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Turkmen Report: February 19, 2001

19 February 2001
Niyazov Has No Desire For Hereditary Succession

17 February 2001

On 15 February 2001, at a meeting with foreign ambassadors, Turkmen President S. Niyazov made a long speech in the Russian language.

At the meeting he said "...beginning in 2008 we plan to implement the system of president�s and regional governors� elections [in Turkmenistan].... There will be limitations for president�s candidates. Not anyone under the guise of democracy, but a person who has worked for a minimum five years at the leading government position and whom people know and value...[can be a candidate]. And let people vote for him. He should be the checked person.... We cannot work with the personnel the other way. Let the checked persons be the governors....All the leaders, except president and regional governors, will be elected. The fact [is] that the regional governors will be appointed until we turn to the mark..."

Once the bill concerning leadership, to be debated by the People's Council on 18 February, is enacted, leaders at various levels will be elected. At the first stage, this will not apply to regional governors or president, Niyazov said. He also stated that "...we will issue a special law in 2008 about the elections in 2010 and allow all [the people] even today to gain points, anyone who wants. I have neither relative, nor hereditary wishes. Not even possibilities I don�t have in this matter. Turkmenistan is lucky in this matter."

Nevertheless, he pointed out that "...there is no fear, but [there should be] state stability. And then we will make minimum 2-3 alternative [candidates], but they have to be approved by the regional people. Not anyone who collects ten signatures and says 'I go for president!'...I have experienced all those moments when the USSR people�s deputies were elected..."

Turkmenistan does not intend to issue statements regarding the status of the Caspian Sea before the beginning of the 8-9 March summit of the five littoral countries in Turkmenbashi, Niyazov also told the heads of foreign missions accredited in Turkmenistan.

"Nothing serious will be before the heads of the states get together, discuss the issue, and exchange their opinions," Niyazov said. No categorical statements will be made before the summit.

Niyazov went on to say he had given instructions to mostly "listen and refrain from [making] any statements" to the Turkmen delegation to a meeting of the mixed working group on the Caspian's status in Tehran on 21-22 February at the deputy foreign ministers level.

In his opinion, he said, this most important subject should be discussed at the highest level. "If possible, we will work out a common position taking the views into consideration," he said.

Niyazov also said that the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Russia have confirmed their participation in the summit next month. Several bilateral meetings and talks are expected upon the delegations' arrivals on 8 March. The major meeting will take place on 9 February behind closed doors, Niyazov said.

Considering the turn of Turkmen economics to market relations, S. Niyazov said that the turn to market relations is determined not by time, but by society�s consciousness and need. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

President For Restrictions For Presidential Nominees

15 February 2001

[Presenter] Today President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Niyazov met the foreign diplomats accredited in our country.

[Niyazov shown sitting in his office, addressing diplomats] "Dear ambassadors, I sincerely greet you and express my deep respect to you."

[Passage omitted: praises the diplomats; on Turkmenistan's neutral status; a session of the People's Council will be held on 18 February]

"Now, in line with the principle of the freedom of the individual, and in line with other democratic principles, we are going to set up a national movement for building a golden age of the Turkmens. This movement will be based on pure spiritual devotion and will deploy the existing spiritual wealth, without harming other nations, irrespective of their location -- in the north, south, east, or west."

[Passage omitted: Turkmenistan cannot separate itself from other cultures; does not want a leading role in the region; the Turkmens should revive their culture and traditions; the People's Council's is a representative body]

"It [the People's Council] is a body which involves all the strata of Turkmen society, and I do not consider it a party for it includes elected representatives of the elders, young people and women, top officials and members of parliament, and farmers.

"At the session of the People's Council we, of course, will insist on the rotation of officials, starting from the president and down to district heads and will discuss mechanisms of the rotation.

"It is necessary to ensure that elections are held on the alternative basis, but not by party lists. We have been convinced that in many countries party lists are used just to cover secret lists. Therefore, let's make everything open.

"Please, parties choose your nominees via direct voting and they should run in single-seat electoral districts. This is fair and people should know everything.

"We will introduce restrictions only for presidential nominees so that any accidental person could not come here under the cover of democracy. It should be a person with not less than five years of leadership experience and the people should know him well and respect him highly and vote for him. It is required that he be thoroughly tested. We cannot do otherwise."

[Passage omitted: market economy can promote democracy; the forthcoming Caspian summit should determine the legal status of the sea; Afghanistan needs peace and assistance instead of sanctions; diplomats shown congratulating Niyazov on his birthday; Niyazov thanks them and speaks about relations with other countries; Niyazov thanks the Ukrainian envoy for his country's military assistance]

"I thank you Vadim [Chuprun, the Ukrainian ambassador], you are providing good assistance to Turkmenistan in the military sphere. Currently some 30 fighters are protecting Turkmenistan's airspace and of these 18 are MiG-25 and 12 are SU-29, the most modern aircraft, and all are piloted by Turkmen lads. On the 10th anniversary [of Turkmen independence, on 27 October 2001] we will demonstrate all 30 aircraft and our lads will show their skills. Here we have some more plans and more attention will be paid to defense. So I thank you for the assistance. I do not make any secret of the fact that we are going to open a center in the near future. This flight control center will allow the commander-in-chief to control all the regional military structures directly from Ashgabat." (Turkmen TV)

Turkmen Electricity To Reach Turkey In April

16 February 2001

The Ministry of Power Engineering and Industry told a correspondent that the conditions would be created for exporting electricity from Turkmenistan via Iran to Turkey this April.

In the meantime, there are plans to complete construction on the Turkmen-Iranian 400-volt power transmission line from Nebit-Dag to Aliabad, which has been going on for three years. The electricity will continue its journey via the Iranian power system to the Iranian-Turkish border. The overall length of the Turkmen-Turkish link between Nebit-Dag and Diyarbakir is 642 km. It is now being tested in two-way mode.

During the first phase, around 300 million kWh of electricity are expected to be delivered to Turkey a year, but by 2010 the supply will go up to 7 billion kWh.

Last year, Turkmenistan generated 9.8 billion kWh of electricity -- 12 percent up on 1999. Of this, 800 million kWh were exported, mainly to Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. (

Turkmen President Announces Gas Deal With Russia

16 February 2001

[Presenter] Today, on the threshold of state Flag Day [19 February], which coincides with the birthday of the president [Saparmurat Niyazov] of Turkmenistan, members of the government, leading members of the Mejlis [parliament], heads of ministries and directorates and representatives of public organizations and foreign firms operating in Turkmenistan came to congratulate Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Niyazov.

[Niyazov shown addressing those present in Turkmen] "Dear people, we are starting our festivities and in two days' time we will have our national holiday, the state flag holiday. I sincerely congratulate everybody on this occasion!"

[Passage omitted: more issues to be discussed at the session of People's Council on 18 February]

"But here I have some profitable news for Turkmenistan. Right here, in your presence, we will sign a deal [changes tack]. Yesterday evening we had talks with Russia on the sale of another 10bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas to them, so we shall sign this deal here. Thank you."

[Applause; Niyazov continues in Russian] I think it will be a good thing to sign the contract right now so that everybody here can witness this deal.

"So you are signing a deal on the purchase of 10bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas for the nearest future. As soon as this term expires, you can come back and purchase more gas. We are always happy to offer more.

"It is a very good thing that we have signed this deal, a very important one both for Russia and Turkmenistan. Actually, this is a contract for the sale of 10bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas at a price of $40 per 1,000 cubic meters, and the total cost of $400m will be paid 50 percent in cash and the rest in kind. The signing of such a contract of course deserves more applause. Thank you.

"We shall be opening the gas flow from the very moment the deal is signed.

"The Ukrainian minister of oil and gas is represented here [by Vadim Kopylov, the deputy fuel and energy minister]. They, the Ukrainians, are already getting 30bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas."

[Niyazov switches into Turkmen] "This year we shall sell 30bn cubic meters of gas to Ukraine at a total cost of $1.2bn and we just have signed a deal on the sale of 10bn cubic meters to Russia, which makes $600m [as heard]. Our exports to Iran are worth about $320m. So this year we shall be selling gas worth about $2bn. Of course, we hope that Russians will make more purchases."

[Passage omitted: Russia needs Turkmen gas]

"In addition to this, it will be quite fine thing if this year we can harvest two million tons of wheat and two million tons of cotton and increase livestock to 15m head. This will make us confident about food security in Turkmenistan and about real economic achievements in the country.

"Our GDP growth was 17 percent in January of this year and now it is a task of utmost responsibility for managers at all levels to maintain this rate over the coming months. We should ensure that Turkmenistan's GDP in 2001 will be no less than 17.6 percent, the level achieved in 2000. Oil extraction in 2000 was seven million tons and this year we must increase it to ten million tons and we will provide every kind of assistance to bring this about."

[Passage omitted to end: Niyazov will speak in more detail about all this on 18 February, at the state council session; Niyazov expresses thanks to everybody] (Turkmen TV)

Neftegaz Ukrainy Plans To Be Long-Term Buyer Of Turkmen Gas

16 February 2001

The Neftegaz Ukrainy is getting ready to become a long-term buyer of Turkmen natural gas, company chief Vadim Kopylov said after meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on Friday.

Ukraine strictly abides by the contract terms, Kopylov said. This year 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas are expected to be supplied to Ukraine. Neftegaz Ukrainy makes weekly advance payments for gas in hard currency. Half of the gas payments are done in hard currency, and half is supplied in commodities. The overall cost of the contract is $1.2 million.

The company chief offered Ukrainian supplies of machinery to Turkmen gas and oil extractors. He said some of the projects would be included in an interstate accord about long-term economic cooperation, which was being drafted for the Ukrainian visit of Saparmurat Niyazov. (Itar-Tass)

Niyazov: Caspian Summit To Be Held Behind Closed Doors

15 February 2001

The summit will focus on the Caspian Sea's status and last for three hours, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told foreign diplomats on Thursday.

The summit will take place in the port of Turkmenbashi. Niyazov will welcome high-ranking guests on 8 March, when they are expected to hold several bilateral meetings.

Niyazov has not made any political statements ahead of the summit and only stressed the need to exchange views and determine priorities in working out a concept on the sea's status.

The Turkmen president also praised the session of the working group on the Caspian settlement to be held on 20-21 February. Deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian states will gather in Tehran. This meeting will facilitate the preparation of the agenda of the Caspian summit, the president stressed. (Itar-Tass)

Tender On Bezmein Power Station Renovation Announced

14 February 2001

The Ministry of Power Engineering and Industry of Turkmenistan has announced an international tender on the renovation of the Bezmein state district power station supplying electric power to the capital Ashgabat and the largest velayat (regions), Akhal. On offer to potential participants is the installation of a gas-turbine plant with a capacity of 123 megawatts.

As the ministry previously said, the tender will be carried out in strict conformity with the order of the Turkmen president. The installation will allow a 100 percent increase in the station's capacity. The project's financing will come at the expense of Turkmenistan�s first-line currency reserves.

Two years ago, during the first phase of renovation of a state district power station, still unique to the whole region, a modern combustion turbine was installed by the American company General Electric. This set the stage for a new phase of development in the Turkmen electric power industry, intended to take advantage of the country's huge natural gas resources. Bezmein state district power station has become a large customer of this fuel -- up to 350 million cubic meters of gas a year is needed. The same volume will be required for the second combustion turbine at Bezmein state district power station, the tender of which is now being declared.

In the near future, modern gas-turbine plants are planned for all five thermal power stations operational in Turkmenistan. (

Turkmenistan Intends To Export Electricity To Turkey, Pakistan

14 February 2001

A comprehensive approach that incorporates absolutely all sectors of the economy in the reform mechanism is the main feature of the strategy for developing Turkmenistan in the first decade of the golden age. But one of these sectors occupies a special place, since it is responsible for keeping the whole of industry running. Even where resource-saving processes have been widely introduced, power engineering requires accelerated development, since all projects, even very remote ones, call for an increase in energy capacity immediately.

According to the national power-engineering development program, adopted on 16 January, 10.15 billion kWh of power will be produced [in 2001] -- 3 percent up on last year's figure. It is also planned to export 1 billion kWh to neighbouring countries. The production of various kinds of cables will be increased, the range of engineering products will be expanded at the expense of consumer goods, and the output of oil equipment, pumps and other industrial equipment is to grow, too.

The sectoral plan for 2001 was strictly checked and based on the results of the previous year. Production in enterprises of the Ministry of Power Engineering and Industry increased by 12.3 percent in 2000. The cost of all output increased to 552 billion manats, of which electricity accounted for 80 percent. A total of 9.8 billion kWh of power were produced. The growth in the production of goods amounted to between 2 and 20 percent compared with 1999.

Turkmenistan's existing power system cannot supply its rapidly developing industry. That is why refurbishment of the Turkmenbashi [western Turkmenistan] and Bezmein [central Turkmenistan] power stations and the power transmission systems in Lebap [eastern Turkmenistan] and Dashoguz [northern Turkmenistan] regions is of great importance to the country.

The process of refurbishing its power system is a response to both interior interests an to a state strategy of expanding the country's export possibilities. Currently, Turkmenistan sells a small amount of power to neighboring countries.

Possible consumer markets were seen in requests from Turkey and Pakistan. These directions of export were named priority by Turkmen President Niyazov in his conception of power-sector development. Accordingly, construction of Turkmen-Iran energy grid bridge linking Balkanabat [western Turkmenistan] and Ali abad [northern Iran] was finished this year. This transmission system is one stage of a large-scale project of transporting Turkmen energy to Turkey.

This project, with its transit across Iran, was agreed by the governments of the three countries in 1995. Then bilateral agreements about guarantees of transit and purchase of power in volume from 200 to 500 MW per year were signed.

The other project, transporting Turkmen energy to Pakistan, is in the initial stages. Pakistan leader General Musharraf Pervez, during his first official visit to Turkmenistan last year, confirmed his interest in this project. This project is being considered as trans-Afghan, taking into consideration consumer possibilities of neighboring states. Currently, a small amount of Turkmen power is delivered to Afghan border regions. Substation LPT-220, providing export of about 600 million kWh per year to the Afghan town of Herat, began construction last year. This volume of power is necessary for the reconstruction of a textile enterprise and a cement factory, and for new construction.

Construction of the substation and power transmission line in Afghanistan, according to Turkmen specialists, is only the beginning stage of a large-scale project of transporting Turkmen power to Pakistan. (Turkmen State News Service)

New Telephone Exchange Opened In Turkmen Capital

14 February 2001

The Program of Social Economic Development of Turkmenistan up to 2010 provides for the improvement of the country's communications system. This program, drawn up by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, pays great attention to the development of telephone communications. A lot of work is currently being done to improve the productivity and power of the capital's automatic telephone exchanges.

For example, a new automatic telephone exchange for 3,000 subscribers has been opened in the run-up to Flag Day and the birthday of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi [Niyazov]. In addition to the telephone exchange's 5,000 subscribers, new equipment for [a further] 3,000 subscribers, produced by the German company Siemens, has been installed at the exchange.

Telephone exchange equipment for about 7,000 subscribers has been installed in the city over the past year, and equipment for 10,000 subscribers will be installed this year to mark the 10th anniversary of independence. All cities throughout the country are being supplied with new, highly sophisticated telephone communications of world standard. (Turkmen TV)

Caspian Summit Set For March

13 February 2001

Turkmenistan's state news service reported today that a Caspian Sea summit will be held in Turkmenbashi on 8-9 March.

The summit will for the first time bring together the leaders of the Caspian's five littoral countries -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan -- for talks on the status of the sea, which has long been a point of contention.

Despite no clear agreement on the Caspian's status, some countries have already gone ahead with developing oil fields in the sea. The major disagreement lies in whether the Caspian is a sea and should be divided into national sectors, or an inland lake, in which case the resources should be shared among the five countries. There is also a proposal to draw up national sectors along the sea's bottom, but share resources in, and on, the water. (Itar-Tass/ RFE/RL)

OSCE Requests Access to Imprisoned Turkmen Baptist

13 February 2001

The head of the OSCE center in Ashgabat officially requested on 12 February that Turkmen authorities grant permission to visit jailed Baptist Shageldy Atakov, the Keston News Service reported. Atakov, who is serving a four-year term for swindling, is believed to be subjected to treatment with psychotropic drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Meanwhile Turkmen police and security officials raided a Protestant congregation meeting in a private house in Ashgabat on 2 February, Keston News Service reported on 12 February. (RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan Sets Up Oil and Gas Coordinating Council

13 February 2001>

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has signed a resolution on the formation of a scientific coordinating council at the Oil and Gas Institute of the Turkmengaz government corporation.

The Turkmen Oil and Gas Ministry told Interfax on Tuesday that the council should help raise the effectiveness of research, development and designing projects, define the development strategy of oil and gas studies, map out the main directions of research, and analyze the results.

The council will organize scientific conferences, exhibitions, and fairs, and will coordinate the publication of scientific papers on oil and gas subjects and the scientific plans of specialized institutes.

Director of the Oil and Gas Institute Khoshgeldy Babayev was appointed council chairman. (Interfax)

Ex-Afghan King's Secretary Travels To Turkmenistan

12 February 2001

Zalmai Rassoul, private secretary of ex-Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, now living in Rome, said in his interview with the RFE/RL Turkmen Service�s Mohammad Nazar:

"We travel to various countries with the aim of restoring peace. Now we are sending a delegation to Turkmenistan. I�m glad to go to Turkmenistan because Turkmenistan has a very good stance toward Afghanistan and our Turkmen brothers want to see peace restored in the country. Our visit to Turkmenistan coincided with the holding in Rome of a preparation meeting to the Grand Assembly, called 'Loya Jirga'. We will inform Turkmen officials on the situation in Afghanistan. We want peace to come to this country."

He also said during the conference they decided to hold the Loya Jirga meeting in six months inside Afghanistan. But he didn�t name a date. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Refurbishment of Turkmen Capital�s Power Station To Continue

12 February 2001

A major refurbishment of Bezmein [central Turkmenistan] thermal power station, which provides the Turkmen capital and one of the biggest regions, Akhal, with power, is to continue. In accordance with a presidential resolution, the procedures and conditions for an international tender are being drawn up at the Ministry of Power Engineering and Industry. Potential participants will be invited to install a 123-MW gas turbine unit. The power station's capacity will double when the unit is installed. The project will be financed from Turkmenistan's hard-currency reserves.

The first stage of Bezmein's refurbishment was carried out by the American company General Electric, which put into operation the first modern gas turbine, the only one in Central Asia to date, two years ago. This event heralded a new stage in the development of Turkmenistan's power engineering, which relies on the sensible use inside the country of its vast resources of natural gas. Bezmein power station is becoming a major consumer of this fuel: it takes up to 350m cubic meters of gas a year to keep the gas generator running. The same amount will be needed for Bezmein power station's second gas turbine. Modern gas turbine units will eventually be installed in all five of the country's thermal power stations. (Turkmen State News Service)

New Pipeline Improves Gas Supply To Eastern Turkmen District

12 February 2001

The first supplies of natural gas from the Malay field have reached the right bank of the River Amudarya by a new gas pipeline, which has connected the large [eastern] Lebap Region district with the main Malay-Sakar-Atamurat pipeline. As a result, the provision of the region's south bank districts with gas has improved this month.

The new pipeline is 27 km long. Its main section -- about 16 km -- was built by the Ukrainian Ukrgazstroy [Ukraine gas construction] company in exchange for Turkmen gas supplies. (Turkmen State News Service)

RFE/RL Listeners Receive Programs On Medium Wave

12 February 2001

After RFE/RL launched broadcasting to Turkmenistan on medium wave (commercial AM band) on 5 February 2001, listeners have already experienced the new frequency broadcasts and expressed their opinions on it. These are a few opinions from our listeners.

"�Thank you very much! From 7 AM of 5 February, I have started listening to Radio Free Europe on the medium-wave band. The audibility is perfect�" Chardjou, Turkmenistan, Nurbanmurad Amanov, 07.02.2001

"Your morning programs on 5, 6, an 7 February 2001 on medium wave were very well heard. Thank you! My friend has called me from Chardjou and also confirmed that your programs were being received very well. We both thank you for the interesting, democratic and free programs." Lidija Smirnova, Mary, 07.02.2001

Two listeners from Iran also confirmed the high quality signal in medium-wave band on 8 and 9 February.

"Beginning 5 February we listen to your radio programs on medium wave. Audibility is very good, we thank you for that." Esengeldyjev, Muradov and others from Kyzylarbat, Turkmenistan.

"We have started listening to Radio Liberty programs in the Turkmen language at 864 kHz frequency. We thank you and highly appreciate that you care about the listeners." Polat Durdyguldyjev, Akhal velajet (region).

"We, the Russian-speaking people of Turkmenistan, have begun listening to the Turkmen Service programs of Radio Liberty. And I listen to them in my car." Viktor, taxi driver, Ashgabat.

RFE/RL correspondent Saparmurat Ovezberdiev reports from Ashgabat: "People call me from different regions of Turkmenistan and express thankfulness for the programs broadcast on medium wave. In Gubadag district of Tashal region, in Khodjambas and Kerkin districts, as well as in Chardjou region the audibility of the RFE/RL programs is excellent."

Turkmen-language broadcasts are scheduled for 0200-0300 UTC (0300-0400 CET) and Uzbek-language broadcasts for 0100-0200 UTC (0200-0300 CET). The frequency is: 864 kHz. The programs are available on Hotbird on EU22 and Virtual Channel 271, Output 1 Right. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Rights Groups: Turkmenistan Represses Non-Traditional Religions

16 February 2001

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Human rights organizations are expressing growing concern over persistent attacks on religious freedom in the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan.

Earlier this month, the London-based Amnesty International organization issued an alert that urged Turkmen authorities to release Baptist Christian Shagildy Atakov, who is being held in a labor camp in northeastern Turkmenistan.

A father of five, Atakov was fined $12,000 and sentenced to two years in a labor camp in March 1999 on charges of fraud connected with his automobile business. His sentence was later increased to four years.

But Amnesty International believes that the case was fabricated and that the real reason for Atakov's imprisonment is his religious affiliation. Atakov's wife and children have been placed under house arrest in a small village close to the Iranian border.

Anna Sunder-Plassman deals with South Caucasus and Central Asia affairs for Amnesty International. She says Atakov�s health has substantially deteriorated in the past few weeks as a result of ill treatment:

"[Atakov] is believed to be in imminent danger of dying in custody. There are reports that he has bruises all over his body, that he was inappropriately treated with psychotropic drugs, and that he frequently loses consciousness. Recently his family visited him in the labor camp and he said that he didn't expect to live. He said goodbye to his wife."

Baptist, Adventist, and Pentecostal communities first appeared in Central Asia following persecutions ordered by Moscow against religious minorities in the early years of the Soviet regime and under Stalinism. Representatives of these groups settled down in the region after they were released from labor camps, where they had usually served long sentences.

Vitaly Ponomaryov chairs the Central Asia Program at the Moscow-based Memorial human rights group. He told RFE/RL that, of all religious communities in Turkmenistan, only Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians are not facing harassment and imprisonment.

"Turkmenistan is the only CIS country where all faiths other than Orthodoxy and Islam are banned. Moreover, the authorities closed half of the country's mosques in 1997 and religious life is tightly controlled by the government. In any case, the activities [of religious communities] is entirely controlled by the presidential apparatus, which sees the existence of other religious tendencies in Turkmenistan as a threat to the unity of Turkmen society and, therefore, is reinforcing coercive measures [against them]."

Internal and external exile is another means used by Turkmen authorities in their attempts to stem the spread of banned religious communities. Ponomaryov says scores of religious activists have been deported in the past few years.

In November 1999, Turkmen authorities ordered the razing of a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the capital Ashgabat without prior notice. The decision followed a similar attack on a Hare Krishna temple.

Turkmenistan�s constitution provides for freedom of religion, but attacks on minority religious groups have been common practice since the country gained independence in 1991.

Under Turkmen law, religious organizations must prove that they have at least 500 citizens over the age of 18 as adherents to gain official recognition. In addition, all of the faithful must live in the same city or town. This double requirement has prevented all but Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians from attaining legal status. Ethnic Russians are estimated to comprise between seven and nine percent of the country's population.

Turkmen officials argue that the 500-strong quota is needed to keep Islamic fundamentalism at bay and to keep track of all religious communities. Authorities have repeatedly promised that provisions of the law on religion would be reconsidered, but the requirement of 500 signatures has remained unchanged. Religious communities without legal status are forbidden to hold meetings or to distribute religious literature. And because Turkmenistan has no law on alternative civilian service, young men who refuse to serve in the army out of religious conviction are sent to jail as deserters.

Memorial�s Ponomaryov says he believes about ten religious activists are currently serving jail sentences. But Sunder-Plassman of Amnesty says precise information is very difficult to come by.

"The government in Turkmenistan is extremely intolerant of dissent, and most members of the political opposition and human rights defenders are outside the country. Therefore, it is very, very difficult to obtain information about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, and people inside the country are often afraid to pass on information because they fear persecution in case they are identified as a source. So it is very, very difficult to give any exact information on numbers of people who are in prison for their political or religious belief."

A modest revival of Islam has taken place in Turkmenistan since 1991. President Saparmurat Niyazov has ordered that basic principles of Islam be taught in schools, but the teaching of Islam remains under strict government control and has been totally banned from mosques.

Ponomaryov says only one Muslim theological seminary ("medrese") remains open in Turkmenistan and that authorities have forbidden the distribution of Islamic religious literature printed out of the country.

Last year, Turkmen authorities arrested Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych, an Islamic cleric whose interpretation of the Koran had been questioned by Niyazov.

Members of the Shiite Muslim minority also face harassment and many of them have been deported from the country.

Ponomaryov says Turkmen authorities are trying to turn representatives of religious minorities into apostates or to force them into exile.

"Since approximately 1996, Turkmen authorities have exerted pressure on religious minorities by filing criminal cases against them. Today this is a rather widespread phenomenon, and it seems to me that the aim of the authorities is to 'break' the leaders of these religious minorities and force them to renounce their faith or to leave the country."

Amnesty International says Baptist Atakov should have been released in December under a presidential amnesty that marked the end of the Ramadan holy feast. Memorial believes he was not included in the amnesty because he had refused to renounce his faith and pledge allegiance to Niyazov. (RFE/RL)

Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline Gets A Boost

13 February 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline appears to have moved one step closer to viability with the announcement that the U.S.-based Chevron oil company is seeking to take part in the project.

Turkish officials were quick to publicize the news Friday, declaring it a vote of confidence in the plan to carry Caspian oil to Turkey�s port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.

A statement from Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit�s office said: "This development shows that those left outside the international consortium set up for the construction of the pipeline have accepted that this project is commercially and economically viable," "The New York Times" reported.

Despite lingering skepticism about whether the 1,730-kilometer pipeline through the Caucasus will be built, Turkey is encouraged that a major oil company outside the consortium for Azerbaijan�s "contract of the century" wants to take part. Azerbaijan�s big offshore project is the largest single source of oil for the pipeline, but it still needs more oil to justify its estimated $2.4 billion cost.

Chevron could be the source of the additional Caspian oil that is needed to fill the pipeline. But the announcement also created some confusion about what the news means and what it does not.

Chevron is best known in the region for its huge investment in Kazakhstan, where it has developed the giant Tengiz oil field for the past seven years. The field, which is expected to produce 12 million tons of oil this year, could have more than enough exports to help fill the Baku-Ceyhan line.

But there are currently no plans for any of Chevron�s Kazakh oil to flow through Baku-Ceyhan, according to company officials. The oil from Tengiz is already scheduled to be pumped through a separate pipeline which will open this year to Russia�s port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea.

Instead, Chevron is interested in Baku-Ceyhan as a potential outlet for the Apsheron oil field, which it is exploring off the coast of Azerbaijan. The company recently started drilling a test well at the site. Chevron owns 30 percent of the project in partnership with Azerbaijan�s SOCAR state oil company and France�s TotalFinaElf.

Chevron�s reason for joining in Baku-Ceyhan makes it less certain that the decision is the big break that the project needs, because oil has yet to flow from Apsheron. Kazakhstan government officials have made several statements in recent months about shipping some of that country�s oil through the pipeline, but it is not clear that all the questions about oil volumes have been laid to rest.

Chevron�s level of participation has also been the subject of conflicting reports. The Reuters news agency quoted a Chevron spokeswoman as saying only that the company wants to open talks with SOCAR on joining a group to sponsor engineering studies for the project.

The official said participation in the construction itself would depend on whether oil is found at Apsheron. But "The New York Times" quoted the company as saying it had already decided to join in both the engineering and the project. Other companies have until the end of the month to sign up for the sponsor group, and reports suggest that several more will join.

Whatever the reservations may be, the news is positive for the pipeline project, which has been a high priority for Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the United States.

U.S. officials in the administration of former President Bill Clinton spent several years trying to persuade oil companies to back the pipeline, arguing at one point that there was a political need for the project that should make up for any commercial shortcomings. In later years, they focused more clearly on the oil industry�s need to make Baku-Ceyhan commercially viable.

Since the inauguration of President George W. Bush, several U.S. envoys in the region have voiced assurances that American policy will not change toward Baku-Ceyhan. But it remains to be seen how much political influence the Bush administration will apply to the project, or whether it will be treated strictly as a business venture that U.S. policy supports.

The Chevron decision seems to be a sign that the oil industry sees the pipeline as an important option to keep open. That judgment seems bound to advance the project, no matter how much political support it may have. (RFE/RL)