Southern Balkan Province

Posted by apm-wa on 1 September 2018 in English (English)

Last week I took two days to tour parts of southern Balkan Province in Turkmenistan, hitting the towns of Etrek, Esenguly, and Ekerem, as well as the villages of Oboy and Daneata (the villages are now on the OSM map based on this ground truth). En route for the first time I filled a 32 Gb memory card with Mapillary imagery and had to install a backup SD card in the Samsung Galaxy smartphone I use for collecting ground-level imagery. Those images are being uploaded now. It may take a few days, since the internet here is so slow.

It will take a while to enter all the edits from data collected on this trip. Much of the M37 is now four-lane dual carriageway (divided highway) so I need to add all the U-turns I marked on the Garmin GPS as well as lots of POIs.

The route took me within a stone's throw of the border with Iran, but we only saw a few Iranian tractor-semitrailer rigs on the roads. Road conditions between Etrek and Ekerem were rough to very rough, with speed averaging 25 to 30 mph (40 to 50 kph). GPS traces have been uploaded from the Garmin nuvi, Pocket Earth, and Mapillary gpx file.

We discovered two new gas stations and confirmed a suspected third one. In Ekerem (formerly called Okarem, but the signs we saw are clearly labeled Ekerem) we lunched on Turkmen meat-filled somsas that cost 2 manat (about 57 cents) apiece from the only cafe in town while tailgating on the beach.

Location: Ekerem, Balkan Region, Turkmenistan

Comment from skorasaurus on 3 September 2018 at 17:06


Thanks for all of your contributions to OpenStreetMap and building the culture of using OpenStreetMap! It's quite remarkable that the Asgabat has a million people; it must be quite dense given its somewhat small geographic size (at least in OSM).

Regards, Will (Cleveland, OH, USA)

Comment from apm-wa on 3 September 2018 at 17:28


Thank you for your kind words.

The figure of a million population is a fantasy. We estimate the population to be no more than 560,000 at the absolute most. The government had to claim a million in order to host an Olympic-affiliated event but has not released the results of the 2012 national census. From my observations this is a city of about a half million or so. After the density of New Delhi, it is quite a relief to be in a non-dense city!

In addition, Ashgabat is officially fairly extensive geographically, about 25 or 30 kilometers wide and 25 or 30 kilometers tall. There is plenty of room for grazing camels, sheep, and cows in the empty space between former villages, now neighborhoods of the municipality. The 2013 and 2015 annexations of outlying villages added a lot of real estate, and I had to redraw the city limits to reflect those annexations.


Comment from Verdy_p on 8 September 2018 at 21:52

So now we know that apm-wa is NOT a local contributor in Turkmenistan, and uses his own American "knowledge" of view of the country and acts there as a Trump-nominated puppet. I'm very curious about the fact that there's no consultation at all in fact with Turkmen people and even their diaspora of users abroad. We know also that he also does not fairly understand the effective administrative structure of that country, and is unable to organize his own collected ideas into something really understandable. Well he could be useful to find local contacts, but should not be left working alone ! I'm not sure that Turkmen people will even recognize their own country.

Comment from Verdy_p on 8 September 2018 at 21:56

However as an amabassador his role would be to negaciate and find contacts. I've experimetned the fact that he wants to work strictly alone, contacting only a few OSM admins to get their trust, without really presenting himself correctly or taking any contact or discussion with existing contributors, starting to do everything from scratch. So he should better help into providing data and negociating authorizations with local auhorities to get their data, help with some translations (from his paid crew team of translators), propose imagery sources...

Comment from apm-wa on 9 September 2018 at 03:52

Verdy_p, I suggest you watch the YouTube video of my keynote speech at SOTM 2016 to learn inter alia about my efforts to recruit local mappers, which is part of my embassy's outreach efforts. Recruiting mappers is difficult, in part because the cost of the Internet here is the highest in the world, internet penetration is only about 14%, computer literacy is low, and Turkmenistan is in an economic recession. Some other points:

  1. I do understand the local administrative structure, which my staff researched based on Turkmen legislation and regulation, and the result is the table in the wiki (which you correctly called confusing--it is, nobody disagrees) but that you proceeded to edit without either understanding it yourself or consulting with me before rearranging it. The table represents current political reality, not a desired end state. You appeared to be trying to force it into fitting the proposed administrative levels found elsewhere in the wiki, and that simply corrupted the table.

  2. Most local mappers use MAPS.ME, a free app that uses minimal internet bandwidth, to add POIs, but cannot draw roads or contribute to the wiki. I have recruited a few local mappers with institutional access to the internet, and taught them how to draw roads as well as add POIs.

  3. I have tried to make local government contacts, starting two years ago with the Ashgabat mayor's office and most recently two weeks ago with the head of the State Motor Roads Concern and the minister of motor roads. Both promised to "think about" working with OSM but since this is a closed society I do not expect anything to come of it. They will almost certainly not get permission from the ministry of national security to collaborate with foreigners.

  4. I am in fact helping with providing both data and translations and have indeed proposed better imagery sources, including the State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit. The Turkmen vocabulary in the wiki is provided in part because Turkmen is not included in Google translate and Turkmen-English and Turkmen-Russian dictionaries are scarce, especially outside Turkmenistan (even here they are hard to find).

  5. I am by far the largest contributor of ground-level imagery on Turkmenistan, of over 300,000 images at this point. My extensive official travel in this country has allowed me to do this.

  6. As to whether Turkmen will "recognize their our country," the regular expressions of gratitude I receive from ordinary Turkmen citizens for the mapping I have done far outweigh your expression of doubt. They consider my contributions to be both useful and valuable. The minister of motor roads uses MAPS.ME, which as you know is based on OSM data! The mayor of Ashgabat requested and has a copy of my wall map hanging in his office!

  7. Finally, I am indeed a local contributor, having lived here since January 2015, after the Senate confirmed President Obama's nomination of me to this ambassadorship.

Comment from Verdy_p on 9 September 2018 at 17:18

You state that I have not read and understood what you wrote. Even though I respected what you did, I diud not contradict what you wrote (besinde the fact it was confusing, I wanted to disambiguate them, by looking at other sources).

You contacted me only because I have corrected a template at top of page where you had used incorrectted parameters, and used inconsistant naming conventions, with variuous broekn links and categories.

Even if you think I was wrong, I kept all what you wrote: you had a disagreement about the fact that I had used "region" to designate a city which is not just a city but also a primary division of the country (the other types of primary divisions have another Turkmen name which is confusiong as they are not all primary divisions).

So I had correctly categorized that city BOTH as a city AND a region.

Then I started to split the confusing description table to exhibit how each of your described unit could be structured and subdivided, depedning on their parent type. I did not break your description.

Then you contacted me in emergency while I was trying to help you, and I replied to you.

Instead of replying to me you did not engage eny discussion, and contacted an offline channel secretetely. Then I was blocked by people that ignored the ongoing discussion completely, and who did not even participate to your project, and decided to block me permanently with false reason (no desire to work with community: this is exactly the opposite that I did since long: when I have doubts about confusing things in the wiki, I still don't modify it, or I discuss them with really lot of people: I'm fully part of the comunity to which I have given serious help since years.

As I have made a lot of things on the wiki to improve its navigation since years (where wiki admins were constantly absent or ignoring the messages that were targeted to them), I had many think you, and still people asking me to help them fix their job: most of the fixes on the wiki were extremely minimal, but made the wiki usable in all languages, structured as the people initially wanted to do it, respecting all the former usages, collecting tons of pages in dead end to allow them to be found and finally maintainned again by their authors or other people discovering them more easily and immediately.

There are lot of problems on the iwki du to lack of maintenance and lack of documentation. But also because people forget to post at least links to their ongoing projects they have documetned elsewhere: it's really hard to connect people because work is done majoritarily on OSM by autonomous communities doing what they want without taking care of what others do in the same areas or topic: so necessarily, when one touches something done by someone else, there are some levels of frictions: these are solved by documenting each other work, and finding ways to merge them or make them compatible. This is all what I did.

I was blocked unfairly by people that were not involved in your project, and that did not even know you before (you were not even presented on your wiki os OSM page). You were new to this wiki, and made the common errors that all newcomers do initially: I only wanted to help you, and I was absolutely not closed to disussions with you.

I had even taken your remark into account, by switching one city page to use "city" as the primary type, but still keeping "region" as the secondary type by inverting the two categories. I was still reverted agressively. The revert also restored the various minor quirks that were remaining. I had started the work to organize the pages by region (not everything can go to a single category for the whole country).

Beside the other edits that were also reverted agressively was the structuring of your page by logicial topic: it was only reordering sections, not deleting anything.

You criticize the format of the table I tried to do to help map the official divisions to OSM entities and groups. It was still a start to disambiguate things and make things clearer. Now you admit it is still very confusive. But I did not change what you meant.

My permanent blocking is largely excessive, and while I could have accepted a temporary block (until we find a way to discuss and organize things), now it blocks all the other projects that I have maintained and discussed with tons of people. And the maintenance of the wiki (that no wiki admin took in charge for years) is once again degrading,with people making incompatible edits, broken links, and so on.

I need to be able to discuss with people, at least alert them. Now it's impossible. My situation is now worse than what has been done against obvious spammers, which I am not (I have also helped since long to avoid massive sabotages by abusers).

It's strange because I only wanted to help you and support your project. But you did not really join the community the way it was working. Still you benefit (like amny others) of what I have done since years on this wiki, which I made compeltely international, and that I consistantly helped to reduce its maintenance cost and its performance. Some templetes were patiently done to do that, I documented many of them (including those left undocumented by many oither authors, and then used inconsistantly or producing unexpected results).

It's a shaming situation. For what was only a minor problem : a lack of mutual understanding of our intents, and incorrect assumptions by you that I had would have not read or understood what you did. I have never disputed the fact that the capital city of the country was a "city": it was clear for me from the begining and I had absolutely not changed that. But it was not just that: lot of other coutrnies have capital cities with special status at primary level: you could have looked at them as examples: the term "city" in the wiki (and in OSM) is not meant to be understood as administrative: OSM uses another classification for that based on boundary=adminsitrative plus admin_level. I had also checked the content of Wikipedia and Wikidata about that country (maintained since by a larger community than OSM, including governemental users), and checked various existing standards.

I just used the existing common practices adopted since long everywhere else on the wiki. You may criticize it, but most of these were not created by me, and theses conventions have a large number of users, so I cannot change that just to please one user working isolately in a single country, where there's eveidently lot of work to do (and I thank you for taking some lead to start it and provide some data, but it still needs to be organized and structured along with the rest so that data gets also usable more internationally and we get a reasonnably integrated map where no details is forgotten). It's a long task. Changes cannot be done radically and before continuing a work it's important to structure it using the existing common conventions, even if we can also start discussing them to see how to change them (and I know it will not be easy because there will be tons of users and projects involved or concerned directly by such change).

Comment from saintam1 on 11 September 2018 at 11:11

Great surveying work as always, well done Allan.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 17 September 2018 at 08:23

Thanks for your surveying and posts!

I am also sorry for that insults above by one of posters. Hopefully it will not be repeated.

Comment from apm-wa on 17 September 2018 at 17:40

Mateusz Konieczny and saintam1, thank you for your encouragement. Where mapping is concerned, I continue to see as my highest calling the collection of ground truth and otherwise unobtainable data here, which I feed into both OSM and the wiki.

Comment from Verdy_p on 17 September 2018 at 18:21

there was NO insulting words above. But it's a shame that there was no presentation at all before you asked to block someone that was honestly helping you as you have explicitly asked for on that wiki ! You never discuss with anyone, sent two messages, did not reply to my own, and I was blocked while I was doing nothing that day. I had no contact from any one else ! In summary you just started alone, and you had problems I wanted to fix, you did not understand that, and made false assumptions about my intent. It's a fact I have collaborated with a lot of people and helped many users in the wiki, because I still see that you don't know how to edit it properly and you are not trained at all about its existing limitations and how it has slowly evolved to be usable by more people (even if there are still problems, many of them were not solved at all by admins when I contacted them since years !). You were new to that project, I was not. You did not consider anything in my history and in fact it's jsut new that now you want to discuss what you do... but with others. But too late ! My blocking was compeltely unfair for false reasons. And the current documetned Wiki etiquette and procedures was not respected at all.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 18 September 2018 at 07:23


In case you are unaware - almost everybody, except extreme Trump supporters, would consider describing somebody as "Trump-nominated puppet" to be an insult.

Comment from apm-wa on 18 September 2018 at 16:06

@Verdy_p wrote above, "We know also that he also does not fairly understand the effective administrative structure of that country, and is unable to organize his own collected ideas into something really understandable."

Now, that is in insult. Telling a professional political scientist whose job includes understanding the political structures of the countries to which he is assigned, who has spent over three decades in diplomacy, has risen to an ambassadorship, who holds an honors baccalaureate in political science, and who has researched deeper than any other foreigner the political structure of Turkmenistan based on Turkmen law and regulation that he "does not fairly understand the effective administrative structure of that country" is telling that professional political scientist that he is incompetent. In addition, I have written well over 2,000 reports over my career on the political, economic, and sociological situations in my countries of assignment, and have never been accused by anyone else of being "unable to organize [my] collected ideas into something really understandable." This is a second insult. I believe my contributions to the wiki have been both substantive and well organized, and are as clear as they can be made. Let the reader judge whether Verdy_p's behavior is in keeping with OSM community norms.

It is not my fault that Turkmenistan has chosen an administrative structure that is by Western standards overly complex and to Westerners confusing. It is my job as a diplomat to document it, and I have chosen voluntarily to share my insights with the OSM community and to put them in the public domain. I do not believe that I am incompetent (and neither does my employer), nor do I believe that I could have presented the administrative structure of Turkmenistan any more clearly.

Finally, as regards Verdy_p's continued insistence that I asked for help, on June 4, 2018, I posted the following statement in my diary, "I have at least started OSM wiki articles on the major cities of Turkmenistan...The intent is to institutionalize all I have learned about mapping in Turkmenistan so far, before my tour of duty ends sometime this calendar year. If other mappers have suggestions for information to add to these articles, I am all ears." On June 9 I wrote in my diary, "I've created stubs of articles on the five provinces of Turkmenistan...Please take a look and let me know what's missing. These are works in progress." In other words, I asked for suggestions on content to add to the wiki articles, presumably content only obtainable by a local mapper, not for anyone to do wholesale reorganization or editing of the articles, particularly editing that would corrupt the information provided. I reiterate these diary entries in order to set the record straight.

Comment from Verdy_p on 18 September 2018 at 16:36

" Telling a professional political scientist": clearly your job is biased and oriented. That's why I have doubts notably when you write that have contacts mostly with local authorities. Givben your position (and the stated public position of Trump that has erased all efforts in US for real research, and hist public intent of "America first", I doubt his admisnitration will continue financing your project in your job if it's not politically oriented, in a country which is surrounded by other major powers, i.e. Russia, Russia and China, but which is culturally linked to Turkey. I don't criticize your jib: you do the best you can in your position, but your official position certainly causes severe limitations about what you can do and with whom you'll get local contacts. It an only be turned to be biased in favor of existing local governement, rather than the local community: it is one important view, but not the only one.

So you have contacts also with independant NGOs? Can they run their own projects without prior authorization by Turkemen authorities (and indirectly you with the budget that Trump's administration allows you to delegate to your mission) ?

And sorry, but your prior publication before starting the wiki was not advertized on the wiki, you did not present your self or explain the mission and the limitations that your official position forces you to adopt.

That's why I ask the community to take what you provide (even if it's, maybe, useful) with other views (including from the diaspora leaving now abroad). Turkmenistan is a country with severe political and interethnic problems and taking a position in favor of just the current giovernement may be dangerous to accept de facto in OSM: it will clearly forget much of what Turkmen people expect to see (and will never see because their governement will not provide it).

Now you feel it like an insult. It isi not, just a fact that you must admit: your job is OK but oriented and not sufficient. And OSM still lacks independant involvement in the country, notably by having non governmental NGOs (including international ones) to follow their own targets and preent other views: there's so muc hto do to map this country, even for the most basic needs that their governmetn does not provide, or does not want to do (and will not allow you to do for them as well) ! And you won't risk a diplomatic incident by bypassing their direct supervision of what you do (as this could turn the Turkmen government to go with help from Russia, China or Iran, or even Turkey).

It is my opinion that what you do has other commercial targets, such as controling gas and oil exports from Russia or Iran, and it is the only reason why Trump's administration has accepted to support your current work. I see little things that you have made for now which targets the preservation of environment (not a goal for Trump), or the development for the local population ("America First" for Trump), or local democracy.

So accept that your work is biased (this is your official position). Or explain to the community how your work can continue independantly with personal implication (even if you take the risk of having your current job position cancelled or your project having is working budget cancelled, like what Trump has done repeatedly, he constantly changes his views and has taken various decisions without hearing enyone of his own advertizers, and has irritated even his own strongest supporters and many allies). You're not in a very cumfortable position, and NGOs are probably more neutral and more stable, and you'd probably work better within one of them if you like this country where you live now and have good personal relations with some of their local communities.

Comment from apm-wa on 18 September 2018 at 17:59

@Verdy_p, To help you understand what my job entails, what U.S. goals are here, and what difficulties are involved in doing anything with civil society in Turkmenistan, I suggest you read my embassy's Integrated Country Strategy, which you can find at It is a public document, and I am sure you will find it interesting.

As for having my "project...budget cancelled" there is no need to worry about that. My mapping is purely voluntary and data collection in the course of official travel incurs no additional cost to the U.S. Government. There is no budget to cancel.

Regarding NGOs, my embassy is the only embassy in this country issuing grants to independent NGOs. Promotion of civil society is a major focus of my embassy. Of course I interact with government officials here; I also interact with private citizens and groups. Your fears are unfounded and may be put to rest. Please read the Integrated Country Strategy.

As far as your complaint that I have not shared my prior publication history on the wiki, I am unaware of any such requirement. I have no intention of spending the time necessary to compile such a list, or even an abstract, not least because virtually nobody in the OSM community would find any of it interesting and most would find it dreadfully boring.

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