Israel's first-ever ambassador to Turkmenistan, Shemi Tzur, presented his credentials to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov this week. Tzur, Israel’s former Ambassador to New Zealand, is known in Ashgabat from representing Israel in Turkmenistan as a non-resident Ambassador. Tzur was the third candidate Israel proposed to take up the ambassador's post in Turkmenistan, and Ashgabat approved his designation this past April. Israel first began negotiations to open a diplomatic presence in Ashgabat in May 2009, seeking to appoint as ambassador Reuven Dinel, a native of Lithuania alleged to be a Mossad agent in the former Soviet Union, whose nomination reportedly raised protests from Turkmenistan's southern neighbor, Iran, and was subsequently rejected. Another diplomat, Haim Koren, was then appointed in August 2010, but again was not accredited by the Turkmen government. Turkmenistan is now one of two countries (along with Azerbaijan) bordering Iran that hosts an Israeli Embassy.
In recent weeks Turkmenistan has focused on expanding cooperation with the Baltic countries. Turkmenistan’s Foreign Minister, Rashid Meredov, led a Turkmen delegation on a visit to Latvia to meet with Latvian President Andris Berzins and to participate in a transport conference. Another Turkmen delegation visited Tallinn to study Estonia’s experience regulating the Internet, and meet with members of Estonia’s Parliament, Foreign Ministry, and government; the study tour was funded by Estonia’s Foreign Ministry and the OSCE. And this week Prime Minister of Lithuania Algirdas Butkevičiusis visited Turkmenistan for talks with the President, which resulted in the signing of a number of bilateral documents. During the Prime Minister’s visit, Ashgabat also hosted the Turkmen-Lithuanian Business Forum.
This week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a statement regarding Turkmenistan’s economy based on its mission to Turkmenistan from May 29 to June 11, 2013, which included a number of meetings with senior central bank and government officials, and representatives of commercial banks and international institutions. According to an IMF statement issued after the visit, Turkmenistan’s economy “remained strong as a result of continued high levels of public spending and increases in hydrocarbon production,” and is projected to remain strong while inflation is expected to decline.
While Turkmenistan is doing well economically, its human rights situation remains poor. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee issued a report entitled "Women: Turkmenistan’s Second-Class Citizens,” which describes the vulnerable position of women in Turkmenistan, as evidenced by the lack of equal opportunities in employment, education, healthcare, public and family life. The report also highlighted religious and social prejudice against women, and stresses that domestic violence against women and girls is widespread in the country. The laws that defend women’s rights create a false façade of good intentions toward women’s freedoms and equality in society, says the report. In reality, however, the challenges facing women in Turkmenistan have prompted many to seek work or marriage abroad. Perhaps not coincidentally, this trend may also fuel the human trafficking problem in the country. And according to the “Trafficking in Persons Report 2013,” recently issued by the US State Department, “the Government of Turkmenistan does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
Human rights groups have long decried the inhumane conditions of Turkmenistan’s prisons, where ordinary criminals languish alongside government officials who have fallen out-of-favor with Turkmenistan’s presidents. Some of these officials have even died in prison, most recently Begli Kurbanmuradov, a former Minister of Communications and cousin of the former Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Kurbanmuradov. Kurbanmuradov was jailed in 2005 at the decision of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, and died of heart attack in a maximum-security prison in Bairam-Ali city.