Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 317 - (30/05/07)
An opening up society
Karl Popper famously distinguished between closed and open societies in The Open
Society and its Enemies. It came out as the Cold War was commencing just after
the Second World War, pitting the West against the USSR. To be open to
criticism, whether internal or external, with free media and travel and an
independent rule of law, free elections and the like characterise open
societies; the absence of these attributes closed ones.
It is a fact that it is easier to preach the good life than to practise it. At
the London School of Economics where he taught Popper was renowned for his
rebarbative ways and intolerance of criticism. His book came to be referred to
as "The Open Society' by one of its enemies."
Turkmenistan was certainly a closed society under its former president,
Saparmurat Niyazov. His death in December has not created an open society
overnight, but it is becoming slowly an opening up society.
Turkmen novelist receives US honour
One sign of the new times is that a novelist from Turkmenistan who had been
barred from leaving his home country for more than two years travelled to the
United States for the first time to accept an award for his work defending
freedom of expression. Rakhim Esenov, 78, a writer and freelance correspondent
for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was allowed to leave Turkmenistan to attend
an evening's PEN American Centre Gala in New York on April 23rd, after the U.S.
Embassy and others protested the Turkmen foreign minister's refusal to let him
make the trip.
"It is very noble and humane to fight for someone you don't know and to see
them as a human being," Esenov said through an interpreter in his
acceptance of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at the American
Museum of Natural History.
The PEN American Centre advocates free expression, defends writers in legal
disputes and sponsors literary programmes. Esenov was arrested in February 2004
on charges that he incited social, national and religious hatred through the
mass media. His novel "The Crowned Wanderer" was banned from
publication by the country's president, who said it was historically inaccurate.
In an interview before the dinner ceremony, Esenov said he coped with the
restrictions placed on him by "working, working, working."
"I am by nature an optimist, and that helped me, too," he said through
an interpreter. He said he hoped to meet with publishers while he was in New
Japanese cinema days start in Turkmenistan
In another indication of new ties with the wider world, "Japanese
Cinema Days" opened in the Turkmen capital on April 27th. The event was
dedicated to the 15th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic
relations between Turkmenistan and Japan. It was organized by the Japanese
Embassy in Turkmenistan in association with the Ministry of culture, TV and
Radio broadcasting of Turkmenistan. Films were demonstrated in the Turkmen
National Music and Drama Theatre named after Magtymguly.
As the Ashgabat correspondent of Turkmenistan.ru reported, the three-day film
festival programme included demonstration of best feature films and
documentaries shot by Japanese cinematographers in different years. These were
"Drums of Japan", "Sweeties of Japan" and
"Firework", as well as feature films "About women and Asura",
"First love" and "Swing girls". Animation films were
represented by "Express-Galaxy 999" cartoon.
All film demonstrations were free to public.
Of course the Japanese are very interested in Turkmen energy supplies.
"Chinese Cinema Days" or the like can be expected next.
Turkmen president in Moscow
The death of Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian president, cut short Turkmen
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's visit to Moscow.
Contrary to Moscow's hopes, it was not the first stop in the new Turkmen
president's diplomatic tour. Several days before his Moscow trip, he went to
Saudi Arabia, and the haj hardly explains his choice of priorities. Moscow was
the second stop, in line with the Eastern system of political symbols.
Turkmenistan made it clear that the momentum was still there, no matter how it
may respond to the special attention it is getting from the West. The new
Turkmen president arrived in Moscow to prove the existence of that momentum.
This is the gist of the matter.
Turkmenistan is among the few countries whose sovereignty Russia has always
respected. It is probably the only former-Soviet country with which Russia has
built relations that are completely free of any verbiage about centuries-long
friendship or involvement in some irrational alliances. Turkmen-Russian
relations have rested strictly on business, no matter what surprises the current
president's predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, might have liked to spring on the
world. At the end of his life, Niyazov seemed to show amazing reciprocity
towards Russia by letting Gazprom contract virtually all Turkmen gas until 2028
and ridding Ukraine, Russia's main rival, of all possible illusions. Even a rise
in price to $100 per thousand cubic meters did not seem so disheartening
considering that the relevant agreement expires in 2009.
Niyazov had shown more than once that he did not believe contracts were written
in stone, and for this reason, Russia's apprehensions persisted even during his
lifetime, all the more so since its pragmatic style of dealing with Turkmenistan
was readily adopted by other interested parties. Moreover, their number has been
steadily growing. Now even Armenia, not to mention Azerbaijan, Georgia and
Ukraine, cannot conceal its excitement over proposals for transporting gas via a
trans-Caspian pipeline, bypassing Russia. Likewise, all countries that lie along
the proposed Nabucco gas pipeline, which would transport Central Asian gas from
Erzurum in Turkey to Austria, have announced their interest in the project.
These ideas did not emerge overnight. The hopes for global gas diversification
that seemed to have faded away have come back with the change of power in
Turkmenistan. However, such hopes were before and are still nothing more than an
absorbing exercise in drawing on a geopolitical map. The pipe's underwater leg
from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan carries a price tag of five billion dollars.
Some 10 years ago, it was half that figure. This is no surprise if we recall the
enormous gap between the tentative estimates for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC)
oil pipeline and its final costs. There are no volunteers lining up to finance
the drive to diversify gas supplies just like there were no enthusiastic oil
giants ready to pay for the BTC project. In general, these projects have one
common feature: their economic practicality lags several years behind political
But as follows from the history of the same BTC project, sooner or later this
gap may be bridged, despite the price and the less-than-ideal route. Therefore,
Turkmenistan may take the liberty of making a rather sophisticated and at the
same time simple manoeuvre.
President Berdymukhammedov does not say "no" to anyone - neither to
Russia, which he assures of his loyalty, nor to the West, which expects him to
take a broader look at the world. He may choose to build the same kind of
triangular relationship he currently has with Moscow and Kiev but on a much
bigger scale and with different stakes. As a skilful auctioneer, he can wait for
There is not even any need to blackmail Moscow independently. On the eve of
Berdymukhammedov's visit, Moscow learned that the European Union had already
offered 1.7 million euros for a feasibility report on the proposed trans-Caspian
pipeline. This money can be accepted without any qualms since such a report has
never come with any strings attached. But the West also has to know it is not
the only suitor, and it is enough for the Turkmen president to visit Moscow and
let the world hear, for the umpteenth time now, about Turkmen loyalty to the
There is only one thing that Turkmenistan cannot do: make a final decision. None
of its partners, who are compelled to be nice, demand that it do so. The world's
interest in the country, particularly while the exact amount of its gas reserves
is still unclear, is far from exhausted. His somewhat ambiguous status as a
successor does not encourage Berdymukhammedov to take abrupt steps, something
which the interested world is also ready to understand.
To sum up, there is a dynamic equilibrium. Today, it has shifted in the
direction of Russia, which had to back up its interest with investment
proposals. Regardless of the visit's programme, both sides have done their bit.
Moscow has reason to believe in the momentum shown by Turkmenistan. The world
may now expect a third, Western, visit by the Turkmen president, the scenario
for which was written a long time ago.
Economy grows by over 20% in Q1
Turkmenistan's economy grew by 20.3 per cent between January and April, Economy
and Finance Minister, Khojamyrat Geldymyradov, told a Cabinet session broadcast
on national TV, New Europe reported.
He said production remains stable in the oil and gas, chemical and energy
sectors, with electricity production up six percent, natural gas 8 per cent, oil
10 per cent, oil products six percent, polypropylene 27 per cent and fertilizer
12 per cent.
Foreign companies operating in the oil and gas sector have posted impressive
growth figures compared to last year. For instance, gas production soared 187
per cent and oil production 152 per cent.
At the same time the textile industry - a cornerstone of the national economy -
reported a 14 percent drop in the production of knitted fabric and 20 percent in
knitted wear due to the limited use of production capacities.
Burren to produce 1.13m tonnes of oil in 2007
Britain's Burren Energy plans to produce 1.127 million tonnes of oil in
Turkmenistan in 2007, a source in the Turkmen president's press service quoted
Burren Energy President, Finian O'Sullivan, as saying, Interfax News Agency
Interfax quoted the source as saying at a meeting on April 27th between Turkmen
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Burren management - O'Sullivan, Vice
President Atul Gupta and Burren Resources Petroleum Limited (Turkmenistan)
General Director Muhammed Ahtar Husein Sharif - the sides discussed fuel and
O'Sullivan said that by constantly increasing crude production and actively
developing hydrocarbon fields the company has increased daily production to
3,000 tonnes. He said Burren Energy management is carefully monitoring the
socio-economic changes in the country and sees them as a powerful stimulus for
expanding mutually beneficial cooperation.
The sides also discussed the training of highly qualified specialists for
Turkmenistan in various institutes in Britain. Burren Energy has been working in
Turkmenistan for over 10 years. The company produces oil in the west of the
country, under a production sharing agreement.
Petronas plans to start producing gas at end of 2009
Malaysia's Petronas plans to produce up to 1,700 tonnes of oil a day in
Turkmenistan in 2007 and start producing gas beginning at the end of 2009,
Turkmen President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, said at a press conference after
meeting with company executives, Interfax News Agency reported.
"Developing sea deposits remains one of the strategic areas of developing
the oil and gas sector of our country, which is now ready for mutually-favourable
partnership in this priority sector for the national economy," Interfax
quoted him as saying. Petronas signed a 25-year production-sharing agreement to
explore and develop the contract territory of Block 1 in 1996 in the Turkmen
sector of the Caspian Sea.
Putin pursues major Kazak, Turkmen energy agreements
Kazakstan's cooperation with Russia in transporting energy is strategic in
nature, Kazak President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, said. "Kazakstan is
absolutely committed to shipping most of oil, if not all of it, through Russian
territory. We have always said this," Nazarbayev said at negotiations with
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Astana on May 10th, New Europe reported.
"Facts show that 42 million out of the 52.3 million tonnes of Kazak oil
that we transported this year passed through Russia," he said. "The
fuel and energy sector is the first and main issue" in cooperation between
Russia and Kazakstan, he said.
"This cooperation in the oil and gas sector is of a strategic nature. This
concerns, in particular, the transportation of Kazak hydrocarbons to
international markets using Russia's trunk pipelines and the joint processing of
hydrocarbons," Nazarbayev said.
Kazakstan will not search for other routes to transport its hydrocarbons, so
long as Russia provides a fair and mutually beneficial access to its pipeline
system, the Kazak president said at a joint press conference with Putin after
the negotiations. "I think that Russia is able to give more possibilities
to transport Kazak oil and gas through its territory. Kazakstan and other our
neighbours are unlikely to search for other routes," the president said.
"The issue is that there is fair and mutually beneficial access," he
said. "I am thankful to the Russian president and authorities, who
understand this and who we have been working together with us on this
issue," he said.
Nazarbayev also said the two countries agreed to increase the amount of Kazak
oil shipped to Russia via the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, a pipe running from
Kazakstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiik, to 40 million tonnes
from a current 23 million tonnes.
The increased amount, he added in the Kazak capital, could then be shipped to
Europe via the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, a Russian-owned transit line
that is to run through Turkey and Greece. "We are thinking about this and
consider it possible," Putin said of the Bourgas-Alexandroupoli proposal.
"A large amount of the oil that could fill that pipeline may come from
Putin's trip to Central Asia coincided with a Polish summit due to take place
last week devoted to securing energy sources other than Russia, which Kazak's
Nazarbayev had promised to attend in March, Russian daily Kommersant reported on
May 10th, cited by Deutsche-Presse-Agentur (dpa). The newspaper said Nazarbayev
had cancelled in order to meet with Putin.
Russia also agreed to raise the price it pays for natural gas from Kazakstan's
Karachagansk fields to "more than US$145 per 1,000 cubic metres,"
Kazak Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told
reporters in Astana.
Putin and Nazarbayev were expected to meet again on May 12 in the Turkmen city
of Turkmenbashi, where they, along with new Turkmen President Gurbanguly
Berdymukhammedov, were expected to discuss energy cooperation.
Russia, Kazakstan, and Turkmenistan should reach significant agreements in the
energy sector, Putin said. "As for possible tripartite agreements in
Turkmenistan, I would ask you to have patience. We need to hold essential
negotiations with our Turkmen partners and friends, and I expect that we will
seal significant agreements," Putin said on May 10.
Turkmenistan claims the world's third-largest known natural gas reserves, most
of which it sends to Moscow, where state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom
blends Russian gas with Turkmen fuel for export.
China struck a deal with Turkmenistan last year to import 30 billion cubic
metres of the fuel annually beginning in 2009, and Moscow, Beijing and the West
are all seen to be courting Berdymukhammedov for access to the Central Asian
Berdymukhammedov invites Nazarbayevto visit Ashgabat
Turkmen President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has invited his Kazak
counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to make an official visit to Turkmenistan,
The Turkmen president gave his invitation to Kazakstan's Prime Minister, Karim
Masimov, who arrived in Ashgabat on a one-day working visit. According to the
Turkmen president's press service, the delegation involves heads of ministries
and agencies, national companies and banking structures. During the one-to-one
meeting, the presidents of the two countries discussed a wide range of issues,
including problems in the fuel and energy sector, transport, education,
healthcare and agriculture. As part of the visit the delegation is also expected
to have talks with government members.
Turkish firms win tenders in Turkmenistan
Three Turkish companies have won tenders for the construction of residences and
government buildings in Turkmenistan. The overall cost of the tenders is US$81
million, Turkmenistan.ru reported.
The contribution of Turkish firms to the reconstruction of Turkmenistan reflects
the success of the firms at various tenders for new constructions. Turkmen
President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov approved several tenders following the
cabinet meeting. Three projects, including residential projects, prepared by
Turkish firms are among the tenders endorsed by the new president. Turk Efor
Construction will construct modern residences for the Foreign Ministry, Sahin
Construction for the Insurance Institution and 5M Construction for the Central
Bank. Last March, six Turkish companies won tenders for the construction of
residences and government buildings for a total of US$168 million.