Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 328 - (28/04/08)
The new regime in Turkmenistan is striving its up most to distance itself from
its predecessor, that of Saparmurat Niyazov. His successor has an even more
rebarbative name, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, but is running a far less abrasive
In minor as well as major matters, the new dispensation is to open up to the
outside world. Niyazov's country was closed in on itself. He ran a madcap
system, that reflected his diseased mind. Opera and beards and many another
thing were banned. But not megalomania, so long as it was by him.
Music festival bodes well
The government encouraged a welcome development in mid-April on the musical
front, unthinkable under the former tyrant. Three Iranian music groups
participated in an international music festival held in Turkmenistan.
Artists from Iran, Austria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, South Korea and the US
took part in the festival which involved classic music of all countries.
President Closes “Turkmenbashi Fund”
In a concomitant move, the president is continuing to release billions of
dollars held in an off-budget account by his predecessor, the Turkmenbashi. It
was announced last year in August; but it is actually happening. This is his
chance, after all, to win people’s trust by ensuring the process is
transparent and spending the money on social programmes.
Everyone knew that the Turkmenbashi was on an ego-trip that knew no bounds. He
was salting money away in the West and boosting himself as the greatest Turkman
of all time. A colossal fraud.
This was of course well known, no-one better, to his close associates.
In late June, last year, Berdymuhammedov, his dentist- turned providential
successor, decided to shut down Niyazov’s International Fund and set up a
liquidation commission to review past transactions on the account and draft
proposals on where the money should go.
Niazov set up the fund in 1993, ostensibly to finance humanitarian activities,
but it has always been shrouded in secrecy. There are no official figures on how
much is held in the account, although independent experts say it is worth
several billion dollars.
According to various reports, the money included export revenues for gas and
cotton, foreign investments earmarked for major construction projects, and
private donations from Arab sheikhs in the Gulf.
Niyazov personally controlled disbursements from the fund, which included gifts
for members of the Halk Maslahaty, Turkmenistan’s 2,500-seat supreme
legislature, money distributed to children at mass public events, and awards for
An NBCentralAsia economic expert describes the fund as a “black hole”,
saying the lack of a founding charter or financial statements showing what money
was going in and out of the account made people suspicious of it. “The new
leadership [is trying] to get rid of this unnecessary structure as quickly as
possible because Berdymuhammedov doesn’t want his name linked with the dubious
past,” said the expert. He said Berdymuhammedov would win people’s trust if
he placed the money in the government budget, although he said this would take
at least six months because of the need to audit the account.
Other NBCentralAsia commentators agree, saying that once the fund is liquidated,
the authorities could transfer the money to the treasury and use it to support
social programmes. “The money could be used to fulfill the [election] pledges
that Berdymuhammedov made to the people. After all, many of us are still
wondering where the money [for reforms] is to come from,” said a commentator
based in Ashgabat. During his election campaign in January, 2007,
Berdymuhammedov promised to carry out broad education, healthcare and pension
Of one thing NBCentralAsia’s commentators are certain – the decision what to
do with the money rests with Berdymuhammedov himself. It is highly improbable
that the liquidation commission would dare to offer him any advice on the
matter. Moreover, it is unlikely that he will be the only oil dictator in the
world not to maintain a private slush fund
The Turkmen card in the Caspian game
Turkmenistan matters in the wider world for its gas resources. An USD 7 to USD 8
billion Nabucco pipeline, backed by the EU and the US, as we have seen, is
expected to link energy-rich Central Asia to Europe through Turkey, Bulgaria,
Romania, Hungary and Austria.
Construction on the pipeline with a projected annual capacity of between 20 and
30 billion cubic meters has been tentatively scheduled to begin in 2010. Many
observers feel that they have left it late and particularly in light of the fact
that the Russian-Italian competitor (similar route and market) is already funded
whilst Nabucco is not.
Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and more recently, Iraq have been seen as
possible suppliers for the project. Iraq is being backed by the United States as
might be expected, but Iraq is still flaring off its gas and is many years off
having a means of getting it’s gas to market. It’s pipeline security for oil
exports is abysmal, which does not augur well.
Turkmenistan's Vice-Premier responsible for Oil and Gas Tachberdy Tagiyev, met
with UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, in London, in mid-April, for talks on how
Britain could help Turkmenistan exploit its large reserves of oil and natural
gas –if in fact they are truly substantial, an unproven point at this time.
The Turkmens themselves don’t know the extent of their reserves and have
promised to have an independent audit done to establish the situation of their
reserves. That is key as to whether they just continue to supply their existing
contracts with Russia and China, or may have capacity for new supply deals over
and above that.
If they do have a surplus available above their existing commitments there are
prior projects to this one involving the EU.
India has for a long time had an interest in a Turkmenistan- Pakistan-India
pipeline which never got off the ground due to the implausibility of running a
pipeline through Afghanistan, where there is often a war going on. Even then it
would need to cross the Pakistan border through lawless tribal areas where the
writ of Islamabad has been shown not to run. However if the security situation
could by some miracle be solved, and if Turkmenistan turns out to have
additional saleable reserves, then the enormous market of India would surely
welcome such a source of supply.
The high-level Turkmen delegation also included Oil and Gas Minister Baymyrat
Hodjamuhammedov and the Director of Turkmenistan's hydrocarbons development
agency Bayrammyrat Myradov.
The meeting followed Malcolm Wicks' 2007 visit to Turkmenistan - the first by a
UK Minister for a decade - and was one element of a week-long itinerary designed
to help the Turkmens and the UK share their experiences of developing their
During their UK stay the members of the Turkmen delegation visited Aberdeen to
inspect a North Sea gas platform and meet with UK companies based there. They
attended the 'Turkmenistan Oil and Gas' conference at London's Institute of
Directors, at which Malcolm Wicks gave the keynote address. Welcoming the
Turkmen delegation to Britain, Malcolm Wicks said:
"With some forty years experience drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea
the UK has learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. Consequently, we're
well placed to understand the challenges Turkmenistan is currently facing as it
looks to further develop its own substantial resources."
Underlining the UK's interest in a future 'trans-Caspian' gas pipeline that
could bring gas from Turkmenistan into the EU via Azerbaijan and Turkey, Wicks
added the rather obvious point that : "As our North Sea gas supplies
decline we will need to import more from overseas.
"The European market could offer a high-value additional destination for
Turkmen gas, to supplement Turkmenistan's well-established supplier relationship
with Russia and new connections with China."