and vote.
Children in traditional costume awaited President Saparmurat Niyazov's arrival
at a polling station. They sang national songs.
Niyazov - known as Turkmenbashi, or "Father of All Turkmens" -- showed
up some hours later: "Hello everybody! Do you know my number?" Niyazov
No international organization observed the elections
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was refused entry
to Turkmenistan. "We cannot comment on the Turkmen elections since we were
not able to observe them," said a spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Urdur Gunnarsdottir. "We
did apply for visas to send an assessment team to Turkmenistan, but we did not
get visas and [there was] no explanation."
Turkmen officials have said the vote was held in compliance with international
norms and Turkmenistan's election law.
Halmurat Suyunov, a former member of the Turkmen parliament, currently living
abroad, said in a telephone interview with RFE/RL that in his opinion the new
Mejlis does not represent the Turkmen people. "Members of parliament who
were elected according to the orders given from above will only represent those
who assigned them," Suyunov said. "In the new Mejlis, there is no
deputy who will protect the people's rights and interests."
Little reaction from foreign governments
Khudayberdy Orazov, a former prime minister of Turkmenistan and founder of
the "Watan" ("Fatherland") opposition movement, said he
believes the Turkmen people can expect no improvement while Niyazov holds the
power. Orazov is also critical of Russia and the West, who in his opinion do not
pressure the Niyazov regime for more reforms.
"All [countries], Russia at the first place and also the West, are
satisfied to have [Niyazov in power]," Orazov said. "This is the
reason: the West thinks if it would pressure him more or would assist the
opposition, then [Niyazov] would ignore them completely. So far, he listens to
them. Besides, [Western companies like] General Electric, Boeing, Case, and
others have signed multimillion dollar contracts and work directly with Niyazov."
Fifty new members of the Mejlis are elected for five years. There are five
committees of the parliament on economy and social policy, science, education
and culture, legal matters, and international affairs.
Names of new parliament members were to be announced later. All are likely to be
ethnic Turkmens. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Russians, and other ethnic minorities are not
represented in the Mejlis.
Turkmenistan boosts natural gas price for Russia, Ukraine
Turkmenistan has offered to sell to Russia and Ukraine natural gas at €60 per
1,000 cubic metres in 2005, which is €16 more than this year, a source in the
Turkmenneftegaz State Trade Corporation said recently, cited by Turkmenistan.ru.
Talks at the level of experts wrapped up in the Turkmen capital on December 3rd.
A source close to the deal said future contracts with Russia's Gazprom and
Ukraine's Neftegaz Ukrainy are being coordinated.
The Deputy Director General of Russian group Gazek-sport, Sergei Yemelyanov, and
First Deputy CEO of Naftogas Ukrainy national joint-stock company Vadim Chuprun
led the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, respectively. The talks focused on
issues related to natural gas price, the Turkmen state news service (TDH)
The Turkmen side argued that the current price for Turkmen natural gas was
significantly lower than the world's average gas price, which has tended to grow
steadily over the last years.
At the same time, the Turkmen experts emphasised that the move was connected
with increased gas production costs due to a 5- to 10- fold rise in commodity
prices, including pipes, metal products, chemical reagents and equipment
supplied on the basis of clearing as part of payments for Turkmen gas. However,
despite this, Turkmenistan has never raised the question of increasing the price
for this valuable raw material.
Turkmenistan's national trade corporation Turkmenneftgas provided Ukrainian and
Russian partners with all necessary documents in support of Turkmen natural gas
price increase, projected at US$60 per 1,000 cubic metres at the Turkmen border
in 2005, considering sales opportunities at the world market of energy resources
and rising cost of Turkmen natural gas production. The Turkmen side also noted
that the new gas price offered by Turkmenistan was reasonably lower than the
world's average price and was the minimum at present, according to the TDH.
The sides have not agreed on the new gas price, the TDH reported.
Talks on signing a contract on natural gas supplies in 2005 will be continued in
a very short time. Russia and Ukraine make 50% of their payments for Turkmen
natural gas with had currency and 50% with commodities and equipment, primarily
for the Turkmen fuel and energy industry.