06.05.10 23:27

350-year relations
The President of Turkmenistan will start a working visit to Astrakhan region of Russia on May 7.

Astrakhan region will be another region of Russia to be visited by President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in the framework of the strategy for development of direct relations, primarily economic, with the regions of the Russian Federation Following this course, Turkmenistan has managed in recent years to fulfill a lot of mutually beneficial agreements on cooperation in various spheres of economy jointly with the enterprises of Tatarstan and St. Petersburg. Similar contacts will be established in the near future with other regions of the Russian Federation that have a large untapped potential for cooperation.

However, the current visit, the program of which is also full of business meetings, has not only a pragmatic but also profound symbolic meaning. Since its foundation the city of Astrakhan has served as a transit point from Asia to Europe, through which Turkmens of the Mangyshlak peninsula in the east coast of the Caspian Sea maintained the trade-economic and political ties with Russia.

In 1653-1654, the first Mangyshlak Turkmens migrated to the land of Astrakhan, and later moved to the Northern Caucasus, Stavropol region, where they live to this day. After nearly a half century, in 1793-1794, Turkmens of the so-called second wave of migration - mostly immigrants from the tribes of Abdali and Igdir, moved to Astrakhan region and settled in today's Volga region for ever. In the literature they are now called Astrakhan Turkmens.

Around the same period, there was another historic event. Magtymguly Fraghi, unsurpassed Turkmen poet and great philosopher, arrived in Astrakhan. As a highly educated and religious man, he taught children in madrasa at the mosque of Funtovo village, which dates back to 1861, where his manuscripts are still kept. Modern literary critics even found an Astrakhan period in the work of the Turkmen classic.

Today, it is Funtovo where the region largest Turkmen diaspora resides. In total, according to the latest census held in Russia in 2002, Astrakhan region accounts for 2,2 thousands Turkmens. Despite the distance separating them from their historical homeland, Astrakhan Turkmens retained Turkmen customs and traditions. The Turkmen diaspora marks all memorable dates and public holidays of independent Turkmenistan. Representatives of the Turkmen diaspora regularly participate in conferences and festivals held in Turkmenistan under the auspices of the Humanitarian Association of World Turkmens.

The Astrakhan land once got so attractive to Turkmens that they migrated to this land of plenty and formed their own settlements. It is no exaggeration to say that today, after three and a half-century, the Turkmen market is similarly appealing for businessmen of Astrakhan region, who are actively penetrating into Turkmenistan with the aim to gain a foothold there for a long time. The upcoming multifunctional visit of the head of an independent state to the regional capital is the best indication of the openness of Turkmenistan for mutually beneficial cooperation with Astrakhan region that once became a second home to hundreds of Turkmens and inspired their chief poet.

And if the symbol of the continuity of spiritual and cultural ties was the opening of Makhtumkuli Fraghi monument in the center of Astrakhan last year, then the fact that in 2009 foreign trade turnover between Turkmenistan and Astrakhan region of the Russian Federation increased to nearly $ 15 million, up 2,5 times year-on-year, is a clear indicator of the prospects of economic cooperation.

Delegations of Astrakhan region, composed of representatives of the Government and the business community, regularly visit Turkmenistan. Astrakhan partners offer power equipment for Turkmenistan's energy system, construction materials, vessels and implements for fishing, technologies for commercial fishing of sturgeon, construction of production platforms for the Turkmen Caspian shelf, and many other projects, some of which are already underway.

The possibility of delivering Turkmenistan's goods by sea for distribution through Astrakhan region in the whole territory of Russia, and exports of Russian goods through Turkmenistan to Afghanistan is being actively discussed. The sides also discuss the issue of launching a regular air service that will make business cooperation much more efficient enabling all people of the region to go for vacation to the seaside resort of "Avaza" in Turkmenistan and Astrakhan Turkmens to visit the land of their forefathers more often.

Shirin KURBANOVA