Turkmenistan Weekly Roundup

Issue 10 (2012)
March 23 - 30, 2012

*For Breaking News See Our Blog Sifting the Karakum*

This past week, a delegation from Turkmenistan visited the United States, meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, and Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar to talk about future partnership in political, economic and social sectors, as well as in the energy sector. They met with US Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough who, according to Turkmen state media, noted the increasingly important role of Turkmenistan in maintaining a favorable social and political climate in the Central Asian region, and in regulating the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. The delegation met with representatives of US companies, including energy giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil, as well as Caterpillar and Boeing.

Closer to home, Turkmenistan sent a delegation to the 53rd meeting of the CIS Economic Council in Moscow, which brought together representatives of all 11 CIS countries. The Chairman of the Economic Council and Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, Annamukhammet Gochyev, led discussions on a wide range of issues related to economic cooperation. On May 30, Ashgabat will host the Council of the Heads of Government of the CIS to discuss cooperation in energy, hydrometeorology, the currency market, and military policy.

Looking eastward, Turkmenistan is making progress on the Teheran-Ashgabat railway, which is due to be completed by the end of the year. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emphasized at a meeting with Turkmenistan’s Vice Premier, Khojamuhammed Muhammedov, that the new railway would lead to many changes in the region and he affirmed the solid relations between his country and Turkmenistan. Meanwhile Iraq is planning to open embassies in Turkmenistan and elsewhere in Central Asia.

On the domestic front, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vepa Khadjiev, in his address to the UN Human Rights Council, announced that the former speaker of the Turkmen Parliament, Ovezgeldy Ataev, and his wife, had been released from jail. Ataev was supposed to become the acting president of Turkmenistan after the death of former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov for the period leading to presidential elections. Instead, he and his wife were arrested and in February 2007, found guilty of forcing their daughter-in-law to attempt suicide. The received seven-year jail terms. Russian commentator Arkadii Dubnov told the German news channel Deutsche Welle (DW), citing sources in Turkmenistan, that the former speaker was released right after the presidential elections in February 2012, but none of his many acquaintances have seen him. In Turkmenistan, authorities place such “criminals” under house arrest or quarantine for three years after their release, according to Dubnov. The head of political section of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat, Andrei Muntian, in his interview with Deutsche Welle (DW), could not confirm the release of the former speaker and noted that the OSCE’s official inquiries about his fate remained unanswered.

Deputy Chairman of the Turkmen government, Sapardurdy Toylyev, announced that two new political parties - Agrarian and of Entrepreneurs – would be formed in Turkmenistan and their charters would be drafted shortly. Turkmenistan’s Law “On Political Parties” was enacted at the beginning of this year. To date, the only political party operating in the country is the ruling Democratic Party, which was formed after the declaration of national independence on December 16, 1991. The existence of more political parties may give an impression of political liberalization, by theoretically creating a more diverse political arena; however, what remains to be seen is whether they will provide genuine political alternatives and competition, not to mention, political opposition, particularly given how past political opposition and civil society has been squelched.


Turkmen Delegation Visited US for Political Consultations

Last week a delegation from Turkmenistan visited the US to participate in political consultations and work out a mechanism for enhancing bilateral cooperation. Members of the delegation met with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to talk about future partnership. The delegation discussed cooperation in the political, economic, social and humanitarian spheres, as well as partnership in the energy sector, at the US State Department, with discussions on the US side led by Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake and Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar. The parties also discussed partnership between Turkmenistan and the US in combating global threats, such as terrorism and illegal drug-trafficking.

US Presidential Security Service Discussed Key Issues with Turkmenistan

Within the framework of political consultations in the White House in Washington, members of the Turkmen Delegation met with the US Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough to discuss future cooperation. Representatives of the State Department noted increasingly important role of Turkmenistan whose neutral status serves as a positive factor for maintaining favorable social and political climate in the Central Asian region. They also expressed their appreciation of Turkmenistan’s role in regulating the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, and in particular, Turkmenistan’s readiness to offer its political space for inter-Afghan peace talks under the auspices of the UN.

US to Assist Turkmenistan in Diversifying Energy Export Routes

Members of the Turkmen delegation visiting the US met with representatives of the Turkmen – American Business Council. Managers of various companies, including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Caterpillar, Boeing, Case New Holland, and Bell Helicopter, took part in the meeting. The parties discussed the possibilities of American businesses to operate in Turkmenistan.

Representatives of American leading oil and gas companies, including Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, expressed their readiness to assist Turkmenistan in their efforts to diversify export routes to bring Turkmenistan’s rich energy resources to the world markets and to take active part in constructing new transnational pipelines.

American Oil and Gas Companies May Participate in TAPI

A senior advisor to the State Department’s Special Envoy for Eurasian energy, Daniel Stein, stated that two major US oil and gas companies, which he did not name, are interested in participating in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project that will transport billions of dollars worth of Turkmen gas to India and Pakistan. In March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US strongly supported the idea of TAPI as a supplier for Pakistan and objected to Pakistan purchasing gas from Iran.

Iranian President: Tehran-Ashgabat Railway to be Completed by End of 2012

Construction of the Tehran-Ashgabat railway project is slated for completion by the end of this year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday at a meeting with Turkmenistan’s Vice Premier Khojamuhammed Muhammedov in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. "The Tehran-Ashgabat railway will lead to many changes in the region," Ahmadinejad said.
He also stressed the strong relations between Turkmenistan and Iran.

The over 900km Uzen (Kazakhstan) - Kyzylgaya - Bereket - Etrek (Turkmenistan) - Gorgan (Iran) railway is a joint project based on an agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. This railway, which is part of the transport corridor "North - South" (along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea), will link the three countries and ensure the Central Asian republics' access to the Persian Gulf.

CIS Economic Council in Moscow Discussed Integration and Cooperation in Economy

The 53rd meeting of the CIS Economic Council took place in Moscow on March 20 bringing together representatives of all eleven CIS countries. The meeting was chaired by Chairman of the Economic Council, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan Annamukhammet Gochyev. According to the press service of the CIS Executive Committee, the meeting discussed a wide range of issues related to economic cooperation among CIS countries. The next meeting of the CIS Economic Council is scheduled for June 21, 2012 in St. Petersburg as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Heads of CIS Governments to meet in Ashgabat on May 30

The Council of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Independent States will gather for its next meeting on May 30 in Ashgabat. According to the Information and Analytical Department of the CIS Executive Committee, the Council will consider such issues of cooperation in energy, hydrometeorology, the currency market, military policy, and others.

Ashgabat and Beijing Reach Strategic Partnership – Turkmen Ambassador

Turkmenistan’s Ambassador to China, Gurbannazar Nazarov, stated that in trade and economic relations Turkmenistan and China have developed a “strategic partnership.” He claimed that today China is a major economic partner for Turkmenistan with trade turnover in 2011 alone exceeding 3.5 billion dollars. In January 2012, in a meeting with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a special representative of the China’s Chairman and a Vice-Chair of the All-China Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Chen Zhili, stated that during 11 months of the last year trade turnover between China and Turkmenistan amounted to around 10 billion USD, which brings China to the leading position among Turkmenistan’s trade partners. It is noteworthy that speaking about volumes of trade turnover, Ashgabat gives figures almost three times lower than those stated by Beijing. This may mean that the Turkmen statistics don’t include income from gas exports to China. Since the launch of the pipeline Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan – Kazakhstan – China in December of 2009, Ashgabat sent to China more than 20 billion cubic meters of gas.

Iraq to Open Embassy in Turkmenistan

Iraq intends to open its diplomatic missions and embassies in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Armenia, Iraqi Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Tajikistan Sabir Raja Abboud al-Moussaoui told Azerbaijan’s Trend website. He said restoration of relations with other Central Asian republics is necessary, as these countries have a common historical and cultural community with Iraq.

OSCE to Launch First Project for Turkmen NGO

The OSCE, with financial support of the UK Embassy in Turkmenistan, organized a training on project management for more than 30 representatives of Turkmen civil society. According to OSCE press-release, the goal of the seminar was to develop participant’s practical skills and increase their knowledge of project management cycles. Participants studied the process of developing project documentation, learned how to set project goals, evaluate success, analyze risks, plan events, determine deadlines, calculate budgets, implement control and maintain accounting, said the organization’s statement. This is the first seminar out of set of events aimed at strengthening civil society in Turkmenistan.

Relations with Media Discussed at Central Election Commission of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) hosted a two-day seminar organized within the framework of a project to improve mass media in Turkmenistan. The project is run by BBC with the support of the European Union. Members of the CEC’s working group on media relations and the departmental agencies, as well as representatives of national mass media, took part in the event. International experts from Europe and the CIS facilitated the seminar. The seminar reviewed the international experience of mass media in covering various election campaigns in other countries.


Former Parliament Speaker Released from Jail: Turkmen Official

On March 16, addressing the UN Human Rights Committee, deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vepa Khadjiev claimed that the former speaker of the Turkmen Parliament Ovezgeldy Ataev and his wife had been released from jail. After the death of former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, Ataev – the person who, according to Constitution, was supposed to become the acting president prior to presidential elections, was arrested. He and his wife were charged with forcing their daughter-in-law to attempt suicide. In February 2007 Ataev and his wife were sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Khadjiev did not specify when exactly the former speaker was released. He said: “Over the last two years, a number of prisoners, including the former Chairman of the Parliament Ataev and his wife, were released.” He did not specify who else was released during this period.

OSCE Cannot Confirm Release of Former Parliament Speaker of Turkmenistan

The head of political section of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat, Andrei Muntian, in his interview with Deutsche Welle (DW) could not confirm that the former speaker of the Turkmen parliament, Ovezgeldy Ataev, was released from prison. He said that in 2011 and 2012 OSCE made official inquiries about the fate of Ataev but has never received an answer. Russian commentator Arkadii Dubnov informed DW, citing sources in Turkmenistan, that the former Speaker was indeed released right after the presidential elections in February 2012. “However, none of Ataev’s numerous acquaintances have seen him, nor has his wife, so it is impossible to find anything about Ataevs’ condition.” In Turkmenistan the authorities place such “criminals” under a house arrest or quarantine for three years after their release, said Dubnov.

Agrarian and Entrepreneurial Parties to Appear in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is working on establishing the Agrarian Party and the Party of Entrepreneurs, Deputy Chairman of the Turkmen government Sapardurdy Toylyev said at a government meeting yesterday. According to Toylyev, the charters of the new parties are currently being drafted.

Turkmenistan’s Law “On Political Parties” was enacted at the beginning of this year. A political party can be created at the decision of the constituent congress. An organizational committee consisting of at least nine people must be established. A political party must have at least 1,000 members. The governing bodies and structural units must be based exclusively on the territory of Turkmenistan. The Ministry of Justice decides whether to register a political party. A citizen 18 years of age or older, who permanently resides in the country may be a member of a party. To date, only the Democratic Party operated in the country. It was formed shortly after the declaration of national independence on December 16, 1991.

Turkmenistan to Create E-government

During a recent governmental meeting, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov raised the issue of creating electronic government in Turkmenistan. He stressed the importance of using modern technologies for creating a system of electronic document processing. It is expected that such systems will be introduced in the fuel and energy sector, chemical and processing industries, construction, transport, telecommunications, medicine, textile industry and agriculture. Currently the Turkmen Government is discussing with the UN a project of cooperation to reform and strengthen public administration, including macroeconomic management and e-government.

Price of Marriage in Turkmenistan

An old tradition in which grooms make a substantial payment to the bride’s family is flourishing in Turkmenistan, and the sums changing hands are getting higher. Currently the price for a bride is anything from US $3,000 to 10,000. Nine of 10 Turkmen marriages in 2011 involved a transaction of this kind. The custom of paying for a bride, known as “kalym”, has seen a significant revival in Turkmenistan in the years since the Soviet period, when it was officially banned. Symbolically, this is a payment for the bride’s mother’s milk. Unofficial statistics suggest that Turkmenistan has one of the world’s lowest divorce rates, with formalized separation affecting just over one in 1,000 families, which can be attributed to this custom. However, on the other hand, it could also force women to stay in unhappy marriages.


Turkmenistan to Allocate U.S. $ 30 Million for Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs

President Berdymukhamedov instructed the Central Bank to allocate US $30 million from state funds for the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan (UIET). The funds are to be used “to ensure sustainable and rapid development of the national economy in the era of happiness and further development of entrepreneurship in the country,” according to a presidential decree. Speaking with the members of the UIET, Berdymukhamedov stressed that one of the priorities of Turkmenistan’s socio-economic policy is to provide full support to domestic entrepreneurship.

Dragon Oil Drills New Oil Well in Turkmen Sector of Caspian Sea

Dragon Oil has announced the successful completion and initial testing of the Dzheitune (Lam) C/167 development well, the company reported. The well was completed as a dual producer to a depth of 2,765 metres. The combined rate of initial production was 3,396 barrels of oil per day. The Cheleken project has been implemented in Turkmenistan since the mid-1990s. The development is executed in the Jeytun and Jigalibek fields on the Caspian Sea shelf. The proven and probable remaining oil reserves on the contract area are about 300 million barrels of oil and over 3 trillion cubic feet of gas. In 2012 “Dragon Oil” plans to increase oil production in Turkmenistan by 15%. In 2011, the company increased the average daily oil production by 30%. Last year the operating profit reached $856 million (in 2010 it was 487 million). Dragon Oil chiefly uses the route via Azerbaijan for extracted raw material exports. In 2011 Turkmenistan exported up to 11.4 million barrels of oil extracted in its sector of the Caspian, which is up by 6% compared to 2010, when it sold 10.8 million barrels.

Turkish company discusses course of project implementation in Turkmenistan

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov received the chairman of the board of the Çalık Holding Group, Ahmed Chalyk. The Turkish businessman expressed his company’s deep interest in further development of long-term productive partnership. According to the national TV channel “Altyn Asyr,” the president “once again stressed that high quality of construction and strict observance of set deadlines are the compulsory requirements for working in Turkmenistan.” Calik holding has been operating in Turkmenistan for a long time, and has implemented a number of major projects in such areas as energy, construction, housing, textile and others.

Transactions at Commodity Exchange of Turkmenistan Exceed US $91 million

The State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange of Turkmenistan registered 28 transactions last week in excess of US $91.3 million. Businessmen from the UK and Afghanistan purchased diesel fuel. Customers from the UK, Sweden, Turkey, UAE, Afghanistan, Ukraine and other countries bought goods made of cotton. Turkmen businessmen purchased wheat.

Unless otherwise indicated, all translations have been prepared by OSI’s Turkmenistan Project.

About the Turkmenistan Project

The Turkmenistan Project is a division of the Open Society Institute’s Central Eurasia Project. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of OSI. For more information about the Open Society Institute, visit our website at www.soros.org. For more information about the Central Eurasia Project, visit EurasiaNet at http://www.eurasianet.org. For more on the work of the Turkmenistan Project, visit us at http://www.eurasianet.org/resource/turkmenistan/index.shtml

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