Tuesday, February 14, 2017
We sent a group of pioneering engineers to Turkmenistan Turkmenbashi refinery in 1990s, for site-seeing mission of an upcoming international tender. They boarded on a big transport plane. After a long jerky air travel, they landed to Ashgabat airport. They hired an uncomfortable van, to ride 578 km to Turkmenbashi refinery which was situated on the east coat of Caspian Sea. When they arrived to the refinery, it was lunch time. They were invited to refinery restaurant. They were served with nice delicious fresh fish. They were very pleased. At dinner time, there was vodka on the menu. The same fish dish was in front of them. When it was morning, Breakfast was served with tea and fish again. They had not eaten anything other than fish, three meals a day on that week. Turkmenbashi refinery was on the shores of the Caspian Sea, there was only fish to eat, nothing else.
Then, the refinery expansion tender was held, an experienced Turkish company received the job in 1997. They set up their own construction site. They sent an experienced cook to the construction site, the Turkish cook made wonderful meals for the workers.
The first pioneering engineers which were sent for tender site-seeing, had double deck beds for 12 people in the same sleeping halls. Halls were separated for women and men workers. In the morning at 05:00 AM, everyone was wrapping around towel, rushing to the bathroom.
Men's and women's baths were separate, but the doors of the bathrooms were wide open. Employees were hanging the towel to nearby hangers. There were no curtain, no separation walls between the eastern type toilettes.
Everyone was disposing in the queue in those eastern type toilets without privacy. There were non-curtains on shower cabins. People were taking shower, cleaning themselves, shaving and getting prepared for the working day ahead. There were no shyness for hiding nudity. Engineers, foreman, workers, civil servants had no difference in bathroom cleaning services.
When Turkish contractor company arrived to the refinery site, they set up their own lodging at construction site. They gave the engineers single rooms with independent bathrooms to engineers and management. Workers stayed in the common halls for 6-12 people again, but they had closed toilet, separate comfortable bathroom facilities. In the morning, all had standard Turkish breakfast, with eggs, tea, cheese, and olives. dishes such as dry beans, rice and yogurt were in the menu, as well as other vegetable pot meal.
Turkmenistan has one the world's largest natural gas deposits. Country has 5.2+ million population, situated on the east coast of Caspian sea. Land is mostly hot dry desert, with some cotton agriculture where suitable. They have offshore oil and gas production facilities on the Caspian sea. State provides basic needs of the citizens, free of charge education, health, electricity, water etc. retired professional women, medical doctors, nurses, qualified teachers come to Turkey and even to Europe or other Middle East countries for elderly caring and babysitting services to earn more money to send for their families back at home.
Turkmenistan today is a country with an authoritarian rule. The resources of the entire country are ruled by one person. The share of the 5.2 million population from the common wealth is very minimal.
Turkmenistan has 20+ trillion cubic meters of proven natural gas deposits. Annual gas production is around 60 bcm, where 20 bcm is used in domestic consumption. In the past, neighboring countries Russia and Iran were buying natural gas, but these sales are now stopped. Today Turkmenistan can sell gas only to China which is situated at their east border. Earlier, Turkmen gas was priced 160 US Dollars per 1000m3, now gas export price is reduced to 100 US dollars. Natural gas sales revenues have decreased in time.
Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (56) was reelected President third time in the general elections which was held on 7 February 2017, with over 98% of the eligible vote.
President's period of work was extended from 5-year to 7-year. Moreover the president's 70-year age limit was lifted. He is a dentist. He plays beautiful guitar and electronic organ. There are youtube videos of his concerts in big concert halls for 4000 people all chanting together his pop music compositions.
President has wife and three kids, plus one Russian mistress with one more child. His wife currently lives in London.
Turkmenistan used to export natural gas to Russia and Iran in the past. In the past export gas volume was around 40-50 bcm. Now the export figure is down. State agencies plan to build new gas pipelines to reach Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there is no money, no financing available.
To join Tanap pipeline which plan to transport Azeri gaz to European markets, Turkmenistan should build new undersea pipeline in Caspian sea. That is costly.
In the past, they had constructed splendid buildings at the center of Ashgabat with their surplus budget. There is nothing else at the center of the capital city. There are a few number of decent regular commercial hotels to serve businessmen. International Corruption watchdogs warn wide spread misuse of state funds.
Turkmenistan is in a locked geography in the central Asia, most of the land is hot dry desert. Everyone receives free health, education and social services. Virtually they have every facility, but in reality they have no products, goods and services. There are three meals of fish. When you call in the morning, there is still no proper breakfast. Because there is no proper production, there is really nothing.
There is no opposition for scrutiny for upgrading, no common wisdom. The Country is left to care of one man ruling. Everything is left to the decision of one man. Hence that final decision never reaches to the average person in the street, it does not work at all.
Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of ODTÜ Alumni and Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.
This article is written for the "EurasiaReview" news web site.
Ankara, 15 February 2017