One of our CDA world-traveler members, Randy Williams, had the rare privilege of visiting Turkmenistan earlier this year and noted in his blog, “I hadn’t even left the airport and I was already feeling the warmth of this far away and mysterious nation.”
When Executive Director, Pat Watson, heard that, she decided to contact the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan to see if Ambassador Matthew Klimow would agree to do a CDA World Watch session so that we all could learn more about Turkmenistan’s mystery, history, culture, and now, its current role on the global political stage. Turkmenistan is one of the former Soviet “Stans” in southwestern Central Asia, and it is currently surrounded by the conflicts and wars in Ukraine and in the Middle East. Our embassy there was quick to accept Pat’s invitation, and on November 13, 2023, our group had the honor and pleasure of meeting U.S. Ambassador Matthew Klimow. Of course, Randy enthusiastically agreed to be our moderator for the session.
Early on it became clear that Randy’s enthusiasm for the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, and the fascination with the history and many cultures that have formed Turkmenistan today was shared by Ambassador Klimow and his wife who is also engaged in diplomatic service. During the talk, the two traded insights and connections.
Ambassador Klimow opened his chat by thanking CDA for our active involvement with Citizen Diplomacy and the “power of people-to-people exchange. He mentioned that he too had been involved with the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and that he has been to Tucson—a mountain and desert area much like that of Turkmenistan capital, Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan has a long, rich commercial Silk Road history for trade and intercultural connections, also bringing and conflict. For a long period, it the very strong center of the Islamic world, and later annexed by the Soviet Union. In 1991 Turkmenistan gained its independence with the Soviet break-up. and in that span of time has had only three rulers.
This melding of cultures and politics, and its geographic location between the war in Ukraine and the newer war in the Middle East has put Turkmenistan in an important strategic position. He stated: “We are at an inflection point with changing global landscapes. Decisions now will have an impact for decades.” He added that “people everywhere look to the U.S. to help manage emerging situations. If we don’t, it may be someone else, or worse, no one!” He restated that the U.S. mission in Turkmenistan is to help support the country, partner to find solutions to key problems, and “to lead in helping our allies face and prepare for the emerging changes, including security, mass migration, climate change, and food and water insecurity.
“In Turkmenistan,” he stated, “the U.S. message is held in high esteem. We are not here to strong arm, but to offer a choice.” Our mission includes working to restore the “Silk Road Heritage”, promote trade and commercial opportunities, and exchanges for business, education, and arts to promote mutual understanding and to “keep hope alive” in “a world of violence.”
Ambassador Kilmow was a delight as he talked about the beauty of the country, the people and how he is pleased to be posted in Turkmenistan. Ambassadors are the face of the United States and fortunately Ambassador Kilmow is a wonderful representative.
Possibilities for educational connections between Turkmenistan and the United States are happening and expanding, and if CDA Executive Director Pat Watson has her way, it will happen virtually or in person, right here in Tucson.
We want to thank Ambassador Klimow for his warm, welcoming, and insightful view of a country with an incredibly rich history that is currently in an incredibly vulnerable part of the world. And we want to thank moderator Randy Williams sharing his delight with Turkmenistan to us so that we could all learn more and understand some of the mystery from such a high viewpoint. Mostly, we hope that a strong connection has been made by Ambassador Klimow and Randy– two individuals who share a deep appreciation, excitement, and fondness for the wonders they have discovered in Turkmenistan.