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SAPARMURAT TURKMENBASHY THE GREAT (1940-2006)

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov gave interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper
 
Turkmenistan is celebrating the 14th anniversary of Independence. On the eve of the holiday a correspondent of Rossiyskaya Gazeta met with President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov and asked him a number of questions.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Mr President, how would you assess the path the country and people have made in 14 years of independent development? What are the achievements?

Saparmurat Niyazov: In my opinion, the main thing is that we have succeeded in turning Turkmenistan from a typical raw materials country into a dynamically developing country with the diversified, socially-oriented economy that enables us to ensure the population’s high living standard. It is a general conclusion. Here are the concrete examples.

For a number of years the average economic growth rates of Turkmenistan have been the highest in the world making up 20-21 per cent a year. In 1991, 70 thousand tons of grains were harvested all over Turkmenistan. Today, an average region fulfills this norm. In total, this year 3.3 million tons of wheat have been harvested all over the country. We have almost ensured our food independence. The first years after independence when people of the country lined up in queues for a loaf of bread are still fresh in the memory.

In the past 14 years, having built tens of factories equipped with the latest machinery, we have created the textile industry with the output that not only meets domestic needs but is exported successfully to Western Europe, USA, Russia. It is important to stress here that we are very close to processing all harvested raw cotton at our enterprises and turning out ready production.

The similar picture is observed in the oil and gas complex, in which we succeeded in establishing the modern processing industry allowing us to process up to 85 per cent of crude oil and export, for instance, polypropylene or lubricants that are in high demand in the world market.

Over half of the state budget of Turkmenistan is spent for social needs – you won’t see such indicators elsewhere in the world. For almost one decade and a half Turkmenistan’s population has been enjoying electricity, natural gas, drinking water and gas supplied free of charge within the certain limit. Prices on fuel for the population, housing tariffs, public transport fees remain purely symbolic. Considerable funds are allocated for education, healthcare and culture.

All these measures were taken with the only purpose – to ease the life of people during transition to market economy. Today, for instance, creation of the class of owners is one of the government’s main objectives. In this matter, given the local peculiarities, we take out-of-ordinary actions. For instance, taxes are not levied on agricultural producers, there is no tax on land and livestock. One should judge about such steps by the results. The livestock has sharply increased in private households. They have fully saturated the market with their meat and milk products. The real owners of land have appeared.

Probably, nowhere in the world the small and medium business enjoys such preferences. The decision of the People’s Council on reduction of the value added tax for private entrepreneurs and producers down to 2 per cent is another important step in this sphere. They are also exempt from all other kinds of taxes. I am confident that it is a powerful incentive for development of over 11 thousand private enterprises and about 48 thousand entrepreneurs (63 per cent of all enterprises in Turkmenistan operate in the private sector).

In the years of independence, millions of square meters of high quality housing have been constructed, thousands of kilometers of modern roads laid, hospitals with latest equipment built. The country is fully gasified. The government annually supplies 4 billion cubic meters of gas and two billion kW/h of electric power to the population free of charge. All this means one thing – the state cares for people and directs its resources to people to cover their daily needs.

Therefore, I would define the independence’s main gain as follows: the people of Turkmenistan have become the true masters of their country and its wealth. They have obtained the legal right to use them for their own benefit, for their present and future generations. All our present day achievements are the result of this sacred right to be an owner of the land.

RG: Mr. President, in the international arena Turkmenistan is associated with its neutral foreign policy. This year, it will be ten years since the world community has recognized Turkmenistan’s neutral status. Has the neutral foreign political model declared and pursued by Turkmenistan proved itself from the point of view of the national interests and in the regional aspect?

Niyazov: There is no doubt about that. I have many times pointed to the historical and geopolitical validity of our choice in foreign policy - neutrality, its conformity to the world outlook, traditions, mentality of the Turkmen people. We are proud that the world community represented by the United Nations Organization, great powers and, first of all Russia, our other neighbors supported Turkmenistan’s aspiration to become a neutral state. Availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to thank them for this support. Neutrality has kept our country from interstate conflicts, blocs against other states and, at the same time, ensured no pressure from outside and guaranteed peace and order all along our borders.

As for the factor of the Turkmen neutrality in the regional affairs, I have stressed on numerous occasions that our neutrality is not a wall that we use to shut off ourselves from anxieties and problems of the outside world. It is enough to recall that in 1990s we acted as economic donors of Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and some other countries-consumers of Turkmen gas taking into consideration their financial problems.

As far as the geopolitical situation in the Central Asian region is concerned, I am deeply convinced that neither Turkmenistan nor any other state on this territory can use the potential of their development to full extent if there is no peace, stability and security. Therefore, I have always said that we are ready to use our neutrality to serve the regional progress, use the peace-making potential of neutrality to prevent conflicts in the region. In this sense, a lot of things have been accomplished and we are proud of them.

It was in Turkmenistan that in mid 1990-s the delegations of the Tajik government and opposition held talks that ultimately resulted in establishing peace in this country. It was in Turkmenistan that with the support and under the aegis of the United Nations the Afghan talks were held, and in January 1997 the issue of providing international humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people was agreed upon. At that time, the Afghan population was left at the brink of survival as a result of the prolonged civil conflict. We continue and will keep working on using Turkmenistan’s neutral status in the interests of regional security.

Recently, I have turned to the UN with the proposal to open a Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy on the permanent basis in Ashgabat. We are ready to provide all necessary political conditions, technical means, infrastructure, organizational experience for successful operations of such center. It is important to stress that we need no political dividends and the laurels of the only regional peace-maker. We invite all interested countries, international organizations to take part in solving existing problems in the region. We stand ready to assist this process in every possible way.

RG: At the August 2005 CIS summit held in Kazan, Turkmenistan declared its decision to become an associated member of this organization. For many, it was a surprise. There were many different interpretations and assumptions on your decision in mass media. Could you explain what was the reason behind this decision and on what principles Turkmenistan is going to build its relations with countries of the former Soviet Union?

Niyazov: Let’s look at the real situation. 14 years have passed since the CIS establishment. In this period, especially in the early and mid 1990s, this organization, in my opinion, played its positive role in settling the problems of change of ownership, easing the painful economic consequences of USSR disintegration, regulating migration processes, solving a number of other issues. The times change. New independent states have grown stronger. They have defined their natural foreign policy priorities, not necessarily fitting in the frames of post-Soviet area. Nowadays, the CIS is increasingly turning to a background for establishment of different unions of countries on the basis of specific, including military-political, interests. The fragmentation on blocs and groupings is under way.

They are most likely objective processes. We treat them normally and respect the sovereign choice of every state. However, we don’t see ourselves in these processes and cannot participate in them as a neutral country. It would be dishonest in respect to ourselves and others and senseless to imitate our full-fledge membership in the CIS. In accordance with the UN General Assembly resolution “The permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan” of December 12, 1995, officially recognizing the neutral status of our country, we amended the Constitution that we strictly adhere to. Therefore, we openly declared our position as a neutral state to the CIS leaders and it was accepted with understanding. Moreover, Article 8 of the CIS Charter provides for the opportunity to be an associated member of this organization.

As for the principles of our further relations with former Soviet Union countries, they remain unchanged, at least on Turkmenistan’s part. We have never built our relations with other states on the basis of their membership in the CIS. We will not do so in the future. We have gained enough experience of bilateral cooperation with many states of former USSR and we intend to develop it further on the friendly and mutually beneficial basis.

In this context, we maintain stable relations with Russia and there are great prospects for the future. I have permanent, trustful and open dialog with the President of the Russian Federation, we share common or close views on many international issues. In recent times, we have been actively developing economic and humanitarian partnership. We have signed a major bilateral 25-year contract on Turkmen gas supplies. We implement a number of other projects connected, first of all, with participation of Russian companies in development of oil deposits in the Caspian Turkmen sector.

RG: Mr President, Turkmenistan, due to its geopolitical location and vast hydrocarbon resources, takes a special place in Central Asia. According to many political scientists, Turkmenistan becomes a “platform”, where the interests of great powers, world military-political and financial and economic power centers will inevitably collide. Do you share this opinion? In other words, what is the role and place of Turkmenistan in the region?

Niyazov: I think, I have partly answered the question about the role of Turkmenistan in the regional processes. I would like to note that in the first half of the 1990s our country initiated implementation of such important interstate projects as construction of the 280 km long Tejen-Serakhs-Mashhad railway that has become the golden link of the trans-Asian railway trunk or laying the 200 km long gas pipeline from the Turkmen Korpedje field to Iranian Kort-Koi town. It won’t be an exaggeration to say Turkmenistan has become a pioneer of international cooperation in the realization of big projects in our region.

In general, I think that geopolitical tools that were applied in the past or even in the XIX century, all these declarations of “spheres of influence”, “zones of responsibility”, the attempts to establish control over different parts of the globe have become outdated. What control over a territory or resources one can talk about, how do you see it? Does it mean placing a soldier at every 100 m of a pipeline, rounding up a deposit by tanks? Today, one should speak about the use of resources on the new principles in accordance with the needs of the globalizing world, more interrelated and interdependent national, regional or continental economies, rather than about control over a territory or resources.

Turkmenistan offers its cooperation on such modern principles both in terms of using geographical benefits of our territory for laying the international transport and communication infrastructure and in terms of providing outlet for our energy to the world markets through construction of new, additional pipelines by inviting great powers, neighboring countries, transnational corporations and international financial centers to participate in these projects. Our policy is aimed at ensuring the combination and compatibility of external interests in Turkmenistan, rather than their clash.

By the way, Turkmenistan actively develops trade-economic relations with 80 countries of the world. Ukraine, Russia, European Union, the USA, Turkey, Iran and other states are among our leading partners.

RG: Let’s talk about domestic affairs. It is known that for a number of years Turkmenistan has been demonstrating one of the highest economic growth rates. Do you think you will be able to keep this trend? If yes, by what means? What are the priorities of social-economic development of Turkmenistan in the nearest 5-10 years?

Niyazov: The economic growth rates, including ours, cannot emerge by themselves. I have said earlier that in the years of independence we have succeeded in overcoming one-sided raw-materials orientation of our economy. The powerful production basis is being created in the country, new processing industries have appeared, new transport infrastructure has been formed. Regular GDP growth enabled us to increase per capita production from 7 USD in 1991 up to 7.5 thousand now. It is that foundation that allows us to be independent from the world prices on raw materials and not afraid of “collapses” at the world exchanges. The Turkmen economy has a solid margin of safety, it is resistant to the external changes, and self-sufficient in many respects. All of this gives us the opportunity to be confident in the future, to make real economic plans and guarantee the implementation of social programs that are a priority for us.

RG: In your statements, political works, and in Rukhnama you’ve always emphasized that Turkmenistan, moving toward democracy and market economy, independently defines the speed of this movement and its vector. What do you mean by that?

Niyazov: I am deeply convinced that democracy is a natural condition of any nation, any society. There are no “democratic” or “undemocratic” peoples. Turkmens have the richest experience of democratic traditions, traditions of tolerance to each other and the opinion of others, respect for other cultures, customs and norms of conduct. However, Turkmens, due to the peculiarities of historical development, have no less developed protective mechanisms and internal foundations that, in general, helped us preserve our national identity. Today, while developing democratic institutes in the country, we try to make sure that this process corresponds to the world outlook of our people, to the system of values tested by centuries.

For instance, traditionally, Turkmens have not only condemned people that broke the moral laws of the society, but remained kindhearted and tolerant to them. These traditions found their reflection in the annual acts of amnesty on the eve of Gadyr Gijesi (the Omnipotence Night) during the holy month of Ramadan. This time, 8 thousand citizens out of 12 thousand convicts in the republic will return to their families. I have already issued instructions that each of them should be helped in returning to normal life, assisted in employment and other issues.

Democratization of the Turkmen society, introduction of the institutes of election, development of local self-governance, increasing the status of public organizations are taking place naturally along with the social growth of the population, realizing by people of their responsibility for their own destiny and that of their relatives, development of property relations. Turkmens have a wise saying: “There is no need to run at breakneck speed to a place that one can walk to”. We are not in a hurry, the time is on our side.

Sergey DMITRIEV

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 26.10.2005
Translation from Russian into English by Turkmenistan.Ru

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