Turkmenistan is the best place in Central Asia to be a woman. That, at least, is the finding of the latest edition of the Women, Peace, and Security Index compiled by researchers at Georgetown University and the Peace Research Institute Oslo.
The index evaluates the status of women in any given country by considering 13 indicators categorized into three dimensions: inclusion, justice, and security, ultimately assigning nations a rank and score between 0 and 1.
For regional context, Kyrgyzstan is positioned 95th with a score of 0.673. Neighboring Uzbekistan is 94th. Turkmenistan is considerably higher than both – 58th – and scores 0.750.
This positive outcome appears strongly attributable to the country’s “community safety indicator,” which “captures women’s perceptions of security in their neighborhood.”
“Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of women worldwide report feeling safe walking alone in their neighborhood at night, though rates vary considerably in both directions. In China, Kuwait, Singapore, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates, rates exceed 90 percent,” the report found.
Amsterdam-based Turkmen.news is minded to couch this encouraging-appearing data point in useful context, however, noting that informal nighttime curfews have been in force in Turkmenistan for many years now. Moreover, since there is no publicly available data on crime, there is no reliable way of knowing how much violence or harassment Turkmen women are enduring. Domestic violence is a taboo topic and outside researchers and journalists are kept rigorously at bay.
Women’s rights activists have, in fact, reported on a worsening in living standards for women since President Serdar Berdymukhamedov came into office in early 2022. Last May, London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation observed that the government was taking “policing over women’s bodies to a whole new level.” As evidence for this claim it cited the virtual bans on abortion, all kinds of beauty services, women sitting in the front seat of private cars, and, purportedly in some cases, on women driving at all.
None of this is fodder for official chronicles. This week, those were mostly replete with news from the energy front, largely on account of the 28th edition of the Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan, or OGT, international conference, which took place in Ashgabat on October 25-27.
One status update provided by state-owned gas company Turkmengaz deputy chairman Murat Archayev was that the second phase of development of the colossal Galkynysh natural gas field, which is being used as the basis for upping deliveries to China, will take up to five years to complete, subject to negotiations with Beijing. Turkmenistan’s intention is to increase annual gas deliveries to China by 25 billion cubic meters, which will be made possible by installing the fourth strand of the Central Asia-China pipeline – the so-called Line D. China is doing the heavy lifting on this pipeline project, but there is little clarity on progress.
Turkmenistan currently sends 40 billion cubic meters of gas to China per year. Speaking at the Ashgabat conference, Hou Qijun, the president of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC, said that as of September 2023, Turkmenistan has historically supplied a total of 380 billion cubic meters of gas to China, a volume he valued at $76 billion. That implies a nicely round historic rate of $200 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is evidently what the negotiations alluded to by Archayev center upon. The Turkmens doubtlessly, and understandably, will want more.
Archayev reminded his audience about another important customer. Turkmenistan will this year, he said, supply Russia with its full contracted volume of approximately 5 billion cubic meters of gas.
“Turkmenistan fulfills its obligations under the contract completely, year after year,” he said.
In 2021, the volume of gas sold to Gazprom was reportedly 10 billion cubic meters.
The most pressing chatter around Turkmen gas was done elsewhere this week, though. As advertised, President Berdymukhamedov traveled to Turkey on October 25 to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks that focused heavily on energy cooperation. (The leader also staged a photo op that saw them exchange puppies as gifts).
Turkey’s involvement will be essential if Ashgabat is ever to gets its gas to Europe in useful quantities. But while this is a straightforward matter of commerce for Turkmenistan, Erdogan spies a chance to use gas as a way to increase Turkey’s strategic leverage on the international stage.
“In the current conjuncture, the supply of Turkmenistan's natural gas to Turkey and through Turkey to global markets has gained a special strategic value,” he said.
In practical terms, what Ankara appears to be envisioning is hosting a large storage facility for gas that would, among other things, empower it to influence horse-trading over prices.
Back in Ashgabat, the vice president of Azerbaijan’s state oil and gas company SOCAR, Elshad Nasirov, told the OGT conference that Baku was open to the idea of Turkey hosting such a gas hub if favorable terms are offered. Nasirov indicated that pending more information about who would manage the hub and how this facility would be managed, it would be difficult to move forward with the initiative, however.
“If we are offered more favorable conditions than those we have now, then why not? But on the other hand, it is hard to offer us something more profitable than what we have now: our gas is sold 25 years in advance at liquid market prices," he was quoted as saying by Interfax-Azerbaijan news agency.
That sounds only half-encouraging for Turkmenistan.
But there are notionally other tracks on which Turkish-Turkmen relations can run. Thirteen cooperation documents were signed at the end of talks between Berdymukhamedov and Erdogan, which sounds like a lot, although these were admittedly mostly of the often-inconsequential memorandum of understanding variety. One commitment for an exchange of knowledge between the two countries’ presidential administrations on human resource management looks intriguing, nevertheless.
The firmest bit of business done was an agreement for Turkish company Chalyk Energy (a name rendered by the company itself as Çalık Enerji) to build a 1,574-megawatt combined cycle power plant in the western province of Balkan. Berdymukhamedov intimated during his visit to Ankara that electricity produced at this power station could be delivered to Turkey across the Caspian Sea and “through third countries.” Berdymukhamedov signed off on a government resolution for construction to go ahead at a Cabinet meeting on October 30.
Akhal-Teke is a weekly Eurasianet column compiling news and analysis from Turkmenistan.