Books on Turkmenistan
Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet
republic in 1925. It achieved its independence upon the dissolution of the
USSR in 1991. President NIYAZOV retains absolute control over the country
and opposition is not tolerated. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas
reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country if extraction
and delivery projects can be worked out.
Update No: 281 - (27/05/04)
The Messiah of Central Asia
Saparmurat Niyazov, ruler of this Central Asian republic, has a well earned reputation for extreme eccentricity, not to say craziness.
Niyazov is a man who has a hot line to the deity no less. Indeed he is a self-proclaimed prophet of God, the author of a new religious tome to rival, if not surpass the Bible and the Koran, namely the Rukhmana.
In his latest attempt to disguise Turkmenistan's de facto criminalisation of religious belief, Niyazov has revoked the de jure criminilisation of unregistered religious activity. Believers, mostly suspected of being Islamic fundamentalists of course, were before the de jure criminalisation treated as de facto criminals.
Before these punishments were introduced, Turkmenistan already had tight controls - which it still has - on unregistered religious activity. All Shia Muslim, Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Armenian Apostolic, Lutheran, Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witness, Baha'I and Jewish activity was de facto, if not de jure treated as illegal. Believers in any of these creeds were fined, detained, beaten, threatened, sacked from their jobs, etc - in a word, blatantly abused. That is likely to remain the case. Niyazov does not go in for anything as decadent as liberalism!
As befits someone with divine attributes, there is a glorious gold statue, revolving on its plinth, to Niyazov in the capital, Ashkabad. He was elected president in 1992 with 99.5% of the vote and was unanimously approved by parliament as president for life in 1999.
The month of January has been renamed after himself, April after his mother (who providentially saved him in 1948 in an earthquake, a miracle immortalised in anther statue) and the other months after other members of his family. The days of the week are also dedicated to his extended family.
Niyazov rules by caprice. He is always thinking up a new wheeze. He has declared July 12th a public holiday in favour of melons and April 27th Horse Day. He has banned beards because of his aversion to Islamic fundamentalism. Ballet and circuses have also been prohibited as unnecessary.
He is obviously widely detested. An assassination attempt narrowly failed on November 25th 2002. Another one is likely to be not so far away. Sooner or later one is likely to succeed.
With this background, it is fascinating to see the latest turn in events in that from Friday 21st May officials have been taking down portraits from public buildings and also statues in the capital city, Ashkabad. No explanation has been given for this uncharacteristic behaviour. An attack of modesty is the last thing that one expects from Niyazov.
Trouble in the sky
A curious, and telling, incident took place on May 26th in the skies above Turkmenistan. A British military transport plane, with 20 passengers on board, survived one of the closest 'near-misses' in the history of the Royal Air Force (RAF) when a Turkmen jet fighter shaved off six inches from two propeller blades as it skimmed overhead. The crew of the four-engine Hercules was first aware of a possible catastrophe when the co-pilot saw what he later described as a 'blur.' "Something had flashed across their vision, which they assumed was a fast jet, and the Hercules shuddered violently," an RAF source said.
Turkmenistan has a sizeable air force, consisting of 89 combat aircraft, 24 MiG 29s and 65 Su17s. The British plane was going from Kabul in Afghanistan to Bucharest in Romania; it was carrying military personnel, some of whom were being taken by stretcher for medical treatment.
The plane was equipped with a collision avoidance system. However, the Turkmen aircraft had not switched on its "Identification Friend or Foe" system, which would have alerted other aircraft to its presence. "Unless the other aircraft's transponder is switched on, the collision avoidance system on board the Hercules has nothing to respond to," a spokeswoman for the RAF said. In flying parlance the aircraft approaching the Hercules was not 'squawking.' After shutting down one of the engines the pilot alerted air traffic control that he needed to land at the nearest airport and was told to land in Baku in Azerbaijan, which he duly did.
There is clearly much amiss with the Turkmen air force's operational efficiency. Surprise; surprise.
The internal situation in Turkmenistan has been moving from bad to worse. There has been very little trickle down to the population of the revenues from the country's principal export product - natural gas. Last December the Foreign Minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, made a recorded appearance on national television - apparently under duress, confessing that he tried to assassinate Mr Niyazov, since then nothing has been heard of him.
With an autocratic ruler whose mental condition is to say the least, highly suspect, this desert republic may be on the verge of a major shift, either further into or away from the present chaos.
Mary airport to get upgraded via UAE loan
Mary Airport in eastern Turkmenistan was recently awarded a US$12m loan by the United Arab Emirates, New Europe reported.
According to new Central asia (nCa), the money granted by UAE will be spent for the upgrading of the airport in the region. Once this project is completed, Mary airport will be suitable for landing of wide-bodied, larger aircraft such as Boeing 747.
Crown Prince PVT Management, a company registered in UAE, will handle the project, nCa said in its report. Funds will be used to extend the landing strip No 1 to 3.5kms, installation of latest navigation and communication equipment and general modernisation of the existing facilities. According to a recent presidential decree, Turkmen Airlines would act as local coordinator for the project and sign necessary contracts with Crown prince PVT Management. UAE's grants list to the republic is includes a US$17m grant for an orphanage in Ashgabat, 1.5m for a mosque in the outskirts of Ashgabat and 15m for a mother and child centre in Mary province. Apart from these grants, UAE has extended a soft-term loan of US$50m for Archman health sanatorium near Baherden and kidney centre in Ashgabat.
According to the report, the provincial government of Mary would use its own funds to clear an additional area for expansion of the airport and build drainage, engineering and communication structures in the reconstruction zone.
Turkmen aviation fleet receives new Boeing aircraft
The 11th Boeing aircraft has complemented the civil aviation fleet of Turkmenistan, New Europe reported.
A new Boeing-717-200 liner, designed for 120 passengers, landed at the International Airport of Ashgabat recently flying in from an aviation plant at Long Beach (California, US).
Turkmenkhowayollary (Turkmen airlines) told Turkmenistan.ru it is a fourth aircraft of this type that the Boeing company has supplied to the republic.
Medium-distance aircraft of this specification have been manufactured by the US company since 1999. They meet all modern international requirements and are fitted with equipment similar to that of the latest Boeing-777 aircraft. The liner's engines, supplied by Rolls-Royce, which is owned by German carmaker BMW, allows it to develop a speed of up to 800km/h and make a non-stop flight of 2800km. The new aircraft is expected to be used both on domestic and international lines.
One more aircraft of the same type will arrive in Turkmenistan this summer and a VIP class Boeing-767-300 aircraft, designed for the president of state, will arrive by the end of this year.
Turkmenistan was the first from the post-Soviet states to start purchasing Boeing aircrafts. The aviation fleet of Boeings has increased to 11 aircrafts since 1992. Local aviation authorities use four Boeing-757, three Boeing 737 and four Boeing-717-200 aircraft.
Turkmenistan records 1.2% jump in oil production
Oil production in Turkmenistan increased 1.2% year-on-year to 2.362m tonnes in the first quarter 2004, a source in the National Institute for State Statistics and Information said recently, Interfax News Agency reported.
Turkmenneftegaz refineries refined 1.67m tonnes of oil in January-March, which was 10% more than in the same period last year. "The highest growth in Turkmenistan's production was in relatively new types of products," the source said. He said that production of liquefied gas increased 81% to 91,200 tonnes, with polypropylene production up 40% to 24,390 tonnes.
Production of gasoline in the first quarter increased 19%, with lubricating oil production up 13% and diesel - 4.0%. Turkmenistan increased oil production 11% to 10.004m tonnes in 2003, with natural gas production also up 11% to 50.06bn cubic metres.
Turkmenistan doubles up power supplies to Turkey
Turkmenistan's state power corporation Kuwwat signed a trilateral accord with Turkish Teyash and Iranian Tavanir companies on doubling electricity supplies up to 600m kWh a year, with an average transmission capacity of 70 megawatts, from Turkmenistan to Turkey through Iran, Interfax News Agency reported.
The Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey energy bridge began operations in December 2003 when the first tripartite agreement on the supply and transit of 300m kWh of electricity was signed. But Turkey stated its wish to significantly increase the purchase of electricity this February.
After the signing of a new agreement the annual exports of Turkmen electricity to Turkey will be worth US$21m, Interfax reported.
Turkmen electricity exports to Turkey became effective owing to the linking up of energy systems of the three states. At present, export supplies of electricity to Iran and Turkey are carried out through the Balkanabat (former Nebit Dag) Gonbad (Iran) - Khoy Bashkale (Turkey) line. The Turkmen-Iranian stretch of the line was built in 1999, and Iranian-Turkish part of the line was commissioned in December 2003. So far, electricity supplies are provided only by the Turkmenbashy and Balkanabat power stations in the west of Turkmenistan.
It will become possible to considerably increase the supplies upon completion of the construction of two more joints of power systems of Turkmenistan and Iran near Serakhks and Mashad.
According to the Turkmen Ministry of Power Engineering and Industry, the republic's existing power stations are capable of producing about 16bn kWh, of which 2.1bn kWh are to be exported.
Besides Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan also purchases Turkmen electricity. Turkmenistan has recently implemented a number of projects on renovation and modernisation of grids as well as construction of new facilities. In fact, new gas turbines made by General Electric were put into operation at the Abadan, Turkmenbashi and Balkanabat power stations.
Trans-Asian rail route to run through Turkmenistan
Kazakstan's Minister of Transport and Communication Kazhmurat Nagmanov, during a recent visit to Ashgabat, discussed options for laying a new Trans-Asian rail main line through Turkmenistan, Turkmenistan.ru reported recently.
According to the report, the minister held talks with Deputy Prime Minister of Turkmenistan in Charge of Transportation Rejepdurdy Atayev, as well as with the leadership of the ministry of railways. The visitor briefed the Turkmen side on the progress in the development of a Kazak stretch of the new Trans-Asian route.
According to some information at the talks with the Kazak minister in Ashgabat, the Turkmen side got interested in the new project and intended to take a closer look at it.
The new route, with 1,435mm track width, meeting European standards, is expected to run from Chinese seaports to European seaports and Rotterdam in particular, the Kazak Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It is planned that at the same time the new route will run through the territories of Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey and further to European seaports. The statement said it is targeted to construct 3070km of the new rail link in Kazakstan, 700km - in Turkmenistan and 90km - in Iran.
The establishment of the new Trans-Asian rail main will make it possible to transport cargos, which are presently shipped by sea, "without overloading and rerouting carriages," the statement read.
The period of the cargo transportation from Chinese ports to Rotterdam will be shortened by 18 days.
It is worth mentioning that the Great Silk Road that linked the East and West in ancient times reemerged in its modern rail form after the completion of the rail link Tejen (Turkmenistan) - Meshkhed (Iran) in 1996.
In the days of opening of a "golden link" of this route President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niayzov suggested laying one more route of the Trans-Asian main line that would run along the eastern coast of the Caspian.
However, the project's potential participants confined themselves to verbal support of the Turkmen leader's idea.
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