The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 01
--Tuesday, 22 September 98--

"Your are going to Ashgabad? Where's that?"

"Turkmenistan? Where's that?"

"Central Asia? Where's that?"

Ashgabad is the capital of Turkmenistan in Central Asia, the region of the world bounded on the north by two other former republics of the USSR, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, on the east by two more, Krygystan and Tajikistan, (both of which abut China), on the south by Afghanistan and Iran and the west by the Caspian Sea.

The map above shows Turkmenistan north of "Southwest Asia" (Iran) and south of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The Caspian Sea is the western boundary.
If you got an "A" in geography and still haven't heard of Turkmenistan and most of the other places, don't be surprised. Turkmenistan is part of a group of countries now collectively called the "Stans" (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Krygystan, and Tajikistan -- although some writers include Afghanistan and others XingChiang, China). All these countries are populated by descendants of groups of nomadic tribes who lived in grassland and deserts in the central part of Asia.

How important can such distant places be?

From a historical perspective Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were part of the fabled "Silk Road" on which trade between the Roman, Byzantine and later empires and the Chinese was conducted. In the early middle ages conquerors like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane swept out of Central Asia to terrorize and disrupt Europe all the way to Rome. They made of mess of the history, too.

Today -- that is, more recently -- there is the oil and gas. I have heard it said that Turkmenistan possesses 30 percent of all documented natural gas reserves in the WORLD. That doesn't count the petroleum. This is an important place -- this is, if it can figure out a way to get it's gas and oil to a market that will pay for it.

You see, Turkmenistan is landlocked. It faces the major obstacle of getting its products to markets. A huge issue and the basis of big power jockeying. There is a natural gas pipeline to Russia for but the Russians stopped paying more than a year ago so Turkmenistan stopped pumping.

There are proposals to build pipelines in about every direction such as through Afghanistan (remember the Taliban), through Iran (need I say more?), across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan (which is at war with the Armenians) and to Turkey, and to China. All of these routes have problems, financial, political, military, physical, etc.

That's the where, now the why. I am working for a firm that has a deal with a company that has a contract with the U.S. government to assist the Government of Turkmenistan to improve its management. In real terms this means that I am trying to help in developing procedures that will result in the wisest spending.

The contracts for this kind of work usually talk about high-flown concepts like implementing democracy, improving transparency in budgeting, yada, yada, yada, and maybe that is why we are spending our money here (not all that much money when viewed in the big picture). Well, maybe. Then there is all that oil and gas under the vast black sands of the deserts of this country. You decide if it is our national interests that motivate us or a belief that democracy is the one-size-fits-all solution for governmental structure.

If you like learning about the experience of an innocent abroad, hang around. You will be hearing from me again.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley