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Turkmenistan: Indecipherable, Impenetrable

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov addresses the UN General Assembly on September 23.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov addresses the UN General Assembly on September 23.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's address to the UN General Assembly on September 23 was as notable for its indecipherable language than for anything substantive contained in the speech itself.

Take this, for example, quoted from the official English transcript distributed by Turkmenistan’s UN mission:

"We suggest in this session to start the elaboration of a declaration on priority introduction of political and diplomatic tools in solving international issues with further its consideration at the UN General Assembly.”

Got it?

I verified the English translation with the original delivery in Russian. It sounds pretty much the same. Even within the arcane syntax of the UN, Berdymukhammedov’s proposal deserves an exclamation mark.

But this is only half the story.

In the same speech, Berdymukhammedov proposed several UN-related initiatives in which Turkmenistan intends to play an active part.

Ashgabat, he said, is offering to host a UN forum next year on security in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region. It also wants to create an Interregional Energy Dialogue under UN auspices. Another major Turkmenistan-UN initiative is the establishment of the Caspian Environment Forum as a permanent body to deal with environmental issues in the Caspian basin.

The proposals sit well within the overall UN agenda, but does Turkmenistan have the expertise or capacity to undertake them?

A country of 5 million people, rich in natural resources, Turkmenistan maintains only a skeleton staff at UN headquarters consisting of a permanent representative and two lower-level diplomats, none of whom is expert on the initiatives the president is proposing.

San Marino -- a state of 30,000 people with no natural resources and which could fit within Turkmenistan 8,000 times -- maintains twice as many diplomats at UN headquarters -- two of whom are experts.

True, Turkmenistan’s UN ambassador, Aksoltan Ataeva, is the longest-serving permanent representative at the UN, having presented her credentials to Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali back in February 1995. But tenure does not necessarily translate into expertise or capacity.

And, as in previous years, there are reports that Turkmenistan has again prevented its students from traveling abroad to study. That doesn’t jibe with the idea of nurturing young professionals with an open view of the world. And Turkmenistan will need them dearly if the initiatives loudly proclaimed by its president from the UN podium have any chance of being implemented.

-- Nikola Krastev

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