Turkmenistan Standard Time UTC+05:00
Capital City Ashgabat
Currency Turkmenistan manat
National Day 27 October
Yazmurad Seryaev, the new Ambassador of Turkmenistan, smiles when it is pointed out that – at age 36 – he has just become one of the youngest heads of mission in London. “I am the youngest of the Turkmen ambassadors abroad as well,” he admits, but is modest when probed about the secret of his success. “All I would say is that if you do your work properly with all of your heart, then you are more likely to prosper. And whatever you do,” he adds, “you should always be a patriot of your homeland.”
His leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, the former Communist party chief who was voted in as President following the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and has since remained in charge, is a keen advocate of patriotism. His portrait contemplates Seryaev’s London office as the Ambassador reflects on his leader’s effectiveness.
“The people of Turkmenistan are united around the President and support him very much. He was elected by the people. They trust him, recognise that his efforts are making economic progress and are grateful to him. We are sure that we have chosen the right way of development.”
The Turkmenistan administration is working to improve standards of living in a country that possesses the fifth largest reserves of natural gas deposits in the world. A lack of export routes and extraction and delivery programmes has previously impeded this but, says the Ambassador, a cautious programme of economic reform begun in the early nineties is beginning to reap results. Recent contracts with Russia, Ukraine and Iran should encourage sustainable development and, he says, the population are already reaping the benefits: receiving water, electricity and gas for free.
The country is also involved in ongoing debates over the division of Caspian Sea resources. A meeting last year between the leaders of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan concluded without any agreement. Seryaev, however, remains hopeful: “Naturally it takes time to reach an agreement when five countries are involved. The countries now know where they need to reach agreement. I am confident this will happen.”
The Ambassador previously gained experience of multilateral negotiations while working as Head of the European Countries Department at his Foreign Ministry, a position he held until the beginning of this year. It was interesting, he says, though more educative than influential. “Turkmenistan has its own style of development,” he explains. “Every nation has its own traditions and culture and to copy another’s politics or governing style is not correct.”
He disagrees with recent claims of human rights abuses in his country. Both the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International have expressed concern over the treatment of those suspected of being involved in an assassination attempt on President Niyazov last year. “If we are talking about Amnesty”, he argues, “who do they support – legitimate governments or terrorists? If these terrorists had succeeded in what they planned it would probably have led to anarchy and civil war.”
The Ambassador’s mercurial career began at the National Youth League (1993-4). This was followed by a five-year spell at the Foreign Ministry and postings to Kazakhstan (1999-2000) and Russia (2000-2).
He acknowledges that the international strategic importance of Turkmenistan has increased since his country became independent, and particularly after the international community focused on Central Asia after the events of September 11. Clearly proud of the role his country played in transporting humanitarian aid during and after the subsequent conflict in Afghanistan – almost half travelled through the country – he hopes the neighbouring country will continue to be tendered the international help it was promised.
A keen football fan, Seryaev watches as many English Premiership games as his schedule allows. He played as a central defender in his youth, and will no doubt be hoping he can use his time in London to help push the interests of Turkmenistan forward while defending the country against any awkward challenges that may come his way.