By Muhammad Tahir in Aq Qala, northern
Hopes that business and cultural links would be boosted have been dashed by lack of interest from both Turkmen and Iranian governments.
Amangeldi sits cross-legged in his shop,
surrounded by heavy silver jewelry and handmade carpets, sipping green tea
pondering the future of his failing business.
He was one of the first merchants to set up shop when
It should have worked. The people in this part of
“We had very good contacts with our Turkmen brothers over the border. They used to come to this bazaar to sell their handicrafts and buy staple goods,” said Amangeldi, 32. “It was beneficial to both communities – on one side [
The idea was driven by Iranian officials in a bid to boost border trade and create employment. Initial success after the special zone was launched in 1997 led them to expand the number of shops to around 250, although local Iranian officials say
Nearly ten years on, the plan has failed due to lack of support from both governments, neither of which has proved keen on freedom of movement in a sensitive border area.
Iranian statistics show that fewer than 1,800 people crossed the border at Inche Borun in the first eight months of 2006.
Seven out of ten businesses in the Inche Borun’s duty-free market have closed, so that just 40 of the 137 original shops in the bazaar are still functioning. The market opens only on Fridays instead of daily, and the only customers are Iranian nationals, plus the occasional long-distance truck driver heading north into
Amangeldi thinks he will be joining the exodus of traders soon.
“I don’t know what went wrong on the Turkmen side - they started implementing such strict policies on crossing the border,” he said.
Oraz Muhammad, who has just
closed the shop he had in the bazaar, explained that ethnic Turkmen from Iran
are allowed to travel into Turkmenistan within a 45-kilometre radius of the
Inche Borun crossing point. But he said this was not enough, since they would
need to travel further to be able to visit major commercial centres. Nor do
Other merchants complained that their own government had failed to sustain the duty-free zone, and water and electricity supplies remained erratic.
A more serious gripe voiced by many was that the Iranian government had failed to pressure
Many see political factors behind the failure of
Their cooperation is pragmatic and focuses on economic links across their long border. In addition, both countries have cool relationships with other neighbours and the wider international community, so they have an interest in remaining on good terms. Because of this, the election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as
One local analyst in Gunbad-e-Kavus, who did not want to be named, attributed the decline in official support for the Inche Borun market to a change in personalities at the top in
“This was an entirely political project rather than a social or economic one, because the Iranian president at that time [Ayatollah Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani was a close friend of President Niazov,” he said. “So after Rafsanjani lost the presidential election [to Khatami] in August 1997, the Iranian-Turkmenistan relationship never regained its former warmth.”
Other analysts, such as Aziz Ismailzade, an Iranian Turkmen who now lives abroad, say both governments are paranoid about letting any of their citizens travel freely.
“Their reluctance stems from the same reason – the fear factor. Neither [government] wishes to allow its people unfiltered access to outsiders,” he said,
Thus, restricting border traffic may have less to do with bilateral relations than with the external pressures both governments are facing over human rights and other concerns.
“Just as pressure on Niazov’s regime has increased in recent years, international pressure on
Burhan Karadaghi, an Iranian historian based in
“Neither Niazov nor Ahmedinejad is in favour of letting these [Turkmen] people stay in touch. Niazov would feel insecure if the border was wide open, while the Iranian regime would be unhappy if its own own ethnic minority was in contact with kinsmen outside the country,” he said.
About the author: Muhammad Tahir is a Prague-based journalist specializing in Afghan, Iranian and Central Asian affairs. He is Author of “Illegal Dating-a journey into the private life of
... Payvand News - 12/19/06 ... --