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Information on Turkmenistan
posted 20th February 2007
New president elected
As was widely predicted in the world's press, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was elected president of Turkmenistan on the 11th February. Unlike elections in the days of President Niazov, voters were given a choice of candidates, however it would appear they all came from the same party as Mr Berdymukhammedov, and none of the other five was regarded as a likely winner. Moreover, the opposition leaders who under Niazov had had to live abroad were not allowed back into the country for the elections.
Berdymukhamedov, 49, who was Deputy Prime Minister and an aide to Niazov, won a vote seen as neither free nor fair by the few foreigners who observed it, but it was nevertheless seen as a step forward.
But one change he quickly introduced was the opening up of the Internet to the general population, and one or two small Internet cafes were opened in Ashgabat within a few days of his coming to power - the previous government had only allowed government officials Internet access. It was reported that no sites would be blocked and that there would be no monitoring of who reads what, but one barrier to mass use (apart from the small number of access points) is the price, reported as $4 per hour, which is very expensive when compared with the average monthly salary of $100. However, if it takes hold as promised, it will nevertheless represent a big step forward in freedom of information within the country.
Human rights vs. gas and oil
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a hard-hitting statement on February 8 warning that
But President Berdymukhammedov does not seem keen to link trade to human rights - in an interview with Chinese reporters published at the turkmenistan.ru website, he says:
Russia controls almost all the export routes for Turkmen gas through its oil cartel, Gazprom, currently purchasing the bulk of it and then selling on to other countries in a deal said to last until 2028. Russia has not made political reform of any kind a part of its agenda in Central Asia, and some feel it is more interested in stability in Turkmenistan than in change or democracy.
Other countries, including the USA, are keen to see alternative routes opened up, for example across the Caspian Sea to Europe, and south through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
S. John Massoud reports in his article in Amercian Thinker that the USA are also looking for a new ally in Central Asia, having recently fallen out with Uzbekistan (Uzbekistan removed US Air Force landing bases in 2005), and Turkmenistan might fit the bill.
But Turkey may hold the key. Turkey-based journalists were given visas for both the funeral of former President Niazov and the inauguration of President Berdymukhammedov while journalists from many other countries - including Russia, which held sway over Turkmenistan during seven decades of Soviet power - were not invited.
Turkmenistan's foreign policy is founded on “permanent neutrality” and Turkmens desperately want to develop their economy while avoiding dependence on major foreign powers. Turkey could give them that opportunity. As one of the world’s most dynamic emerging markets, its leaders want to use their good standing with the West to make Turkey an energy corridor linking Central Asia and the Caucasus to Europe. “We do feel some responsibility for them,” said former Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Murat Özçelik. “They have some problems to work out in the fields of freedoms and such, and we want to help.”
The Moscow Times website also reports on the close links between Turkmenistan and Turkey. It says
There is also confusion over the future of political prisoners from the Niazov era, with Deutsche Welle reporting the possibility of a revision of political prisoners' sentences in order to weaken the pressure applied by international human rights organizations and the West in general; but, again, others are not so readily convinced that this is on the cards.
NBCentralAsia sources were told by sources in Turkmenistan’s migration agency that the security services would soon abolish a blacklist containing around 30,000 names of people deemed to be unreliable and therefore barred from leaving the country. These individuals would then be granted free movement within Turkmenistan and possibly the right to travel abroad.
If these reports are confirmed, it will suggest that the Turkmen authorities are taking the first steps towards liberalisation. NBCentralAsia commentators believed that this move was prompted by a bid for votes in the February 11 election, and also by pressure from the international community to break with many of the practices of the Niazov era.
22nd December 2006 - Death of Saparmurat Niyazov
This is a revision to our posting of 21st December 2006
It has been announced that the president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, died of a heart attack on Wednesday, 20th December 2006 (GMT). He was 66.
It is reported that he left no designated successor but AFP reports that the deputy prime minister, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has confirmed his nomination to the post of interim president until the organisation of an election.
More information is available:
General news websites
Turkmenistan.ru - online daily news issued by Media-Service-TM.
Eurasianet.org - News on political, economic, environmental and social developments in Turkmenistan
Geographical and Political Information
CIA World Factbook - Turkmenistan - geography, population, government etc.
OSCE in Ashgabad - The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's office in Turkmenistan
Wikipedia entry for Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan - Government, Law and Culture
The Rukhnama - the national spiritual code published by President Niyazov in October 2001
www.turkmens.com - cultural site. Architecture, natual history, archaeology etc.
Travel to Turkmenistan
Lonely Planet travel guide