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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08ASHGABAT657 2008-05-22 12:49:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

TURKMENISTAN: SOME IN TURKMENBASHY UPBEAT, OTHERS

Tags:   PGOV PHUM ECON SOCI AJ TX 
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VZCZCXRO0873
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #0657/01 1431249
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221249Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0851
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 3795
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1613
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1480
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 2049
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 2539
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000657 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON SOCI AJ TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: SOME IN TURKMENBASHY UPBEAT, OTHERS
COMPLAIN OF TOUGH TIMES



1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.



2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Conversations with local residents during a
recent visit to the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashy revealed a
mixture of attitudes, with several individuals expressing
satisfaction with their lives and overall optimism about the city's
longer-term prospects. Others, however, expressed their distress at
the recent price hikes and the difficulty of finding decent-paying
jobs. Hotel construction appears to be well underway in the Avaza
tourist zone, a harbinger of coming changes. END SUMMARY.



3. (SBU) On May 21 PolOff paid a visit to Turkmenistan's main
Caspian port city, Turkmenbashy and the nearby tourist zone of
Avaza, which the government continues to hallucinate will become a
major international seaside resort. The city's main market, located
to the north of the city center, was bustling with activity. At
50,000 manat per kilo, the price of meat was cheaper than in
Ashgabat (60,000 manat/kilo) and a bit more expensive than in the
northern city of Dashoguz (45,000 manat/kilo). The large quantity
of fresh fish for sale was indicative of the city's seaside
location.



4. (SBU) At least three major new hotels are actively under
construction in the Avaza tourist zone. The only major building
project PolOff noticed in town, however, is a large hotel being
erected in the city center, with no workers anywhere in sight.
(COMMENT: Construction is evidently proceeding at a glacial pace on
the latter project, since the spot was already marked on a 2005 city
map as being the "Site of New Hotel Building," and one local said
the hotel will probably not be finished until 2010. Avaza is
clearly a higher priority for the government than Turkmenbashy
itself. END COMMENT.)

SEVERAL LOCAL RESIDENTS SPEAK POSITIVELY ABOUT CITY LIFE



5. (SBU) Several Turkmenbashy residents described the city's quality
of life positively in conversations with PolOff. One middle-aged
ethnic-Turkmen man, who said he was a factory-worker at the city's
large oil refinery, commented that however attractive the city may
be at present, he was optimistic that better things are coming, both
for Turkmenbashy itself and for Avaza. He suggested that PolOff
should come back in 20 years to see for himself. Another young man,
who said he worked as a taxi driver and a "businessman," seemed
similarly sanguine about life in Turkmenbashy. He, too, was
optimistic that Avaza's development would bring good things to the
local economy.



6. (SBU) A young ethnic-Azeri woman (age 23), a year-round resident
of Avaza who said she worked as a telephone operator for the police,
cheerily described her life in Turkmenbashy as good, although she
added that in one year she plans to move permanently to Baku, where
she is already having a house built. She said she is leaving mainly
for family reasons, since she has many relatives in Azerbaijan. She
said life in Turkmenbashy is currently cheaper than in Baku.
However, with the way prices in Turkmenistan are rising, she thought
that the cost of living soon might reach Baku's level, implying that
there was no financial incentive to stay put. (NOTE: Turkmenbashy
has historically had a large population of ethnic-Azeris, many of
whom have lived in the city for generations. One ethnic-Azeri man,
a third-generation resident of Turkmenbashy whose primary language
was Russian, told PolOff how multi-ethnic the city had been during
Soviet times, with ethnic-Turkmen constituting a minority behind
Russians, Kazakhs, and Azeris. END NOTE.)

OTHER LOCALS LAMENT HIGH PRICES AND LACK OF JOBS



7. (SBU) One middle-aged ethnic-Turkmen woman named Bilbil talked
about how difficult life had become over the past few months due to
price increases. She said she cannot afford to buy meat for her
family anymore, except for special occasions, and so they are eating
more potatoes and macaroni. She claimed that many people are not
getting enough vitamins. She said it is easier for her and her
husband since they have only two children, but for larger families
the price hikes are hitting hard. She noted that she was diagnosed
with a brain tumor five years ago and so has the added expense of

ASHGABAT 00000657 002 OF 002


doctor visits, adding that the state does not help defray these
costs.



8. (SBU) One ethnic-Azeri man named Namik (age 41) was more bitter
about his life. Noting he is currently unemployed, he blamed his
inability to get a job on fellow Turkmen coming from the northern
province of Dashoguz, whom he claimed local bosses prefer to hire
over locals because of their willingness to work for slave wages
without complaining. He said he expected that the house he had
lived in all his life would soon be demolished by the city, at which
point he would be moved to an apartment elsewhere. He said he would
prefer to emigrate to Azerbaijan if he could (Baku is now wealthy --
"like America"). He claimed that justice is only available for the
rich, and suggested that "the women ought to get together and go to
Ashgabat to try to let the president know about their hardships,"
since if the men ever tried to assemble, they would be arrested.



9. (SBU) COMMENT: While duly acknowledging Namik's grievances, it
should be noted that there are likely other factors contributing to
his societal marginalization. He is probably an alcoholic -- his
breath smelled of alcohol, and at one point he asked PolOff for
vodka money -- and he also noted that he is an ex-convict, having
spent six years in a Soviet prison in the 1980s. END COMMENT.

HOAGLAND