A country full of secrets and surprises: On the first hand you get the impression that you arrive back in Soviet Union times as life in the country is strictly controlled and unforeseen moves are not allowed and can hardly be made. But on the other hand the capital of Ashkhabat is full of luxurious buildings, fountains and parks.

A very strong personality cult, almost like during Stalin times, is embossing the country’s image. In the past it was President Saparmurat Niyasov elected president for life-time, who called himself ‘Turkmenbashi’ – Father of all Turkmen. Streets, cities and even a calendar month were re-named at his honour. After the death of Niyasov a new president was elected and the personality cult was continuing. However, one must admit that Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is not too strongly supporting such a policy. In opposite to his predecessor he started some reforms, especially in the educational sector. But even if it would be his strong intention to lead Turkmenistan towards a democratic future, it could be questioned whether the local government would support him. Like the other Central Asian countries, the Turkmen people are Muslims, generally very friendly and peaceful.

Until today, Turkmenistan is highly criticised by the international community of having one of the worst press freedom in the world and ethnic minorities are still suppressed and have little chances to live according to their own traditions. People in general are very friendly but approach foreigners with certain distrust.

Despite all this, the country is extremely interesting for investors and businessmen as it is rich of natural resources. Like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan it is an emerging market, especially in the area of FMCG and in the mobile and other infrastructural sectors. As it is located in the middle of the ancient silk-road, there is a high potential for any kind of trade. But it is challenging to work under the local conditions, which are not very common and unusual for many Westerners.


© Waltraud Gehrig & Natalia Holl