Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 307 - (27/07/06)
The calendar has been changed into one of eight months of 45
days or so each. The dictator's name, Turkmenbashi, is now used to designate
towns across the desert republic, as well as public buildings and the airport.
His photograph is everywhere, including in school classrooms, where the children
sing an oath of loyalty to him every morning.
Despite this adulation, there are hardy spirits, thinking perhaps of the example
of Caligula (who was assassinated by his own guards) who have tried to eliminate
him, the last time on November 25th last year. But he is not mad enough as was
Caligula to taunt his own guards. It will be more difficult to attempt it again.
He has the sense not to travel publicly abroad, not even to the summits of
fellow dictators in Central Asia.
He has lost an ambassador or two who have sought asylum abroad, as with the
envoy to Turkey a year or two ago. But it is unlikely that, short of another
successful attempt on his life, he will lose power soon. He has, indeed, been
declared president for life by the tame parliament.
Disadvantageous deal with Russia
He has made a frightful mess of his policy towards Russia and the West. He
ruined the chances of obtaining a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea to Western
markets by his ham-fisted negotiating tactics. The representatives of the majors
got totally fed up by him and put prudence before their pockets.
Niyazov was then obliged to do a deal in April with the one country across which
Turkmen gas can be exported to market, Russia. This is now coming into force,
2004 being the first year of the agreement's operation.
New gas pipeline to China
But a new prospect is opening up, to export to China via a new pipeline, built
with the help of Chinese finance.
The problem is that the route lies across Afghanistan, which is not exactly the
ideal venue for a pipeline. It is not difficult to see the possibilities for
theft or sabotage. Unless conditions improve remarkably in Afghanistan the
project is likely to remain a non-starter
MEPs face Turkmenistan gas and human rights dilemma
Initial reports from an MEPs' visit to Turkmenistan paint a grim picture of
the Central Asian country, amid concerns that the EU's interest in the country's
energy reservoirs undermines its stand on human rights.
"It's the most repressive country I've ever been to," British
conservative MEP Martin Callanan told EU observer on Monday night (26th June)
after a five-day long trip last week. "Human rights standards don't
The MEP visit comes a few months after the European Commission and member states
requested the European Parliament to ratify a 1998 trade agreement with Ashgabat,
arguing that the text is needed to replace an old Soviet-era pact still in
The EU currently buys around 320m Euro a year of oil and gas from Turkmenistan
but with plans afoot to build new pipelines to the Caspian Sea region in the
name of energy security, the level of gas trade is set to swell in the coming
On Monday (26th June) EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs and energy
ministers from Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey agreed to
"successfully complete" the Nabucco gas pipeline project linking the
EU and the Caspian Sea region including Turkmenistan.
"I'm not saying we should only buy oil and gas from democratic states - if
we did that, we would hardly buy anything at all," Mr Callanan said.
"But we should probably postpone the new agreement until there is some
improvement on human rights."
The opinion is shared by the high-profile think tank, the International Crisis
Group, which argued in April that "efforts to 'engage' even the region's
worst offenders - Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - may be undermining the EU's
stand on human rights and democratisation."
EU gas needs
US-funded NGO Freedom House recently reported that Turkmen president Niyazov
in 2005 "took direct control of the country's energy resources, allowing
him the potential to further increase his presidential funds" estimated to
stand at over US$1.3 billion.
But German conservative Daniel Caspary, who in April drafted a report
recommending parliament unfreeze the 1998 trade pact says it is
"nonsense" to claim the move is linked to EU oil and gas needs, as the
only difference to the Soviet-era deal concerns the textile sector and a new
clause on human rights.
"There are some MEPs who are against the agreement per se. Some who think
it is necessary to improve the human rights dialogue with Turkmenistan and some
who want to introduce the human rights clause just so they can suspend the
agreement," he stated.
"I still don't know what the right thing to do is," Mr Caspary
explained. "I am not the kind of rapporteur who wants to push a certain
position through parliament. I really want to find out what is best for the
people of Turkmenistan and what will get a majority in parliament."
The German member, who also visited Ashgabat recently, argued it is "very
difficult to validate information" with contradictory reports coming from
NGOs, from the Niyazov government and from individual member states' embassies
The cross-party group of European deputies was not granted a meeting with
president Saparmurat Niyazov and was not allowed to leave the capital city to
visit political prisoners, such as Maral Yklymova in nearby Mery.
"They were afraid we would ask him [Niyazov] questions on human rights, so
we met foreign minister Meredov instead. He had all the usual answers - that
human rights reports are exaggerated, that the west doesn't understand," Mr
"I got the impression that they don't care what the outside world thinks
about them," he added. "There is plenty of oil and gas money. It is
helping to build huge marble-clad hotels across Ashgabat which nobody visits.
Our hotel was empty."
Mr Callanan was also struck by president Niyazov's personality cult, with jolly
images of the square-jawed, raven-haired leader on every street corner, in every
hotel room and on most TV stations - but no World Cup.
"There is no free press. There is no political opposition. He is cutting
education from 11 years to nine years, but forcing everybody to learn the
Ruhnama," the MEP said.
The Ruhnama is a Koran-type spiritual guide, written by president Niyazov in
2001 and designed to - in its own words - "remove the complexities and
anguishes from day-to-day living."
Turkmenistan offers Burren Energy gas partnership
Turkmen President, Saparmurad Niyazov, has suggested that Britain's Burren
Energy discuss possible partnership in the gas sector, the presidential press
service said. This offer was made during a meeting between Niyazov and Burren
Energy CEO, Finian O'Sullivan, and Vice President, Atul Gupta. Buren Energy said
it was interested in the offer. Burren Energy has worked on the Turkmen market
for more than 10 years. It produces oil in the West of the country through a
production sharing agreement. The meeting also discussed the further development
and prospects for cooperation, including producing hydrocarbons in the Turkmen
sector of the Caspian Sea. O'Sullivan made a number of new proposals to Niyazav,
but the details of these proposals were not disclosed, New Europe reported.
Gas production up 1% in 5 months
Turkmenistan produced 28.8 billion cubic metres of natural gas in January-May, 1
per cent more than in the same period last year, said the National Statistics
and Information Institute, reported Interfax News Agency.
Gas exports fell 1.5 per cent to 19.9 bcm from 20.2 bcm in the same period last
year. Turkmenistan also produced 3.452 million tonnes of oil, including oil
condensate, a 13 per cent year-on-year drop. Throughput at the Turkmenbashi Oil
Refinery Complex and the Seidin Oil Refinery in the first five months of the
year amounted to 2.719 million tonnes of oil. Production of lubricating oil in
January-May this year amounted to 27,900 tonnes (up 32 per cent).