Stranger Than Fiction

Photographer Konstantin Vulkov
 visits the ghostly empty Avaza seaside resort in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan, from the time it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until the end of 2006, was run by a tyrant – Saparmurat Niyazov. Despite the fact it has the fourth largest proved natural gas reserves base globally, the country is practically bankrupt.

Since 2007 there is a new madman in power, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, a dentist and former Minister of Health.

One of his dream projects has recently been completed. Avaza is a seaside resort like no other. Built very recently, virtually in the middle of nowhere, it is a gallery of ultra modern high-rise buildings and ghostly 5-star hotels. Avaza is probably the least known and most peculiar resort in the world. It’s inspiring to be the second Dubai, but it is empty – the sea there is cold, the climate is hot during the summer months and on top of that a visa is required.

It is extremely difficult to get a visa and journalists can visit only very rarely. I visited last August during the First Caspian Economic Forum. It was a 48-hour trip to dream of, because just between five to six thousand people visit Turkmenistan per year, despite the fact they have a newly built airport with a capacity of 17 million passengers per year. A recent report of the British think tank The Foreign Policy Centre suggests the country is on the brink of collapse.

The media control is strict. There is no Internet as we know it. You are not allowed to travel like a tourist. The state-run shops are practically with not enough food.

While walking around, you can see the president’s yacht; the tight security – because he is riding a bike (followed by reporters and cameramen) – and the only “real” people you encounter are the ladies cleaning the state-of-the art bus stops, with no buses in sight.