Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 290 - (25/02/05)
"Serious instability" possible in Turkmenistan
without urgent changes -- report
Turkmenistan needs to diversify its economy and reverse the
"destruction" of its education system, otherwise it faces
"serious instability," an International Crisis Group country report
bluntly states. It goes on to recommend that the international community apply
more consistent and focused pressure on President Saparmurat Niyazov's regime.
The report, titled Repression and Regression in Turkmenistan: A New
International Strategy, maintains that the "quiet-diplomacy" strategy
for Turkmenistan is a failure. "The international response to Turkmenistan
has been weak and poorly coordinated. Niyazov has successfully played different
states and organizations against each other," the report, released earlier
in November, states.
Since an alleged assassination attempt on Niyazov in 2002, the president,
spurred on by "growing paranoia," has expanded authoritarian controls
over society, leading to a rise in human rights abuse. "The government
clamped down even more on dissent, and took a much stronger line against
independent activity in civil society," the report says.
Niyazov's efforts to eliminate his enemies, both real and perceived, have
extended beyond Turkmenistan's borders, the ICG report says. "Opposition
leader Avdy Kuliev was beaten up in Moscow in August 2003 by suspected Turkmen
agents, an allegation backed up the next month when Russian authorities
reportedly asked eight Turkmen embassy officials to leave the country,
supposedly due to suspicions they were planning to murder Moscow-based
dissidents," the report said. "In April 2004 Makhamedgeldi Berdiev, a
Radio Liberty journalist and human rights activist, was attacked in his home in
Moscow and badly injured."
The report, which follows up on a similar study conducted by ICG in 2003, says
the economic future for an overwhelming number of Turkmen citizens is grim. The
report states that Niyazov's regime relies on the country's abundant natural
resources to prop up the police state, adding that energy production is
estimated at 30 per cent of GDP, but only 20 per cent of that revenue is devoted
to social spending. The bulk of revenue is under direct presidential control -
funds that Niyazov uses to maintain a large security force to intimidate the
citizenry. At the same time, Niyazov has devoted sizeable sums to eccentric
projects that reinforce his already well-developed cult of personality. In
August 2004, for example, he approved a US$43m plan to build an ice palace in
the desert outside the capital Ashgabat.
The agricultural sector, which accounts for 25 per cent of GDP and which employs
over half the labour force, is facing "serious decline" because of
mismanagement and counter-productive policies, the report says. Unrealistic
government production goals have led to seizures of seed stock, and all farmers
must adhere to "Niyazov's decision to sow seeds according to a set schedule
without consideration of the weather." The "gradual decline" in
agriculture shows no signs of slowing, and the 2004 harvest is predicted to be
the worst in years. With about half the young people in Turkmenistan unemployed,
the continuing agricultural-sector collapse can lead to a "humanitarian
crisis," the report warns.
Recent developments in the educational sphere could have the most damaging
long-term consequences for Turkmenistan's development, according to the report.
Niyazov has transformed the education system into an instrument of "heavy
ideological indoctrination," with the president's "quasi-spiritual
guide," or the Ruhnama, serving as the paramount textbook in Turkmen
schools. The system, in effect, now emphasizes political reliability over
acquiring knowledge. The report cites one example at a vocational college, where
18 of the 34 hours of academic work are devoted to studying the Ruhnama and
other tracts devoted to reinforcing Niyazov's personality cult.
"I believe [the reforms] are good for Turkmenbashi [Niyazov] to stay in
power. However they are terrible for people, because it makes them dumber…Turkmenbashi
is brainwashing the Turkmens by his policies and making them like sheep to herd
them easily," the report quotes one unidentified student as saying. With 40
percent of the population under fourteen, the changes in education will outlast
Niyazov's lifetime and, as quoted in the report, lead to "the creation of
an isolated, stupid people dangerous for stability to the region."
The government's effort to cut Turkmen citizens off from information stretches
far beyond the classroom, the report says. As of 2002, only eight people per
every 1,000 had telephones. Meanwhile authorities closely monitor access to
outside sources of information, especially the internet.
While current policies may help reinforce Niyazov's hold over society in the
near-term, they will likely leave Turkmenistan more vulnerable to instability
over the longer haul. Niyazov's management style, which relies on frequent
purges to prevent challenges to his authority from within the authoritarian
system, has disrupted the development of a cohesive political elite in the
country. There is also no clear line of political succession. Thus, political
turmoil can easily ensue when Niyazov eventually leaves the political stage. The
lack of developed political institutions, combined with the ongoing degeneration
in the economy and education, could produce a "catastrophe" when
Turkmenistan confronts the succession issue, the report says.
To minimize the risks, the report urges a drastic overhaul of the international
approach to Turkmenistan. The international community so far has preferred to
work behind the scenes in trying to encourage the mercurial Niyazov to moderate
his policies. There are powerful geopolitical reasons for prominent regional
players not to confront Niyazov. Russia, for example, is intent on developing a
potentially lucrative energy export relationship with Turkmenistan. Meanwhile,
the United States has voiced criticism of Niyazov's policies, but has
nevertheless been reluctant to exert strong pressure on Ashgabat out of a desire
not to upset US security interests in Central Asia. Such policies of tacit
cooperation raise the chances of tumult in Turkmenistan, ICG representatives
"The international community has put short-term economic and security
benefits ahead of longer-term regional security, and there is likely to be a
terrible price for that," David Lewis, Director of ICG's Central Asia
Project, said in a written statement. "Despite its oil and gas,
Turkmenistan's economy is becoming brittle, and the inevitable political
succession could well be violent."
The report urges the international community establish clear benchmarks that
Turkmenistan must meet, or face concrete economic and political sanctions. For
instance, the report says Russia should link continued economic cooperation to
efforts by the Niyazov government to restore Russian-language instruction in
Turkmen schools, and to open access to Russian media outlets. Russia should also
insist on the restoration of dual citizenship rights for Turkmen residents.
In addition, the report specifically urges the United States designate
Turkmenistan "a country of particular concern." The European Union,
meanwhile, should tighten its criteria for the extension of economic assistance,
the report said.
Leaders of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan press ahead with bilateral thaw
The presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, whose mutual animosity has
been well documented in recent years, are striving to revive a functional
relationship between their neighbouring Central Asian states. However, efforts
to implement measures adopted during a mid-November bilateral summit appear to
already have hit snags.
Just two years ago, Turkmen-Uzbek relations were experiencing a deep chill,
after Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov accused Uzbekistan of aiding an
assassination attempt against him. But at a one-day bilateral summit November 19
in the Uzbek city of Bukhara, Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov
announced they had resolved all problems that had plagued bilateral relations
since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. "There are no disputed
problems which could give rise to any suspicion or doubt about mutual
relations," Niyazov said during a joint news conference.
During the summit, Niyazov and Karimov agreed on a framework for sharing
regional water resources, and signed agreements regulating border-crossing
procedures for Turkmen and Uzbek citizens. The agreements, both leaders hope,
will help spur economic development and bilateral trade. Karimov said the
agreement "will perfectly regulate our relations." Niyazov, meanwhile,
vowed that Uzbeks and Turkmen living in border areas could now "feel
secure" and "not worry about their future."
Tension along the Turkmen-Uzbek frontier has heightened dramatically in recent
years, driven in large part by cross-border smuggling. Helping to support
Niyazov's authoritarian regime, the Turkmen government has kept prices for many
basic goods artificially low, taking advantage of the country's abundant natural
resources. Many Uzbeks have resorted to smuggling Turkmen goods, especially
petrol, back into Uzbekistan, which maintains punitive tariffs on many imported
items. The smuggling problem has reportedly caused several shooting incidents
along the border, with Turkmen border guards opening fire on people suspected of
engaging in illicit activity.
Shortly before the summit, an incident reportedly occurred at the Tuyamuyun
hydro-electric station situated along the Turkmen-Uzbek border, in which 25
Uzbek police officers, detailed to provide security at the facility, were
detained by Turkmen border guards. The Uzbek officers supposedly spent 32 days
The summit and the subsequent agreements appear to have been hastily arranged.
Karimov reportedly initiated the effort to foster a Turkmen-Uzbek thaw. Local
analysts believe he had compelling reasons to seek a meeting with the mercurial
Turkmen leader. For one, cross-border smuggling has severely undermined the
Karimov administration's effort to maintain a tight grip on Uzbekistan's
economy. Uzbek authorities are also worried that one of Niyazov's grandiose
construction projects -- a massive reservoir, dubbed the Golden Lake - would
drain water from the shared Amu Darya River to the point that it would endanger
Uzbekistan's cotton industry.
Uzbekistan has also been facing mounting international pressure over its poor
human rights record, and its reluctance to implement economic reforms. Settling
disputes with neighbouring Turkmenistan would potentially eliminate a major
distraction for Karimov, enabling him to devote more time to dealing with his
For his part, Niyazov seemed to welcome the chance to improve ties with
Uzbekistan. The visit to Bukhara marked one of the few instances that Niyazov
has ventured beyond his country's borders in recent years. Turkmen officials
have appeared concerned about Uzbek efforts to develop the Kokdumalak oil field,
which straddles the two countries' frontier.
In addition, in meeting with Karimov, Niyazov appeared to see an opportunity to
strengthen the authoritarian system in Turkmenistan. According to a report
broadcast by the Deutche Welle radio, Uzbek authorities gave assurances to their
Turkmen counterparts that they would monitor the movements of Turkmen citizens
travelling in Uzbekistan, and would alert Ashgabat to any perceived
"suspicious steps" undertaken by Turkmen citizens on Uzbek soil.
Both sides seem intent on promoting a bilateral thaw. Underscoring this is the
fact that on December 1 the two countries launched an effort to demarcate their
1,800-kilometer frontier. Nevertheless, the measures to ease border-crossing
hassles agreed on in Bukhara remain in effect.
The agreements do not appear to have stemmed the steady flow of smuggled goods
from Turkmenistan into Uzbekistan. On November 26, Niyazov reportedly
reprimanded top officials in border provinces over the high volume of smuggling.
Dissatisfaction related to the smuggling issue may help explain why Niyazov on
December 1 suddenly sacked the governor of the Dashoguz region, Isanguly
Gulmyradov, citing "grave shortcomings in work and abuse of power."
While Niyazov and Karimov may be friends again for the moment, the two,
especially the Turkmen leader, are known to engage in political zig-zagging.
Thus, experts in both countries are cautious when evaluating the potential
impact of the thaw.
At the Bukhara summit, both Niyazov and Karimov pledged to take steps to boost
trade. Niyazov predicted that Turkmenistan would be "ready within four to
five months to open border trade outlets and markets to sell petrol and
liquefied natural gas at international prices." One way to measure
Niyazov's and Karimov's commitment to improved bilateral relations will be to
see how the two follow through on their trade pledges.
Bouygues wins construction contracts in Turkmenistan
French company Bouygues, which has already constructed a number of large
facilities in Turkmenistan, including the Presidential Palace, mosques in
Kipchak and Geoktepe, the Ruhiet Palace of Congresses and Art as well as several
new ministries, has signed contracts with the Turkmen government on
implementation of 2 new projects, Turkmenistan.ru reported recently.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov received on January 17th a group of senior
managers of the French company headed by Bouygues Vice President Aldo Carbonaro.
The principal result of the meeting was the signing of contracts for
construction of the main building of the Turkmen state university named after
Makhtunkuli and the Press House.
According to the government, the total cost of the project is US$40m that
includes the university's main building, a library, a reading room as well as a
public hall for 1,000 people with an area of 13,500sqms and the improvement of
20,950sqms of an adjoining territory. Construction work is to start in April
2005 and finish in April 2007. As for the Press House, construction of this
facility with a total area of 6,100sqms will start in January 2005 and finish in
October 2006. The cost of this project is estimated at US$17m, including the
improvement of 13,300sqms of an adjoining territory. At the meeting with the
Bouygues representatives, Niyazov approved projects of construction of the
second line of the military institute and a complex of administrative buildings
designed for ministries and establishments of the agricultural sector of
Turkmenistan, construction of which is scheduled for the near future.
Niyazov also reviewed a new project of a 17-storey building for the ministries
of trade and consumers' cooperation and the State commodity and raw materials
exchange designed by the French company. This building will be erected in the
southern part of Ashgabat, near the recently built President Hotel.
During a recent session of the cabinet of ministers, Niyazov also signed a
decree authorising the state concern Turkmennesftegazstroy to conclude a
contract with Bouygues Batiman International on the construction of a marble and
granite processing plant with a capacity of 205,000 sqms of facing stones, worth
€26.7m on condition of starting the construction in February 2005 and
commissioning the facility in February 2006 in the township of Ovadan Depe.
At the session, Niyazov said that the new plant would make it possible to lower
construction costs of public buildings in the republic in future in view of the
fact that at present they are mostly coated with marble and granite. The state
corporation Turkmengeology was instructed to produce together with Bouygues
Batiman International a feasibility study on the development of facing stones
deposits to supply the marble and granite processing plant with local raw
materials in accordance with the established order and a period of one month.
Turkmenistan extracts 0.5% more oil, 0.9% less gas in 2004
Last year Turkmenistan extracted 10.051m tonnes of oil (0.5% more than the
10.004m tonnes it produced in 2003) and 58.57bn cubic metres of natural gas
(0.9% less than 59.10bn cubic metres in 2003), New Europe reported recently.
State-run Turkmengaz produced 49.3bn cubic metres of gas, the National Institute
for State Statistics and Information said. Gas exports came to 42bn cubic metres
in 2004, down 3.2% from 43.4bn cubic metres in 2003. Turkmenistan plans to ship
around 45bn cubic metres of gas west to Russia and Ukraine. Oil refining
companies in the state corporation Turkmenneftegaz - that is the Turkmenbashi
complex of refineries and the Seidinsky refinery - processed 6.828m tonnes of
crude oil last year, 0.2% more than the year before (6.804m tonnes). Production
of lubricating oils increased 140% to 50,800 tonnes in 2004 (21,500 tonnes in
2003), polypropylene 14% to 86,100 tonnes (75,500 tonnes) and liquefied
hydrocarbon gases 22% to 359,600 tonnes (295,200 tonnes).
Canadian firm interested in Turkmen Caspian Serdar block
Turkmenistan President, Saparmurad Niyazov, and Roger Haynes, head of the
Canadian company Buried Hill Energy, met on January 17th to discuss the
company's participation in oil projects in the Caspian and gas processing in the
east of the country, New Europe reported recently.
"Turkmenistan welcomes the readiness of foreign companies to take part in
developing hydrocarbon resources in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea, where
over half of oil reserves and about 25% of natural gas reserves are
concentrated," Niyazov said. Based on the geophysical research carried out
by the US Company Western Geophysics, the Turkmen leader said, the level of
energy reserves located in marine deposits is estimated at 11bn tonnes of oil
and 5.5tr cubic metres of gas. A source in the Turkmen presidential
administration noted that the head of the Canadian company said Buried Hill
Energy is interested in the Serdar prospect in the Caspian. Haynes said another
extremely attractive project is the production of liquefied natural gas at the
Takhtabazar field on the border with Afghanistan. He said that an industrial
unit built by his company would be able to produce up to 1,000 tonnes of propane
and butane per year.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan relations gain strength
During Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's recent visit to Bohara, talks
between the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were highly rated by Uzbek
Prime Minister, Sadik Safayev, Turkemnistan.ru reported.
Safayev stressed the importance of the discussion by the presidents of two
neighbour states on the issue on the establishment of the Central Asian Centre
for Preventive Diplomacy. "As the Uzbek saying goes, a close neighbour is
better than a distant relative," Safayev said. It is clear that if the two
states have 2,000 kilometres of common border and many links, including between
relatives, the need in political dialogue at the top level is mutual, he added.
The meeting between presidents was necessitated by the vital need to discuss
important issues, many of which they managed to solve, Safayev said. "The
point is that UN should set up its body there which will contribute to the
implementation of programmes on strengthening stability," he noted.
Turkmenistan suggested that this office should be located in Ashgabat.
"Well, this is a very reasonable proposal and we support it. In turn,
Turkmenistan supported Uzbekistan's initiative on the establishment of the UN
Centre for countering drug related crimes. We believe this is a regional
"We also decided to establish a joint body to monitor the use of water from
the border river of Amudarya that is designed to prevent any misunderstandings
in this regard," Safayev said. On the whole, Safayev noted that a direct
dialogue between Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov was useful and
Trans-Karakum railwaa project to end in December
Ashgabat-Dashoguz Trans-Karakum railway - designed to link the Turkmen capital
with the administrative centre of the country's northern region and shorten the
period of transportation of cargo and passengers to this region and back - has
to be commissioned by the end of this year, New Europe reported recently.
President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, set this deadline for local
railway constructors. Constructors of the railway have already completed 280km
of the track.
A 560km long railway line has crossed a halfway mark. A parallel
Ashgabat-Dashoguz highway is also being built along the railway track.
It is natural that Turkmenistan is implementing this grandiose project on
tracking a railway through the Kara Kum desert on its own, without foreign
partners. The government allocated significant resources to boost the
construction, that were used to purchase powerful equipment in the US, Belarus,
Russia and Ukraine. Railway stations, technical facilities, warehouses,
accommodation for personnel and railway infrastructure as a whole are being
built along with track works.