Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 319 - (26/07/07)
The personality cult lives on; residents take it in their
A while ago, the silhouette portrait of the deceased Turkmen despot, Saparmurat
Niyazov, was unexpectedly removed from the upper corner of state television
broadcasts. While it might be tempting to see the disappearance as a harbinger
of the dismantling of Turkmenistan's notorious cult of personality, there is
plentiful evidence in Ashgabat to suggest otherwise.
If anything, it seems as if the country's new leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov,
is simply replacing Niyazov as the chief object of the cult's affection. Indeed,
Berdymukhamedov's portrait has already replaced Niyazov's on state television
Berdymukhammedov was named acting president in late December after Niyazov's
death. In February, he was elected to president in what has been called an
unfair election that fell short of international standards.
While some observers have welcomed signs of change in Central Asia's most
isolated country, critics fear the development of a personality cult of the
president similar to the one by the man that Berdymukhammedov replaced, "Turkmenbashi"
In his first six months as Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov has launched some
reforms, reinstated pensions, and reopened the national Academy of Sciences,
which had been shut down by his autocratic predecessor.
But the president has also held a gala birthday celebration, fit to rival any
potentate's and complete with the minting of gold coins graced with his
The Sobers award
The greatest all-round cricketer of all time, Sir Gary Sobers, was used to
adulation, especially in his native West Indies; but it did not turn his head.
He kept a modest demeanour throughout his eventful career and summarised his
view of life as "self-praise is no praise at all."
They don't play cricket in Turkmenistan, alas, so that it is unlikely that any
Turkmen has heard of this nugget of wisdom or the standards of fair play that
are associated with the game. Their new leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov,
certainly hasn't. He celebrated his 50th birthday on June 29th by awarding
himself the Watan (Motherland) Order -- a gold and diamond pendant weighing
about 1 kilogram. As a part of the award, the president was also paid a bonus of
US$20,000 and received a 30 percent increase in his salary and pension.
The Watan Order, which can be awarded to the Turkmen president only once, was
given to Berdymukhammedov to honour his "outstanding achievements" --
after only six months in office.
During that half a year he also managed to have his biography published. And to
help commemorate his birthday, the government issued 400 gold and silver coins
decorated with the president's portrait.
Russian and Western news agencies criticized the lavish birthday honour of
Berdymukhammedov as a continuation of the presidential cult of personality in
Turkmenistan established by Niyazov, also known as "Turkmenbashi," the
"father of all Turkmen."
Hope For Change
However, some analysts say it could be a one-off celebration and that
Berdymukhammedov will actually move away from Niyazov's excesses. Few people
expected major changes in Turkmenistan's domestic and foreign policies, since
Berdymukhammedov made it clear from the beginning of his rule that he would
continue his predecessor's policies. However, he did promise some reforms,
including social reforms, and to some extent he started to open up the isolated
country to the world.
Berdymukhammedov's electoral platform included a revision of the country's
social-security law. Niyazov had cut off some 100,000 pensioners' retirement
benefits and substantially decreasing many others' social payments.
Restoring Pension Payments
Under the new social-security law -- which came into effect on July 1 -- the
suspended pensions were reinstated.
Berdymukhammedov has also reopened the Academy of Sciences, which was described
by Niyazov as a "useless institution" and closed down.
Niyazov's numerous portraits decorating walls and billboards around the country
-- and turning Turkmen cities into a kind of personal photo-album -- are now
being taken down. Some of them, however, are being replaced by the new
The new president has made some changes to Turkmenistan's power circles by
removing some of the key "behind-the-scenes" political figures.
The influential Akmurad Rejepov, the former head of the presidential guard, was
fired and then arrested in May. This Lieutenant General, formerly of the Soviet
KGB, was the most powerful man in the state after the deceased president, and
was the kingmaker of the current one. He must, if he is still alive, be
regretting his decision to put Berdymukhammedov into the top position, instead
of taking it himself.
However, it is the foreign policy of the energy-rich country that attracts
more attention abroad -- especially among those who want to import Turkmen gas.
Speaking at the ceremony in the capital, Ashgabat, marking his 50th birthday,
Berdymukhammedov said that Turkmenistan maintains its "neutral status"
and has "equal relationships" with all.
"Without joining any kind of political alliances, we will carry on with our
efforts to build new gas pipelines to carry our gas to China, and to Pakistan
and India via Afghanistan, and to Europe via the Caspian Sea," he said.
"This means that we will have equal and mutually beneficial relations with
Russia and the United States, with European countries, and with our neighbours
Most recently Chevron, a U.S.-based energy company, announced its intention to
open an office in Turkmenistan and participate in the development of Caspian Sea
Matthew Clements is the Eurasia editor in the Country Risk Department for Jane's
Information Group in Britain.
Clements says Turkmenistan's engagement with the international community will
continue to be limited, and Berdymukhammedov will not want great foreign
interference -- especially by Western, democratic countries -- in the country.
"I think we can see a greater level of engagement from Turkmenistan in the
international world, but again I think it is going to be limited to what
Turkmenistan wants to be dealing with," he said. "And I would not
expect a livening of relations with the West unless it is going to involve
Berdymukhammedov's reforms have thus far not touched on the dire situation of
human rights and civil liberties in Turkmenistan, which have been sharply
criticized by international observers for most of Niyazov's reign as president,
which began in 1991.
Similarly, they have done little to improve the living standards of Turkmen
people. Despite vast gas resources, most of the population lives in poverty.
For instance, Berdymukhammedov's latest action to reinstate pensions and other
social payments looks good on paper. But the minimum pension in Turkmenistan is
only around US$25 a month.
Iran and Turkmenistan to pump gas to Europe
The Central Asian country exports most of its gas via a Soviet-era pipeline
to the Russian giant, Gazprom. it has long been obvious that it should diversify
its exports away from Russia. Niyazov tried, but failed in this endeavour,
rubbing potential partners up the wrong way by his arrogance and ignorance of
the world scene re energy.
Things are now changing, with the new president having the sense to leave
negotiations to his experts. Turkmenistan is going to muscle in on the back of
its Iranian neighbour, which has even more gas reserves than itself. Iran and
Turkmenistan will pump 30 billion cubic metres of gas a year to Europe via
Turkey, leaving no need for alternative supplies to the Nabucco pipeline
project, a senior Turkish energy official said on July 14th. On top of this,
Turkey and Iran have also agreed that the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO)
will produce 20 bcm natural gas in the three phases of Iran's South Pars gas
field, the official, requesting anonymity, said.
Iran and Turkey have signed a preliminary agreement to pump Iranian gas to
Europe via Turkey, Iran said earlier, a move that will open a new export market
for Iran's massive reserves. "The agreement signed between Turkey and Iran
paves the way for the Nabucco project and we no longer need any other supplies
to meet the Nabucco gas requirement," said the official.
Turkey had sought Russian gas for the €4.6 billion or US$6.3 billion Nabucco
project that will cross Turkey. It is backed by the European Union partly as a
means to diversify from reliance on Russia by gaining access to central Asian
gas. The pipeline, running across Turkey to Hungary and Austria through the
eastern Balkans, will eventually be able to carry 31 billion cubic metres a year
of gas from producers in Central Asia to big consuming countries in Europe.
Details of the preliminary agreement with Iran will be announced in a month's
time, the official said, adding that the timing of when the gas would start
flowing had yet to be settled. "But it is agreed that Iran will pump 30 bcm
gas to Turkey per year which might include Turkmen gas," he said.
The memorandum of understanding includes an agreement to pump gas from
Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran, and Tehran's approval for Ankara to develop the
three phases of South Pars.
Iran, with the world's biggest gas reserves after Russia, has been considering
Ukraine and Turkey as possible routes to get its gas to Europe. In August 2006,
it announced plans for a joint scheme with Ankara to use its pipelines.
Turkmenistan already exports gas to Iran and sent 4.1 billion cubic metres to
the Islamic Republic in the first half of 2007. Of course none of this takes
into account the possible UN sanctions of new export markets for Iranian oil and
gas, which depend on whether Iran is considered to be adequately co-operating in
respect of its nuclear enrichment program.
Turkmenistan, LUKoil to agree on Caspian shelf PSA
Russian oil major LUKoil hopes to complete talks by the fall and sign a
Production Sharing Agreement with Turkmenistan for the Caspian shelf,
Rossiiskaya Gazeta quoted LUKoil President, Vagit Alekperov, in an interview on
"In Turkmenistan, we estimate that the Caspian shelf has strong prospects
for hydrocarbon reserves. We have received preliminary approval from the Turkmen
authorities to conduct a detailed study of the shelf and to propose a contract.
We hope to finish talks by the fall and sign a contract with Turkmenistan on
production sharing," he said.
In answer to a question on whether joint projects are possible with other
companies that have shown general interest in the Caspian, Alekperov said:
"Of course joint projects. There are huge risks connected with exploring
for hydrocarbons in the Caspian. This needs to be done with partners, therefore
we are moving towards a consortium. LUKoil has a competitive advantage in the
Caspian region. We have experience in the successful use of sea drilling
The company will also launch projects in 2007 to explore for gas in Uzbekistan,
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Ashgabat, Tehran to further develop economic relations
There is no obstacle to expanding further ties between Iran and Turkmenistan,
Iran's ambassador to Turkmenistan, Mohammad-Reza Forqani, said.
Iran-Turkmenistan's relations have increased greatly in different arenas, the
envoy noted. Iran and Turkmenistan have 1,200 kilometres borderlines. Turkmen
President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov arrived in Tehran on June 15th for a
two-day state-visit. Besides his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
Berdimuhammedov also met Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene, New
Ahmadinejad and Berdimuhammedov discussed the legal status of the Caspian Sea
and increase of Turkmen natural gas exports to northern Iran. Also construction
of an oil pipeline from Kazakstan to Iran via Turkmenistan was said to be on the
agenda. Symbolic for the relations between two neighbouring countries is a dam
along the joint border dubbed as "dam of friendship" which secures for
both sides some 650 to 950 million cubic metres of water per year and is
supposed to boost agricultural irrigation. Tehran and Ashgabat established
diplomatic relations right after Turkmenistan's independence from the Soviet
Union in 1991 and since then, the two countries have maintained good political
and trade relations. After the top-level meeting the presidents signed a joint
communiqué on developing bilateral relations. "The visit of this
high-ranking Turkmen official to the Islamic Republic of Iran which is among his
first (foreign) tours since he became president, is an indication of the depth
of friendly interactions and close relationship and an interest by the senior
officials of the two countries to expand ties," Forqani said. The
ambassador said over the past years more than 150 documents and cooperation
agreements have been signed between Tehran and Ashgabat. During
Berdimuhammedov's visit, more documents were signed between the two sides
especially in economic and cultural areas. Currently the value of trade deals
between the two countries stands at about 1.2 billion Euro which is mostly in
oil and energy sectors. It was reported that trade ties between the two
countries will expand during Turkmen president's tour of Iran.
MTS to provide Turkmenistan with wireless Internet
The CEO of Mobile TeleSystems, Leonid Melamed, met with Turkmen President,
Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, on June 29. During the talks, Melamed said his
company plans to expand its presence in the Turkmen telecommunication market,
Melamed offered MTS's services in the field of high information technologies, in
particular wireless Internet. "Having expressed interest in the offer,
Berdimuhammedov emphasised that Turkmenistan pins great hopes on the attraction
of latest achievements of scientific-technical progress and world best
experience in this field," the Turkmen State News Agency (TDH) reported.