14 January 2001
Memorial Day Marked
January 12, 2001
Turkmenistan marked the 120th anniversary of the battle at Gokdepe citadel. Thousands of civilians -- including women and children -- died this day in 1881 defending the citadel and in massacres committed by Russian Imperial forces led by General Skobelev. In 1990 President Niyazov issued a decree to turn January 12 into National Memorial Day, a concept originally tabled by the opposition movement Agzybirlik (Unity) in 1989. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
State Library of Turkmenistan to Close
January 12, 2001
Turkmenistan' s State Library, known in recent years as the Karl Marx Library, is to be liquidated, according to Avdy Kuliev, Turkmenistan's first Foreign Minister and head of the Moscow-based foundation "Turkmenistan". Founded in 1895 and possessing over 3 million books, some rare, the state library has represented a meeting place for several generations of students, academics, journalists and other writers. Kuliev has noted that stifled Turkmen intelligentsia see the decision to close the library, ordered by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, as in keeping with an earlier decision to close down Turkmenistan's Academy of Science. He opined that closing the library aims to ensure that it does not become a center for subversive thought and is part of a larger information policy designed to deprive the population of information, thereby controlling them more effectively. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Shikhmuradov Visits Tehran
January 11, 2001
In a visit to Tehran, Turkmenistan's special envoy for Caspian affairs, Boris Shikhmuradov, delivered a letter from Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami reportedly declaring that Ashgabat and Tehran' views are "identical" on the status of Caspian Sea. Shikhmuradov's Russian counterpart, Viktor Kalyuzhny, is slated to visit Tehran on January 13-14 as part of an effort to clear the path to meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of the littoral states in Tehran later this month, or early in February. Speaking in Baku on January 9 following a meeting with his Azeri counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "It would probably be worth holding a [presidential level] summit in late February or early March, following consultations among the leaders of all countries neighboring the Caspian," a view Haidar Aliyev supported. According an unconfirmed report published the same day in Turkmenistan.Ru the venue for the summit, a pet project of Niyazov, may be Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk). (Itar-Tass/ Interfax/ Turkmenistan.Ru)
Order of Merit for Top Enforcer
January 10, 2001
Mukhammet Nazarov, head of Turkmenistan's National Security Committee, has been awarded an order of merit ponderously entitled "For great love of independent Turkmenistan" by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. The order recognizes Nazarov's services in maintaining state security. (Turkmen Radio/ Neytralniy Turkmenistan)
Amu Darya Waters Tapped in Eastern Lebap
January 10, 2001
A new water distribution system outfitted with additional pumps to increase the flow of Amu Darya waters for irrigating cotton is being installed north of Farap district in eastern Lebap Province. The installation of the water pumps on an existing canal is slated to raise flows to 6 cubic meters per second, but will further reduce the flow into the Aral Sea. (Turkmen TV)
Putin, Aliyev and the Caspian
January 9, 2001
Visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Haidar Aliyev signed a joint statement on the status of the Caspian Sea and a joint political communique entitled "The Baku Declaration". On the Caspian, the sides pledged to use the body of water "exclusively for peaceful purposes" and resolve all problems relating to it "by peaceful means." "Russia and Azerbaijan reiterated that the development of a new legal status for the Caspian is the business of the Caspian-neighboring states themselves and that this status can be worked out only on the basis of their common consent," the statement reads. Due to existing disagreements between the littoral states, "Initially, the Caspian seafloor could be divided into sectors/zones among corresponding neighboring and oppositely-located states, on the principle of a median line drawn at equal distance from the sides and modified at their mutual consent, taking into account universal principles of international law and existing practice on the Caspian." The Baku Declaration, meanwhile says that Russia and the Azerbaijan are determined to bring bilateral relations to a new and higher level of strategic partnership based on principles of mutual respect and state sovereignty. Russia and Azerbaijan favor a political settlement of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict on the basis of corresponding resolutions of the UN Security Council and OSCE decisions. (Interfax)
Big Changes at Turkmen State Investment Agency
January 9, 2001
In line with a resolution signed by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, the State Agency on Foreign Investments Under the President of Turkmenistan has been renamed the State Service on Foreign Investments under the President of Turkmenistan. (Turkmen TV)
Turkmen Gas Production in 2000
January 9, 2001
Turkmenistan produced 47 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas in 2000, up 100% from 22.8 bcm in 1999, according to Turkmenistan.ru. Sources at Petroleum Industry and Mineral Resources Ministry reported gas exports of 30 bcm within the CIS against 8.5 bcm the year prior. Russian gas giant Gazprom bought 20 bcm in 2000; Neftegaz-Ukraine - 3 bcm meters; and ITERA - 6.2 billion bcm, reportedly. Allegedly due to supply problems, exports to Iran remained anemic at 2 bcm last year. (Turkmenistan.ru/ Interfax)
Amnesty International Expresses Concern for Nurmamedov
January 8, 2001
Amnesty International released a statement criticizing police surveillance of Turkmen opposition leader Nurberdi Nurmamedov. The statementsays Nurmamedov is at his home in Ashgabat after being released from prison on December 23 as part of a sweeping presidential amnesty given on the occasion of the Islamic holy night of Kadr, but remains under strict police surveillance. Nurmamedov is co-chairman of the opposition movement Agzybirlik. Amnesty International said it believes Nurmamedov was jailed for his peaceful opposition activities and outspoken criticism of the Turkmen president. (RFE/RL, Amnesty International release)
Gas Pipeline Construction Underway
January 8, 2001
Lebapneftegazstroy, Lebap oil and gas construction, has begun work on the 40 km Bagaja-Osty gas pipeline. The pipeline will deliver gas to the gas distribution network of Farap district on the Turkmen-Uzbek border from the high pressure Bagaja-Zerger gas line. This is part of larger effort to supply gas to the right bank areas of Lebap province.(Turkmen State News Service)
Amnesty Fails to Free Religious Prisoners
January 5, 2001
An amnesty which last month freed nearly two-thirds of Turkmenistan's prison population did not bring about the release of five known to religious rights groups that have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs. The five known religious prisoners held on what are believed to be trumped up charges includes on Baptist, Shagildy Atakov and four Jehova's Witnesses, Yazmammed Annamammedov, Guvanch Ashirov,, Igor Nazarov, and Nuryagdy Gaiyrov. In addition to these five known prisoners, there are a number of believers who have been subjected to internal deportation. (Keston News Service)
Niyazov Meets With Calik
January 5, 2001
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Ahmet Calik, who represents Turkmenistan in supplying energy and cotton on the Turkish market. Calik , an ethnic Turkmen and citizen of Turkey, is in the textile industry. (Turkmen State News Service)
Turkmen Opposition Leader Freed but Remains a Kept Man
January 11, 2001
By Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL
A leading Turkmen opposition figure, Nurberdi Nurmamedov, has been released from prison but remains under police surveillance in his Ashgabat home.
The co-chairman of the unregistered Agzybirlik opposition party was jailed last year on charges of "hooliganism with intent to commit murder." He was freed last month under a general amnesty extended to thousands of prisoners across the country on the occasion of the holy Islamic night of Kadr (eds: last night of Ramadan).
Amnesty International, in statement this week, however says Nurmamedov's release came at a high price to his personal integrity. Amnesty's Anna Sunder-Plassman tells RFE/RL:
"This was not an unconditional release. He (Nurmamedov) had to repent on state TV. He had to confess his guilt and swear an oath of loyalty to the president."
International human rights and press freedom organizations have frequently criticized the Turkmen government for its repression of opposition figures and restrictions on speech not approved by the state.
Turkmenistan has one officially registered political party: that of President Saparmurat Niyazov. Critics of the government face severe retribution.
Amnesty International said in its statement that the organization believes "Nurmamedov was imprisoned solely because of his peaceful opposition activities and his open criticism of the Turkmen president."
Sunder-Plassman says Nurmamedov's criticism of the Turkmen parliament naming Niyazov "president for life" in 1999 was apparently the excuse Turkmen authorities had been seeking to jail him:
"Nurmamedov is a well-known opposition figure in Turkmenistan. He was one of the very few to openly criticize President Niyazov's policies. And shortly after Nurmamedov had criticized Niyazov's appointment to president for life in December 1999, he was arrested and sentenced -- at a trial that did not meet international fair trial standards -- to five years imprisonment."
Nurmamedov's son Murad faced charges of hooliganism also. Sunder-Plassman says the reason for the younger Nurmamedov's trial is obvious:
"[Nurmamedov's] son Murad was also put on trial in order to punish him for the opposition activities of his father and ... to put pressure on his father."
Nurmamedov remains under what Amnesty International calls "strict police surveillance." But Sunder-Plassman says his case is not unique:
"This case is certainly not an exception. We have a number of concerns in Turkmenistan. The opposition inside the country has nearly been silenced and most active members of the political opposition are in exile, face harassment (in Turkmenistan) or are imprisoned in Turkmenistan."
Sunder-Plassman says religious persecution is continuing as well:
"Many supporters of religious minority groups face persecution. The last Christian missionaries were deported from Turkmenistan last year. None of the religious prisoners fell under the latest presidential amnesty."
Nurmamedov has signed a statement in which he promises not to leave Ashgabat. He will join a small but growing number of political and religious opposition figures who, in effect, are in internal exile. They did not flee Turkmenistan when they had a chance and to ensure their silence the Turkmen government seems now to prefer keeping them in the country.
Security for Caucasia and Central Asia: Russian Factor
January 11, 2001
By Nadir Devlet for RFE/RL
The former Soviet republics have understood that political independence alone does not always lead to prosperity. This is especially true for the Muslim republics of the CIS which, like the others, inherited serious economic and social problems from the past and were not able to solve most of them. At the same time, they face new problems like security. In the past, such security issues were not a concern because they were protected from possible foreign aggression by the powerful Soviet military. Now, their security problems have taught them that "Big Brother" still has a lot of say.
Unfortunately, it is not possible in the Central Asian republics to guage public opinion by conducting a public inquiry. So we don't know exactly how the people feel or what their needs are. If we rely just on official figures they will lead us to miscalculations. It is correct that in some of these countries there are opposition groups and parties but their political bases are weak. So, they are not able to voice the demands of the people effectively. That means we start to recognize problems only when such problems create a disruption in the society.
When we examine all six Muslim republics in the CIS, their economic problem is the most striking one. But we also must not forget their security problems, which could be examined as internal and external security issues. One of the most problematic regions in the CIS is Caucasia, and ethnic conflicts are the main problems, which have been inherited there from the Soviet period. Abkhaz and Ossetian separatist movements in Georgia, Armenia's occupying territories of Azerbaijan, and Turkey's policy of isolating Armenia have all created economic and security problems for these countries.
Approximately 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, most of it consisting of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has been occupied by Armenians and some one million Azeris have become refugees, with no homes, healthcare, education or jobs. Seven years have passed but the conflict has so far defied solution. Azeri President Haidar Aliyev has told his citizens that they cannot solve this problem by using force because the Armenians, with backing from Russia and the Armenia diaspora, are more powerful. When Russian President Putin visited Azerbaijan officially on January 10, 2001, he told Aliyev that Russia is ready to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict "without victors or vanquished." Certainly the cost for a such mediation will be high. Maybe Azerbaijan will give up her dream of a Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which is supposed to bring Azerbaijan some prosperity because it would enable Baku to export her oil wealth to western markets without interference from Russia.
Another future trouble spot is Central Asia. Three republics, namely Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, have sufficient natural resources. The first two have relatively small populations and therefore could become wealthy states if their economies were run according to free market rules. The most problematic Central Asian republics are Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In his New Year address, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov contended that his country's economy experienced a 17% growth in 2000, among the world's highest economic growth rates. According to him, per capita production in 1995 was USD 1,075 and by 1999 had reached USD 2,300, in other words it has doubled. But there are some questions to be asked, first whether this statement is correct and second, if so, what percent of this wealth has been distributed among ordinary Turkmens. It seems even President Saparmurat Niyazov is trying to show his ability in dealing with the economy. But Ashghabat has little possibility of exporting her gas to foreign markets other than Russia and Ukraine, which do not pay well.
The other Central Asian leaders, Presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, Imomali Rahmanov of Tajikistan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, met on January 5-6 in Almaty for a summit of the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC), a Russian approved subgroup within the CIS. Vyacheslav Trubinov, Russia's first deputy minister of foreign affairs and special envoy for CIS affairs, represented President Vladimir Putin. Certainly not only economic but security issues were discussed in this summit. Karimov's main concern is Islamic militants and he said that Central Asian states and Russia are making joint efforts to prevent a possible incursion into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to Karimov, they cannot calmly wait for the spring and summer of this year when, the militants will have accumulated forces and received aid from radical groups on the territories of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other states. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, like Karimov, declined to criticize Afghanistan's Taliban authorities as a source of threat to Central Asia. Tajikistan's President Rahmonov also shares these ideas and threatened to veto Pakistan's request to join the Shanghai Forum for regional security, whose members are Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and China. (Uzbekistan last year became an observer to the Shanghai Forum.) With the exception of Tajikistan, the Forum's Central Asian member countries consider that Pakistan's admission could promote a political solution to the Afghan war.
In short, after decade of independence, all the rulers of Central Asia and the Caucasus region are still relaying their economic and security issues to Russia, which shows their insufficiency almost in every field of political life.
Putin, On Baku Visit, Tries to Overcome Years of Mistrust
January 9, 2001
By Jean-Christophe Peuch
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived today (Tuesday) in Azerbaijan on a landmark two-day state visit to the oil-rich former Soviet republic.
Talks between Putin and Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev were to include a wide range of political, security and economic issues, notably cooperation in the energy sector, economic borders in the Caspian Sea, and Azerbaijan's conflict with Armenia. The two leaders today signed a joint document, the Baku Declaration, which Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Velayat Gluey says will define the general trends of cooperation for the next 10 years.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reports that by signing the document, both presidents agree "to bring relations between Russia and Azerbaijan to a higher level of strategic cooperation." No other details were available.
In statements today, both presidents noted the importance of good
bilateral relations. Putin said:
"We attach great importance to the development of our relations with Azerbaijan and it seems to me that we have every opportunity [to develop these relations]. With the agreement of the president of Azerbaijan, we can open a new chapter in the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan."
"We've found mutual agreement on all questions that we discussed [today] and this brings me great satisfaction as an important result of the Russian president's visit."
Putin's state visit -- the first of a Russian president since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- is widely seen as an attempt to restore confidence between the two countries after years of mutual mistrust.
Putin's foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said today that both countries understand the diplomatic pause in contacts was a mistake.
Azerbaijan looks at Russia with suspicion. Officials say Moscow is the main obstacle to stability in the region and supplied arms and ammunition to Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave between 1993 and 1996. Aliyev has accused Moscow of backing repeated attempts by his political opponents to overthrow his regime.
Russia denies the charges and accuses Azerbaijan of drifting toward NATO and the West. Moscow also sees the GUUAM -- an economic forum that groups Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- as an attempt to undermine the CIS.
Talking to reporters ahead of Putin's arrival, Guliyev said the Nagorno-Karabakh issue will be one of the key issues on the presidents' agenda. Along with the United States and France, Russia co-chairs the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) set up to help negotiate a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Guliyev says Russia, as co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, is able to influence processes in the region and also has more chance to influence Armenia than other states.
More than 30,000 people died in the armed conflict that erupted after the mainly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh enclave tried to break away from Azerbaijan in 1988. Despite a cease-fire signed in 1994, peace talks are at a stalemate and Armenian forces still occupy an estimated 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory.
Putin and Aliyev are also expected to discuss security issues. Among those accompanying the Russian president are Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, and the commander-in-chief of Russia's border guards, Konstantin Totsky.
The presence of Viktor Kazantsev, Putin's representative in the Northern Caucasus, suggests that both presidents will also discuss the situation in Chechnya. Russia has repeatedly accused Azerbaijan of supplying aid to the Chechen separatists.
Putin and Aliyev are also expected to discuss the future of the Russian-manned Gabala radar station, Moscow's only remaining military facility in Azerbaijan. But officials from both countries say that no agreement on this issue will be signed during the visit.
Also high on Putin's agenda is bilateral economic cooperation.
Russia's leading private oil company Lukoil and Azerbaijan's SOCAR state oil company today (Tuesday) signed a 250-million-dollar contract to develop a partially offshore block comprising the Govsany and Zykh deposits in the southern part of the Apsheron peninsula.
The block, which has been producing oil for more than 30 years, has estimated reserves of 20 million tons.
Although Lukoil is a member of an international consortium set up in 1994 to develop three major offshore oil fields, Russia has been overshadowed by the U.S., Turkey, Japan, and France in the development of Azerbaijan's vast hydrocarbon resources.
Russia and Azerbaijan are also at odds over a projected oil pipeline linking Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The 1,700-km long line would deprive Moscow of substantial profits in transit fees.
Baku-Ceyhan is a direct threat to an already existing pipeline running from Baku to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk and known as the "Northern route."
Speculation over the future of Baku-Ceyhan has been raised recently in Turkey after two Washington-based research groups reportedly close to U.S. President-elect George W. Bush openly criticized the project.
Moscow is also opposed to a projected underwater pipeline that would ship natural gas from Turkmenistan to Turkey, through Azerbaijan.
Nine years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Caspian legal status remains undefined and is still regulated by two treaties signed in 1921 and 1940 between Iran and the Soviet Union.
The five riparian states -- Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran -- have been unable to agree on a way to divide the sea waters and hydrocarbon resources.
Russia and Azerbaijan strongly disagree over Moscow's proposal of
dividing only the seabed into national sectors.
Azerbaijan is facing growing pressure from Russia to side with Moscow's dividing formula, while Iran -- which wants not only the Caspian seabed but also its waters to be evenly divided into national sectors -- exerts similar pressure on Baku from the south.
Both Iran and Russia have been using natural gas and electricity supplies as a means to force Baku's hand.
Meeting last month with Viktor Kalyuzhny, Russia's special envoy to the Caspian Sea region, Aliyev expressed hopes that Putin's visit would end up with the two countries clarifying their positions on this issue.
Both presidents agreed today that the Caspian legal dispute should be solved only on a consensual basis by all five bordering states, but apparently failed to reach a more comprehensive agreement on the issue.
Putin's state visit is being scrutinized in Georgia. In an interview with Russia's Interfax news agency, Georgian Foreign Minister Iralki Menagarishvili said future relations between Russia and all three southern Caucasus states will, to a great extent, depend on the outcome of Putin's talks with Aliyev.