Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 320 - (31/08/07)
The New Deal in Central Asia
Everything is moving towards a new deal for the Turkmens. The death of their
dire dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, in December is proving providential.
Everybody is prepared to give his successor his due as very much the lesser of
After all Turkmenistan is resource-rich beyond belief. It has above all the
world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas, the least ecologically damaging
of fossil fuels.
BP comes to town
Oil major BP is willing to invest into "unique" oil and gas resources
of the former Soviet Union's Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan, a BP
executive said on August 24th after meeting the Turkmen leader. Andy Inglis,
chief executive of BP's exploration and production business, met Turkmenistan's
president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and according to local media highlighted
the country's great prospects in the energy sector. "We are confident that
Turkmenistan has unique oil and gas resources and believe that our participation
in their development could be a profitable business," Inglis told Turkmen
state television through an interpreter.
Turkmenistan produces around 200,000 barrels per day of crude and is the biggest
gas producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia with exports of around 50
billion cubic metres of gas a year, mainly to Russia and Ukraine.
The country says its gas reserves are currently heavily underestimated and it
can easily double and even triple production to supply gas to Europe and Asia.
International competition for Turkmen resources has intensified since the death
of autocratic leader Saparmurat Niyazov last year as analysts say the new
leadership is trying to improve the country's investment climate.
Turkmen officials have said they would support energy export route
diversification, implying that Russia would stop being the monopoly buyer of gas
and fuel may start flowing to China or across the Caspian Sea to Europe.
BP is the leader of the oil and gas industry in Azerbaijan -- across the Caspian
Sea from Turkmenistan -- but has much weaker positions in the neighbouring
The following is an anonymous insider view of the current Turkmen situation:-
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's administration has gone on public
relations offensive to soften the country's despotic image. At the same time,
Berdymukhammedov is conducting a secretive purge, indicating that the president
is more concerned with consolidating power than genuine liberalization.
The most prominent development in the nascent PR campaign was the August 9
pardons of 11 individuals, who were convicted in connection with the 2002
assassination attempt against former leader, Saparmurat Niyazov.
The most prominent prisoner to gain freedom was Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, who
served as the country's chief mufti from 1996-2003. While Ibadullah's received a
22-year jail term in 2004 for alleged treason, experts in Central Asia believe
the real motive for his imprisonment was his resistance to Niyazov's efforts to
make the Ruhnama, the lifestyle guide that the president supposedly penned,
required reading in the country's mosques. Meanwhile, the main figures in the
assassination attempt, including former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov and
former ambassador to OSCE Batyr Berdyev, remain behind bars.
Berdymukhammedov announced the pardons during a cabinet meeting that was
broadcast on state television. He indicated that mass pardons of prisoners would
become a regular feature of his administration. State television also broadcast
comments made by the beneficiaries of early release. "In the remaining part
of my life, I will work and serve our people, our country and our
president," said a clearly grateful Ibadullah on August 13.
The manner in which the pardons played out suggests that Berdymukhammedov wants
to influence both domestic and external opinion, striving to convince erstwhile
critics that his administration is drawing a clear line between itself and the
despotic practices of Niyazov, who died in late 2006.
A source with detailed knowledge about the functioning of the Turkmen government
said that Berdymukhammedov has assembled a team of experts that is responsible
for crafting the PR campaign. "A wide range of specialists are conducting
in-depth analysis … to calculate potential steps aimed at improving the
general opinion about the country," the source said.
"Without this, the Turkmen political and economic system just cannot
survive, and the current president - who, between you and me, is far from being
a politician - won't manage either," the source added.
Some of Turkmenistan's toughest critics in the past, including the United
States, are now eager to secure Turkmenistan's participation in lucrative energy
ventures, and thus are apt to seize upon any evidence of a political thaw to
help strengthen a case for closer political and economic relations. In a speech
made in Ashgabat on August 14, visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel
Sullivan voiced Washington's desire "to 'turn the page' in our
relationship," and then went on to outline a broad agenda for economic
Domestically, the efforts to burnish Berdymukhammedov's image have been
undermined by several factors. For one, some of the recently released prisoners
may be out of jail, but they are far from free to express their opinions.
Ibadullah, for example, has been effectively prohibited from returning to his
hometown of Dashoguz. Instead, he will remain in Ashgabat, where he will serve
on the president's religious council. Thus, he will remain under the close
supervision of administration officials.
Meanwhile, reports continue to circulate in Ashgabat that Berdymukhammedov is
conducting a purge of top-level officials. The purge began in May but appears to
have gained fresh momentum in recent weeks. The first high-profile official to
fall was the head of Niyazov's presidential guard, Akmurat Rejepov, who
reportedly received a 20-year jail sentence. This was the man, a former
high-ranking KGB officer and chief of the "Praetorian Guard" -a 'fixer
extraordinaire,' that ensured this president smooth accession of power. It was
even speculated, by us amongst others, that he was the real power behind the
Also caught up in the initial wave of arrests was Rejepov's son, Nurmurat, a
security officer, along with Murat Agayev, who was reputedly one of Niyazov's
closest business associates.
Secrecy has surrounded the purge. No official announcements have been made about
arrests or prosecutions, but that hasn't kept information from circulating in
the capital. In a reflection of the severity of the government's approach,
family members and close associates of those arrested have also reportedly
suffered punishments, according to a Turkmen citizen with first-hand knowledge
of Berdymukhammedov administration's activities.
In recent weeks, a new wave of arrests has swept over the capital. Former
agricultural minister Paizygeldy Meredov was reportedly arrested in early August
in connection with financial misdeeds involving cotton exports. Meredov's son
and father were also arrested.
In addition, the former deputy head of Niyazov's presidential property
management department, Alexandr Zhadan, has been detained, and two other close
associates of Niyazov - Vladimir Khramov and Vladimir Umnov - are reported to be
under house arrest. All three men are believed to have been privy to many of
Niyazov's most closely guarded state secrets, especially those involving the
deceased Turkmenbashi's financial interests. Taken together with the above
account of the arrest and imprisonment of Rejepov, it certainly seems that this
purge of 'insiders'is intended to lock up their dangerous or at least sensitive
knowledge with them, in their prison cells.
Berdymukhammedov still does not impress as an outstanding mind, or a brilliant
politician, so the question continues to arise as to who in fact is pulling
these strings - who is 'advising' him now? Is he in fact Russia's man or
China's, or is this still a home-grown adventurer?
It was the situation, as we have previously pointed out, that whoever got
Niyazov's job would become an instant billionaire, indeed one of the richest on
the planet and completely unaccountable in such a state as this. So perhaps the
power behind his throne will someday turnout to be a Hong Kong banker, or a
hedge fund entrepeneur, or even an émigré Russian oligarch?
To some observers in Ashgabat, Berdymukhammedov's action toward political
enemies, whether real or perceived, is reminiscent of the behavior of Niyazov,
who regularly reshuffled top government personnel in an effort to maintain his
own unquestioned authority. "These are the old methods under the new
'banners' of a liberal, a democrat and a nationwide-elected president!" an
Ashgabat resident who follows political developments said about recent