Turkmenistan did not send an official delegation to Vienna to participate in the OSCE’s Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on “Freedom of Assembly and Association” that took place on November 8-9. The country’s Foreign Ministry had apparently submitted an official note to the OSCE leadership last year stating that official Turkmen representatives would only attend OSCE events if exiled former Turkmen minister, Nurmukhammed Hanamov, and head of Turkmenistan’s Initiative for Human Rights, Farid Tukhbatullin, would be denied admission. Tukhbatullin registered as a participant of the meeting in advance, and therefore, Turkmenistan did not attend. At the meeting, Central Asian human rights organizations issued a joint statement on the suppression of dissidents and restrictions on Internet freedom in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, calling upon OSCE member-states to persuade the named countries to end infringements on Internet freedom in accordance with the recommendations of international human rights organizations and the OSCE Special Representative on Media Freedom.
This week, a delegation from the Netherlands, led by the Dutch Ambassador to Turkmenistan, Ronald Keller, came to Ashgabat to meet with Turkmenistan’s Government and Foreign Ministry to discuss priorities for bilateral cooperation. Turkmenistan sent a delegation headed by Foreign Minister, Rashid Meredov, to Tokyo to participate in the Fourth meeting of the “Central Asia Plus Japan” platform.
On November 15 – 16, Ashgabat will host a roundtable for military officers from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. According to 1news.az, citing Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry’s press service, the roundtable “Partnership for Securing Safety on the Sea: Prevention of Threats and Exchange of Experience” will focus on military cooperation. It is possible that discussions will address the recently escalating territorial dispute between the two countries over the ownership of several fields in the Caspian Sea. Tensions between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan flared up earlier in June after an Azeri border patrol boat stopped a Turkmen vessel that Ashgabat said was conducting research in the disputed region. Both claim the right to an oilfield that Baku calls Kapaz, and Ashgabat calls Serdar.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov fired the Chairman of the Marine and Inland Water Transport Service, Meilis Mutdikov, for “gross violations, a failure to fulfill contractual obligations, and the weakening of organizational work.” However, the reason behind the dismissal apparently lies in the official’s unauthorized use of the presidential yacht for his leisure, reporter Turkmenistan Human Rights Initiative. The President also fired Railway Transport Deputy Minister, Charymyrat Charyev, for shortcomings in his work, and reprimanded the Head of Customs, Annamukhamet Hojamguliev, for unsatisfactory performance of his duties.
Despite the cabinet shuffles for poor performance, Turkmenistan does boast of its astronomical growth in its energy sector. Turkmen authorities announced that revenues in the fuel energy complex increased significantly, that in January – September 2012, the growth rate of natural and associated gas amounted to 107.1% and the volume of exports rose by 8.8%. Official sources reported at a gas conference in May in Avaza that in 2011 Turkmenistan received about $11 billion from exports, which is double the amount in 2010. This has yet to be confirmed by independent auditors.
Despite energy wealth filling government coffers, much of the population lives in poverty, with unemployment levels being one of the highest in the region. Many trade goods in bazaars to make a living. And yet, even they experience interference from the local authorities. An ongoing conflict between traders and the local authorities in the Lebap region ended with victory for the mayor, who insisted that the market working hours be limited to a couple of hours in the evening until the end of the cotton gathering campaign. Last week, when it was announced that the cotton quotas were met, the traders lost their patience, broke the locks on the gates of the bazaar and resumed trading. They managed to get the market working regular hours for some days, until the mayor showed them who was boss. He enforced the short working hours, and the police cleared out the trading area and warned them that severe measures would be taken against those who violate the official orders. The bazaar will begin working normally again after November 25th, when Turkmenistan celebrates Harvest Day
Berdymukhamedov made an impressive public appearance, covered by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, providing a rare glimpse into the glamorous public persona adopted by the Turkmen leader, who races cars, performs pop-songs, and now, making an appearance in a circus. A video on Radio Liberty’s web-site shows an audience of schoolchildren greeting him with chants in perfect unison. “It's all a bit North Korea-ish,” says Radio Liberty recalling another hermit kingdom. Turkmenistan’s official media said that “this visit of the head of state was unplanned, private, and it was an unexpected and very exciting event for the circus performers and the viewers.”