(placed at www.turkmenistan.ru upon the consent of the Turkmenistan magazine editor)
Correspondent: Honorable Mr. President, accept, please, our congratulations! It is a great honor for our magazine to talk to you soon after the People's Council, the supreme representative body of Turkmenistan, proclaimed you the new President of Turkmenistan as a result of the held national elections.
President: Thank you for congratulations. Truly speaking, I am proud that it is me who the Turkmen people entrusted the highest state post while electing out of six deserving candidates. However, believe me, at this moment the weight of responsibility is a feeling much clearer than the happiness from the victory in the elections.
Gurbanguly Malikguliyevich, although you had numerous meetings with the population of Turkmenistan and presented your program during the election campaign, and the world community had the first opportunity to judge you as a politician and potential state leader, nevertheless, to some extent, foreign mass media know little about you. Could you provide more details about your past experience?
It is too early for me to write a detailed biography. My biography is in many respects typical of people of my generation. Thank God, my important achievements in the life were due to my capacity, persistence and diligence rather than somebody's patronage or relative connections. I was interested in getting the medical profession. I grew up gradually as an administrator, and as I built up my skills and experience the necessity to share something with colleagues and students emerged. I was pleased to discover, somewhat unexpectedly, the organizational skills in myself. And since these skills became demand-driven, this circumstance predetermined my career.
What events in life most of all influenced the formation of your character and system of your views on the priority of social values?
My parents always managed to maintain the hospitable atmosphere in the family. They were happy at an opportunity to communicate openly with people - friends and relatives. They always took active part in the resolving of other people's problems and difficulties. The ability to be indifferent to the fates of people surrounding them was perceived in our family as a natural necessity of the daily life. Perhaps, this necessity in empathy my parents had instilled in me in the childhood influenced, to the considerable extent, my choice to devote my life to medicine. Though, I believe not only a doctor should possess such qualities. If the necessity in empathy, readiness to help a neighbor is peculiar to the society as a whole, it may characterize the strength and moral health of the nation.
Do you have any time and opportunity to afford a hobby?
What hobby we can talk about if I work 14-16 hours a day? It is very well for me if I can read a book before going to bed. Though, I've always tried to find time to read a new medical book. Although I've not been practicing for a long time, I consider it necessary to be up-to-date regarding the present-day trends in medicine and the latest medical know-how.
What are your preferences in leisure, if there are any (sports, hunting, fishing, etc.)?
I prefer to have rest in the country since there are many magnificent natural sites in the neighborhoods of Ashgabat. As for Turkmenistan, such wonderful places are uncountable. If I have a chance to go hunting (frankly speaking, it happens very seldom) it is a real holiday for me. I have no passion for catching a prey. Hunting is primarily a good occasion to enjoy the multifaceted nature of Turkmenistan.
Do you have men of authority in politics, philosophy, literature, arts, medicine, and so on?
Having the example of the first President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Tukrmenbashi, it is difficult to assume that someone other can be a bigger authority in politics and state activities. The Turkmen literature has many splendid authors who gave the world their immortal works that express the profound Turkmen people's wisdom in a concentrated form. I admire Makhtumkuli, Andalib, Azadi, Kemine... Due to my medical education I read a lot the works of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a great scholar of the medieval times, with great interest. The expanse of his interests and the depth of the scientist's judgments stroke me. Ibn Sina is a great man not only as a doctor but as a philosopher and thinker as well.
Could you formulate the main principles that guide you in the life?
In the ancient times when Turkmens led primarily the nomadic life people had no opportunity to regularly gather in mosques for prayers. A nomad used to spread out his namazlyk (a small rug for prayers) and talk to Allah. The time, in fact, has not changed the situation. A human being always communicates with God tte--tte. There is no place for insincerity and craftiness. Even if you try to palter before God he will see it anyway. Truly, the one who can afford talking honestly and sincerely not only to God but people as well is happy. All my life I try to act like this, strive to make so that frankness and kindness prevail in my relations with the world.
The high level of personal responsibility that Saparmurat Turkmenbashi demanded from his subordinates was well known. What was like to work under the leadership of the first President of Turkmenistan?
I won't have the heart to say that working under the first President was easy. The President demanded the highest level of responsibility from the ministers. At the same time, this intensive work brought a lot of satisfaction. Nothing will compare with the pleasure from receiving a concrete result in work entrusted with you. It is not a secret, I felt happy and proud when a new recreational complex or hospital fitted out with the latest medical equipment was put into operation. As a Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers member I worked for almost ten years. These years were an excellent school of state administration.
What are the main achievements of Turkmenistan in fifteen years of independence?
Talking about the economy, present-day Turkmenistan is a different country as compared to what we had fifteen years ago. Even if we don't resort to statistics, at the level of visual perception, looking at beautiful white-marble Ashgabat, one can hardly recall how grey and unprepossessing Ashgabat was at those times. Similar striking changes took place almost in all cities of Turkmenistan. So many industrial enterprises have emerged during this time! The new industrial facilities number in hundreds...
However, economic transformation processes take place more or less successfully in every country. Allah was gracious toward Turkmenistan and bestowed generous natural resource reserves upon the country's entrails. Perhaps, thanks to this gift it is easier for us than for other countries to move forward in our economic development with accelerated rates.
Nevertheless, speaking about the most important transformations taken place in Turkmenistan in fifteen years we should point out the main one: it is the change in people themselves. Only those who really realize their historical identity and national self-sufficiency can build a truly independent state. The most powerful Soviet ideological machinery had been forging a single historical community, the Soviet nation, for seventy years. Like in a song, words cannot be taken out from history. Let bygones be bygones. When the Soviet Union ceased to exist in a moment, the understanding that a new national idea enabling people to feel themselves a unified country and a strong state came to the front. As is known, Moses had to guide his people in the desert for forty years to make his people forget about their slavery past. It took much less time for Turkmens to remember their great historical roots, realize themselves as full-fledge and respected members of the world community. This process is not over yet but the firm beginning was laid. It was probably the principal historic mission of the first President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Turkmenbashi. The impact of those efforts that he spent to revive the nation spiritually cannot be even matched with the achievement of economic indicators. I am more than sure that as the national and state self-consciousness of the people grows further their creative potential will only multiply.
It is clear, that a new stage of the economic, social and political development of the country will require making fresh and, may be, absolutely new political and economic decisions. Are you ready to name the priority areas for the Turkmen Government in the nearest future?
There is a Russian saying "Let well alone". Everything positive that was created and fixed in the national state system will not undergo a change. At the same time, there are things to work on. It is necessary to develop conditions for invigorating private and small business, give new impetus to international economic contacts of Turkmenistan. Maintaining the high level of social protection of the population, perfection of healthcare and education systems will be the Government's main priorities. During the presidential election campaigns of candidates, people asked many problematic questions and made a lot of worthy proposals. Some time is required to analyze the proposals and lead the Cabinet of Ministers activities in accordance with the people's will.
What are you going to require from the new Turkmen Government? What principles will underlie its formation?
Change of the head of the government does not always lead to the complete replacement of its members. No doubt, members of the Cabinet of Ministers will be appointed in accordance with the qualities of candidates to the top administrative posts. The ones who proved themselves to be initiative, knowledgeable and business-minded officials can count on the successful continuation of their administrative career. I don't exclude attracting of new persons to the top state positions.
How can you characterize your own political biases? In your opinion, what political model is the most demand-driven by the Turkmen society at the current stage of historical development? What steps are possible in democratization of the society?
If I try to define my, as you say, biases I would use the term "moderation". Since the childhood, I keep in memory my father's phrase: "never run to where you can simply walk". I think this universal rule of life as the ancient people's wisdom is applicable enough to the historical path of our country. Any attempt to solve a social political or economic problem once and for all may only bring chaos and instability. In the recent decades all of us witnessed a large number of such negative examples in many states.
In fifteen years of independence, Turkmenistan has experienced no economic or political shocks. It means the chosen way of social life fixed in the national Constitution fully corresponds to the historical stage of our development. As for democracy, this tender substance cannot be imposed by applying ready imported models. It can be only carefully nurtured by using the wise national experience and traditions of previous generations. You have just witnessed the national presidential elections. What else can serve as a proof of the firm democratic foundations of the society if the Turkmen people elect a new head of state out of six deserving candidates? Regularly conducted elections to the legislative bodies also don't raise suspicions in their non-democratic nature. The next presidential elections will be held in full conformity with the constitution. I am absolutely sure about it. The country is gradually growing in its historical development. With it our democracy will also be strengthened.
Certainly, it is not a secret for you that many representatives of the world community are greatly interested in the first steps of the new Turkmen President in the international arena. Many powers express vital interest in strengthening of cooperation with Turkmenistan to maintain their own economic and political presence in Central Asia. Will Turkmenistan identify its priorities in the international partnership in the nearest future?
The fundamental principle of preserving the permanent neutrality status and, accordingly, the whole complex of obligations assumed by our country under this status underlies Turkmenistan's all foreign policy steps. Therefore, no one should expect that we will be part of political alliances in the international arena. Undoubtedly, we will develop and maintain international political and economic contacts with our reliable partners. We have already received invitations from a number of states to pay official visits. The dates and venues of such trips are at the stage of clarifications. As far as the international economic relations are concerned Turkmenistan will assume obligations under the earlier concluded bilateral agreements.
In solving of what global international, regional political and economic problems is Turkmenistan ready to cooperate with the world community?
I don't see any restrictions here. Turkmenistan has always been and remains an active participant of the international dialog on the Caspian Sea status. In the United Nations framework we support all positive initiatives aimed at maintaining the regional security, participate in international programs on fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. Export of Turkmen energy to the international market is our country's contribution to the system of global energy security. Turkmenistan sees itself as an equal member of the large international community and is ready to share on the equal basis the responsibility for the fate of the world with all neighbors. Our stance on this matter is invariable.
Until recently, the priority of bilateral relations against the collective political obligations has been one of the principled and consistent stances of Turkmenistan in international relations. Especially, it was evident from Turkmenistan's participation in the CIS programs. What is your opinion of Turkmenistan's further participation in international regional organizations?
I think, nowadays, no one has illusions about the extremely low level of effectiveness of the CIS as an international political and economic body. Turkmenistan realized it long ago. Therefore, we restricted the level of our participation in the meetings and consultations that yielded no practical results. I can say with enough confidence that the possibility of Turkmenistan's future participation in international regional organizations will be determined based on the long-term expediency and economic attractiveness of an alliance rather than momentary political benefit. Naturally, the conformity of such membership to the international neutrality status supported as long ago as 1995 and strictly observed all these years will be a decisive factor of Turkmenistan's participation or non-participation in international organizations.
How do you assess the current status of the level of Turkmen-Russian political and economic relations? Do they need corrections? If yes, in what areas?
The international contractual and legal framework currently existing between our countries enables us to maintain the comprehensive cooperation almost in all spheres of bilateral contacts. However, I want to note the potential of bilateral interstate opportunities has not been used to their full capacity during the long period. The impressive portion of turnover between the two countries is ensured primarily by Turkmen gas supplies. If we take, for instance, indicators of foreign investments in the Turkmen economy, Russia is not among the leading investors. There are lots of areas of economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation where the mutual interest of sides could bring much heavier fruits. Though, in recent times, we can observe a certain trend toward strengthening of business contacts between our countries. The interest of Russian regional economic structures has been clearly demonstrated during the visits of imposing delegations from Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg to Turkmenistan. The agreement to hold, in the nearest future, a bilateral economic forum in Ashgabat in which the Russian companies will present their proposals and know-how for the Turkmen business was reached.
Are you ready to continue attracting foreign investments in the national economy? What sectors need investments most and are ready to partner with foreign business?
Turkmenistan's experience of international economic cooperation in the previous years has demonstrated high profitability of foreign investments in Turkmen projects. The participation of Turkish companies brought to the development of cotton processing and textile industries. Iranian companies financed the highways construction. Ukrainian businessmen are creating highly technological productions. Japanese, German, Italian and Israeli firms are investing in the oil processing industries.
I just superficially remind of the most obvious examples. The time of conversation would have come short if I named the full list of investment areas. The evident benefit of such international cooperation prompts us the necessity of furthering the attraction of foreign investments. In addition to the sectors of producing and processing of hydrocarbon resources, a sector of traditional interest for business, processing of agricultural production and food industry may turn out very attractive for potential investors. The doubtless potential of recreational zones of Turkmenistan provides a wonderful opportunity for development of the tourist business. The favorable geographic location of our country at a crossroads of world trade routes promises big revenues from investments in our transport infrastructure, highways and railways. The most important thing is that Turkmenistan remains an open country for mutually beneficial proposals in any business spheres.
The Turkmenistan magazine is the only Russian periodical on Turkmenistan. Politicians and businessmen and a whole number of common Russians - those for whom Turkmenistan has forever remained a second homeland, and those who are not indifferent to everything that has relation to Turkmenistan are among our active readers. What wishes can you extend to the readers of our magazine?
First of all, I would like to wish that more and more people become readers of your magazine. By the way, not only Russians read it, there are a lot of readers in Turkmenistan as well. The more people receive true and brightly illustrated information about the rich history, interesting present-day life of our country and its brilliant people the more sincere and well wishing friends we will have in the world. We are always glad to our friends. I want to wish our friends outside of Turkmenistan good health, happiness and optimism!
Interviewed by Mikhail PEREPLESNIN,
Editor in Chief,
the Turkmenistan magazine
February 16, 2007
(The interview is to be published in the next issue of the Turkmenistan magazine)