Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 325 - (28/01/08)
Turkmenistan - A nation like no other
Turkmenistan was long in the grip of a ridiculous dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov,
who died in December, 2006, The country is still in the grip of a repressive
dictatorship. But Turkmenistan has been slowly opening its doors since
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power a year ago. He has made no obvious
breach with Moscow, indeed has signed a new deal to send gas via Russia to
enable them to supply Western markets. Turkmenistan reached an agreement in
November to increase the price of gas it delivers to Russia's gas export
monopoly Gazprom, to $130 per 1,000 cubic metres in the first half of 2008 and
$150 in the second half, up from $100. His predecessor had agreed the original
price only months before.
But the new president is showing more initiative than just that. He clearly
hopes to diversify his country's options. But things are still quite secretive
there, the biggest mystery of all being just how much Gas reserves can
Turkmenistan exploit for export, given the appetite of the wider world and its
near neighbours for its hydrocarbons.
The Iranian option
Iranian Minister of Oil, Gholam-Hossein Nozari, said on January 9 that no talks
will be held on prices as long as Turkmenistan does not resumes its gas exports
Talking to reporters, Nozari said, "Gas and oil are not the only criterion
for relations among countries, rather, there are other factors involved, which
are also the yardstick in dealing with Turkmenistan." Religion is much more
important than one might suppose.
They are both Moslem countries of course, but Iran is Shi-ite and Turkmenistan
Sunni, albeit of a very watered-down version after so many decades of communist
anti- clericalism of all faiths. The Shi-ites at least regard the Sunnis as
Moslems, whereas the reverse is generally not true. However, the Turkmen
certainly are less bigoted in this respect than other Sunnis. They recognise
that the Iranians and themselves are people of the same book, the Koran."
Turkmenistan proposes that the gas price should be increased to $140 per 1,000
cubic meters. Iran agrees with the price rise on condition that the Turkmen side
agrees to increase the volume of its gas exports to Iran," Press TV
The original gas contract ran to 2024. Iran and Turkmenistan signed an agreement
last year to increase the volume of gas exports from eight to 14 billion cubic
meters (per year) at a price of $75 per 1,000 cubic meters. The point from
Iran's point of view, it being the country with the second largest gas reserves
in the world, was to use Turkmen gas for domestic purposes allowing Iran to
substitute by exporting the equivalent quantities from gas fields nearer to
export outlets. It was considered a very important deal for Turkmenistan when it
was initiated, as they had only one pipeline and that running north to Russia
which made them a monopoly customer.
Turkey shows an interest
Turkey is another Moslem secular country perhaps closer to Turkmen hearts. It is
the leading Turkic nation after all. Turkish and Turkmen are cognate languages
and their peoples are akin.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul began an official visit to Turkmenistan on
January 9 as part of Ankara's drive to strengthen ties with the Turkic-speaking
states of Central Asia. Energy Minister Hilmi Guler joined Gul's delegation.
Turkey has offered Turkmenistan access to European markets via Turkey, in talks
held in Ashgabat. Turkey, which is seeking to become a regional energy transit
hub, also proposed to Turkmenistan a joint venture for operating the ex-Soviet
state's apparently abundant natural gas and oil fields. "Turkey will ask to
take a role in operating Turkmenistan's natural gas and petroleum fields as we
did with some other supplier countries," an official in the prime
minister's office said.
Georgia counts too
Georgia is neither Muslim nor Turkic, but geographically it counts a lot for
Turkmenistan. The reverse is also true. The new Turkmen president was a very
welcome guest at the inauguration of Mikhail Saakashvili's second term on
Georgia, with a Black Sea coastline and a frontier with Turkey, is an obvious
route for Turkmen gas to arrive acros or underneath the Caspian sea via friendly
Azerbaijan, to go on to Western markets, while Georgia will be better able to
escape dependency on Russia for its energy, that has meant not a few bleak
winters of late.
Ceremonial occasions are not those most appropriate for discussion of business
matters. But that there will be further talks along these lines in the near
future is certain.
New resort on the Caspian Sea
In a bold move Turkmenistan's new leader has inaugurated the construction of a
$5 billion (2.4 billion pound) tourism complex on the Caspian coast. This was on
December 3, his most bold gesture to open up the reclusive nation to the world.
Unlike Niyazov, who banned ballet and opera during his rule, Berdymukhamedov has
sought to attract foreign investment and turn his desert nation into a tourist
destination. This is not as absurd as it might seem. Turkmenistan is a very
beautiful country in its extremities, if not so in its huge desert interior. In
particular it abuts in the west on the evocative and historic Caspian Sea.
He has officially opened construction of a complex on the Caspian Sea coast,
where he plans to build new hotels, fountains, roads and parks. "Any
government that has such a coast would see it as a huge blessing," he said
after a ceremony. "Turkmenistan is actively integrating into the global
community while following its own model of development."
State media have touted the area as a tourist hotspot, but critics believe its
long, cold winters and remote location dent its allure as a tourist destination.
But there is summer and the attraction of the exotic and the arcane.
The Turkmen leader said the government would earmark $1 billion for the project,
not far from the Iranian border, while foreign companies including Russia's
Itera and France's Bouygues have pledged to put in a further $4 billion.
He vowed to introduce tax breaks for construction companies and easier visa
procedures for tourists -- a step forward for a country which was first in the
ex-Soviet block to introduce a visa regime for other former members.