The presidents of Armenia and Turkmenistan pledged to expand what they described as “traditionally friendly” relations between the two former Soviet republics after talks held in Yerevan on Thursday.
President Serzh Sarkisian and his visiting Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, presided over the signing of Turkmen-Armenian agreements on economic cooperation, seismic defense and air communication. A joint communiqué issued by the two leaders stressed the need to “stimulate bilateral relations” through greater trade, investment and cultural exchanges.
“We underlined that Armenian-Turkmen relations have a much greater potential, the realization of which undoubtedly corresponds to the interests of friendship between the peoples of our countries,” Sarkisian told a joint news conference.
“We agree on the need to create favorable conditions for the development of various forms of commercial relations, industrial and investment cooperation as well as the establishment of direct links between business entities in our countries,” he said.
Sarkisian added that the two governments will specifically seek to increase the volume of bilateral trade, which stood at a modest $18 million in the first nine months of this year.
Berdimuhamedov announced that his government will organize “a big Turkmen-Armenian business forum” in the capital Ashgabat next year, which will also feature businesspeople from other countries. He also listed oil, gas and electricity supplies among concrete areas of economic cooperation that were discussed at this “very good and constructive” talks with Sarkisian. “We raised that issue as well,” he said without elaborating.
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.
Berdimuhamedov also expressed hope Armenia will contribute to the realization of his long-term plan to modernize and diversify Turkmenistan’s economy through large-scale industrialization. “We know that our friends and colleagues in Armenia have a lot of experience in those areas. What also attracts us is the fact that you also have very good high-tech proposals. In this context, we proposed to cooperate and develop our commercial ties.”
The autocratic Turkmen leader went on to praise Armenia for supporting his country in the international arena and say that Ashgabat and Yerevan have very similar approaches to international security.
According to Sarkisian, regional security was also on the agenda of his “very concrete, positive and substantive conversation” with Berdimuhamedov. The Armenian president said they both expressed concern over “the increase in tensions in the South Caucasus.” In that regard, he reiterated Armenia’s position on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
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 nations rose again in June 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.