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November 20, 2011, Sunday

Turkmenistan marks 20th anniversary of its independence

I cannot feel impartial towards Central Asian countries. I have many friends from these countries. Between 1992 and 1995, I lived in Ashgabat. When the country switched its currency from the Soviet ruble to the Turkmenistan manat, I was in Turkmenistan. I have visited the villages.

I have attended Turkmen wedding ceremonies. And I have become a part of my Turkmen friends' families. Turkmen families are humanist and warm. This year Turkmenistan marked the 20th anniversary of its independence. Although Oct. 27 is the anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence, the Turkmen Embassy in Ankara celebrated the 20th anniversary of its independence in the Turkish capital on Nov. 14. In the last 20 years, Turkmenistan, which was one of the least developed countries of the Soviet Union, has become one of the most modern countries in its region. However, Turkmenistan's political impartiality has only resulted in isolating the country from the rest of the world.

When Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was elected president on Feb. 11, 2007, after the death of Turkmenbashi Saparmurat Niyazov, he promised to institute reforms in education, health, communications and the economy. However, he has failed to keep his promises so far. For instance, in a speech that he delivered on the occasion of Flag Day in a cabinet meeting on Feb. 18, 2010, Berdimuhamedov stated that a new political party would be established in Turkmenistan; he also added that the establishment of new political parties would be a new step for the implementation of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution. However, he took no concrete steps.

Turkmenistan has made significant progress in only the energy sector, which is the driving force of the country's economy. Because of Russia's changing energy policy, Ashgabat is trying to diversify its hydrocarbon transmission lines. Russia supplies cheap natural gas from Turkmenistan and sells it to European Union countries through its transmission lines. However, since selling its own natural gas is more profitable for Russia, it lowers its procurement of natural gas from Turkmenistan with each passing year. This situation causes Turkmenistan to draw closer to both Russia and the EU. While the negotiations on the trans-Caspian pipeline project that will supply Turkmen gas to European markets are being conducted, Turkmen gas has started flowing to China through the newly built Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline (Central Asia-China pipeline). It seems that Turkmenistan will continue its impartial policy; it will not join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan established under the leadership of the Russian Federation. However, integration with the Commonwealth of Independent States will be accelerated.

Top-level visits between Turkey and Russia have moved to a new level. The Turkey-Turkmenistan Inter-governmental Economic Commission was established during the mutual visits between the two countries' presidents. In Ashgabat, Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Turkmen counterpart, Rashid Meredov, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010, signed an action plan outlining cooperative bilateral activities for 2011 and 2012. Turkish contracting firms based in Turkmenistan make great contributions to improvement of economic relationships between Turkey and Turkmenistan. In 2010, the foreign trade volume between the two countries was $1.5 billion. As a result, Turkey replaced Russia as the top foreign trade partner of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan tops the list of Central Asian countries where Turkish companies have undertaken projects. The aggregate projects undertaken by Turkish companies have exceeded $19 billion. Turkey ranks first in terms of the volume of investments in Turkmenistan.

Turkey is providing higher education scholarships for 100 Turkmen students in the 2011-2012 academic year. Turkmenistan has one Anatolian high school, one primary school, one Turkish and Foreign Languages Research and Application Center (TÖMER) and a non-formal vocational education center run by the Turkish Ministry of Education. On the other hand, private Turkish schools were closed in August 2011. The impact of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) Central Asia Unit allegedly played a role in this decision.

I wish Turkmenistan many happy returns on the anniversary of its foundation.

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