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Turkmen Report: March 29, 2004

29 March 2004
Turkmenistan Joins UN Antidrug Operation
26 March 2004

Turkmenistan will take part in a UN operation against drug smuggling from Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March, citing the head of the regional UN antidrug and organized crime department James Callahan. He said that Turkmenistan's authorities and UN antidrug bodies were implementing a $1 million antidrug project on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Callahan said the project envisages the monitoring of the border and strengthening the infrastructure and training of border troops. In early March, the UN expressed its concern about inadequate information on the situation concerning drugs in Turkmenistan and called on Ashgabat to cooperate with international antidrug organizations. According to official data, in the last two years, Turkmen police have seized around 200 kilograms of drugs, half of which was heroin. (ITAR-TASS)

National Reserve Bank To Decide On Russia's Turkmen Debt
26 March 2004

The National Reserve Bank (NRB) will handle the issue of Russia's debt to Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March, citing the Turkmen presidential press service. President Niyazov and NRB Chairman Yuri Kudimov reached an accord during their meeting in Ashgabat on 26 March, the report said. "The Turkmen president issued an exclusive mandate to the NRB on work with Russia's liability to Turkmenistan," Kudimov said. "Among Turkmenistan's debtors are a number of Russian commercial banks we have to work with," he said. Russia and Turkmenistan discussed Russia's 1992-1993 debt during St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko's visit to Turkmenistan in February. At that time, Niyazov said the debt amounted to $100 million. In 2000-2001, representatives from Russia's Oneksimbank, Roskredit, and Inkombank discussed the debt settlement in the course of their visits to Turkmenistan. (ITAR-TASS)

Russia Opposes U.S. Interference In Resolving Caspian's Legal Status
23 March 2004

Russia's presidential envoy on Caspian affairs Viktor Kalyuzhnii said on 23 March that the United States should not interfere in talks on delineating the Caspian Sea, AP reported the same day. The legal status of the Caspian Sea, believed to contain the third-largest reserves of oil and gas in the world, has been under discussion since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Kalyuzhnii said the five littoral states -- Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan -- should resolve the Caspian's legal status themselves without outside interference. Last month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Kazakhstan and said the U.S. has an interest in the Caspian region and believes security there is important. Kalyuzhnii said on 23 March the only U.S. interest in the Caspian is its interest in oil. The five littoral states have debated whether the Caspian Sea is an inland lake with its resources to be divided equally, or a sea in which every country would have its own sector. (AP)

Niyazov Promotes Plan To Put River Through Capital
23 March 2004

President Niyazov has ordered that an artificial riverbed be constructed in Ashgabat and connected to Lake Turkmenistan, which is under construction in the Karakum Desert, reported on 23 March, citing a source in the Turkmen government. According to Niyazov, Ashgabat should not lag behind the leading capitals of the world, most of which are situated on rivers. According to the source, Niyazov intends to invite construction workers from Turkish and French companies to accomplish this "historic" mission. The idea of creating an artificial river has already been discussed during a special meeting held by Niyazov. Foreign businessmen who attended the meeting were given the task of developing the construction project as soon as possible. (

Former Chief Mufti Sentenced To Prison For Reasons That Remain Unclear
22 March 2004

By Antoine Blua

Turkmenistan's former chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, was sentenced to 22 years in prison earlier this month following a trial held behind closed doors.

The 56-year-old Ibadullah, an ethnic Uzbek, studied in a madrassah in Bukhara during the Soviet period and continued his studies in Egypt and Syria. He was dismissed from his post in January 2003 for reasons that remain unclear and replaced with an ethnic Turkmen, 35-year-old Kakagely Vepayev.

The reasons behind Ibadullah's prison sentence this month are also murky.

One theory is that it stems from accusations he was involved in the alleged assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002.

Former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov purportedly describes Ibadullah as a key protagonist in the alleged plot against Niyazov's life. However, it is difficult to substantiate such claims. Shikhmuradov describes Ibadullah's alleged role in the plot in his just-published memoirs. The book is said to have been written by Shikhmuradov while in prison, where he is serving a life sentence as the ringleader of the assassination attempt.

Vitaliy Ponomarev heads the Central Asia Program for Russia's Memorial human rights center.

"The charges against him were described in the book published in Ashgabad under the name of Shikhmuradov. [Shikhmuradov] talked about his alleged contacts with conspirators and said that, allegedly, [Ibadullah] was planning to establish an Islamic party after deposing Niyazov," Ponomarev said.

Felix Corley, editor of the Forum 18 news service, an agency covering religious freedom in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe, wonders why Ibadullah is being sentenced now. It is believed that Ibadullah was interrogated as part of the investigations following the events of November 2002. Corley says Ibadullah could easily have been arrested and sentenced together with others connected to the case.

Instead, Corley raises the possibility that Ibadullah is being punished for his opposition to Niyazov's desire to see his book "Rukhnama" -- a self-styled spiritual guide -- given a prominent position in Muslim worship in Turkmenistan.

"The 'Rukhnama' is a kind of moral code which allegedly Niyazov has written. It's been promoted so much within the country, in its schools, in places of work, in higher education institutions and so on. And Niyazov has insisted that imams quote from it during their addresses during Friday prayers. Some muftis have been removed from office for not putting the 'Rukhnama' in a place of honor in the mosque in the same place as a copy of the Quran," Corley said.

A copy of "Rukhnama," or "Book of the Soul," is featured prominently at the entrance to every mosque in Turkmenistan. Those entering the buildings to pray must pause to touch it with the reverence due sacred objects. Similar instructions have reportedly been given to Russian Orthodox Churches in Turkmenistan.

Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy are the only two sects allowed in Turkmenistan.

According to the Helsinki Turkmenistan Initiative, an independent Vienna-based human rights organization, Ibadullah has been caught up in a general crackdown against prominent members of the Uzbek minority.

According to the organization, the Ministry of National Security is concerned about an underground Uzbek organization operating in the Dashoguz region of northeastern Turkmenistan.

In the past year, the Turkmen government has replaced ethnic Uzbek imam-hatybs, or mosque leaders, with ethnic Turkmen in all of the main mosques in the Dashoguz region, even though ethnic Uzbeks make up more than half of the local population.

Among those who have lost their jobs is Ibadullah's brother, Dustlik Seidabdulla. (RFE/RL)