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Turkmen Report: March 25, 2001

25 March 2001
Trade Relations Of Islamabad And Ashgabat Depend On Situation In Afghanistan

23 March 2001

In an interview with the public news service Turkmendovlethabarlary, published today in the leading newspapers of the country, the Pakistan's Ambassador in Turkmenistan Babar Malik has put the development of trade relations between Ashgabat and Islamabad into direct relation to the situation in Afghanistan, which divides the two countries territorially.

Remarking that "45 percent of the population of Pakistan have ancestors in Turkmenistan," Babar Malik highly evaluated the present condition of bilateral relations. As he said, "Turkmenistan is a strategic partner of Pakistan, relations with which play a special role.

At the same time, in the opinion of the ambassador, the economic potential of the partnership between Pakistan and Turkmenistan is still dormant. According to him, such a situation is caused "by the tense conditions in adjacent Afghanistan," preventing the implementation of such joint projects as construction of highways and railroads and the construction of the trans-Afghani gas pipeline.

Ambassador Babar Malik expressed confidence that "as soon as peace and calm will be established in Afghanistan, the trade relations between our countries will be considerably actuated." (

Turkmen Statistics Chief's Salary Docked For 'Inaccurate' Figures

23 March 2001

In line with Article 60 of the Law of Turkmenistan on the judicial system and the status of judges in Turkmenistan, the president of Turkmenistan declared that Arazgylych Nazarov is to be appointed judge of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan and to be relieved of the post of judge of Balkan Regional court.

In line with the resolution issued by the president of Turkmenistan, the salary for March 2001 is to be withheld from the director of the National Institute for State Statistics and Information, Dzhumadurdy Bairamov, and transferred to the state budget of Turkmenistan because inaccurate and incomplete statistical information was submitted to the government of Turkmenistan. Bairamov also has been warned that in the event of any repetition of such cases, strict measures will be taken against him. (Turkmen TV)

Imminent Danger Of Death In Custody

22 March 2001

Shagildy Atakov, aged 39, has reportedly been transferred back to the Seydi labor camp, where he is said to be held in a punishment cell.

According to a German-based Baptist organization, Missionswerk Friedensstimme, Voice of Peace Mission, Shagildy Atakov was moved from the prison hospital in Mary to Seydi labor camp on 1 March. He has apparently been placed in a punishment cell for one month. The official reason for this is not known.

Friedensstimme said that: "The administration of the labor camp in Seydi has affirmed that Shagildy Atakov is well. But we don't know whether this is true. They are trying to isolate him more and more to prevent anyone from finding out about his actual state of health."

Shagildy Atakov's case has raised concern with the international community, and various organizations have sought to intervene on his behalf. On 12 February, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asked to be allowed to visit Shagildy Atakov. They have not yet had a reply from the Turkmen government. On 23 February, the European Union called on Turkmen Foreign Minister Batyr Berdiyev to free Atakov. On 15 March, the European Parliament issued a resolution calling on the Turkmen authorities "to release him immediately and allow the participation of international observers in this process."

Shagildy Atakov's family has said that support from the international community is their only hope. A Turkmen human rights defender in exile told Amnesty International, "I am sure that it is only thanks to pressure from the international community that Atakov is still alive." (Amnesty International)

National Public Health Portal Created

22 March 2001

An electronic resource center for public health in Turkmenistan (or, in Internet terminology, a national public health portal) was launched today in the conference hall of the UN's Ashgabat office during a seminar arranged by the [UN] Population Fund and the UNDP.

It should be mentioned that access to the Internet site would be open.

The national center is intended to be a kind of directory, provided with a search system and links to other Internet pages and information sites. It is thought that the Ministry of Health and the Pharmaceutical Industry of Turkmenistan will coordinate the website. It is planned that Internet sites will shortly be created for other scientific and economic sectors, which will subsequently be brought together to form a unified, common portal. (TDH)

Turkmenistan Budget Surplus

22 March 2001

Turkmenistan had a state budget surplus of 195.8 billion manat, or 5.1 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), in the first two months of this year, the National Institute for Government Statistics and Information reported.

Budget revenues totaled 832.7 billion manat and spending amounted to 636.9 billion manat, respectively 33 percent and 52 percent less than planned for the two months.

Turkmenistan's GDP measured 3.8 trillion manat in the two months.

The official exchange rate is 5,200 manat/$1. (Interfax)

Capital Investment In Turkmenistan Up 50 Percent

22 March 2001

Capital investment in Turkmenistan jumped 50 percent year-on-year in constant prices to 1.036 trillion manat, or 27.3 percent of GDP, in the first two months of this year, the National Institute for Government Statistics and Information reported.

Companies and organizations financed 41 percent of investment with their own resources; government funds financed 17 percent, foreign direct investment 9 percent, and loans 16 percent, with foreign loans financing 14 percent.

The state sector received 67 percent of all investment. Some 77.2 percent of investment went into the production sector.

Foreign capital made up 90 billion manat of applied investment, up 12.5 percent from the first two months of 1999.

Turkmenistan's GDP measured 3.8 trillion manat in the two months. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan To Harvest 1.8m Tons Of Raw Cotton

22 March 2001

According to old tradition, Turkmen cotton growers brought out to the plantations the sowing equipment just after the "eastern new year" -- Novruz bairam.

All over the country, cotton will cover an area of 770,000 hectares (ha), 100,000 tons of seeds were set aside for sowing, and 3,300 tractors and sowing machines will be used. This information was given to journalists at the Agricultural Ministry of Turkmenistan.

According to ministry specialists, cotton is grown by more than 200,000 tenants now. In accordance with the resolution of the Turkmen president, fields of 3 ha in cultivated zone and 5 ha in virgin lands were given to each tenant.

A very effective mechanism of tenant support was set up in the republic: 50 percent of the expenses of purchasing seeds, herbicides, and equipment is provided by the government for those tenants who signed an agreement for delivering "white cotton" to the state, and agricultural banks give credits on favorable terms to farmers.

This year Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov set the task for the farmers to harvest no less than 1.8 million tons of raw cotton. This figure will be as much as 3 million tons in the republic by 2010. (

New Turkmen Gas Field's Output To Boost Flow In Northern Export Route

22 March 2001

The construction of the 30-kilometer Keymir-Ekerem gas pipeline has been completed in the southwestern part of the country.

The construction of this pipeline as well as a gas-purifying facility at the Keymir gas field were carried out by Balkannebitgazgurlushyk [Balkan oil and gas construction] directorate.

The facility, with a total cost of 30 billion manats ($5.77 million), was built at the gas field with promising prospects in order to increase the gas input into the western sector of the Central Asia-Center 3 interstate gas pipeline, for exporting gas to Russia and Ukraine.

The Keymir-Ekerem pipeline makes it possible to increase gas exports from the fields located in Balkan Region. Currently about 5 to 7 million cubic meters of natural gas is being exported daily through the Central Asia-Center 3 gas pipeline. (Turkmen TV)

Labor Passports Introduced In Turkmenistan

21 March 2001

The newly issued labor passport, as announced in the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Turkmenistan, is being introduced by presidential decree and will be a document containing different items of information on the worker, including labor activity and length of service, rewards and encouragements, marital status, criminal record, and also information on pension and medical insurance.

According to the order of President Niyazov "Regulations about the labor passport management order," all citizens of Turkmenistan, working in firms, in organizations, and establishments irrespective of ownership and managing pattern, including those with the foreign investments, in representations and branches of foreign legal firms, representations of foreign states and international organizations effecting the activity on Turkmenistan's territory, will have t carry the labor passports. (

Tension Between Turkmens and KDP Forces In Northern Iraq

21 March 2001

Tension between Turkmens and Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces have increased in recent days in northern Iraq. Local sources said there have been skirmishes in Irbil between Turkmens and IKDP forces in recent weeks. They said the events had escalated after the killing of a former governor close to the KDP in northern Iraq last month.

Last month gunmen armed with automatic weapons strafed the car of Francois Hariri, who is the former governor of the Kurdish-controlled northern Iraqi city, killing him and his driver. Hariri served as governor of Irbil for the KDP until last year. Kurdish officials were investigating the killing.

Turkmen sources told the Turkish Daily News that KDP forces attacked one of their centers in Irbil on 9 March and detained a number of officials, while Kurdish sources deny any attack claims. ("Turkish Daily News")

Exhibition Opened Celebrating Novruz-bairam

20 March 2001

Today in the building of Senagat bank in Ashgabat, an exhibition was opened in celebration of the Novruz-bairam holiday, celebrated on 21 March. Visitors were treated to exhibits featuring elements of the treasury of national property. Expositions of numismatic values here adjoin the collections of ancient weapons, carpets, jewelry, and musical instruments.

On intention of the organizers, which were represented by Turkmenistan banks, the exhibition offered visitors the unique possibility to see rarities which could be the pride of any museum in the world, to experience the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Turkmen people. (

Income Tax Rate Changed

20 March 2001

Measures have been taken in Turkmenistan to ease the tax burden in connection with the doubling from 1 March of the minimum wage.

According to President Saparmurat Turkmenbashi's decree, new income tax rates have been introduced in the country for private individuals from 1 March.

According to the Main State Tax Service, from 1 March the minimum income tax, 8 percent, is to be levied on incomes worth up to 750,000 manats ($144) and the maximum income tax, 12 percent, is to be levied on incomes worth 1.8 million manats ($346). There will be a single 12 percent tax on incomes from more than one source. (

International Award To Youth Association Of Turkmenistan

20 March

The annual Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights for outstanding achievements in the prevention of HIV/AIDS was rewarded to Magtymguly Youth Association of Turkmenistan. The efforts of the youth organization was awarded the most prestigious prize in the field of international movement against AIDS, the permanent coordinator of UN activities in Turkmenistan, Yens Vandell, said during the festive ceremony of presenting the award.

About 500,000 young people were involved in the education program organized by the association, which was carried out together with the National Center of AIDS Prevention and supported by the UN program on HIV/AIDS in Turkmenistan.

Stressing the success of the anti-AIDS measures at the government level, Yens Vandell stated that the situation is stable in Turkmenistan, while the disease is affecting more and more areas in the world. This opinion was supported by the UN/AIDS advisor for Central Asia, R. Adamyan, who talked about the threatening situation in many CIS countries. Manifold increase of the number of HIV-infected people was registered in some of these countries. Turkmenistan is not only safe in this regard, but also safeguards the well-being of people with all possible means. (TDH)

Caspian States Should Reach Decision On Sea Status By Year's End

19 March 2001

The Caspian states should reach a decision on the problem of the status of the sea by the end of the year, Russian special presidential representative to the Caspian and Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Kalyuzhny said.

Speaking today on the radio station Echo Moskvy, Kalyuzhny noted that Russia is in favor of dividing the seabed along a modified meridian line -- thereby slicing up the resource base, but keeping the body of water free for joint use by the Caspian states. This position is backed by Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, but Turkmenistan and Iran are in favor of splitting up the Caspian into national sectors, which would involve national borders running through the sea.

According to Kalyuzhny, during recent talks, including with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in Moscow, he got the impression that Teheran "is not against the idea of a meridian line in principle." During an upcoming trip to Iran on 5 April, the Russian side will try to convince the Iranians to agree to this position, he said. (Interfax)

Kalyuzhny Visit To Baku Postponed To April

19 March 2001

A visit to Baku by Russian special representative on the Caspian and Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Kalyuzhny, planned for 20-21 March, has been postponed until the start of April this year, a source in the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry told Interfax.

The reason for the postponement has not been stated.

Last week Kalyuzhny was in Astana, Kazakhstan, for talks, during which he discussed issues concerning the status of the Caspian and preparations for a summit of the heads of state from the Caspian states. This summit is planned for Ashgabat next month.

Earlier it was planned that after his visit to Astana, Kalyuzhny would fly to Baku, Ashgabat (25-27 March) and Teheran (end of March-beginning of April). (Interfax)

Turkmen Deputy Power Minister Appointed

19 March

The Turkmen president has decreed that Sapargeldi Mammedov should be appointed Turkmen deputy minister of power engineering and industry and head of the Turkmen mechanical engineering concern for a six-month probation period. In the event of his failing to carry out his official duties, he will be dismissed without being offered a different post. (Turkmen TV)

Turkmen Leader Sacks Mechanical Engineering Concern Head

19 March 2001

By presidential decree, Charymurat Ernepesov has been dismissed from his post of head of the Turkmen Mechanical Engineering Concern of the Ministry of Power Engineering and Industry for shortcomings in his work. (Turkmen Radio)

International Exhibition 'Oil And Gas of Turkmenistan' To Be Held In Ashgabat In October

19 March 2001

According to the official declaration of the organizers of the annual international exhibition "Oil and gas of Turkmenistan" and conference of the same title, these actions will be held in October of the current year. The Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources of Turkmenistan, which together with chamber of commerce and industry of the country and British company ITE conducts the annual exhibition-conference, has explained that the forum was rescheduled from March to autumn because of the preparation of overland hydrocarbon prospecting and production projects licensing program, which will be presented to the participants of the exhibition and conference.

The international exhibition and conference " Oil and gas of Turkmenistan " has been held in Ashgabat since March 1996. The last time -- spring of last year -- about 250 representatives of corporations and companies from 30 countries participated in it. (

Caspian Pipeline Consortium Pipeline To See First Oil 26 March

19 March 2001

The first oil will be pumped into the Caspian Pipeline Consortium's (CPC) pipeline on 26 March, the CPC press service has told Interfax.

The pipeline opening ceremonies will be held in Atyrau in western Kazakhstan, it said.

The CPC is completing the construction of a 1,580-kilometer oil pipeline from Tenghiz to Novorossiisk, which will connect oil fields in western Kazakhstan and the Russian Black Sea coast. At the first stage, the pipeline's capacity will be 28.2 million tons of oil per year, an amount that will be gradually increased to 67 million tons.

The consortium plans to load its first tanker in Novorossiisk in June. It is planned that from 7 to 8 million tons of oil will be pumped through the CPC pipeline by the end of the year in a trial phase. The pipeline is set for commissioning late this year.

Russia holds 24 percent, Kazakhstan 19 percent, and Oman 7 percent of shares in the CPC. The remaining 50 percent of the consortium's shares belong to the United States' Chevron Caspian Pipeline Consortium Co. (15 percent), Mobil Caspian Pipeline Co. (7.5 percent), and Oryx Caspian Pipeline LLC (1.75 percent), the Russian-U.S. joint venture LUKARCO B.V. (12.5 percent), the Russian-British joint venture Rosneft-Shell Caspian Ventures Ltd. (7.5 percent), Italy's Agip International (N.A.) N.V. (2 percent), Britain's Overseas Holdings Ltd. (2 percent), and Kazakhstan Pipeline Ventures LLC (1.75 percent). (Interfax)

New Gas Artery In Karakum

19 March 2001

Construction of a trunk gas pipeline linking Bashgyzyl in eastern Turkmenistan and Uchajy in southern Turkmenistan has been completed. The gas line, which is about 90 km long, was welded together from pipe sections with a diameter of 1,000 mm, which guarantees its high throughput capacity.

The gas deposit was discovered by specialists from the Turkmenabat (in eastern Turkmenistan) exploration drilling directorate. A state commission confirmed that its reserves totaled some 100 billion cubic meters. The underground store of gas is being prepared for commercial exploitation within the framework of the presidential blueprint for developing the country's oil and gas industry. Gas extraction infrastructure facilities are being built, and production wells are being drilled. The natural gas from Bashgyzyl will be mainly for export. (TDH)

Letter From Our Listener

19 March 2001

A listener of the RFE/RL Turkmen Service, a former citizen of Turkmenistan and now a citizen of Israel, who preferred to be unnamed, has written a 5-page letter to RFE/RL, describing his failed attempt to visit Turkmenistan recently.

The author of the letter still has some relatives in Turkmenistan. In the end of February 2001 he wanted to join his relatives at his brother's wedding ceremony and flew to Ashgabat via Istanbul.

As an Israeli citizen, he needed a Turkmen visa, and he asked the Turkmen Consulate in Turkey how it was possible to get the Turkmen entry visa in Istanbul. The answer was that since there was no Turkmen Consulate and Embassy in Israel, he had been born in Turkmenistan, and had a round-trip ticket, the visa would be granted directly in Ashgabat upon arrival.

The same day he arrived in the Turkmenbashi international airport in Ashgabat. At the passport control gate the author of the letter showed his two passports -- the valid Israeli one and the old USSR passport. The border control officers for a long time did not know what to do in this situation. The author of the letter was taken to a special waiting room, where he had to wait till morning for the decision of the local authorities.

The next day, several intelligence and the KNB [Turkmen Intelligence Service] officers came and left and interrogated the author of the letter.

Later that day the border guard officers declared officially that the Turkmen KNB had decided not to grant him the Turkmen visa because of his Israeli citizenship, as well as to declare his old USSR passport exempt, and to deport him from Turkmenistan.

The old USSR passport was officially exempted in front of witnesses; the protocol was issued and given to our listener. The reason of exemption was his being the citizen of a non-friendly country -- Israel -- and that there was no double citizenship allowed in Turkmenistan. The Turkmen servicemen confirmed that he was deprived of Turkmen citizenship this way as well. The author of the letter tried to protest, saying that only the Turkmen president or the Mejlis of Turkmenistan could revoke citizenship. Azizov answered that sometimes KNB officers could carry the function of revoking citizenship.

After many requests our listener was allowed to meet and say good-bye to his father, mother, brother, sister, and other relatives, who all had come to the airport to see him.

On 2 March 2001 he was deported from Turkmenistan. He paid $50 for this procedure, but received no receipt on that amount.

The major question, our listener writes, was why as the citizen of Israel he had not been given a visa in the Ashgabat airport and why he had been illegally deported from Turkmenistan.

After some delay, the author of the letter got his luggage in the Tel-Aviv airport and discovered that some valuable things were missing.

The listener warns that since the Ashgabat officials openly ignore international laws, everybody could face the same situation if he travels to Turkmenistan.

Recent Russian-Iranian Summit Provides Kremlin Chance To Demonstrate Pragmatic Stance On Caspian

22 March 2001

By Igor Torbakov

The recent Iranian-Russian summit provided the Kremlin with an opportunity to demonstrate its pragmatic foreign policy approach in a number of key strategic areas, including the division of the Caspian Sea

The relationship between Moscow and Tehran is not that smooth, and can by no means be defined as a strategic partnership. Even to call Russia and Iran "strategic neighbors," as was done at the mid-March summit meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian leader Mohammad Khatami, stretches the limits of credibility. While both oppose U.S. and Turkish efforts to extend their influence into the Caspian Basin, Iran and Russia are themselves bitter competitors in the region. Their primary diplomatic battleground is, of course, the division of the Caspian.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the status of the Caspian Sea was defined in two documents -- a 1921 treaty between the Russian Federation and Persia, and a 1940 treaty between the Soviet Union and Iran. Both accords significantly limited Iran's ability to exploit resources in the Caspian Sea, which the Kremlin considered to be its internal lake. Since 1991, when the number of littoral states increased from two to five, Tehran has steadfastly sought to improve its Caspian position.

In recent years, Iran has sought a 20 percent share of Caspian resources, whereas Russia has sought to divide the seabed using the so-called median-line principle, while keeping the waters and surface in common. Such an arrangement would leave Iran with 13 percent of the seabed. Moscow managed to persuade Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, two other Caspian countries, to subscribe to its position, and signed with them bilateral treaties on the division of the Caspian. Turkmenistan seems to still be vacillating. Tehran, however, has doggedly stuck to its equal-quota principle.

During the presidential summit in Moscow, Iran's stance didn't change a bit. In an attempt to play down divergent views on the Caspian issue, Russia and Iran issued a joint statement that declared: "Until the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is finalized, the parties do not officially acknowledge any boundaries on this sea." Both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan sharply criticized the joint declaration, viewing it as a retreat made by Moscow on the Caspian question.

Confronted with Iran's stubbornness, Russia opted to pass the buck. "The question of the Iranian quota in the Caspian Sea should be discussed not between Russia and Iran but between Iran and its neighbors -- Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan," says Yuri Fedorov, a Caspian expert at the Moscow Institute of International Relations.

Moscow's willingness to bend on the Caspian question is connected with the larger desire of Russian policymakers to restore its claim to world-power status. In exchange for a more conciliatory position on the Caspian, Russia seeks to revive the relationship that existed with Iran prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Iran, many Russian strategists believe, has a vital strategic value for Moscow.

"Russia should be persistent in its attempts to shape independent Russian-Iranian relations, to preserve and strengthen its relations with India and China," says Andranik Migranyan, an influential Moscow political scientist and vice-president of the Reforma Foundation. Depending on how these relations evolve, continued Migranyan, it will become evident which trends in international relations will gain the upper hand. Developments in the coming months will show "whether a new balance of forces takes shape, and true multi-polarity is established, or whether we will witness the total domination of the United States."

To be sure, the Kremlin, in building its ties with Tehran, also has some important regional geopolitical considerations in Central Asia and the Caucasus. In Central Asia's case, both Moscow and Tehran are supporters of the anti-Taliban alliance headed by Ahmad Shah Massoud. In the Caucasus, Iran and Russia have been generally supportive of Armenia in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

Some experts suggest that Iran would welcome an enhanced Russian presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus as a better alternative to an expanded U.S. and Turkish position in the regions. This has prompted some Moscow strategists to suggest that two distinct geopolitical alliances are emerging in Central Eurasia: U.S.-Turkey-Azerbaijan-Pakistan versus Russia-Iran-Armenia-Tajikistan.

Much of Moscow's foreign policy establishment still seethes over the legacy of former President Boris Yeltsin, under whom Russia's international influence suffered a precipitous decline. The collapse of the communist system played a pivotal role in Russia's decline, but some analysts believe Yeltsin's policies, specifically Russia's willingness to follow the lead of the United States during much of the 1990s, exacerbated the damage done to the country's national interests.

Yeltsin's foreign policy, having yielded to U.S. pressure, mistreated Iran, and another old ally, India, by backtracking on long-standing commitments, said political analyst Dmitri Kosyrev in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily. "Not even a banana republic was humiliated in such a way," Kosyrev wrote.

Another major factor underlying Russian pragmatism towards Iran is rooted in economics. Given the tough competition in international arms markets, Russian efforts to re-establish its military-industrial complex depend to a great extent on purchases from Iran, which is currently the third largest buyer of Russian weapons after India and China. The prospect of billions of dollars worth of future arms sales to Iran has Russian officials excited. "No one knows exactly how much Russia might earn in the deals with Iran but the potential possibilities make one gasp," Kosyrev wrote. (Eurasia View)

A Tectonic Shift

20 March 2001

By Paul Goble

Muslims have dramatically increased their percentage of the world's population over the last century, while Christians have only maintained their share. And that shift is already affecting how each group views not only itself but the other as well.

According to statistics gathered in the newly published "World Christian Encyclopedia," of the world's 1.6 billion people in 1900, 32.2 percent were Christians and 12.3 percent were Muslims. Now, a century later, the encyclopedia reports, Christians form 31.2 percent of the world's six billion people, but Muslims have increased their share to 19.6 percent.

Other groups changed their share of the total population far less significantly, with the exception of nonbelievers, who increased from less than one percent in 1900 to some 15.2 percent of the total now, and the followers of folk religions, whose percentage dropped from 30.2 percent in 1990 to 10.2 percent now.

The changed relationship between the number of Christians and the number of Muslims is likely to have the most immediate and serious consequences. A century ago, there were more than 550 million Christians but only 200 million Muslims, a ratio of almost three to one. Now, there are almost two billion Christians but 1.2 billion followers of Islam, a ratio of approximately three to two.

A large part of the total increases in both communities reflects demographic trends. Countries where Christianity traditionally has been practiced generally have had lower birthrates than those where Islam is the predominant faith. But an important part of the difference in the increases reflects the results of prosyletization, of missionary work to spread the faith.

Christianity has become the first nearly universal faith, the "World Christian Encyclopedia's editor David Barrett says, with adherents in virtually every country on earth. But over the last 100 years, Islam too has successfully conducted missionary work and expanded its reach across large portions of Africa and Asia where it had no presence or only a small one a century ago.

The growth of the number of Muslims relative to the number of Christians is already affecting both communities. Among some in the Christian community, this dramatic increase in the number of Muslims has sparked such theories as Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington's ideas on the coming clash of civilizations. And it has also led the leaders of some historically Christian countries to view Muslims as a threat.

At the same time, both the absolute increase in the number of Muslims and their increase relative to the number of Christians has given the leaders of some Muslim countries and communities a new self-confidence, a sense that history is on their side and that they should now demand a more favorable position for themselves than the one they have had up to now.

Such attitudes almost inevitably lead to confrontation, but as is often the case in public life, they reflect less the core values of either of the faiths than the shifting demographic realities of the two communities. Indeed, were the demographic situations reversed, it is entirely possible that the attitudes manifested now would be reversed as well.

Following such slow-moving, even tectonic shifts is not something either journalists or other analysts regularly do, and even demographers warn that demography is destiny only in the very long run. But these new statistics about the shifting balance between Christians and Muslims serve as a useful reminder of the importance of such changes.

And perhaps even more important, these shifts also suggest that the numbers of believers may play a bigger role on occasion in relations among religious groups than do their formal beliefs. To the extent members of both sides appreciate that fact, it may serve as the basis for not only greater understanding between them but also for some forms of cooperation as well. (RFE/RL)