Tajikistan has joined the list of Central Asian countries rumored to be planning to relocate its capital.
The construction of a new international airport in tiny Dangara, 100 kilometers southeast of Dushanbe, has invited speculation that President Emomali Rakhmon plans to relocate the seat of government there, RFE/RL reports.
That speculation began in earnest back in July, when Rakhmon’s advisor, semi-official policy weathervane, and then-director of the state-run Strategic Research Center, Sukhrob Sharipov said, “it is necessary to say goodbye to the Soviet past in all things, including the capital, Dushanbe.” Sharipov posited that Dushanbe is a “small town, not designed to handle the overloading it now experiences,” proposing three still smaller towns as possible replacements -- Dangara, Kulyab, and Penjikent. Journalists and analysts uniformly dismissed the latter two, particularly Penjikent, which is often cut off from the rest of the country in winter. But Dangara, interestingly, is Rakhmon’s hometown.
In recent years, the Tajik government has invested millions in Dangara’s infrastructure, improving the main west-east highway that runs through and linking it to the nearby railway that once bypassed it. Other cosmetic improvements have been conspicuous, particularly in comparison to neglected regions of the country further afield.
In an information-starved and arbitrarily governed part of the world, such speculation spreads easily.
The Turkmen presidential campaign has produced no surprises yet.
The cookie-cutter candidates running in opposition to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov all come from state controlled organizations or industries and are not straying from the incumbent's program.
Perhaps their purpose is to get a tiny bit out in front of the Turkmen leader so as to test which ideas are more feasible. For example, Rejep Bazarov, deputy head of the government in Dashoguz velayat (province) proposed that Turkmenistan curtail the practice of hand-picking cotton, and mechanize the harvest. He also wanted to increase manufacturing of products for export in the provinces.
Kakageldi Abdyllaev, head of a branch of Turkmengas has stumped for the building of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline. He believes energy demand from Europe will grow. "Our country will not regret efforts in this direction, since representatives of global oil and gas business have made offers of new projects and proposals in this direction," said Abdyllaev, not specifying which companies. He also called for pumping more gas to China, Iran and Russia, and moving ahead with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.
Ana Abayeva, a school-teacher in Ashgabat, attempted to run for president but her application was rejected by election officials, the Turkmen Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. Abayeva was supported by the unregisterend non-governmental organization Civil Society Movement, so the lack of legal status disqualified her candidacy. A Justice Ministry official contacted by RFE/RL said that the NGO would first have to be registered itself.
The hallmark of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s coming to power in 2007 was his opening of Internet cafes and restoration of the education system – these steps into the 21st century for his isolated Central Asian nation caused Westerners to become the most hopeful about change in Turkmenistan. In fact, the cafes came with soldiers and passport checks, and remained too expensive for most users.
Since that time, Internet penetration shot up, while remaining the lowest in Central Asia at 1.6 percent of the population, but then slowed to a plateau, and service grew far more expensive, facing many obstacles, even as other countries have found connection costs dropping.
In his campaign speech January 9, when Berdymukhamedov spoke of moving his country from the agrarian to the industrial stage, he meant that most Turkmens are outside of the oil and gas industry, eking out a living in agriculture or low-wage municipal jobs or jobless in poverty. As much as gas revenue is supposedly plowed into social development, there is little to show for it – new clinics and schools sit half empty with new equipment gathering dust because there aren’t enough trained people.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has used his considerable "administrative resources" -- i.e. his total control over state television -- to announce his program in the essentially uncontested presidential elections on February 12.
The Turkmen leader nevertheless took the faux-humble approach, saying that his statement was important "for me, with the heavy but noble burden to serve my people" and for Turkmens themselves "who have the opportunity to oversee all the facts of my promises today."
Turkmens actually don't have that opportunity, without free press, but it's interesting that the notion of public oversight has become urgent enough at least to simulate.
Berdymukhamedov then explained his campaign promise: "to turn Turkmenistan from a primarily agrarian country to an industrial power" -- a pledge that capturedthe headlines.
But there's some obvious questions lingering under all the president's invocations of the need to obtain the latest advanced technologies.
For one, what has Berdymukhamedov been doing for the last five years, if his country is still "primarily agrarian"? To be sure, he's proudly mentioned all the new factories built on his watch, but it's not clear how well they're producing or what percentage of state revenue they bring, given that statistics are either hidden or exaggerated.
More to the point, it's the gas and oil industry, not cotton or wheat that already make up the lion's share of Turkmenistan's GDP (a lot of which goes into the president's own account) -- making the president's emphasis on moving from nomadic pastoralism to farming a bit strange.
In his January 9 televised campaign speech, Berdymukhamedov repeatedly linked Turkmenistan’s economic development to a need to democratize the country’s political system. He even called "for the creation of new parties and the organizations of independent mass media," explaining that Turkmenistan would benefit from "parties that would consolidate the people, inspire the people to creative labor in the name of the further flourishing of our Motherland." There was a catch to his pronouncement, naturally. Democratization will not apply to his own presidential reelection bid on February 12.
Not surprisingly, state media reported January 11 that the country’s rubber-stamp Mejlis, or parliament, passed a law creating a hypothetical foundation for the formation of new political parties. With only a month before elections, though, there is not enough time for any potential political party to meet registration requirements and put forward a presidential candidate to challenge Berdymukhamedov. Under Turkmen law, candidates have until 25 days before elections to register.
Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, the state Russian-language newspaper, now has an English-language supplement, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH) reported. It looks to be as propagandistic as the Russian edition, with "achievements and prospects of the modernization of the Turkmen fuel and energy sector" and a priority for "diversifying gas exports."
The health section of the new insert "spotlights the successes of the state health policy." There are predictable items on Avaza, the president's pet project to create a tourist zone on the Caspian sea coast; on the restored circus; and an ancient calender which is yet another achievement of the Turkmen people.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has now installed Viktor Zaitsev as editor-in-chief of Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reports. His predecessor Vladimov Gurbanov, was dismissed last month without any explanation at the time.
Now the semi-official news site turkmenistan.ru reports that Gubanov, who is also chair of the Committee on Science, Education and Culture of the Mejlis (parliament) was released from his duties at the newspaper "in connection with an increase in his work load at the Mejlis."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) says it will not send observers to Turkmenistan's presidential election in February, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.
Given that fundamental freedoms continue to be restricted, that the choice between competing political alternatives is limited, and that progress still remains to be made in bringing the legal framework in line with OSCE commitments for democratic elections, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time.
Yet "mindful of the declared interest of the authorities of Turkmenistan to maintain a dialogue," ODIHR says it plans to send an Election Assessment Mission -- not to be confused with an observation mission. The mission will limit itself to reviewing laws and visiting some regions to gain insight into the electoral processes.
These fine points immediately got lost, intentionally or unintentionally, in the Turkmen and regional press. The Azerbaijani news service trend.az reported the story as "UN, OSCE and CIS to Observe Turkmen Elections."
Turkmen officials also made no distinction between "observation" and "assessment" and lumped together all foreign observers. The United Nations and Commonwealth of Independent States will also be sending observers, says trend.az.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, foreground, December 23, 2011, Moscow
The Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) was the main topic of talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Moscow, the Russian business daily Kommersant reported December 23.
According to Kommersant's source in the Russian government, Medvedev planned to offer an increase in gas purchases from Ashgabat, to deflect Turkmenistan's participation in the European-backed TCP. Berdymukhamedov will likely refuse the offer because the potential volume of gas would come with a lower price, Kommersant believes.
The two leaders haven't talked very frequently -- the last substantial meeting was in Turkmenbashi in October 2010, although there were a few conversations on the margins of multilateral meetings. Of all the Caspian leaders, Berdymukhamedov seems to be the least frequent guest in Moscow. No agreements were anticipated, but "during the [Turkmen president's] trip we are counting on getting a clear answer to the question of whether Turkmenistan will take part in the Trans-Caspian pipeline," Kommersant's source said.
Russia was hoping to scuttle the TCP formally at the November 2010 summit of the littoral sites by signing a convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status to mandate equal participation of all the countries in every project. But the agreement never came together and now the next summit is not until later next year.
The editor of Turkmenistan's Russian-language daily, Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan has been fired by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the Russian wire service Interfax reported.
Vladimir Gubanov, who was both the editor of Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan and the chairman of the Mejlis (parliamentary) committee on science, education, and culture, was dismissed on December 27. No reason was provided.
A search through recent weeks of the newspaper didn't yield any indication of articles that may have been controversial. They are the usual boiler-plate state-approved pieces extolling Berdymukhamedov's various initiatives in construction, agriculture and foreign policy, discussing trade with Turkey, and enthusiastically covering the heavily-controlled elections campaign.
The president's chronic unhappiness with media has often led to sudden firings in the past.
The dismissal comes several days after the Turkmen leader's visit to Moscow, where he discussed the situation of Russians in Turkmenistan, pressured now to give up their dual citizenship and opt for Turkmen passports or be forced to leave the country.
Irina Stolbunova, the deputy editor, has now been made the acting editor.
The newspaper, published since 1924, has a circulation of about 50,000, and comes out daily except Sundays .
Woman casts vote in Turkmenistan's February 2007 elections, under the gaze of a bust of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.
With less than two months before the February 12 presidential elections in Turkmenistan, 14 rival candidates have now appeared on the scene in the last week, following the announcement of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's nomination December 15.
-Kakagedli Abdyllayev, managing director, Mary Oil Refinery Turkmengaz
-Saparmurat Batyrov, director, Geoktep Cotton Spinning Factory
-Rejep Bazarov, deputy mayor, Dashoguz velayat (region)
-Begench Borjakov, mayor, Gurbansoltan-edje district in Dashoguz velayat
-Myrat Charykulyev, managing director, Mary-Ozot chemical company
-Esendurdy Gayipov, head of Lebapgurlushyk manufacturing association, Ministry of Construction
-Myratgeldi Jumageldiyev, mayor, Halach district
-Aydogdy Kakabayev, mayor, Baba Dayhan District
-Gurbanmamed Mollaniyazov, manager of a trust of Turkmennebit (state oil)
-Yagmur Orazov, director of Scientific Research Institute for Cotton Cultivation
-Yarmuhammed Orazkuliev, Minister of Energy and Industry
-Nikita Rejepov, managing director, Turkmen Oil Geophysics Company
-Rozygeldi Rozgulyev, acting director, Lebab Water Ways
-Annageldy Yazmuradov, Minister of Water Management
All of them were nominated by state-controlled industrial or civic groups. The State News Agency of Turkmenistan has maintained enthusiastic coverage of this simulated of democracy with declarations like this: