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Turkmen Report: July 6, 2004

6 July 2004
U.S. Ambassador Addresses People Of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan's major newspapers published an address by U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Tracey Ann Jacobson on the occasion of U.S. Independence Day, reported on 3 July. On behalf of the embassy staff, Jacobson expressed satisfaction with the level of bilateral partnership over the last year.

"We cooperate in such fields as security, education, culture, economy, health care, and development of civil society," the message says. The United States has provided almost 200 representatives of military and law-enforcement agencies of Turkmenistan with the opportunity to undergo training abroad over the last year, Jacobson noted. The Turkmen state has been also granted 50 automobiles and equipment for crime fighting and ensuring border security. Over 100 students and specialists have been sent to the United States in exchange programs. Over 600 Turkmen entrepreneurs have received support to set up and develop their own business; over 100 doctors and nurses have got training in preventive treatment. All this would have been impossible to implement without the support and cooperation provided by the government of Turkmenistan and without talent and energy of the country's people, she said. "We also appreciate that Turkmenistan acted as the active partner in the war against terrorism," Jacobson continued. "We are pleased to witness positive changes that have taken place in Turkmenistan over the last year, including abolishing exit visas and the start of registration of religious groups. We hope that this positive trend will continue." (

Russian Foreign Minister Denies Ambassador To Turkmenistan Recalled
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied media reports that Ambassador Andrei Molochkov had been recalled from Turkmenistan, Interfax reported on 1 July.

Molochkov left Ashgabat due to "the situation with his work, which was connected to staff rotation, and humanitarian circumstances," Lavrov said. He said the main reason for Molochkov's departure from Turkmenistan was "family tragedies -- his wife and brother died almost simultaneously -- and he himself underwent serious surgery, after which doctors categorically forbade him to be abroad."

"We cannot ignore the doctors' firm opinion," Lavrov said. However, according to an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 July, the diplomat was not recalled due to "health reasons, but due to the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry is unhappy with him." (Interfax, "Nezavisimaya gazeta")

Uzbek Foreign Ministry Says Turkmen Border Guards Killed Uzbek Citizen
Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry has summoned the Turkmen ambassador to demand Turkmen authorities look into the death of an Uzbek citizen along the two countries' common border, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and AFP reported. Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov said on 1 July that the Turkmen ambassador was summoned on 29 June and asked to offer an explanation for the reported death of 46-year-old Aidogdy Mukhanov last month. If confirmed it would be the second time this year that an Uzbek citizen was reportedly killed by Turkmen border guards.

A witness in Uzbekistan described what happened for RFE/RL's Uzbek Service: "One of the [Turkmen] soldiers stood there and ordered his subordinates 'One, Two, Three' and two of the soldiers, on the order of this superior, jumped on him [Mukhanov]. How can they kill someone like that?"

Relations between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have been deteriorating since the Turkmen government implied that the Uzbek government had helped in the attempted assassination of the Turkmen president in late 2002. (RFE/RL, AFP)

Turkmen Authorities Continue To Oppress Jehovah's Witnesses
Prisoners of conscience Vepa Tuvakov and Mansur Masharipov were recently jailed for refusing military service on religious grounds, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 29 June, citing an Amnesty International report.

The Turkmen authorities have recently taken measures to avoid being classified as a "country of particular concern" under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act, which could lead to trade sanctions. Amnesty International believes that international pressure now could secure the men's release. They are at risk of beatings and other ill-treatment in detention.

Both young men are Jehovah's Witnesses, whose faith forbids them to serve in the army. They were arrested in their hometown of Dashoguz, near the border with Uzbekistan, in May 2004 and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Amnesty International has received credible reports of Turkmen conscientious objectors being beaten while in detention and threatened with repercussions if they did not renounce their faith. In April, two conscientious objectors held in Seydi labor camp, in the east of the country, were reportedly threatened with death. It is not known who issued the death threats, but the prison administration was believed to have been aware of the threats. At least one of the two Jehovah's Witnesses is reportedly held in Seydi labor camp. (RFE/RL, Amnesty International)

Turkmen Foreign Minister Attends NATO's Istanbul Summit
Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashit Meredov attended the NATO summit in Istanbul, reported on 28 June, citing a source in the country's government.

Turkmenistan established partnership ties with NATO by joining its Partnership for Peace program on 10 May 1994. President Saparmurat Niyazov said that since then, "Turkmenistan and NATO have been developing planned and steady cooperation based on mutual understanding, recognition, and respect for Turkmenistan's status as a neutral state, and based on a mutual intention to establish stability and security in the region and the world." (

Turkmenistan Spends $53 Million On Helicopters
President Niyazov signed a $53 million contract in Ashgabat on 28 June with the U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation for the purchase of two S-92 multimission helicopters, reported. The helicopters, which will be outfitted to transport high-ranking officials, will be delivered in 2005-06. President Niyazov expressed his satisfaction with the two Sikorsky helicopters Turkmenistan has already purchased, and a company representative reportedly accepted his offer to establish a long-term cooperation agreement. (

Turkmen Commander Dismissed
President Niyazov dismissed the commander of Turkmenistan's ground forces with a 24 June decree, reported. According to the text of the decree, Mashat Orazgeldiyev's removal was due to "the commission of an act that undermines the dignity of an officer in the Turkmen armed forces and serious professional shortcomings." The decree went on to strip Orazgeldiyev of his rank and salary and discharge him from the armed forces. (

Hidden Plague Could Threaten Turkmenistan
30 June 2004

By Don Hill

The World Health Organization (WHO) has received what one WHO medical officer calls "unofficial" reports of 10 new cases of bubonic plague in Turkmenistan, but at last word has been unable to verify them.

Although this is the same terrible disease that twice wiped out almost half the population of Europe, the plague no longer is the fearsome threat of ancient times. Antibiotics and public health strategies have taken care of that.

WHO medical officer Eric Bertherat said that what severe threat the plague still retains comes from a tendency of some officials to cover up its outbreaks.

"We got unofficial information about some cases of plague having occurred in Turkmenistan," Bertherat said. "In fact there would be around 10 cases, 10 cases of bubonic plague in this country. And we are trying to check this information."

A human rights organization known as the THI, for Turkmenistan Helsinki Initiative, reported last week that 10 cases had been identified and that the victims had been quarantined in a hospital of the Akhalsky velayat, a district near the capital Ashgabat. THI said at the time that the hospital lacked the means to treat the disease.

If true, this could create conditions for the development of the most dangerous form of the plague.

Bubonic plague is primarily a disease of rodents. It is most commonly spread to humans by insect bites. A flea, tick, or other parasite acquires the plague bacillus from biting a rodent and subsequently transmits the bacillus to a human being by biting the person. Plague transmitted this way typically attacks the human lymphatic system, causing one or more lymph nodes to swell into painful inflamed knots known as buboes. Hence the name bubonic plague.

Once a human contracts the disease, however, it can if untreated develop into pneumonic plague, a highly contagious form that bypasses the lymphatic system and is transmitted by airborne droplets directly from human to human.

Bertherat said this form of the disease is very dangerous. "Yes, it is exactly the same disease but the bubonic plague is transmitted by flea bites and, secondarily, [the] human infected can develop pneumonic plague," Bertherat said. "And when he's got pneumonic plague he can transmit the virus by respiratory droplets to other humans. And in that case the risk of spread is very, very important."

Medical authorities say that 90 percent or more patients, properly treated, survive bubonic plague. Untreated, about half the victims die. Untreated, pneumonic plague is nearly always fatal within 48 hours of infection.

There is no reason, Bertherat said, that a Central Asian country should feel shamed at an occasional incidence of bubonic plague. He said that one or even a few cases are common in the spring there.

"This occurrence of cases of plague is not a surprise, since this area -- Central Asia -- is the cradle, the birthplace of plague, and sporadic cases of plague are not uncommon in these countries, including Turkmenistan," Bertherat said.

The disease also shows up in a handful of cases a year in Africa and North America.

In recent years, Central Asian states have controlled bubonic plague by setting up scientific detection teams to learn what rodents or other carrier animals are involved in an outbreak and what insects are the transmitters. They then deploy plague stations to reduce or isolate the threatening populations. Numerous antibiotics are useful in treating the actual victims.

That's what Kazakh health official Baurzhan Baiserkin said his country did with notable success this year. "Last year there was a case involving a camel in which six people were made sick," Baiserkin said. "This year, starting in February, we took precautions to prevent the plague. So far [this year] there are no reports on Kazakh territory of any kind of plague."

But Turkmenistan Helsinki Initiative charges that the Turkmen government of President Saparmurat Niyazov has abandoned controls that minimized outbreaks in the country. THI said Turkmen authorities have severely cut funds and employment in the health sector.

Reached last week by an RFE/RL correspondent, Turkmen health authorities denied any knowledge of bubonic plague cases there. THI has said that local officials reached by the organization neither confirmed nor denied the outbreak.

(Almaty bureau chief Kenzhebek Nurkasen of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.) (RFE/RL)