By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian offered on Thursday his condolences to the people of Turkmenistan in connection with the sudden death of their autocratic President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov.
Niyazov, 66, died overnight of cardiac arrest after 21 years of iron-fist rule characterized by complete suppression of dissent and a peculiar personality cult.
In a letter to the Turkmen government, Kocharian said news of his death was received “with sorrow” in Armenia. “We highly assess his contribution to the strengthening and development of Armenian-Turkmen relations,” he wrote, according to the presidential press service.
Turkmenistan was Armenia’s principal supplier of natural gas throughout the 1990s, until the Armenian government signed a long-term deal with Russia’s Gazprom gas monopoly. A considerable part of gas presently delivered to Armenia by Gazprom continues to be purchased from Turkmenistan.
Relations between Niyazov’s regime and Yerevan have been quite cordial under both Kocharian under his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian. The latter received the Turkmen strongman during his sole official visit to Yerevan in 1996.
Kocharian, for his part, presented Niyazov with a Mesrop Mashtots Medal, one of Armenia’s highest state awards, during a November 2000 trip to the Central Asian desert state. In January 2002, Kocharian also invited him to pay another visit to Yerevan.
Calling himself "Turkmenbashi" or Head of the Turkmen, Niyazov renamed the month of January after himself and April after his mother and banned ballet, gold teeth and recorded music. A planet of the Taurus constellation, a crater on the Moon and a mountain peak were other things named after him.