For a country with the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, Turkmenistan has a predictably glitzy capital, Ashgabat. And it would stand to reason that the prized Caspian port city an hour’s flight away, at the heart of the nation’s oil and gas industry, would be just as grand. Turkmenbashi was named by and for the country’s late dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, the self-styled “Leader of All Turkmen,” and has been chosen as the site for Turkmenistan’s stab at upscale tourism.
But the only people visibly benefiting in Turkmenbashi and its environs seem to be high-placed government officials on their occasional visits. Otherwise, it is a rusty post-Soviet town, billions of dollars away from the capital’s marble, gold and flood-lit fountains.
In Turkmenbashi, poverty, a well-guarded secret in Ashgabat, is out of the closet. Drunken vagabonds beg beside the all but holy eternal flame commemorating World War II, later sleeping within its warm reach. The destitution is as bad as in some of the poorer parts of Central Asia.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.