Turkmenistan reneges on its promise

January 17, 2008 - 0:0

Turkmenistan is Iran’s northeastern neighbor and the two countries share a long border.

Tehran and Ashgabat have had diplomatic relations for over 16 years, ever since Turkmenistan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In order to strengthen ties and mutual trust with the newly established country, the Islamic Republic has always tried to take effective steps to implement major developmental plans and to make this relationship a good example of cooperation for the world.
Although the full potential of Iran-Turkmenistan trade has not been reached yet, Tehran is still considered one of Ashgabat’s main economic partners.
Iran’s exports to Turkmenistan hit $125.6 million in Iranian calendar year 1384 (March 21, 2005 to March 20, 2006) and $130 million in 1385.
With the cooperation in the oil and gas sectors included, the annual volume of trade between the two countries is estimated to be $1.2 billion, and it is projected to increase due to the acceleration in the cooperation process.
Iranian companies have implemented various economic, infrastructure, and investment projects in Turkmenistan such as a fiber optics project and the construction of the Mashhad-Sarakhs-Tajan railway, silos, water refinery installations in Merv, a petroleum unit of the Turkmenbashi Refinery, liquid gas terminals, roads and highways, and the Friendship Dam.
This shows the solidarity, good-neighborliness, and mutual respect of the two nations. The objective behind implementing all these projects has been to provide welfare and security to Turkmenistan and to help develop the country.
In line with the growing trend of cooperation with its northeastern neighbor, Iran signed an agreement with Turkmenistan in which the country agreed to deliver up to 25 million cubic meters of gas every day to the Islamic Republic for 25 years.
Turkmenistan also agreed that the export of gas to Iran would increase starting in 2006.
Iran has the world’s second largest gas reserves, but since the major gas reserves are located in the south of the country and the cost of transferring it to northern areas is very high, it was decided that the gas needed in that region, especially in Golestan and Mazandaran provinces, where most of the Iran’s Turkmen live, would be supplied by Turkmenistan.
Shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed and Turkmenistan gained independence, the country faced heavy economic crises and its people were desperately in need of food supplies, but Iran did not hesitate to help and sent trucks loaded with tons of flour and other foodstuffs to it neighbor.
In light of Iran’s brotherly interactions with Turkmenistan, especially during the Turkmen people’s time of trouble, it was supposed that they would keep their promises.
The Turkmen have a saying: “Neighbors will rescue neighbors in the afterlife.” Thus Iranian Turkmen could not even imagine that their kinsmen in Turkmenistan would forget about them and cut their gas supply in the bitter cold of winter.
The Turkmen officials’ excuses, such as technical problems, low agreed price, and finally Tehran’s alleged failure to make some payments, are not acceptable to Iranians because those issues could have been resolved easily.
The Turkmen decision to cut the gas supply produced many undesirable results which the Iranian nation will not be able to forget for years. This experience has taught Iranians that kindness is not always repaid with kindness.
Some people only strike up friendships for personal benefit and sometimes even act immorally and treacherously to increase their gain.
Iranians use the expression “to eat the salt and break the saltshaker” in reference to those who are ungrateful. Its equivalent in English is “to bite the hand that feeds”, but they do not like to use such language in reference to a friendly neighbor.
The Turkmen measure is similar to what the Russians did one frosty winter to the people of Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus. At that time, certain countries, including Iran, believed it was their moral and humanitarian duty to help the Ukrainians, Georgians, and Belarusians.
In fact, Iran does not need to obtain energy from any other country because it possesses vast energy resources and the world acknowledges its ability to discover and develop new forms of energy and develop modern technology.
In response to the urgent need for gas in northern Iran, citizens of other areas have selflessly relieved the shortage in the areas of Mazandaran, Golestan, and Turkmensahra, and the government is trying to restore the gas flow in the northern areas from domestic reserves.
It is not too difficult for a powerful country like Iran to weather a storm, since it is one of the world’s main suppliers of natural gas that many countries in the East and the West look to for its resources.
The recent incident proved that Turkmenistan has only sought to take advantage of its cooperation with Iran over the years and has never had any regard for the two country’s friendship, good-neighborliness, common interests, and ethnic and religious affinities.
Therefore, the Iranian nation has the right to ask their government to revise its approach toward Turkmenistan and respond in kind. The Iranian government should take legal action against Turkmenistan for its failure to abide by its legal commitments, which is a violation of the convention on the law of treaties.
Rahmatollah Yuzbashi is an Azad University researcher from Turkmen Port.