23 December 2003
Turkmenistan Publishes Book On Alleged Attempt To Assassinate President Niyazov
18 December 2003
An official state publishing house in Turkmenistan has published a book on last year's alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov, AP reported.
Official newspapers said on 18 December that the author is a U.S. citizen who wrote it while in prison as one of the suspects. Authorities arrested the U.S. citizen, Leonid Komarovsky, after the purported attack on Niyazov in November 2002. They released him under U.S. pressure after he had spent almost five months in prison. The publishing house issued 1,000 copies of Komarovsky's book, which is called "The Terrorist Act in Ashgabat. The Truth About the Assassination Attempt on the Turkmen President on 25.11.02."
After leaving Turkmenistan following his release, Komarovsky said that he had written the book under duress while in custody and that Turkmen authorities staged the assassination attempt. (AP)
U.S. Releases Annual 'International Religious Freedom Report'
18 December 2003
The U.S. State Department on 18 December released its annual "International Religious Freedom Report 2003," which strongly criticizes several Asian, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern countries, AFP and Reuters reported the same day.
The six most grievous offenders highlighted by the report are Myanmar (or Burma), China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba -- all categorized as totalitarian or authoritarian regimes which see religion as a threat to state ideology.
A second batch of states -- while not deemed guilty of an authoritarian bid to silence religious freedom -- are accused of hostility to certain groups. That category includes Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran.
The report also cites Israel, Egypt, and Turkey for implementing "discriminatory legislations and policies" towards certain religions. (AFP, Reuters)
Rights Group Repeats Warnings On Abuses Linked To Antiterror Efforts
17 December 2003
A U.S.-based human rights group on 17 December said worldwide democracy and freedom have improved overall in the past year, but repeated warnings that antiterrorism efforts can lead to rights abuses, AFP reported the same day.
In its annual global review, Freedom House said the so-called war on terrorism has led to repression in certain countries, particularly in Central Asia, where efforts against terrorism are sometimes used to justify stifling dissent.
The group listed the countries that it said lack even the most basic rights, singling out as the worst offenders Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.
Freedom House noted that many of the countries with high levels of human rights are developing nations. The report stressed that democracy does not depend on development, and can instead drive development forward. (AFP)
Turkmen Ambassador To OSCE Claims People Are Moving To Salt Marshes Voluntarily
15 December 2003
During a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Council on 9 December, the U.S. and Italian ambassadors expressed their concern about the situation with ethnic minorities and observance of their rights in Turkmenistan and criticized the government for numerous violations in this sphere, centrasia.ru reported on 15 December.
In response, Turkmen Ambassador to the OSCE Vladimir Kadykov said: "Turkmen authorities pay particular attention to the issues of interethnic peace and harmony in the social development of our country. The problems, which arise in this sphere, are resolved on the highest political level. Unfortunately, outside the country the decisions of the Turkmen authorities with regards to these issues are not always understood correctly." Kadykov added: "For example, relocation of citizens from densely populated areas to unused and unpopulated lands was done voluntarily. In pursuit of this goal, people were given pieces of land and bank loans for building houses on advantageous conditions." "Complaints about forced relocation, including that of national minorities, are absolutely groundless," Kadykov concluded. (Centrasia.ru)
Turkmen Government Claims 20 Percent Growth
15 December 2003
The Turkmen National Institute of Statistics reported over 20 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in January-November of 2003, turkmenistan.ru reported on 15 December. As a whole, GDP in Turkmenistan for the past 11 months stood at 71.313 billion manats ($14.4 million), up 22.9 percent on the same period in 2002. In January-November of this year, electricity output was 9675.3m kilowatt-hours, or 2 percent up on the same period 2002.
Total gas extraction in the country stood at 52.75 billion cubic meters, or 11 percent up on the same period 2002. Gas exports were 38.9 billion cubic meters, increasing 10 percent. Oil production also increased to 9,028,700 tons, 9 percent up on last year. Oil processing increased by 20 percent, to 6,195,500 tons.
Turkmen government economic statistics are widely considered to be grossly inflated. (Turkmenistan.ru)
Pakistani Authorities Intend To Lay Railway Through Turkmenistan
15 December 2003
The president of state-owned Pakistani Railways, Aurangzeb Kann, said during a conference in Islamabad that by the end of 2005, Pakistani authorities intend to build a rail line through Turkmenistan, centran.ru reported on 15 December.
The railway will be laid through Afghanistan, in particular through the cities Kandahar and Herat. The rail connection between Turkmenistan and Pakistan is planned to facilitate the import of energy resources to Pakistan. (Centran.ru)
Turkmenistan Celebrates Flow Of Electricity Exported To Turkey
12 December 2003
Turkmenistan on 12 December celebrated the first transfer of electricity to Turkey, AP reported the same day.
The state-controlled information agency said the line will deliver 300 million kilowatts of electricity an hour at a cost of $10 million a year to Turkey via Iran. The agency said Turkmenistan is paying Iran $2 million a year in transit fees. Turkmenistan is also planning to export gas to Turkey and Iran. (AP)
Five Different Futures Await Five Central Asian States
19 December 2003
By Bruce Pannier
For more than a century now, many people have tended to view Central Asia regionally, speaking of the area with terms such as Russian Turkestan or Soviet Central Asia, or more recently as "the Stans."
But that image is quickly becoming too simplistic. As the events of 2003 illustrate, the five countries that make up Central Asia are traveling along increasingly divergent paths.
As the year started, the Turkmen government had just expelled Uzbekistan's ambassador, claiming he played a role in the alleged 25 November 2002 assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov.
Before the first week of the new year ended, several hundred Kyrgyz and Tajik citizens were fighting over travel rights in the southwestern Ferghana Valley, and Uzbekistan closed its 2,203-kilometer border with Kazakhstan, claiming the move was made to prevent poisoning from Kazakhstan's food products.
Alex Vatanka, editor of the London-based "Jane's Sentinel," says cooler relations are related partially to the personalities of the region's five presidents. Vatanka says it is the lack of democracy and focus on personal political survival that divides the five countries and limits the potential for growth. "One of the reasons why cooperation hasn't improved within the five states is that the region's five states are not run by democratically elected leaders. [You] have five individual strongmen in charge, five strongmen who are each [looking] to consolidate and extend their rule as opposed to the achievement of the long-term, strategic interests of their states," Vatanka said.
Business decisions also divide the five states.
Uzbekistan has the largest population in Central Asia; Kazakhstan the most land and the most oil. But Uzbekistan, despite its population, cannot help Kazakhstan's oil industry the way Russia can.
Laurent Ruseckas, the director of the emerging Europe and Eurasia department at the New York-based Eurasia Group, says Russia makes a natural partner for Kazakhstan. "From an economic point of view, I think it's pretty clear to the Kazakh government that their most important economic relationship in the region is with Russia," he said. "And so you're seeing that some of the ideas of a Central Asian partnership, of Central Asian economic cooperation, which were getting a little bit of play in terms of rhetoric a few years ago, have really faded from the scene."
Kazakhstan has registered an average of 10 percent GDP growth in the last three years, while Uzbekistan's population is becoming more impoverished. This resulted in Uzbek farmers and merchants taking their goods to Kazakhstan to sell at a higher price, and without paying taxes into Uzbekistan's state coffers. Many credited this fact, rather than fear of disease, as being the likely reason for the Uzbek government's closure of the border with Kazakhstan in early 2003.
The problems of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan illustrate a growing trend in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is becoming wealthy, which will in time lure citizens from the poorer, neighboring countries. And, as Kazakhstan seeks to expand its oil business it may well find relations with its Central Asian neighbors less important to its needs.
The same is already true of Turkmenistan, which has few ties to its Central Asian neighbors as it attempts to bring its oil and natural gas to international markets.
This process of division, while natural, has been hastened recently by growing attention from the outside world. After 11 September 2001, a new force, the United States, was firmly injected into Central Asia. The United States needed bases to strike at the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan embraced the opportunity of strengthen ties with the United States, and since then Tashkent has grown more and more distant from its neighbors.
Tajikistan, the Central Asian state most dependent on Russia, also allowed the U.S.-led coalition fighting terrorism in Afghanistan to use a base. Vatanka of "Jane's Sentinel" says that decision has brought about a change in Tajik-Russian relations. "The Tajiks now, in dealing with the Russians, speak in a more confident fashion. They demand certain things they wouldn't have done before," he said.
China also is exerting influence on the region. Vatanka notes that recently the Kyrgyz government added five groups to its list of terrorist organizations -- some of which until now have only been considered a threat by Beijing.
China is also involved in Kazakhstan's biggest oil-pipeline project. Ruseckas of Eurasia Group says it's an attractive partnership for both sides. China will get the oil it needs, and Kazakhstan will get the $9 billion it requires for building the pipeline. "China looks at oil and gas as very strategic commodities -- every country does. And for [China], Kazakhstan is an attractive potential source of oil that could come over land, which they see -- especially the Chinese military see -- as being less vulnerable to being cut off," Vatanka said.
The year 2003 is the first since independence in 1991 that there have been no bilateral meetings between any of the Central Asian presidents outside of a larger forum, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or CIS summit (both held at the end of May). Such bilateral meetings may have only a symbolic value, promoting an image of unity, but until now they have been regular features of life in independent Central Asia.
The region's security threats are gone for now. The Taliban have been ousted from power in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition continues to use several bases in Central Asia. And, as of October, a new Russian military base has been opened in Kyrgyzstan to go with the Russian base in Tajikistan.
Vatanka says it is lamentable that regional cooperation has taken a back seat to individual concerns. "It's a disappointment, because you would, as an outsider, say one thing that would really assist all the five states is integration first within the region. It's not a small part of the world. It's a good chunk of the Eurasian land mass and when you imagine them pooling their resources -- again, whether it's political or economic -- together that would make their voice stronger. And that's exactly what such a landlocked and historically out-of-the-way region needs," he said.
Vatanka says the situation in Central Asia will likely continue along the path evident in 2003. Any leaps forward in the region, Vatanka says, would come only if something major occurred. (RFE/RL)