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Turkmen Report: September 1, 2003

1 September 2003
Iran-Turkmenistan Friendship Dam To Open Ahead Of Schedule
30 August 2003

Construction of the Iran-Turkmenistan Friendship Dam is to be completed 14 months ahead of schedule, IRNA reported on 30 August, citing deputy managing director of the dam Reza Afsharzadeh.

Afsharzadeh said the dam was scheduled to become operational in 2005 but following a protocol signed between the two countries' presidents the construction of the dam will be completed in 2004.

Based on the first agreement, each side was responsible for constructing half of the dam but following the recent agreement made between the two countries' presidents, Iran undertook 80 percent while Turkmen took the remaining 20 percent of the construction process, he said. Around 61 percent of the construction work has been completed by now, he said. Some 500 billion rials ($60 million) has been allocated for construction of the dam and its required hydro-mechanical and electrical equipment, he added. (IRNA)

New U.S. Ambassador Speaks With RFE/RL And Its Audience
29 August 2003

The new U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, Tracey Ann Jacobson, spoke with RFE/RL and its audience on 29 August, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the same day.

"Radio Liberty for 50 years has broadcast its message of mutual understanding among people and advocacy for democratic values," Jacobson said. The United States government "avidly supports" those goals, she added. The new U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan expressed her willingness to become acquainted with Turkmenistan and its "wonderful people." "No country can begin to reach it's potential without the full participation of its most important natural resource -- its people. Therefore, my government's abiding interest is the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights. The people of Turkmenistan, as any people, deserve no less," she said in conclusion. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Cotton-Picking Season Begins In Turkmenistan
29 August 2003

The cotton-picking season has begun in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. Officials expect around 2 million tons of raw cotton will be harvested from an area of 750,000 hectares.

Cotton will be handpicked on 80 percent of the plantations, with the rest harvested mechanically. Mechanized methods are unacceptable for high-quality blends, especially the most precious thin-fiber cotton. A skilful picker can pick 100-120 kilograms of cotton a day.

The state company Turkmenpagta buys a ton of raw thin-fiber cotton from farmers for 1.5 million mantas (about $75, $292 at the official rate) and a ton of medium-fiber raw for 1 million manats (about $50). The purchasing price has not changed since last year.

Unlike in grain farming, where a record harvest of around 2.5 million tons was reported as harvested for the second year running, the productivity of cotton plantations leaves much to be desired. In 2002, the farms were able to meet only 30 percent of the government's target for cotton production. During the Soviet era, the record harvest of cotton was 1.2 million tons. (ITAR-TASS)

Ukraine To Restructure Debt To Turkmenistan
28 August 2003

Ukraine's government on 27 August approved an intergovernmental agreement with Turkmenistan, signed in Ashgabat on 10 February, on restructuring Ukraine's debt to Turkmenistan at $281.7 million to a term until 2007, Interfax reported on 28 August, citing the cabinet's press service.

The agreement envisages debt repayment with eight equal parts on 31 October and 30 April each year. The debt total also includes $574,000 in fines previous failed payments.

Ukraine's debt for payments of supplied Turkmen gas was set in an intergovernmental agreement on 5 November 1994. Ukraine's debt was set at $723.44 million, including $51.54 million in penalties. The debt was to have been paid by the end of 2001, but in January 2000 Ukraine stopped making payments, as it did with other debts to Paris Club creditors. (Interfax)

Central Asian Water Usage Complicated By Cross Purposes
27 August 2003

Use of one of Central Asia's most precious resources, water, is complicated by the opposing needs of neighboring countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August, citing a Tajik scientist.

Division of water usage is aggravated by demands inherent to hydroelectrical engineering and irrigation needs, Georgii Petrov, an academician of the International Energy Academy, said. He said Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are interested in generating hydroelectricity, which requires dams to be sufficiently filled with water during the floods in spring and summer. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan need downstream summer irrigation, especially in the growing season.

In order to manage the hydropower sector, special interstate structures have been created and agreements have been signed. However, the sides failed to decide on the joint use of hydropower resources. (ITAR-TASS)

Alleged Assassination Plotter Dies In Turkmen Prison
25 August 2003

Amanmukhammed Yklymov, imprisoned for his alleged role in the purported assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 November 2002, died in prison in March 2003 as a result of torture, Deutsche Welle reported on 25 August, citing his brother Parakhat Yklymov.

Several members of the Yklymov family were arrested in the wake of the purported assassination attempt. Many international human rights organizations have protested to the Turkmen authorities about the practice of arresting relatives of people accused of crimes. (Deutsche Welle)

Central Asia's Schools, Parents Lacking For Cash
29 August 2003

By Bruce Pannier

The school year starts next week in Central Asia, but the hardest problems will not be those that students face in classrooms. In much of Central Asia the population is increasing, while money for education has been cut and wages are falling.

Steve Sabol, an expert on Central Asia at the University of North Carolina in the U.S., said standards are dropping. "The schools are not nearly as good as they were 10 years ago. They've lost scholars and teachers who are not getting paid and who could not afford to continue in education. The institutions of higher education are, while good, not nearly what they were 10 years ago for the same reason," Sabol said.

That was the message Kazakh Deputy Education Minister Kulash Shamshidinova gave to a conference in the capital Astana on 27 August. "Unfortunately, an analysis of the educational situation shows an alarming tendency of a decrease in the quality of learning on every level," Shamshidinova said.

Kazakhstan, however, is better off than poorer countries to the south.

In Tajikistan, the government cannot afford to invest in schools, while parents in some cases cannot even afford the cost of notebooks and pencils. "We went to the market to buy school supplies but it was all so expensive. They had everything, but it costs so much. What can I do? I had to buy it for my child. School starts on 1 September, and I wanted him to go to school happy," a mother in Dushanbe said.

One young schoolgirl told RFE/RL her mother cannot afford to buy her new clothes this year: "My name is Mehranghez. I want to dress like my school friends. Every year my mom dressed me [for the new school year] but this year she cannot afford to."

An average wage in Tajikistan is about $17 a month. Clothing alone for a child can cost a month's salary, and then there are pencils and books to buy. Some Tajik families have five or six children or more, meaning the cost of sending children to public school with the essentials and new clothes requires saving for months.

One merchant, Komron, said he sells school-related products -- children's clothes and school supplies -- from both China and Dubai. The Dubai products are better but the cheaper Chinese goods sell faster.

In Kyrgyzstan, where the average monthly salary is about $30, the situation is better, but many parents still choose to send their children to private schools since public schools are considered poor.

"My child goes to the second grade this year," one man said. "We arranged for him to attend [private school] because the quality is higher there. We pay 160 soms [about $4] monthly, plus 6 soms daily for hot lunches. It is quite expensive. In addition to this, we had to buy textbooks last year because the school could not provide them. This year, we have not yet paid for textbooks, but we have already spent more than 1,000 soms for clothes, schoolbags, pens, etc. This is only for one child, but some families have two or three children in school. They have to send their children to the public schools, where there are about 40 pupils in a classroom and the quality of teaching is low."

A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Education and Culture Ministry, Mamasaly Apyshev, said the government is working with teachers and officials to improve the quality of education in public schools. "This year officials of the ministry, prominent scholars, authors of new textbooks, and other experts -- together with local authorities -- met with teachers to familiarize them with new methods and innovations in education. We will have the results on what we achieved last year by 5 October -- Teachers' Day. After that we can prepare for the new school year what changes we have to make," Apyshev said.

The start of the school year in Turkmenistan comes after some dramatic changes. Students are now required to complete two years of state service after secondary school before they can apply to universities. Turkmenistan no longer sends students abroad and less than 1 percent of the country's population is accepted into the university system each year.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, several years ago, ordered that textbooks be rewritten to give Turkmenistan a more prominent place in history. In addition, students are now required to study the president's own text, "Rukhnama." (RFE/RL)