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TURKMENISTAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 6,010 7,672 4,000 110
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,120 1,200 950 131
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 351 - (25/03/10)

Turkmen business
The new Turkmen government is enjoying a prolonged honeymoon in the eyes of world opinion, in so far as it is concerned with this remote part of the world at all. It is after all host to enormous gas reserves, the fourth or fifth in the world; and gas is the fossil fuel of the future.

The new dispensation is so much to be preferred to its predecessor, that of former President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in harness in December 2006, that a prolonged indulgence of it seems appropriate and has been forthcoming. Major energy firms are back in negotiations, whereas they shunned Niyazov as too unreliable to negotiate with.

It is of course still a dictatorship; but then so are all the other regimes in former Soviet Central Asia. The new man, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, as it so happens is the former dictator's son and dentist (bizarre but true!) He is not a crackpot like his father and one can do business with him. But he has all his father's instinctive authoritarianism.

Plus ca change; plus c'est la meme chose
The regime in Ashkabad has not changed much at all. If anything, it seems as if the country’s new leader is simply replacing Niyazov as the chief object of the intense personality cult in the country. Indeed, Berdymukhamedov’s portrait has already replaced Niyazov’s on state television news broadcasts. But then, as is natural, he bears a striking physical resemblance to him.

Berdymukhammedov was named acting president in late December 2006 after Niyazov’s death. In February, 2007 he was elected to the presidency in what has been called an unfair election that fell short of international standards. But actually such was the relief at his father's decease he might well have won a mandate in an open contest. But then there would have to have been an opponent; and that would never do.

Turkmenbashi recidivus?
While some observers have welcomed signs of change in Central Asia’s most isolated country, critics fear the development of a personality cult of the president similar to the one by the man that Berdymukhammedov replaced, "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov. The physical resemblance here has facilitated the change-over.

President Berdymukhammedov has launched some reforms, reinstated pensions, and reopened the National Academy of Sciences, which had been shut down by his autocratic predecessor, who had deemed it a 'useless institution.' But the president also holds gala birthday celebrations, fit to rival any potentate's and complete with the minting of gold coins graced with his portrait.

There are some 20,000 political prisoners and Turkmenistan remains a police state.

Profile of a police system
In what is the first report of its kind, rights activists have documented a wide variety of abuses in Turkmenistan’s prison system. The report portrayed Turkmen prisons as spawning grounds for serious diseases.

Watchdog groups perennially rank Turkmenistan as one of the world’s foremost human rights abusers. But the closed nature of the Turkmen political system hampers outsiders from getting a full picture of the country’s authoritarian system. There are Turkmen institutions based outside the country that can give an insider view.

The Turkmenistan Prison Report, prepared by Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, outlines systematic rights abuses in 22 institutions. It also shines a light on one of the key aspects of Turkmenistan’s state security apparatus. The font of many problems connected with the penal system is overcrowding, the report found.

"Turkmenistan’s prisons and colonies house over three times the number of inmates they are designed to accommodate," according to the report, which was released earlier in February. "This implies that the inmates are not only deprived of freedom, but also of adequate nutrition, rest and personal hygiene. In fact, penitentiary facilities have been turned into places where people are not able to preserve their human dignity."

The report went on to note that most prisons receive funding that is commensurate with their officially listed capacities, not the actual number of inmates. Thus, prisons experience persistent shortages of just about everything needed by inmates.

"Imprisoned individuals do not get access to proper nutrition, recreation, bathing and toilet facilities," the report continued. "Overcrowding results in the fast spread of virulent diseases -- from light forms of flu to aggravated forms of tuberculosis."

Turkmenistan, compared to even its Central Asian neighbours, has a high rate of incarceration. For every 100,000 citizens, there are estimated to be 543 prisoners. Crime can be linked to series of "prevailing social conditions" including unemployment, limited opportunities for young people and drug use.

"Turkmen authorities do not acknowledge the high unemployment rate and consequently, no measures are being undertaken to lower it," the report stated.

Not surprisingly, mortality rates among inmates are comparatively high. The report identified a facility known as LBK-12, or the minimum security regime colony in Lebap Province, as having the deadliest reputation in the country. One out of every 20 inmates who enter LBK-12, does not leave, the report estimated.

"Due to the harsh climatic conditions, overcrowding, the fact that prisoners diagnosed with TB and skin diseases are kept together with healthy inmates, [along with} scarce supplies of food, medications and personal hygiene products, the institution reports the highest mortality rate of 5.2 percent among the country’ penitentiary facilities," the report said, referring to LBK-12.

Corruption is rife in the entire prison system with inmates paying off guards and administrators in order to gain visiting rights and food from outside. "Without paying a bribe via family members, prisoners cannot get access to things envisaged by the law, for instance work or parcels from relatives," the report stated. "At the same time, by paying a bribe to a security guard or staff member, an inmate can obtain items which according to the rules are forbidden in penitentiary facilities - for instance, cell phones, alcoholic beverages, drugs and many other things."

The report also detailed conditions at the women’s colony DZK/8 in Dashoguz. There, more than 2,000 convicts are housed in a building designed for 700. Instead of four inmates per cell, there are 12-14. "Cases of beating and rape of the inmates by the colony staff, the use of torture and psychological pressure are rampant. Such treatment of inmates results in frequent suicide attempts among the prison population," the report said.

Although 80 percent of the prison population at DZK/8 are convicts in drug-related cases, the facility also houses female relatives of the former high-ranking officials, as well as juvenile offenders.

The authors of the report conclude by urging the Turkmen government to adopt international standards for prisons. To start, authorities should "provide funding to the penitentiary facilities based on the actual number of inmates rather than the estimated capacity," the report said.

Ashkabad to host key summit
Efforts will be made to revive a gas pipeline project involving India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan during a meeting in Ashkhabad in April.

This will be first meeting in three years to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.

Experts from the four countries will meet in Turkmenistan's capital on April 17-18 to discuss the $4 billion pipeline's route and the volume of gas that Turkmenistan can supply to India and Pakistan, the Dawn newspaper quoted its sources as saying.

India was to host a meeting of experts in 2008 but it was postponed. There have been no expert-level talks on the venture since then.

The experts' will precede a meeting of a ministerial steering committee, the sources said. "Pakistan is committed to the project because of the wide gap between gas demand and supplies," said a senior official of the petroleum ministry.

He said Turkmenistan had been unable to provide independent certification of gas reserves in fields to be dedicated to the project.

The certification of Turkmenistan's gas reserves was a key issue discussed at the last meeting of the ministerial steering committee, which was held in Islamabad in 2008.

The issue will be taken up again at the upcoming meeting in Ashkhabad to enable the countries to proceed with the project.

The security situation in Afghanistan will be another key issue in the discussions.

The upcoming meeting will specify allocation and requirements for gas in the recipient countries through the pipeline which will stretch over 1,600 km from Turkmenistan's south-eastern Daulatabad gas field to the Indian city of Bikaner via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The four countries earlier could not sign a gas sales and purchase agreement, a draft of which was prepared by Pakistan.

The draft deals with contractual obligations of the countries with regard to the pipeline's construction, security, gas tariffs and uninterrupted gas flows over the 30-year lifespan of the project.

The Asian Development Bank, which has offered to provide technical support to the project, has conducted a thorough feasibility study which says that the inclusion of India will be of great benefit not only for the project but for all stakeholders.

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