YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — President Serzh Sarkisian called for the launch of “large-scale” joint economic projects by Armenia and Turkmenistan after meeting with his visiting Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov on Thursday.
The two leaders pledged to deepen economic, political and cultural ties between their ex-Soviet states and presided over the signing of several Turkmen-Armenian agreements after talks held in Yerevan.
“Our relations date back to the Middle Ages,” Berdimuhamedov said in his opening remarks at the talks. “We are happy that we are continuing that today and serving as an example for younger generations in our countries.”
Sarkisian, for his part, described Turkmenistan as a “reliable partner” with which Armenia would like to forge closer relations in a wide range of areas.
“The [Turkmen] president and I paid special attention to promising avenues of developing economic cooperation,” he told reporters after the talks.
“I am convinced that with joint efforts we can advance large-scale projects underpinned by modern manufacturing and new jobs, and a broader development of the national economies,” Sarkisian went on. “Mr. President [Berdimuhamedov] said during our negotiations that he is now thinking about projects worth not millions but billions [of dollars.] We are buoyed by that and will definitely work in that direction.”
Berdimuhamedov did not mention any concrete projects in his statement to the press. He said only that his official visit to Armenia, the second in five years, will lay the groundwork for closer bilateral ties in areas such as energy, transport and agriculture.
Sarkisian also cited the energy sector. “We agreed to continue developing productive cooperation in this area,” he said without elaborating.
Hydrocarbon-rich Turkmenistan was Armenia’s principal supplier of natural gas until the Armenian government signed a long-term deal with Russia’s Gazprom monopoly in the late 1990s.
Early this year, the Armenian government indicated its desire to resume imports of Turkmen gas via neighboring Iran. Prime Minister Karen Karapetian discussed such a possibility with Turkmenistan’s Energy Minister Charymyrat Purchekov in Yerevan two weeks before visiting the Turkmen capital Ashgabat in March. Karapetian met with Berdimuhamedov during that trip.
The issue was also on the agenda of Sarkisian’s August 6 meeting in Tehran with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Visiting Yerevan last December, Rouhani said Iran is ready to serve as a transit route for Turkmen gas supplies to Armenia.
Sarkisian and Berdimuhamedov already pledged to boost bilateral commerce when they met in Ashgabat in 2014. Turkmen-Armenian trade, which stood at a modest $22.7 million in 2013, has continued to shrink since then, however. According to Armenian government data, it plummeted by 33 percent to $12 million in 2016.
Sarkisian blamed this decline on “unfavorable developments in global markets.” “We hope that the implementation of today’s agreements will help to rectify the situation,” he said.
Turkmenistan has maintained cordial relations with Armenia under both Berdimuhamedov and his late predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. By contrast, its rapport with Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan has long been strained due to a dispute over a big oilfield in the Caspian Sea. Berdimuhamedov sought to ease those tensions when he visited Baku two weeks ago.
The autocratic Turkmen leader, in power since 2006, was full of praise for Armenia on Thursday, thanking Yerevan for supporting his country in the international arena. A joint communique issued by him and Sarkisian, makes a veiled reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh. It calls for “solely peaceful solutions to existing conflicts.”