Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan enjoy active cultural and humanitarian exchange - Ambassador Batyr Rejepov

Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan enjoy active cultural and humanitarian exchange - Ambassador Batyr Rejepov
Photo credit: Kazinform

Turkmenistan and the Republic of Kazakhstan have been enjoying active exchange in cultural and humanitarian sphere in recent years. In 2024, the two countries plan to hold cross Culture Days of Turkmenistan and the Republic of Kazakhstan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Turkmenistan to the Republic of Kazakhstan Batyr Rejepov revealed in an interview with Kazinform News Agency. 

Your Excellency, how would you assess current relations between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan? What areas do our countries cooperate in? 

The issue of similarity and kinship of Kazakh and Turkmen peoples’ cultural and spiritual heritage is very extensive. It is remarkable that Turkmen and Kazakh culture have a lot in common. Since ancient times, our peoples have lived in peace and harmony, supporting each other. We share common border, history, related languages, religion, cultural values, traditions and customs. Thanks to these fundamentals, our countries have achieved unprecedented heights across many areas of cooperation.

It should be noted that geography united our countries, turned us into brothers, while economy made us good, reliable partners. As for geography, or interregional cooperation in particular, Turkmenistan’s Balkan velayat and Kazakhstan’s Mangistau region are near-border regions. We are connected by a land and sea border, which can rightfully be called the border of brotherhood and friendship. In many ways, these near-border regions have much in common. Apart from cultural and humanitarian component, oil and gas and chemical industries dominate in these two regions, and both are large transport and logistics hubs. The regions are connected with each other by sea, rail and automobile routes.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is an important strategic partner of Turkmenistan and over the years of independence, the relations between friendly and fraternal countries have developed in the spirit of mutual respect, trust and mutually beneficial partnership. This year, October 5 marks the 32nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkmenistan and the Republic of Kazakhstan. Over these three decades, the relations between our countries have propelled to a brand new level of partnership and have become a model of interstate interaction. Undoubtedly, this became possible thanks to the efforts of the heads of state - Serdar Berdimuhamedow and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Our countries share similar views on many issues of the regional and international agenda. We actively cooperate within the UN, CIS, CICA, OIC, Organization of Turkic States, “CA+” format and other international structures, which lets us to interact fruitfully and support each other. Turkmenistan is interested in further expansion of trade relations and development of interregional and cultural-humanitarian ties with the Republic of Kazakhstan. 

In 2021, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev paid a state visit to Turkmenistan for the fourth time. In 2022, President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov also visited Kazakhstan. Can you share the results of these visits at the level of the heads of state? What agreements and memorandums were signed?

Today, the relations between Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have reached a brand new level, having obtained strategic partnership character. At the same time, the parties agree that the contacts at the high and highest level play a decisive role in intensification of the interaction between the two countries. In this regard, special attention is paid to the implementation of the agreements reached during the state visit of President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to Turkmenistan in October 2021 and President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov's visit to the beautiful capital Astana on October 15, 2022.

As I said before, Turkmenistan attaches special importance to strengthening the interaction with the Republic of Kazakhstan. The cooperation between our countries covers a wide range of areas. The legal framework between the two countries covers the entire spectrum of bilateral cooperation, with most of the agreements concluded specifically in the sphere of trade and economic relations. This legal framework specifies the common positions of Ashgabat and Astana both in interstate relations and in the international agenda.

All agreements concluded, as well as the existing and new partnership mechanisms between the fraternal countries were discussed during the state visit of the President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov to the Republic of Kazakhstan on October 14-15, 2022. The parties emphasized significant progress in the political, economic and humanitarian areas. The sides exchanged views on a wide range of issues.

Trade turnover between Turkmenistan and the Republic of Kazakhstan is growing steadily, which indicates mutual interest in boosting trade and economic cooperation, which has been an inextricable condition for the progress and prosperity of each country. One should also point out a special role of the Turkmen-Kazakh Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Cooperation. Within its 12 session, the commission proved to be an efficient tool and platform for promoting and determining a number of specific steps to diversify interaction in all promising areas.

Since ancient times, Kazakhs and Turkmens have enjoyed peaceful neighborly relations, sharing a long border between their countries. Various historical events of the 20th century also contributed to the population migration between the states. Can you tell us how many ethnic Kazakhs live in Turkmenistan today, and which cities do they live in most? It is also interesting to learn about development of cultural and humanitarian relations.

Turkmen and Kazakh diasporas play an important role in promoting bilateral relations and further rapprochement of the nations. Both countries created favorable conditions for the development of national cultures, languages and traditions. Most of the Kazakhs are living in Mary and Balkan velayats (provinces).

I would like to highlight the development of cultural and humanitarian relations between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. TURKSOY declared 2024 the Year of great poet and thinker of the Turkic world Magtumguly Pyragy. The country plans to hold the Summit of the Heads of Government this October and an international conference of culture ministers in May as part of celebrations of the poet’s 300th anniversary. I would like also to note the efforts of the two friendly countries that pay respect to the great poets and thinkers of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Abai and Magtumguly Pyragy, by unveiling monuments in Astana and Ashgabat. In 2021 Ashgabat built a 60-meter bronze monument to Magtumguly Pyragy. Construction of the Magtumguly Pyragy's culture and park complex will be completed this year. A monument of great thinker, great composer of the Kazakh people Kurmangazy Sagyrbaiuly will be unveiled in the territory of the Magtumguly Pyragy complex. I believe that monuments honoring prominent figures are a postulate for the development of fraternal ties.

How many Turkmen students are studying in Kazakhstan? Is there an opportunity for Kazakh students to study in Turkmenistan or do an internship?

I would like to note that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan enjoy successful bilateral cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, including cooperation in education, science and applied research and culture. Kazakhstan became one of the most popular countries to obtain education. As of today, over 3,000 Turkmen students are studying at Kazakhstan universities.

Many international students studied in Turkmenistan. Today they are working in various economic sectors in their countries.

Turkmenistan is always ready to accept international students. Most of the country’s universities and institutes were built over the years of independence and are fitted with the latest equipment.

Turkmenistan offers fully funded engineering scholarships for Afghan students to help them get new skills and contribute to the development and prosperity of their country.

Serdar Berdimuhamedov was elected the President of Turkmenistan in 2022. What reforms and innovations were introduced by the new Head of State?

Serdar Berdimuhamedov was elected the President of Turkmenistan at the early elections held on March 12, 2022. The official inauguration ceremony of the newly elected President took place on March 19, 2022. In his inauguration speech, the new Head of State prioritized a steady strategic course aimed at the intensive development of independent Turkmenistan.

As the vice minister Serdar Berdimuhamedov helmed the financial and economic bloc. The 2022-2052 complex socioeconomic strategy of Turkmenistan was developed under his chairmanship. This strategy was adopted as part of the historic session of the National Council (Halk Maslakhaty of the Milli Gengesh of Turkmenistan). The program includes five key directions: providing security and stability, promoting the policy of neutrality in the international arena, diversification of foreign economic relations, contributing to stable development, and humanization of international relations. The President also prioritized strengthening the basis of the government, its inviolability and sovereignty, ensuring the happiness and well-being of the Turkmen people.

During the first year of his presidency, Serdar Berdimuhamedov declared 2023 - The happy youth with Arkadag Serdar. He prioritized youth policy as one of the key directions of the country’s development.

Could you also tell us about the pace of economic development of Turkmenistan?

I’d like to inform that on February 22 under the chairmanship of the National Leader of the Turkmen people, Chairman of the Halk Maslahaty of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov the meeting of the Halk Maslakhaty took place.

During it, the National Leader of the Turkmen people summed up the results of 2023, stating that last year the steady GDP growth was maintained. The investment policy and large funds aimed at developing production segments, social and services spheres were realized. The city of Arkagad was solemnly inaugurated; a start was given to the construction of the second stage of the smart city.

The meeting focused on the implementation of the Program for social and economic development of Turkmenistan and investments in 2024, which is based on the achievements of the government in previous years. Discussions of action plans and measures in main areas of the activity of the Halk Maslakhaty are held with the participation of the Majlis of the country, ministries, sectoral agencies and public organizations this year.

In spite of the world economic crisis, Turkmenistan maintained stable GDP growth, which remains at over 6% on average since 2009. Over the past 15 years, the GDP has risen 3.7%. The industrial output increased 3 times in 2023 compared to years before. The retail trade turnover was up 8.5 times in 2023 compared with 2028. Moreover, the population has risen by 2 million since 2008, with over 7 million people living in the country as of December 2022.

How tourism is being developed in Turkmenistan? Later this month, Ashgabat is gearing up to host the international tourism conference. Can we say that Turkmenistan opens its doors to all tourists? Is there a possibility that the country will introduce a visa-free regime for Kazakhstani citizens or citizens of the CIS countries? 

The country has visa relations established with all countries. Moreover, the process of issuing visas for foreigners is very flexible, as all visas being requested are granted promptly as a matter of urgency. For instance, in addition to tourist visas, there is a humanitarian visa, for which Kazakhstanis moving from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan can apply. If they wish to visit their relatives or graves of their relatives, the visa is granted in the shortest period possible – from four hours to one day. In general, there are no issues regarding visa issuance in our country.

Nowadays, Turkmenistan attaches special attention to the development of tourism. The important factors for the promotion of the sector in our country are natural and climatic conditions and great historic and cultural potential, attractiveness in terms of rich national traditions and customs as well as the high level of tourist service rendering. All of this contributes to the greater position of our country in the global tourist market.

It is worth to note that the tourist complex of Turkmenistan, which is an integral part of the Ancient Silk Road, holds great potential. Trips to Konye-Urgench, ancient Merv and Nisa, featured in the UNESCO World Heritage List, give the opportunity to closely familiarize with the unique cultural heritage and ancient history of the Turkmen people.

In addition to the historic and cultural monuments, Turkmenistan is rich with natural monuments. The amazing corners of Kopet Dagh, flora and fauna of the Karakum desert, coastal zones of Amu Darya, Köýtendag, subtropics of Southwest Turkmenistan as well as the Turkmen coast of the Caspian Sea are exciting places for eco-tourism. Besides, eco-tourism is promoted in Badhyz, Repetek, Sünt-Hasardag and other nature reserves of the country.

The Turken coast of the Caspian Sea is believed one of the cleanest sea coasts in the region with the beautiful and rich nature. The national tourist zone Avaza is very exciting and attractive location for international and domestic tourism. The Caspian Sea coast with clean sea water, comfortable weather, mineral components and therapeutic mud, unique wildlife and biodiversity holds great perspectives for the development of the eco-tourism industry.

We invite our Kazakhstani friends to take part in the unique event set to take place on March 27-28. On these days, Turkmenistan is to hold the international tourism conference. Delegates will be given the opportunity to get acquainted with Arkagad city, unique historic and cultural monuments, museums and the tourist potential of Turkmenistan in general. In addition, during the conference festivities are planned for guests on the occasion of declaring the city of Anau the cultural capital of the Turkic world in 2024.

Can Kazakhstanis travel to Turkmenistan through tour agencies? Are there direct flights between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

Sure, our tour agencies look forward to signing bilateral memorandums, offering ready-made itineraries and destinations, there are several packages. We’re working on that and planning meetings. Later this March, the international tourism conference to take place in Ashgabat on March 27-28, 2024, is to gather all tourism experts.

As of now, our countries do not have direct flights; before the pandemic there were flights between Ashgabat and Almaty. In April 2023, the flights were resumed, however it was halted due to low ridership, as our citizens prefer crossing the border through the Garabogaz-Temir baba checkpoint or via Uzbekistan. Work is ongoing with airports and tour agencies to resume these flights. In case there is sufficient demand, airlines of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan will be informed.

Historically both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan were integral parts of the Great Silk Road. Presently, Astana and Ashgabat bend every effort to revive it. What did Turkmenistan achieve in that respect?

Indeed, our country pays utmost attention to the development of transport and logistics sector gradually turning it into a transport and logistics hub in the Eurasian continent. Currently we are actively modernizing the existing border crossings. Reconstruction of the Garabogaz border crossing on the border shared by Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan has been underway since January 2024. We are also developing road communications between our countries, for instance, the North-South project. Modernization of the said border crossing will let remove bureaucratic bottlenecks and increase the cargo traffic volumes. The construction works are to be wrapped up by yearend.

We have launched six new air routes, have expanded bus and railway communications since last year. This will help not only increase the tourist inflow, but also intensify and cement business cooperation.

Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan's maritime and railway interconnectivity have a long-standing history. Both side continue to cooperate in that respect up until today. Uzen (Kazakhstan)-Gyzylgaya-Bereket-Etrek (Turkmenistan)-Gorgan (Iran) railway line is an important link in the transport and logistics schemes in Eurasia ensuring cargo transportation to the Middle East.

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan share another common thing of constructing new cities. How are the things going with the construction of a smart city Arkadag which began in 2019?

The idea to construct Arkadag city belongs to the National leader of the Turkmen people Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. It was endorsed by the government in Turkmenistan back in 2018. 400 buildings have been constructed in the past 6 years, including residential complexes and administrative buildings. Arkadag based on the ‘smart city’ concept is constructed with the use of the most advanced technologies and in one of the most ecologically clean places in the country, in the foothills of Kopet Dagh mountain range. The city will have a health park with zones for outdoor activities, running paths, bike lanes and more.

Students of Turkmenistan-based universities were involved in the development of the Arkadag project design.

You were appointed the Ambassador of Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan over three years ago. Could you tell us about your first impressions of Kazakhstan and its cuisine? Are there any similarities between the two nations? What places would you recommend to visit in Kazakhstan?

Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are proud of the friendship and fraternity of our nations. We intend to further develop our good neighborly, fraternal relations and mutual respect. I wish our fraternal nations well-being and prosperity, and all readers good health and success.

Our cuisines and our traditions reveal similarities that testify to our common history and friendly relations. For example, Kazakh cuisine has a ‘kuyrdak’ dish, and we have ‘govurdak’.

As for the best places to visit in Kazakhstan, I would recommend visiting Astana. For a short period, the city has changed drastically. I would also recommend visiting Almaty, Turkistan and Aktau cities. People in Kazakhstan are kind and treat all with respect which tells us of their hospitality and generosity.

The Holy Month of Ramadan began. Will the Embassy of Turkmenistan hold any charitable events?

We celebrate Nauryz and the Holy Month of Ramadan in one month, in March this year. We plan to hold some events, including charitable campaigns involving our students. We will invite students not only from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan but also from other countries to show them Turkmen cuisine, traditions, and history.

Thank you for the interview!

Currently reading