Being on the other side of the Karakum desert, when it comes to trade Turkmenistan tends to be grouped more with Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan while the other Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) form another group. While both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan share borders with Turkmenistan, their population centers are in the eastern parts of their territory. Of course, this doesn’t stop goods from traveling to Turkmenistan (and on to the Caucasus and Turkey) from China. However, the power-house bazaars of the region are all located closer to the Ferghana Valley, which stretches though southern Kyrgyzstan, northern Tajikistan, and eastern Uzbekistan. This makes sense, as the proximity of Ferghana to China, and its dense population, makes it an ideal hub for the distribution of goods to the north, south, and west of Asia.
Nevertheless, the capricious autocratic ruler of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, has decided to open “the largest bazaar in Central Asia” according to the sycophantic Turkmen media. The article on government’s website about the opening of the Altyn Asyr Bazaar gives an account of Turkmen economic life that is full contraction to what many outside observes report:
Emphasizing that market relations were dynamically developed, and the consistent efforts were taken to guarantee abundance of food products in our country, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov noted that the measures to be taken would also promote trade contacts at the international level. [sic]
The website of an expatriate Turkmen human rights group gives a more skeptical view of events, while RFE/RL tries to offer a balanced account of the opening. Both of these reports mention that more than half of the bazaar is empty and express skepticism that the venture will fully take off.
I am left wondering what the opening of Altyn Asyr will mean for the people working in the country’s main bazaar, the Tolkuchka,