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Turkmen Report: October 14, 2003

14 October 2003
Ukraine May Take Part In Turkmen Gas, Oil Projects
10 October 2003

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Hayduk and his Turkmen counterpart Elly Gurbanmuradov met at the first session of the bilateral economic-cooperation commission on 10 October to discuss the Ukrainian participation in Turkmen oil and gas projects, ITAR-TASS reported the same day.

They stated the Ukraine's compliance with commitments in the Turkmen natural-gas delivery, the Ukrainian government's press service reported. Ukraine will help Turkmenistan to modernize and repair locomotives and supply medicine. The two governments will also push the drafting of an agreement on the repatriation of convicts.

Ukrainian investment projects in Turkmenistan are a key area of the bilateral cooperation. The construction of a railroad bridge across the Amudarya River, a drainage and communication tunnel in Ashgabat, and compressor stations are the main Ukrainian investment projects.

Under an agreement for 2002-06, Ukraine may purchase up to 250 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Turkmenistan. This and next year 36 billion cubic meters of gas will be delivered to Ukraine. An intergovernmental agreement rescheduling $281.7 million in Ukrainian gas debt for 1993-94 until 2007 was signed on 10 February 2003. (ITAR-TASS)

Foreign Companies In Turkmenistan Do $4 Billion In Business
10 October 2003

Foreign companies in Turkmenistan are working on nearly $4 billion in contracts, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 October, citing the National Institute of Statistics and Information.

Turkish companies lead the way with 36.7 percent of contracts. They are mostly building light-industrial facilities and luxury apartment buildings. Ukrainians rank second with contracts worth $838.5 million in payment for Turkmen natural-gas supplies to Ukraine.

Turkmenistan pays hard currency for the French construction of administrative buildings in Ashgabat ($258.5 million), while German companies developing the oil-and-gas infrastructure get crude oil and petroleum products in payment.

Russia ranks fifth (5.5 percent) in contract value. Russia's Zarubezhneftegazstroi is reconstructing a gas pipeline in eastern Turkmenistan, worth over $200 million. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan Protests To Czech Republic
7 October 2003

A high-level Czech Foreign Ministry official and the Turkmen ambassador in Vienna both confirmed to RFE/RL that on 7 October Turkmenistan officially protested to the Czech Republic over allowing three exiled Turkmen opposition activists on its "wanted list" -- former Ambassador to Turkey Nurmuhammed Hanamov, former Deputy Agriculture Minister Saparmurat Yklymov, and former Deputy Prime Minister Hudaiberdy Orazov -- to enter the Czech Republic and the failure to arrest them and extradite them to Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the same day.

Ashgabat has accused the opposition activists of complicity in the failed alleged assassination attempt on President Niyazov in November 2002. Previously, Turkmenistan has sought the arrest and extradition of these three men from Austria and Sweden as well, but were refused. (RFE/RL)

Father Of Turkmen Oppositionist Appeals To Prosecutor-General
7 October 2003

Sazak Begmedov, who was first deputy state prosecutor of the Turkmen SSR in 1976-82, is demanding that Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova allow him to return to Ashgabat from internal exile, and that she punish the police who beat him and sent him to the northern city of Dashoguz with no personal belongings, reported on 7 October.

Begmedov, father of exiled Turkmen oppositionist Tajigul Begmedova, was taken by police from his Ashgabat home on 31 August and forced into internal exile in Dashoguz a few days after Begmedova announced the creation of a Turkmen Helsinki Group based in Bulgaria.

In a letter to Atajanova, Begmedov pointed out that because he is registered as a resident of Ashgabat, he cannot receive his pension in Dashoguz. (

Turkmenistan Mourns Victims Of 1948 Earthquake
6 October 2003

Turkmenistan remembered the victims of the 1948 earthquake on 6 October, Interfax reported the same day. A ceremony of commemoration took place in the Turkmen capital where people laid wreaths at a monument to the victims of the earthquake, which was erected 50 years after the tragedy.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov did not take part in the ceremony. Sources in the Turkmen government said the president did not attend the ceremony because of a cold.

Fifty-five years ago, on 6 October 1948, an earthquake destroyed almost all of Ashgabat, killing 80 percent of the residents of the city and nearby villages. UNESCO has called that earthquake one of the most destructive catastrophes of the 20th century.

Since 1995, 6 October has been a day of remembrance in Turkmenistan. A decree to that effect was signed by Niyazov, who lost his mother and two brothers as a result of the quake. (Interfax)

Earthquake Jolts Turkmenistan
10 October 2003

There was an earthquake on the Turkmen-Iranian border 90 kilometers northwest of Ashgabat on 5 October, Interfax reported the next day. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations said that underground tremors in the epicenter measured 3.5 on the Richter scale. There have been no reports of destruction or loss of life. (Interfax)

Survey Reports On Lack Of Religious Freedom In Turkmenistan
7 October 2003

By Antoine Blua

Kurban Zakirov, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, was sentenced in 1999 to one year in a minimum-security corrective-labor colony in Turkmenistan for conscientious objection to military service.

The same year, Zakirov was granted a pardon but was not released because he refused to give an oath of loyalty to President Saparmurat Niyazov by placing his hand on the Koran. In 2000, after Zakirov had completed his sentence, he was still not released because he again refused to pledge the oath. He was subsequently sentenced to eight years in a high-security corrective labor colony for allegedly attacking the security services, a charge the denomination says is politically motivated.

Gregory Olds is a legal representative at the headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in New York. He described the condition of Zakirov's detention to RFE/RL: "We understand [Zakirov's] health is being ruined. We understand that Kurban now suffers from insomnia, which, of course, will accelerate his physical deterioration. We understand that he is kept in total isolation as a so-called dangerous criminal. He is kept in a sealed cell. No visits. No parcels are allowed," Olds said. Olds said five other Jehovah's Witnesses also are currently serving prison sentences in Turkmenistan for their religious activities or decisions about matters of conscience.

Zakirov's case is referred to in a new report by Forum 18 News Service, a Norway-based news agency covering religious freedom in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe (see The agency recently issued a survey on religious freedom in Turkmenistan.

Felix Corley, an editor at Forum 18, is the author of the survey. He told RFE/RL that Turkmenistan has one of the worst records on the issue of religious freedom. "The government [of Turkmenistan] makes no pretense of its decision to ignore internationally accepted standards of human rights on the question of religious freedom. It has allowed only two religious faiths to register any religious communities -- the Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church. In effect, it has made all other religious activity illegal," Corley said.

A law passed in 1996 requires religious communities to have at least 500 adult members before gaining registration. But in practice, Corley pointed out, these 500 believers must all live in one district, which made it impossible for religious groups other than Sunni Muslim or Russian Orthodox to register during a compulsory re-registration drive in 1997. The activities of Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Lutheran, and other Protestant churches, as well as Shi'a Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness, and Hare Krishna communities are, in effect, banned.

Corley said religious literature is no longer published in Turkmenistan and is routinely confiscated from members of unregistered religious minorities. Apart from Sunni Muslims, religious groups cannot maintain any kind of religious education.

But Corley said even Sunni Muslims are not free of harassment. "In January of this year, the president ousted the chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, who is an ethnic Uzbek," he said. "And they replaced him with the young Kakageldy Vepaev, who was then only 35 and an ethnic Turkmen. And many people believe this was because Vepaev was far more pliant. He would do what the government wanted. Within the last few years, many of the older imams have been removed from their jobs in mosques and have been replaced with young people, many of whom had no or very little formal religious education." Government tolerance of Sunni Islam has not extended to Shi'a Islam, which is mainly professed by the ethnic Azeri and Iranian minorities in the west of the country. Corley said Shi'a mosques failed to gain re-registration in 1997.

Erika Dailey is the director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project, based in Budapest. She told RFE/RL that non-state-approved religious groups in Turkmenistan suffer varying degrees of harassment. "The harassment has taken a variety of forms. In its most severe forms, it has resulted in the arbitrary -- we feel -- arrest of some leaders of the religious communities, particularly of those of the Evangelical order. But it really runs the entire gamut. There have been cases of torture reported of some believers. More broadly, religious gatherings, such as prayer groups and study groups, are often disrupted by local police. Groups are fined for holding any sort of religious activities. Their religious literature is often confiscated. Their places of worship are destroyed," Dailey said.

According to Dailey, the government is interested in promoting what it perceives as traditional Turkmen culture as the primary form of culture. As a result, the Sunni Muslim board and the Russian Orthodox Church do not escape government control. "The government controls religious activities inside the country through its Council for Religious Affairs. It's a state-appointed body, which has exclusive authority to hire, fire, promote, and pay any of the clerics operating inside of the country," Dailey said.

Many mosques lost their registrations and had to close down, as well as most Islamic schools. In the past, imams were educated in neighboring Uzbekistan, but that appears to have come to a halt. (RFE/RL)