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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.

Limited reforms
Before the election, Berdymukhammedov promised limited reform in areas such as education and health while sticking to the general policies of his predecessor, and there was much speculation over what differerences there would be if/when he were elected. But since becoming president, he has warned people not to expect fast changes and on the subject of democracy has said that

"As for democracy, this tender substance cannot be imposed by applying ready imported models. It can be only carefully nurtured by using the wise national experience and traditions of previous generations... ...The country is gradually growing in its historical development. With it our democracy will also be strengthened."

See Turkish Weekly

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.

Rukhnama remains
Limited reform or not, the influence of the former president's book, the Rukhnama (the 'Book of the Soul'), does not seem to be weakening. Niazov saw his work as the 'Holy Book' while he considered the Quran as 'Allah's Book', and passages are still solemnly read out on state television, with children required to study it every day. While some of the population voice support for the book, others quietly say there is little choice. In his piece for Canadian Press, Benjamin Harvey says:

"Among the book's fables, aphorisms and poetry are observations that could be seen as an attempt to justify Turkmenistan's harsh repression of dissent, restricted access to the outside world and what rights groups say was the intentional "dumbing down" of the Turkmen population in order to keep it from asserting any opposition. "

Full article.

Human rights vs. gas and oil
While human rights groups around the world have called for far-reaching political reforms and vast improvements in the prison system, countries nearby have been keen to welcome the new president. Turkmenistan is rich in natural gas and oil reserves. Ukraine, for example, supports half of its needs from sources in Turkmenistan and, further afield, China, Russia, Europe and the USA also have interests.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a hard-hitting statement on February 8 warning that

"a new dictatorship will be consolidated in Turkmenistan by the pro forma presidential election on February 11 unless strong international voices insist on real human rights reform."

But President Berdymukhammedov does not seem keen to link trade to human rights - in an interview with Chinese reporters published at the website, he says:

"We are in favour of equal and mutually respectful cooperation, strict adherence to principles of territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Turkmenistan and China cooperate productively in the international arena, first of all, within the framework of big international organizations as the UN,"

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.”

More here at Today's Zaman

The Moscow Times website also reports on the close links between Turkmenistan and Turkey. It says

"The Turks and the Turkmens are natural allies. Descended from common ancestors, they share close ethnic and linguistic ties and a common religion -- Islam... ...signs appear to point to a relationship that could grow closer. If it does, it could have dramatic benefits for both countries."

"Turkey, which has its own much-publicized problems with freedoms, is a liberal bastion by comparison, and could use its brotherly ties to exert pressure on the Turkmen government."

The Moscow Times article.

Ovadan-Depe demolition?
Prior to the presidential election, rumours were rife that a change in the political system would come. Some political prisoners were released to be held under house arrest and it was reported by Deutsche Welle that the authorities had started to dismantle the notorious Ovadan-Depe prison, with at least some of its former inmates being moved to other prisons - and this would tie in with Geldy Kyarizov's sudden reappearance at Chardzhou prison, whence he had disappeared in September 2006. However, it is also reported by others that only some of the prison's buildings were being closed and that, in the main, the prison might remain.

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.

More at the website of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting

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 - online daily news issued by Media-Service-TM. - News on political, economic, environmental and social developments in Turkmenistan

Geographical and Political Information

CIA World Factbook - Turkmenistan - geography, population, government etc.

The European Union's Relations with Turkmenistan

The United Nations Development Plan in Turkmenistan

World Health Organisation - Turkmenistan

The World Bank - Turkmenistan

OSCE in Ashgabad - The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's office in Turkmenistan

  • Visiting Turkmenistan OSCE Chairman notes importance of starting political reforms and democratisation
    ASHGABAD, 29 March, 2006 - The Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel De Gucht, paid a visit to Turkmenistan on 29 March. In meetings with President Sapamurat Niyazov... Full text

BBC Country Profile - Turkmenistan

Open Society Institute - Turkmenistan

Wikipedia entry for Turkmenistan


Turkmenistan - Government, Law and Culture

The national government of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan Laws

The Rukhnama - the national spiritual code published by President Niyazov in October 2001 - cultural site. Architecture, natual history, archaeology etc.


Travel to Turkmenistan

Lonely Planet travel guide



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