This week Turkmenistan deepened its relationship with Turkey, which was the first country to recognize Turkmenistan’s independence and open an embassy in Ashgabat. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s first foreign trip following his reelection as president on February 12, 2012 was to Turkey, where he was accompanied by cabinet members, officials, and businessmen, seeking to expand Turkmen-Turkish relations. President Abdullah Gul has made four visits to Turkmenistan thus far since becoming the head of Turkey in August of 2007, that have focused in particular on improving energy cooperation between the two countries. Last week Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told Today's Zaman newspaper in an exclusive interview that “there is also room for Turkmen natural gas in the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) project, which Turkey and Azerbaijan have agreed to build to carry gas from the latter to Europe via Turkey.”
Turkey’s Minister of Economics, Zafer Caglayan, has also visited Ashgabat on multiple occasions to strengthen the economic relations between the two countries; during a visit in January 2012, Turkmenistan and Turkey agreed to instruct their Central Banks to make necessary arrangements so that they could use their national currencies in bilateral commercial deals. As cited by Jamestown Foundation, Caglayan noted that Turkish construction companies had won up to 90 percent of government construction tenders in Turkmenistan. According to Eurasia Daily Monitor, Ankara has been Ashgabat’s chief trading partner, while Turkmenistan emerged as the main destination of Turkish investments in Central Asia. The total value of ventures either completed or secured by Turkish contractors in Turkmenistan to date is over $31 billion, reported Today’s Zaman. This makes the Central Asian country the second largest market for Turkish contractors after Russia.
Last week, in Ashgabat, Berdymukhamedov met with Mustafa Esen, General Secretary of the Administration of the Turkish President, to discuss cooperation in such areas as trade, economy, culture, and in the humanitarian sector. Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry held consultations with a Turkish delegation, headed by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Fatih Ceylan.Turkmenistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Turkey, in cooperation with Turkish company Meridyen Fuarçilik, organized an exhibition in Ashgabat of Turkish export goods from over 70 Turkish companies.
The Turkish construction contractor Polimeks Insaat, has been working in Turkmenistan since 1995 first receiving a contract for a landscape project for the Ministry of Healthcare, headed at that time by current President Berdymukhamedov. Since 2007, when Berdymukhamedov assumed the Presidency, the company has inked billions of dollars of contracts in the country, possibly causing the company to jump in the 2011 Engineering News-Record weekly magazine’s ratings of the “Top 225 International Contractors,” from 102 to 59. A $2.2 billion contract awarded to Polimeks to build a new airport near the capital city of Ashgabat, became the largest ever single construction project secured by a Turkish firm in a foreign market, according to Today’s Zaman.
Due to the lack of transparency in Turkmenistan, few details are available regarding Polimeks’ operations in the country. However, multiple news sources have reported that Polimeks erected the Arch of Neutrality and the gold-plated, life-size statue of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov designed to revolve with the sun. Polimeks received 10 million USD for the original construction of the entire complex in 1998 and then in 2010-11, received 217.8 million USD to relocate the Arch and statue to the suburbs, at Berdymukhamedov’s orders, reported CA-News.
Last week Polimeks allegedly tried to smuggle more than a ton of gold into Turkmenistan on a Turkmenistan Airlines craft, telling the Turkish customs that it was transporting plumbing equipment. On February 22, the plane was held at Istanbul International Airport, and on February 24, Polimex issued a press release, saying that it made a mistake while going through customs, and that the gold was “meant to be used for paying for construction materials in countries where international wire transfers are not accepted due to embargo provisions.”
In Misery Index 2013 published by Business Insider and calculated by simply adding the inflation rate to the unemployment rate, Turkmenistan, with its unemployment at 60% and an inflation rate of 10.5%, found itself on the fifth position from the bottom, only followed only by Belarus, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. In their efforts to find jobs and provide for families in such dire conditions, Turkmen citizens also look to Turkey. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, a Turkmen migrant worker in Turkey spoke about his and his compatriots’ lives in this country, stressing that despite extremely harsh conditions and risks as an undocumented worker, nobody wants to return to Turkmenistan -- because there is no work there. He claims that now there are about 300,000 Turkmen working in Turkey. News Briefing Central Asia reported from a source at Turkmenistan’s Migration Service that during the ten-month period from January to October 2012, more than 150,000 people left the country.
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