The Ashgabat Exhibition Center hosted the exhibition and conference “Education, Sport, and Tourism in the Era of Power and Happiness,” which was organized by Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Education and the State Committee for Tourism and Sport and attended by several foreign delegations. Turkmenistan’s tourism potential is largely untapped and President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has stepped up efforts to make Turkmenistan a tourist destination by hosting the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) earlier this year, bolstering participation in international tourism exhibitions and conferences, and announcing the “National Program for Development of Tourism Industry for 2012-2016.” However, Turkmenistan has a long way to go before it becomes a holidaymakers’ destination. Foreign tourists undergo a complex bureaucratic visa process for an entry visa, with an extensive application process that does not even guarantee entry to the country. They must include very precise itineraries and schedules that cannot be deviated from. They may only stay at hotels and are not allowed to leave the capital, Ashgabat, without a professional guide, making fully independent travel in Turkmenistan impossible. Despite great expenditures, particularly on developing the coastal resort, Avaza, Turkmenistan fails to place on the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index published by the World Economic Forum in March 2013, while its landlocked neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, were ranked at 111 and 114, respectively, on this index of 140 economies. Ashgabat also hosted a two-day seminar on freezing terrorist assets, organized by Turkmenistan’s Finance Ministry in conjunction with the Executive Directorate of the UN Counter-terrorism Committee, Eurasian Group on Combatting Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), and the Russian Center for Finance Monitoring. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released Turkmenistan from its global anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) compliance monitoring process in recognition of its significant progress in this area. The Turkmen State Institute of Transport and Communications hosted the Turkmen-American Business Forum, at which the US Ambassador in Turkmenistan, Robert Patterson confirmed that the Central Asian nation will launch its first ever telecommunication satellite on a private, US-made SpaceX craft in late 2014, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. Turkmenistan had reached an agreement with French company, Thales Alenia Space, to design and build the satellite. The satellite will provide services to the national broadcaster, Internet and telephone communication, and video conferencing. Earlier reports had suggested the launch of the telecommunications satellite would be carried out by China’s Great Wall company, but Patterson’s remarks appear to confirm that that arrangement is no longer in place. Turkmenistan is currently served by the Yamal satellite, owned by Russia’s Gazprom Space Systems. Turkmenistan’s State Information Agency (TDH) is now broadcasting Turkmenistan’s state TV channels online. «We hope that our compatriots abroad will appreciate this novelty, which allows them to see contemporary Turkmenistan and receive “first-hand” information about the country,” – said TDH. Thus, Turkmenistan’s propaganda-filled state TV programs will now be available not only to people in the country, but to many who left Turkmenistan in search of better lives abroad. The total numbers of Turkmen living abroad are not available, but in neighboring Uzbekistan there are more than 160,000, some 30,000 live in Russia, and about 500,000 in Turkey. According to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, since 2007, when Berdymukhamedov came to power, the number of people leaving the country has increased threefold, with most leaving for Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Europe.
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