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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 488,100 km
Population: Officially 6.9 million, unofficially 5.1 million (UN estimate, 2008)
Capital City: Ashgabat (population unofficially estimated at approx.500,000)
People: 77% Turkmen, 9% Uzbeks, 7% Russians, 2% Kazakhs, 5% other
Languages: Russian and Turkmen
Religion(s): Sunni Muslim
Currency: Manat
Major political parties: Democratic Party of Turkmenistan
Head of State: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov
Prime Minister/Premier: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov
Foreign Minister: Rashid Meredov
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Turkmenistan is a member of the OSCE, the UN, the IMF, OIC and EBRD, and enjoys “associate membership” status in the CIS. It initialed a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with the EU in May 1998. The PCA is not yet in force.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts (2011 IMF/WEO database unless otherwise indicated)

GDP: US$24.2bn
GDP per head: US$4,362
Annual GDP Growth: 6.5% (Turkmen Government estimate/EIU)
Inflation: 6.1%
Major Industries: Oil, gas, petrochemicals, agriculture and food processing.
Major trading partners: Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Ukraine, US, France, Germany, UAE, Azerbaijan
Foreign direct investment: US$1355m ( EBRD projection 2009)
Exchange rate: 2.85 manat = US$1; Since 1 January 2009 The Turkmen Manat has been re-denominated and new bank notes have been issued.

The energy sector is the mainstay of the Turkmen economy and source of finance for the extensive number of construction projects taking place in the country. Turkmenistan has significant long-term energy potential, with the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil deposits. Gaffney, Cline & Associates, a British company, carried out an audit of the reserves in June 2008 and confirmed the large deposits. They have since confirmed that the South Yolotan field is the second biggest in the world, with 21 trillion cubic meters of in-place reserves. Historically, most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports have gone to Russia (and Ukraine), which paid well below world market prices. However, in April 2009 there was a rift in Russian-Turkmen relations after an explosion on the main gas supply line to Russia, which stopped the flow of gas for the remainder of 2009. The pipeline reopened in January 2010 but at much reduced volumes.

Keen to lessen dependence on Russia, Turkmenistan opened a small capacity gas pipeline to Iran in 1997 and increased this with a second pipeline, opened in January 2010, which could increase exports up to 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually. In December 2009, a new gas pipeline to China was commissioned, which could eventually carry as much as 30-40 bcm of natural gas per annum. In 2011 it carried over 10bcm of gas and the construction of a third pipeline was agreed between the Turkmen and Chinese governments. Moves to establish a Trans-Caspian pipeline bringing gas from Turkmenistan to Europe through a southern energy corridor have begun with negotiations between the EU, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) was agreed in principle in 2011 by the governments of all four countries and gas pricing agreements were settled with both Pakistan and India. One of the next steps for TAPI will be to find funding for pipeline construction.

There has been some economic reform in recent years and International Monetary Fund teams visit Turkmenistan regularly. There has been some privatisation and a new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development strategy is encouraging more small and medium enterprise (SME) start-ups in the private sector. However, the economy remains largely state-controlled. The agricultural sector is dominated by cotton production. The Government has established a domestic textiles industry and is processing much more of its cotton domestically.

There are two large oil refineries in Turkmenistan with a total design capacity of around 10-12 million tons of oil annually.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Turkmenistan's Relations with Neighbours

Since his election, President Berdimuhamedov has worked to improve relations and co-operation with countries in the region. President Berdimuhamedov has hosted numerous visits to Turkmenistan by regional leaders and has himself travelled extensively. The biggest thorn in Turkmenistan's relations with its neighbours is the delimitation dispute over the Caspian Sea with Azerbaijan. Although Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have had senior-level meetings to try to come to a compromise, Turkmenistan announced in July 2009 that it would take the dispute to international arbitration. Azerbaijan did not agree to this and there remains a stalemate between the two states. However, high-level dialogue between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan on this issue continues.

Turkmenistan's Relations with the International Community

Turkmenistan's foreign policy is based on permanent neutrality which was recognised by the United Nations in a UN General Assembly Resolution adopted on 12 December 1995. Turkmenistan deals with the international community through trade-led bilateral relationships. While Turkmen participation in international organisations has always been modest, this is improving. For example, President Berdimuhamedov attended the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, as well as the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek in 2007 (though Turkmenistan is not an SCO member). He has also attended the UN General Assembly every year since 2007. The Turkmen continue to allow military overflights for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and have in the past allowed the passage of such aid through their territory.

Since the election of President Berdimuhamedov the Turkmen Government has adopted a more open policy to the outside world. The President’s first overseas visit was to Saudi Arabia in April 2007, where he carried out the Haj. Shortly after he visited Moscow and met Vladimir Putin. The momentum of high-level visits to and from Turkmenistan has continued to increase since then.

Turkmenistan's Relations with the UK

Diplomatic Representation

The UK recognised Turkmenistan on 31 December 1991 and diplomatic relations were established on 23 January 1992. The British Embassy opened in Ashgabat in September 1995. The first Turkmen Ambassador to the UK arrived in January 1997.

Cultural Relations with the UK

There is no resident British Council office; Turkmenistan is covered from Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Recent Visits

Inward

Then President Niyazov stopped over briefly in the UK in March 1993 and called on the Prime Minister. He also attended the VE Day 50th Anniversary Commemorations in London in May 1995.

The Chairman of Turkmen Customs, Alexandr Grishin visited the UK in November 2004.

Then Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Gas, Tachberdi Tagiyev, together with Oil and Gas Minister, Baymurad Hojamuhamedov (currently DPM for Oil & Gas), and the former Head of the Agency for Natural Resources, Bayrammyrat Myradov visited the UK in April 2008 for an Oil and Gas conference on Turkmenistan.

The then Head of the Institute on Human Rights and Democracy visited the UK on 7-11 July 2008.

In July 2009 members of the Turkmen Parliament and Committee on Human Rights and Liberties, Mrs Yazdursun Gurbannazarova (now Head of the Turkmen Institute on Human Rights and Democracy) and Mr Atamurat Tailyev, visited the UK. They met with a number of organisations, Baroness Vivien Stern and Michael Gapes MP.

Foreign Minister Mr Rashid Meredov attended the Afghanistan Conference in London on 28 January 2010

In February 2010, Deputy Minister for the Interior Mr Allamurat Hadjiev visited the UK. He met Baroness Stern and Lord Dubs. The visit focused on prison management, reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

Mr Yagshygeldy Kakayev, the Chief Executive of the State Agency for Management and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources attended and spoke at a Chatham House conference on Central Asian and Caspian Energy on 23-24 February 2010.

The British Embassy in Ashgabat supported a visit to the UK in August 2010 by Mr A. Hojamkuliyev, Mr S. Kakajanov and Mr B. Ovezov of the State Migration Service of Turkmenistan. The visit, which was facilitated by the UK Border Agency, covered issues such as border controls (including with respect to international standards) and e-government.

Deputy Prime Minister Deryageldi Orazov led a delegation, including Yagshygeldy Kakayev, to the second meeting of the Turkmenistan-UK Trade & Industry Council, in London on 16-17 January 2012. This included meetings with Minister for Europe David Lidington, Energy Minister Charles Hendry and, at a reception in the Foreign Office, HRH The Duke of York.

Outward

HRH The Prince of Wales visited Ashgabat and the ruins at Merv (a major city of the Islamic World between the 8th and 13th centuries, and site of one of the worst Mongol massacres) in November 1996.

Mr Henderson, then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, visited Ashgabat in May 1998.

Malcolm Wicks MP, then Minister of State for Energy, visited Turkmenistan in September 2007

HRH The Duke of York visited Turkmenistan in October 2008, July 2009 and April 2010.

Major General Jeff Mason, then Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff and Colonel Ian McKend visited in August 2009

Baroness Symons and Lord Waverley visited in October 2009 as part of a British-Turkmen inter-parliamentary group

Lord Hunt, then Minister for Energy, visited in March 2010 and met President Berdimuhamedov, Deputy Prime Minister & Foreign Minister Meredov and Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Gas Hojamukhamedov.

Air Vice Marshal Howard, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, visited Turkmenistan in November 2011. He met Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Rashid Meredov and Secretary of the National Security Council, Major General Yaylym Berdiyev.

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GEOGRAPHY

Turkmenistan is bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea. Mostly desert, Turkmenistan is split into five administrative regions (welayatlar). It has the smallest population of the five former Soviet Republics in Central Asia.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

UK Development Assistance

There is no bilateral development assistance programme with Turkmenistan, though the UK does maintain links with multilateral aid agencies and will consider providing support for capacity building for civil society strengthening, and democratic reform.

Trade and Investment with the UK

Estimated UK exports to Turkmenistan in the period January to October 2011 totaled £53.5 million (US$83.0m), equating to an increase of 22%. Turkmen exports to the UK in the same period totaled £20.5 million (US$31.2m), an increase of 367%. Bilateral trade therefore amounted to £74 million (US$115.0m), representing a 53% increase over the period.

British companies active in Turkmenistan include: Bristow Helicopters; British-American Tobacco; De La Rue; Augusta Westland; Hermes Datacom; and Shell.

There have been no official UKTI trade services in this market since April 2005 to help British companies who wish to export or invest in Turkmenistan, except for lobbying in relation to UK companies' commercial interests by the Head of Mission. A British Business Group was established in 2010, as was a Turkmenistan-UK Trade and Industry Council (TUKTIC), which held its first meeting in Ashgabat on 13 October 2010.

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POLITICS

Recent Political Developments

Turkmenistan (a Soviet Republic from 1924) gained its independence in October 1991. A new constitution was introduced in May 1992 and amended in March 2007 and more recently in 2009.

Turkmenistan is effectively a one-party state, although the President announced in early 2010 that new political parties may be created. Currently the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan is the only registered political party. Democratic reform has been negligible and real power is concentrated in the hands of the President.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was appointed acting President in December 2006 by the country’s then supreme legislative body, the People’s Council (subsequently disbanded), and the Constitution was amended to allow him to stand in the subsequent Presidential elections. In his manifesto, Berdimuhamedov pledged a number of reforms, notably in the areas of health, education, agriculture, pensions and access to the Internet. Presidential elections were held on 11 February 2007 and, for the first time, there was a choice of candidates, although all were from the Democratic Party and all promised to follow the former President’s policies. Berdimuhamedov was confirmed as President with a claimed 89.23% of the vote.

Although there have been a number of reforms in Turkmenistan, the pace of these has been slow. The Turkmen say that reform will continue at their own pace. The next Presidential election is due to take place on 12 February 2012. Eight candidates, including President Berdimuhamedov, are registered to compete for the votes from an electorate of some 2.9 million. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights undertook a Needs Assessment Mission from 7 to 9 December 2011. It recommended against the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, but in favour of an Election Assessment Mission (to assess Turkmenistan’s legal framework and processes for elections in Turkmenistan).

Other Elections

One of the major changes following the adoption of a new constitution in 1992 was the dismantling of the People’s Council, which was replaced by an enlarged Parliament (from 65 to 125 members). Elections to the new Parliament were held on 14 December 2008. Most candidates came from the Democratic Party or were closely linked to the state system. 288 candidates stood in the election. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sent an observer mission and the UN and OSCE sent small election support teams. Regional elections took place on 5 December 2010. The next Parliamentary election is due in December 2013.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

The Turkmen constitution guarantees a wide range of human rights but they are in practice often ignored. There is no sign of organised political opposition inside the country (though there are a number of small groups in exile abroad). The establishment in late 1996 of an Institute on Human Rights and Democracy has led to some willingness to address general human rights issues and there have been some signs of progress, such as the registration of the Catholic Church in March 2010 and the announcement by President Berdimuhamedov in early 2010 that new political parties may be allowed to operate. There is complete freedom of movement internally for Turkmen nationals and more Turkmen are allowed to travel overseas. The Penal Code is being updated with help from the British Embassy, as well as reform of the media through a BBC World Service Trust project.

Pressure from the West has encouraged the Turkmen Government to release some political prisoners, but progress remains slow. EU Member States welcomed the announcement on 29 December 1999 of the abolition of the use of the death penalty in Turkmenistan. Our Ambassador, along with EU Partners and like-minded missions, raises human rights issues with the Turkmen authorities on a regular basis. These include freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the rule of law.

However, the human rights situation remains of concern. Further information on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan can be found in the FCO's Annual Human Rights Report.
(http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/publications-and-documents/publications1/annual-reports/human-rights-report)

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Last Updated: January 2012

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