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Turkmen Report: July 15, 2003


15 July 2003
NATIONAL NEWS
Turkmen Newspaper Hails Gas Deals With Ukraine, Russia's Itera
12 July 2003

A Turkmen daily newspaper quoted President Saparmurat Niyazov on 12 July as saying a new deal to supply Ukraine with gas will dramatically increase Turkmenistan's gas exports, AFP reported the same day. The newspaper reported that Niyazov said the deal is in the economic interests of both his country and Ukraine.

The 25-year agreement for Ukraine to purchase supplies of Turkmen gas is expected to be signed in September when Niyazov meets with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at the CIS summit in Yalta, Ukraine, according to "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan."

The newspaper did not reveal the terms of the agreement. On 11 July, Niyazov signed a deal with the Russian company Itera for the delivery of 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually from 2004 to 2007. Gas deals between Turkmenistan and Ukraine with Itera as the intermediary supplier fell apart in 1997 when Ukraine accumulated a debt of nearly $1 billion. (AFP)

Moscow Reports Progress In Citizenship Dispute With Turkmenistan
10 July 2003

Russia on 10 July reported some progress in its dispute with Turkmenistan over a controversial dual-citizenship agreement, ITAR-TASS, RIA-Novosti and AFP reported the same day.

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Fedotov, who was in Ashgabat on 9 July to meet Turkmen officials, said Turkmenistan no longer insists that Russian citizens who want to leave the country apply for exit visas. Talking to reporters in Moscow, Fedotov also said Turkmenistan had promised not to take any step that would go against the interests of its Russian community.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 10 July telephoned his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, and urged him to respect the rights of Russian citizens living in his country. Earlier this year, Niyazov unilaterally cancelled the dual-citizenship agreement between Ashgabat to Moscow. He also issued an ultimatum to Russian passport holders giving them a few weeks to decide whether they wanted to stay in Turkmenistan or move to Russia. Russia claims about 100,000 people in the Central Asian country hold both Turkmen and Russian citizenship. (ITAR-TASS, RIA-Novosti, AFP)

Russian Immigration Service Ready To Admit Those Wishing To Leave Turkmenistan
10 July 2003

The Russian Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service does not expect an influx from Turkmenistan, but is ready to admit everyone who wishes to enter Russia from that country, the first deputy head of the service, Igor Yunash, said at a press conference in Moscow on 10 July, Interfax reported the same day.

"The rate of people wishing to come to Russia from Turkmenistan is not on the rise," he said. Yunash attended a session of the Russian-Turkmen citizenship commission in Moscow on 8-9 July.

More than 10,000 people came to Russia from Turkmenistan in the first half of 2003, and about 3,000 applications are under consideration, he said. More than 27,000 came in 2002, and the rate was about 19,000 in 2001. "Russia has accommodation centers for urgent resettlers. There are 2,000 beds there. However, none have turned to us, and our compatriots in Turkmenistan are not in a panic," Yunash said. (Interfax)

Russian Deputy Plays Down Fears Of Turkmenistan's Russians
10 July 2003

A senior Russian lawmaker on a fact-finding trip to Turkmenistan has played down the fears of discrimination of ethnic Russians there after the abrogation of a dual-citizenship accord between Ashgabat and Moscow, AFP reported on 10 July.

Sergei Anatenko said he and other Russian lawmakers found nothing in Turkmenistan to confirm rumors that ethnic Russians were being kicked out of the country, as some Russian media had been reporting.

Turkmen President Niyazov cancelled the dual-citizenship accord with Russia after an April meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Niyazov then gave Turkmen citizens who also hold Russian passports until 22 June to decide whether they wanted to stay in Turkmenistan or move to Russia.

According to Russian estimates, there are about 100,000 people in Turkmenistan holding both Turkmen and Russian citizenship. Correspondents say Turkmen officials are wary of citizens holding dual citizenship after an assassination attempt on Niyazov last November in which many of the suspected plotters held more than one passport. (AFP)

UN Human Development Index Shows Declines In Three Central Asian States
9 July 2003

The UN Development Program's Index of Human Development for 2003 shows declines for Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, akipress.org reported on 9 July.

Declines have been attributed to lower life expectancy, lower literacy rates, reduced incomes, and poor educational opportunities. According to the report, the index ranked Turkmenistan 82nd among the 175 countries assessed, while Kyrgyzstan ranked 102nd and Tajikistan was 113th. (Akipress.org)

Turkmen Ambassador Calls Picketing 'Unfriendly Act'
4 July 2003

The Turkmen ambassador to Russia, Khalnazar Agakhanov, denounced the 4 July picketing of the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow as an "unfriendly act," turkmenistan.ru reported the same day.

The picketers, who carried signs protesting the treatment of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan, were members of the Moscow branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.

Agakhanov reportedly complained to Interfax that the timing of the protest was particularly puzzling in view of the fact that a Russian-Turkmen commission was due to start work on 7 July to resolve the situation of Turkmenistan's Russian population and that Russian President Putin had said that such a delicate subject as the Russians in Turkmenistan should not become an issue in the election campaign, which is now beginning in Russia.

Agakhanov added that he believes some of the protesters had no idea what the protest was about, citing as evidence the fact that a group of girls in traditional Uzbek attire had joined the picketers. (Turkmenistan.ru)

FEATURES AND ANALYSIS
Men Grapple With The High Price Of Love In Afghanistan
11 July 2003

By Farangis Najibullah

Afghans say Afghanistan has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. The breakup of marriages is virtually nonexistent among many Pashtun tribes, where divorce is considered a bitter disgrace.

Perhaps another reason for the marital longevity is that marriage does not come cheap for many Afghan men. According to an ancient Islamic tradition, a man is required to present the family of his bride with a large amount of cash, called "mahr" or "walwar."

Originally, experts say, "mahr" was designed to show respect for women by granting them a degree of financial independence. But the tradition's original purpose has long since been forgotten. Now, many Afghan men simply see "mahr" as a kind of fee for getting married.

According to Islam, "mahr" must be an affordable sum of money that is paid to the bride's family during the wedding or once the couple is already married, depending on the wish of the two families.

But Afghans say nowadays the guidelines are often misinterpreted. Brides' families now ask for steep amounts of money, and also expect the family of the groom to provide gifts, clothes, jewelry, and a wedding party for several hundred guests.

The minimum amount of money acceptable for "mahr" or "walwar" differs from province to province.

A young man from Paktika Province tells RFE/RL the tradition puts a huge financial burden on the bridegroom's family.

"In Paktika's Zurmat region, 'walwar' costs between 500,000 and 1 million Pakistani rupees (between $9,000 and $18,000). This is a tradition in Paktika and neighboring areas," he says.

As well-off Afghans pay increasingly high amounts of money as "walwar," their poorer neighbors find it hard to follow the trend. Some of them sell their land, borrow money from relatives, or leave to earn money working in Pakistan or Arab countries. Some men are in their 40s by the time they are able to afford marriage.

One Kabul resident says he had to leave his new bride at home and travel abroad in search of work to pay off his debts. "When my relatives went to the girl's home to ask for her hand in marriage, her family promised that they would not ask for a big 'mahr.' But as soon as we got engaged, we realized that my family was trapped. Her family asked for 400,000 Pakistani rupees ($7,300) and other gifts. We couldn't afford it. We borrowed some money and also sold our land. After the wedding, people who had lent us money would come to our house asking for us to pay it back. I had to leave [to find work] in Pakistan just 10 days after the wedding," he says.

The inability to pay "mahr" has resulted in a new tradition among Pashtuns called "badal" -- a bride exchange. Families who cannot afford to pay "mahr" will instead offer a daughter to the brother or other male relatives of the bride.

But "badal" does not always solve the problem. Another man in Kabul says the situation is difficult for men who have no sisters, or sisters so young that it will be years before they are of marriageable age.

"I think 'walwar' is not a good idea," he told us. "Those who don't have a grown-up sister or female relative have to wait for years until a girl in the family grows up, and only then they will be able to exchange brides. I don't like 'walwar,'" he says.

Some critics of "walwar" say although the tradition is meant to provide the bride with financial security, her family usually keeps the money and will rarely share it with her. Many newlyweds are left saddled with enormous debts because of the "mahr" system.

The "mahr" tradition is beginning to fade in urban areas, where educated Afghans say the system no longer holds importance for them. But in many provinces, especially among Pashtun and Turkmen groups, the tradition is as strong as ever.

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