The presidents of Turkmenistan and Armenia praised warm relations between their nations and reaffirmed plans to deepen them during talks held in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on Tuesday.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his visiting Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian reported “mutual understanding on a broad range of issues” in a joint communique issued after the talks.
The two leaders singled out the need to increase the modest volume of bilateral trade, which shrunk by more than 22 percent to $22.7 million last year. They said in that regard that a Turkmen-Armenian intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation should step up its activities in order to achieve “concrete results in the area of trade relations.”
Sarkisian and Berdimuhamedov also agreed to set up trade representations in each other’s capital and presided over the signing of an agreement by Armenia’s and Turkmenistan’s leading business associations. The economic emphasis of their talks was further highlighted by the holding of a Turkmen-Armenian business forum timed to coincide with Sarkisian’s official visit to the Central Asian state.
“I am happy that Turkmen-Armenian relations are dynamically developing,” Sarkisian told a joint news conference held in Berdimuhamedov’s luxurious presidential palace.
“We discussed in detail issues related to trade and economic cooperation,” he said, according to his press office. “Unfortunately, commercial exchange between our countries decreased last year. But we have experience in cooperation and, more importantly, the potential for the areas of energy, light and textile industry and agriculture.”
Sarkisian added that he and Berdimuhamedov explored ways of “developing energy projects.” He did not elaborate.
Hydrocarbon-rich 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 monopoly. A considerable part of gas subsequently delivered to Armenia was purchased by Gazprom from Turkmenistan. It is not clear if Turkmen gas accounts for any share of current Gazprom supplies to the country.
Visiting Yerevan in late 2012, Berdimuhamedov listed oil, gas and electricity supplies among concrete areas of economic cooperation that were discussed at this “very good and constructive” talks with Sarkisian. The autocratic Turkmen leader also praised Armenia at the time for supporting his country in the international arena.
Sarkisian, for his part, thanked Turkmenistan on Tuesday for maintaining “neutrality” on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and showing “understanding” for Armenia’s position on its resolution. He said he again briefed Berdimuhamedov on Yerevan’s Karabakh stance.
Turkmenistan’s relationship with Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan has long been strained by a continuing dispute over a big oilfield in the Caspian Sea. Tensions between the two Turkic and Muslim nations rose again in 2012 after Ashgabat accused Baku of taking “illegal action” in the disputed area and threatened to take “adequate measures.” The Azerbaijani side rejected the accusations.
By contrast, Turkmenistan’s rapport with Armenia has been quite cordial under both Berdimuhamedov and his late predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. The latter visited Yerevan in 1996 and received an Order of Mesrop Mashtots, one of Armenia’s highest state awards, four years later.
Berdimuhamedov was quoted by the official Turkmen news agency as noting “the traditionally friendly character of Turkmen-Armenian relations” ahead of Sarkisian’s latest visit to his country. He described the trip as “yet another important step towards reinforcing and deepening long-running fruitful partnership” between the two ex-Soviet states.