5 August 2002
Turkmen President Issues Book Of Poetry
3 August 2002
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has published a collection of his poems entitled "May Blessed Be My People," ITAR-TASS reported on 3 August.
In the foreword to the book, Niyazov dedicates the collection to all previous generations of Turkmen who have sought to advance their people's culture." He writes that his poems are for "the many generations who have for the past 5,000 years carried through space and time the noble mission of a people born by light and for the sake of light."
Opposition critics of Niyazov have frequently charged him with attempting to foster a personality cult around his leadership.
His previous literary works have included a long poem called "White Wheat," dedicated to Turkmenistan's harvest. The poem has been widely circulated, and the Turkmen state-run media have declared it a masterpiece. State-run television has offered to pay an unspecified sum to whomever composes music suitable to accompany Niyazov's work. (ITAR-TASS, RFE/RL)
Niyazov Appoints New Press Secretary
3 August 2002
President Niyazov has dismissed his press secretary, Kakamurad Ballyev, for shortcomings in his work, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 August. Ballyev has been appointed editor in chief of the local "Esger" (Warrior) newspaper.
Akmurat Khoudaiberdiev, deputy chairman of the Coordinating Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting under the Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers, became Niyazov's new press secretary.
Both Ballyev and Khoudaiberdiev will be relieved of their duties without provision of other new jobs if they fail to pass a six-month probation period. (ITAR-TASS)
Women Demonstrate In Ashgabat
2 August 2002
Some 200 Turkmen women from the capital and nearby districts gathered in the center of Ashgabat on the square opposite the presidential palace on the morning of 1 August, Gundogar reported on the next day, citing a local employee of a CIS-member embassy.
The women were protesting the policies of the Turkmen authorities, which have brought their families to the edge of poverty and hopelessness. The demonstrators were hoping that someone from the presidential staff or the Cabinet of Ministers would come down and listen to their urgent problems and demands.
Instead of speaking with the protesters, Turkmen authorities responded with brutal force. A group of policemen and men in civilian clothes more than three times as numerous rushed out to the square. The protesters were encircled and then forcibly dragged into buses which had been waiting for them in advance. Within 10 minutes the square was empty. The buses took the women to an undisclosed destination. (Gundogar)
Presidents Of Caspian States Likely To Meet Next Year
31 July 2002
The presidents of the states on the Caspian Sea could meet for a summit in Tehran next year, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 July, citing informed sources in Moscow.
Iran proposed the summit at a meeting in Tehran of deputy foreign ministers of a special working group for drafting a convention on the status of the Caspian Sea. The working group planned its next meeting in Azerbaijan's capital Baku in November.
The sources said, "it is very important that the five-party process is continuing", referring to consultations of the five Caspian states: Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. (ITAR-TASS)
Asian Development Bank To Fund Trans-Afghan Pipeline
30 July 2002
Following talks in Ashgabat, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has formally agreed to participate in funding the planned gas-export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported on 30 July.
The bank has sent letters to the chiefs of the Turkmen, Afghan, and Pakistani oil-and-gas industries, saying that the bank has decided to start developing a feasibility study for the project and to plan all necessary financial and other resources, an official in the international division of the Turkmen presidential headquarters said. ADB Vice Presidents Joseph B. Eichenberger and Myong-Ho Shin signed the letter.
The letter also confirms the bank's readiness to start close cooperation with all countries involved in the project and other potential international partners.
The bank will be the fourth participant in the project, the first three being the Turkmen, Pakistani, and Afghan governments. It will appropriate a grant for development of the project's feasibility study. (Interfax, Turkmenistan.ru)
Two Turkmen Officials Fired In University-Admission Scandal
30 July 2002
At a government session on 29 July, President Niyazov dismissed the chairman of the Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting, Kakadjan Ashirov, and the rector of the Institute of Culture, Yazmurat Chopanov, turkmenistan.ru reported the following day.
Ashirov had reportedly presented Chopanov with a list of "privileged" applicants who were supposed to be admitted to the institute. Culture Minister Orazgeldy Aygogdyev, who reportedly knew of but failed to intervene in the attempt to circumvent normal admission procedures, was fined three monthly salaries.
Niyazov proposed that the upcoming session of the People's Council propose new procedures for selecting reliable and uncorrupt officials. (Turkmenistan.ru)
Niyazov Denounces Embezzlement On Railways
30 July 2002
Speaking on national television on 29 July, Saparmurat Niyazov said millions of dollars allocated each year for developing the rail sector are embezzled, Interfax reported the following day. "Enormous resources are being put into the railways, which are still operating at a loss. Cargoes are stolen, trains are overcrowded, and revenues are at zero," he said.
He said law-enforcement agencies are currently investigating the misappropriation of $1.8 million of the $4.5 million allocated to buy new engines for Turkmen Railways. Investigators have established, said Niyazov, that old engines, which had been used for eight to 14 years and which cost from $800,000 to $900,000, were bought for $1.5 million each. Moreover, an attempt was made to smuggle 60 tons of diesel fuel from Uzbekistan.
Niyazov dismissed state railways Director Batyr Sardjaev, and named Deputy Prime Minister Berdymurat Redjepov to succeed him. A former state railways director died under mysterious circumstances a year ago amid similar allegations of embezzlement. The head of the state customs service, Oraz Velliataev, was also sacked and replaced by member of parliament Aleksandr Grishin.
Dismissals and shuffling of government positions are a regular feature in Turkmenistan, particularly during the summer when parliament usually meets to discuss the year's harvest and progress in meeting other economic goals. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Interfax)
Personality Cults In Central Asia Often Take Cultural Identity Too Far
30 July 2002
By Adolat Najimova
The presence of a leader with a strong personality can help a country realize its identity as it struggles with the challenges of independence, such as Mohandas Gandhi in India during the 1940s.
But analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say that Central Asia's leaders often use their strong personalities solely to enhance their political control.
Turkmenistan is a good example. President Saparmurat Niyazov has declared himself to be Turkmenbashi -- literally "the Turkmens' head." A colossal golden statue of "Turkmenbashi" sits on a motorized pedestal in the capital, Ashgabat, making him appear to summon the sun at dawn and bid it farewell at dusk.
Niyazov also has written a long poem called "White Wheat," dedicated to Turkmenistan's harvest. In it, he describes the wheat as "the creation and inspiration of the Turkmen heart, honor for the farmer, and glory for the state."
The poem has been widely circulated, and the Turkmen media have declared it a masterpiece. State-run television is also offering to pay an unspecified sum to whoever composes music suitable to accompany Niyazov's work. The competition was announced by Gulnabat Ovezova on a recent broadcast of "Vatan," (Motherland), the daily television news program in Turkmenistan: "We are sure that the poem written by our beloved and caring leader Turkmenbashi will find a proper place among the poetic heritage. Today, the government announced a competition among composers for the best music for the poem. According to the rules of the competition, the winner will receive a big award."
A similar personality cult exists in Uzbekistan. Students are tested on their knowledge of books authored by President Islam Karimov. Almost everyone in public life, from members of parliament to university professors, liberally quote the Uzbek leader, beginning their sentences by saying, "As our respected president has said...."
In Kazakhstan, too, the political elite regularly flatters President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Several members of parliament recently tried to nominate Nazarbaev for a Nobel Prize but could not garner a majority of legislators to vote in favor of the initiative.
Supporters of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov fared no better in trying to nominate him for the Nobel Prize in April 2001. But in 1998, the Tajik parliament adopted a law limiting the use of the word "president" to the country's head of state, meaning the heads of companies and other organizations in Tajikistan had to change their titles to "chairman" or "executive."
But that effort failed, too. The law was annulled because of local and international criticism.
Despite the sometimes farcical nature of these cults of personality, analysts say the objects of these cults are serious about maintaining and enhancing their power. And they say it is not surprising that such personality cults would develop in a region like Central Asia.
Ian Bremmer is the president of the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting organization in New York that specializes in Central Asia and the Caspian region. He said personality cults are frequently permitted by a people as they work to establish their cultural identities, particularly after long periods of colonization. "When you have no history of institutions, you try to invest a sense of legitimacy and try to create a sense of tradition, statehood, and strength with the most visible components of the new state you have. And the obvious thing you can do [about] that is to, not deify, but certainly to raise your leader up beyond what would be expected of democratic institutions," Bremmer said.
Martha Olcott agrees. She specializes in Central Asian issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an independent policy research center in Washington, D.C. But she said she believes the personality cults in Central Asia are more political than cultural. "They certainly did not [legitimize] themselves by creating a competitive political system. So what they chose to do to legitimate themselves was to reinterpret the cultures of the countries in order to make it seem more natural that there were very strong leaders at the top," Olcott said.
Olcott said another reason that personality cults thrive in Central Asia is that during Soviet times, people tended to live double lives, publicly pretending to revere their communist leaders while privately adhering to their pre-communist cultures.
Personality cults are not necessarily permanent. Bremmer said people in countries where personality cults have been constructed around their leaders eventually become aware of the outside world.
Bremmer believes that political change often occurs after a country is exposed to other cultures and methods of government. He said the countries of Central Asia face this eventuality. "To the extent these countries modernize economically and continue to have more contact with the outside world, I think they'll find it more and more difficult to retain these remnants of glorification of local leaders," Bremmer said.
Bremmer said this is happening now in Uzbekistan. He noted the presence of U.S. troops in support of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, and that the government in Tashkent has permitted the activities of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, that promote health, women's issues, and environmental matters. "And I think you're already seeing that, even in Uzbekistan in the past six months, once you had U.S. bases there, and you had lots of Americans coming in and out and spending more time in Uzbekistan, you also see an increase in NGOs. And you see an expansion and diffusion of information from the outside world, and that requires the Uzbek government to respond in some way," Bremmer said.
Olcott disagrees. She said the outside world -- in this case, the United States -- must want to influence the Uzbeks and other Central Asians. For now, she said, the American government seems reluctant to get involved in local politics. "I think the U.S. has the capacity to change the situation in Central Asia. At least it has the capacity to try to change the situation in Central Asia, and it might find itself leaving in frustration if it did. But I don't think that the U.S. is really trying to affect the political environment in these countries in any way that was likely to be effective," Olcott said.
Still, Olcott said she does not expect the personality cults to last indefinitely. And Bremmer said he believes they will fade once the countries in the region become more comfortable with the rule of law. But he stressed that establishing the rule of law will, in itself, be a difficult process. (RFE/RL)