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Qishloq Ovozi

People attend the inauguration of a gilded equestrian statue of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat in May 2015.

I couldn't think of a better headline for this one.

For years now, the Turkmen government has spent state funds on projects that have little, if any, value for the general population.

The Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, is a white-marble wonder with a giant equestrian statue in the city center of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, covered in gold-leaf, and a golden statue of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, on the outskirts of town. (Yes, that's the one that rotated so Niyazov always faced the direction of the sun.)

There are five-star hotels at the Awaza Caspian coastal resort area, reportedly rarely more than 20- or 30-percent occupied and, for the most part, off limits to the country's citizens.

The list of vanity projects goes on and on.

Which is why I couldn't help but notice a June 2 report about plans to build two water-purification plants on the Caspian coast in the western Balkan Province.

The Turkmen state information agency's website said a plant with the capacity to produce 50,000 cubic meters of potable water daily would be built at the town of Ekerem, and another with the capacity to produce 5,000 cubic meters daily would be built at Hazar (formerly Chekelen).

The Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources has already announced an international tender for the project, and is taking bids until July 14.

Until then, we don't know what the cost is, but I'm betting it will be less than one of those five-star hotels up the coast at Awaza.

Good News For A Change?

Since many of the things the Turkmen government spends money on don't seem to make sense, it is refreshing, and certainly worth noting, when the authorities there engage in a project that benefits the country's citizens.

Qishloq Ovozi has already noted that the purification of water from the Caspian Sea seems to be a perfect solution to the water problems in western Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Of course, all we have now are intentions.

The state information agency report mentioned there were other water-purification plants operating along Turkmenistan's Caspian coast, one at Turkmenbashi City and another at Awaza.

The Turkmen opposition website Khronika Turkmenistan noted that there is another purification plant in northern Dashoguz Province. According to the report, that plant was opened several years ago but never really started operations.

I hope the two plants will be built and operate as planned. I rather enjoyed writing this article about the Turkmen government doing something good for the country's people; I'd be happy to write about a happy ending when/if the freshwater starts flowing in Ereken and Hazar.

Authors Note: This was written before June 7 when President Berdymukhammedov announced the cancellation of social benefits -- to citizens

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov had been in the Uzbek government since 1998.

Rustam Azimov was once seen as a potential future president of Uzbekistan but after several months of being made a scapegoat for the country's economic problems, he has reportedly been removed from his post as deputy prime minister.

Uzbek media broke the news of Azimov's dismissal on June 6, roughly six months after former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev was elected president.

After longtime President Islam Karimov's death was announced at the start of September 2016, there was much debate over who would succeed the only president Uzbekistan had ever known as an independent country.

Mirziyaev and Azimov were seen as possible successors, with the head of the National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov, acting as kingmaker.

In the period between Karimov's death and the December 4 presidential election, it appeared all three men worked together to preserve an image of stability in Uzbekistan.

Mirziyaev was sworn into office on December 14 and relieved Azimov of the post of finance minister the next day, but Azimov remained a deputy prime minister in charge of macroeconomic development, structural reform, management of foreign investment, education, and science.

In January, Mirziyaev criticized Azimov for the failure of the bank-card payment system in Uzbekistan, whereby salaries, pensions, and other payments are deposited directly into banks and people are expected to withdraw money from automatic teller machines. State media reported on a pensioners' protest in the southern city of Denau, where elderly people complained they could not access their pensions reliably using the bank cards they had been given.

It was a rare event in a country where protests are broken up quickly and organizers taken away by police, and another indication Azimov's days in government were probably numbered.

At a special government meeting on investment on May 29, Mirziyaev lashed out at the country's ineffective banking system and bankers, questioning why a promised $2 billion investment from Turkey had failed to materialize.

Mirziyaev laid the blame on Azimov. "If Azimov, working in Tashkent, had controlled these matters from top to bottom, this wouldn't have happened," Mirziyaev said.

Mirziyaev's choice of words show his reputed disdain for urbane bureaucrats who work in offices; as prime minister, he was known for traveling around Uzbekistan, visiting factories and farms.

After the dressing-down on May 29, Azimov requested that he be released from his post, saying he was tired of taking the blame for all of Uzbekistan's financial woes.

The Gazeta.uz website reported that Azimov was put in charge of the state export-import insurance company Uzbekinvest.

The post of chairman of the Central Bank remains vacant following the May 23 death of longtime head Fayzulla Mullajonov, but it appears unlikely Azimov will be named as his replacement.

Azimov had been in the Uzbek government since 1998 -- always involved in finance, and including two stints as finance minister -- after spending the first years after Uzbekistan's independence as the country's point man dealing with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

His replacement as deputy prime minister is Jamshid Kuchkarov, who was serving as deputy finance minister.

Zamira Eshanova of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report. The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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