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Turkmen Report: May 20, 2001

20 May 2001
RFE/RL Launches Website On Its 50th Anniversary

19 May 2001

RFE/RL has prepared a special website, devoted to its 50th anniversary (

There you can find greetings from politicians, human rights activists, history of RFE/RL, photos, historical Audio Mix 1951-2001, RFE/RL bureaus' greetings in RealAudio, including Turkmen Service's greetings in Turkmen language (link Ashgabat : LISTEN). (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmenistan Celebrates Holiday Of Revival, Unity And Poetry Of Makhtymkuli

18 May 2001

On 18-19 May, Turkmenistan celebrates the holiday of revival, unity and poetry of Makhtymkuli. During the first years of independence, 18 May -- the day of acceptance of the Constitution of independent Turkmenistan -- was marked in the country as a national holiday of revival and unity, and on 19 May the country praises the poet and philosopher Makhtymkuli Firagi, a classic of Turkmen literature. Later it was decided to unite these dates into one holiday.

According to the Turkmen state news service Turkmendovlethabarlary, before the holiday, a Turkmen delegation comprised of representatives from literature, art, culture, and public representatives paid a visit to the sacred burial place of two leading figures of Turkmen literature -- Makhtymkuli and his father Dovletmamed Azadi -- in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Here, in the place named Ak-Tokai, in the Iranian province of Gulistan, the ceremony of opening the mausoleum of the great thinker Makhtymkuli was held in May 1999. Since then the final resting place of two great sons of the Turkmen people became a place of annual pilgrimage of their compatriots. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service,

Baptist Conscientious Objector Tortured

18 May 2001

The German-based Friedensstimme Mission has received information from Baptist sources in Turkmenistan claiming that Dmitri Melnichenko, a member of an Evangelical Baptist church in Ashgabat, has been subjected to torture by agents of the Turkmen government's National Security Committee (the KNB, formerly the KGB). According to the report from Turkmenistan, which is dated 17 May, Melnichenko was called up for military service on 10 May and taken to a military unit in Serdar (Kizyl-Arvat). On 15 May he was seized, taken to the local offices of the KNB and tortured.

"He was forced to sit...beaten on the knees, on the buttocks and on the head with a truncheon. He was insulted and humiliated in an attempt to force him to swear the oath. When he continued to refuse to swear the oath they took a dynamo from a field telephone and forced him to hold the ends of the wires. Next they fastened the wires to his ears and sent the current through his head. His face was distorted and the saliva in his mouth became frothy and acrid. Then they put a hood over his head...and beat him about the face and neck. At about 8.00 p.m. they took him to the guardroom where he was kept overnight and in the morning he was escorted back to his unit."

Although Keston News Service has not been able to verify the report of Melnichenko's torture independently, information from sources within the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists has a long track record of reliability. Melnichenko's church in Ashgabat belongs to the Council of Churches and has been subjected to repeated government harassment. (Keston News Service)

Fitch Downgrades Turkmenistan Foreign Currency Ratings

18 May 2001

The international rating agency Fitch has downgraded the long-term foreign currency rating of Turkmenistan to CCC minus from B minus, and lowered the short-term foreign currency rating to C from B.

"The opaque nature of policymaking [in Turkmenistan] and lack of reliable economic information is a considerable concern," the agency said.

Fitch remarked that last year the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) joined the IMF in limiting operations in the country, citing a failure to institute economic reforms or maintain the most basic human rights.

Turkmenistan's economic performance remains dependent on gas, oil, and cotton, which together account for over 90 percent of export revenues, with gas alone accounting for 60 percent of export earnings in 2000, the agency said. The expansion of gas exports fuelled GDP growth of approximately 11 percent last year.

Turkmenistan has rapidly accumulated debt since independence and has failed to establish a track record of transparent and predictable debt servicing, Fitch said. (Interfax)

Ashgabat Annoyed At Baku's Decision To Develop Disputed Deposits In Caspian

17 May 2001

The setting up, by presidential resolution, of a government commission for the full-scale development of the disputed Khazar and Osman deposits (Azeri and Chirag deposits in Azerbaijani terms) has caused annoyance in Ashgabat, a source in the Turkmen capital told Interfax.

This unilateral action by Azerbaijan at a time when the Caspian states have not yet reached agreement on the legal status of the sea creates a tense situation in the region, the source noted. The setting up of this commission is considered in Ashgabat "another confirmation of the absence of Azerbaijani goodwill and constructiveness as regards resolving the issue of disputed territories in the Caspian Sea."

The unilateral action by Baku, ignoring the interests and position of its partners and breaching international legal and ethical norms has, according to the Turkmen side, led to a practical breakdown in the negotiation process and "thereby, places Azerbaijan outside the rule of law." In these conditions Turkmenistan has demanded that foreign companies halt all work on disputed deposits.

Ashgabat considers the method of dividing the sea along a meridian line, as proposed by Azerbaijan, does not take into consideration geographical peculiarities connected with the features of the shore, particularly the Apsheron peninsula, which has led to significant deviation of the meridian line.

Turkmenistan has repeatedly called on Azerbaijan to halt unilateral actions and to freeze the development of disputed deposits until the legal status of the Caspian is agreed and borders are drawn up. Recently Ashgabat proposed to invite international experts to resolve the issue. "All of this did not have any effect, however," the source said.

"Azerbaijan is continuing to ignore the legal demands of the Turkmen side and by its actions is infringing upon Turkmen state sovereignty, thereby creating a precedent of trampling on international legal norms, which may lead to a general destabilization of the situation in the Caspian Sea," the source stressed. This was confirmed by Azerbaijan�s passing of new documents regarding the disputed deposits, he noted.

Ashgabat may take strong action in response, the source said. (Interfax)

Ukraine Hopes To Develop Turkmen Oil Fields

16 May 2001

Turkmenistan may assign sections in its territory to Ukraine for developing oil and gas fields.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna told Interfax-Ukraine on 15 May that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had reached an understanding on the issue.

"So far Turkmenistan has not allowed a single company, a single country onto its ground sectors," Dubyna stressed, adding that Turkmen oil and gas are extracted from offshore fields in the Caspian.

He said that in about a month, a Ukrainian government delegation would visit Ashgabat where a final decision will be made, and documents drafted and signed.

He said that during the visit, the sides will discuss and decide on the terms of assigning the sections for developing oil and gas fields. (Interfax-Ukraine)

Ashgabat Mayor Fined For Poor Performance

16 May 2001

In connection with shortcomings in managing public services in Ashgabat, the poor state of streets, parks and squares in the city, and the poor delivery of drinking and irrigation water, which has caused many complaints, the Turkmen president has signed a decree. fining the mayor

Under the decree, one month of Ashgabat Mayor Ashyr Cherkezov's salary is to be withheld and transferred to the state budget. Cherkezov is instructed to eliminate the said shortcomings; otherwise the issue of his meeting the requirements for the post will be raised. (Turkmen TV)

Turkmenistan To Build Tankers With Ukrainian Help

16 May 2001

Turkmenistan is considering the possibility of cooperating with Ukraine its program for the creation of a tanker fleet. According to SeaNews, the vice premier of Turkmenistan, Yolly Gurbanmuradov, made a statement to this effect during a visit to the Kiev shipyard on 14 May.

According to Gurbanmuradov, Turkmenistan is currently developing a 10-year program on creating a tanker fleet for delivery of raw material resources to terminals on the Caspian Sea and beyond. Turkmenistan's current need is five oil tankers with a deadweight of five thousand tons each.

Construction could be partly covered with delivery of Turkmen gas to Ukraine. (

Shortage Of Planes In Turkmenistan

16 May 2001

Since Turkmenistan�s economy is subsidized substantially by the government, many of its services are of low quality. The state-owned Turkmen Howa Yollary airline is one example, as there is a great lack of planes for routes inside the country.

For the last six months the number of planes has dropped to a very inadequate level relative to demand. The reason is that the planes used for internal purposes are Soviet leftovers, and most of them are out of service. Some say that one does not know if the plane that takes off in Ashgabat will land in Mary.

Recently, one Yak 42 was put on the route Ashgabat-Dashoguz-Ashgabat-Turkmenabat-Ashgabat. One plane runs between these three cities, almost non-stop, and its wheels have to be cooled down with water in the capital, as it has to fly to another place right away. There are about eight flights between the capital and an outlying large city daily, but the demand is 100 flights, because the price for bus and train travel is the same.

Niyazov boasts about buying new planes, and so far these planes have been used solely for international flights, where the Turkmenistan Airlines plane always fly with no passengers round trip. A flight to Tashkent with a Boeing 737, with a capacity of more than 100 people, carrying only 13 people is a perfect example of the failure of the airline to compete in the international market. One wonders why Turkmenistan's newly built most-expensive-in-the-region airport stands empty in the desert while Uzbekistan's Soviet-style one is full of planes flying to all destinations. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmen Gas Exports Up In January-April 2001

16 May 2001

According to the National Institute for State Statistics and Information, during the first four months of 2001, Turkmenistan increased the extraction of oil and gas condensate by 10 percent and of natural gas by 23 percent on the same period of last year. The country extracted 2.51 million tons of oil and 18.7 billion cubic meters of gas. About 2.2 million tons of crude oil were extracted by the Turkmenneft (Turkmen Oil) state oil company.

A total of 1.64 million tons of oil were processed in the country in the first four months of the year, which is a six percent rise on the same period of 2000. The production of motor fuel reached 337,200 tons, eight percent up, and of diesel fuel, 491,200 tons, nine percent up. (

Turkmenistan Sells Gasoline To Taliban

15 May 2001

The Taliban is not officially recognized by most of the Central Asian states, but Turkmenistan has relatively close relations with it. This relationship is mainly in the economic arena, and in particular includes gasoline sales to Afghanistan.

During the last three years selling gasoline has become a major private business. The oil refinery in the city of Seidi serves as a starting point. Huge trucks, specially designed to carry five to 30 or more tons of gasoline the Taliban is desperate to have, transport gasoline at a constant pace. The deal is good for both sides: it is a sales market for Turkmenistan, and it is an important and easily available product for Afghanistan.

The gasoline is usually taken to the border and then pumped into Afghan trucks. Anyone with the necessary documents can drive into the neighboring country for a few kilometers, and this increases the profit greatly.

This kind of relationship with its neighbor does not receive any coverage in Turkmenistan's media. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

International Calls In Turkmenistan

15 May 2001

Turkmentelekom, Turkmenistan's telecommunications monopoly, has limited the access of the population to international calls. New regulations allow the government to track down every call's origin if it wishes so.

Now just having a phone does not mean that you can call anywhere you wish. First, you have to pay a certain extra amount of money per month to be able to call outside the region, but within the country. If you want to make an international call, you must open a separate account and deposit a large sum of money beforehand, which is not affordable to most of the population. Users who have such accounts are not numerous, and it is easy to bug their phones.

Another way out is using the newly introduced international phone cards. Each of them costs an average monthly salary in the country, i. e. over 200,000 manats. Yet one cannot find card phones in the streets of Ashgabat -- you can buy a card, but you still have to go to the designated place to make a call, which can again be tapped.

Moreover, it has become popular to call someone through the Internet as well. There are many free sites, such as As there is one state Internet provider in the country, Turkmentelekom has also commenced using these free sites, and charging people $3 to $4 per minute to call the U.S. The quality of such calls is very low, but people are still forced to use this service. There is no alternative. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Ashgabat KNB Pressures Atakovs To Emigrate

14 May 2001

Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov has been brought from the Interior Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) to the Turkmen capital Ashgabat in an apparent bid to persuade him and his family to agree to leave the country for the United States, Keston News Service has learned. The German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston on 12 May that earlier that day the authorities had also brought Atakov's wife Artygyul from her home in internal exile in the town of Kaakhka for a meeting with her husband at the Ashgabat headquarters of the country's political police, the KNB (former KGB). The two have told the KNB separately and jointly that they have no wish to leave. The KNB has reportedly told Shageldy that if they refuse to emigrate he will be made to serve his full sentence.

Atakov -- a member of a congregation of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists -- is serving a four-year sentence on charges fellow Baptists believe were fabricated to punish him for his activity in the Baptist church in Turkmenbashi, where he was arrested in December 1998. His sentence runs until December next year. There is no news on Atakov's current state of health, which has been poor. He was reportedly close to death at the beginning of the year after being beaten and forcibly treated with psychotropic drugs.

The Friedensstimme mission -- which maintains close ties with congregations of the Council of Churches in the former Soviet republics -- reported that the Turkmen authorities had separately made the emigration offer to both Shageldy and Artygyul a week earlier, and both had refused, declaring that they wanted to remain in their homeland. (Keston News Service)

Turkmenistan, Ukraine Sign Gas Accord

15 May 2001

Saparmurat Niyazov arrived in Kyiv on 13 May for a three-day official visit to Ukraine.

At the meeting on 14 May Leonid Kuchma and Saparmurat Niyazov have exchanged their views on the state and performance of bilateral relations and discussed new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Afterwards talks were held between Niyazov and Kuchma and their top officials. A number of documents were signed on 14 May, including a joint communique on the visit; a treaty on economic cooperation for the period 2001-2010; an agreement on Turkmen gas supplies to Ukraine for the period 2002-2006; an agreement on regulation of the resettlement process and protection of settlers' rights; an intergovernmental agreement on readmission; an intergovernmental agreement on mutual protection of secret information; an intergovernmental agreement on mutual recognition and equality of diplomas and academic degrees; an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance in issues of taxation; an agreement between the health care ministries on cooperation in the pharmaceutical industry; and a contract between the Turkmen state gas trading corporation and the Ukrainian oil and gas company on the purchase of Turkmen gas in 2002. The signing ceremony was followed by a news conference

The signed agreement on Turkmen gas supplies to Ukraine pledges Turkmenistan to supply 250 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine over the next five years. "Turkmenistan will ensure practically all the needs" of Ukraine in gas supply, Kuchma said.

Forty billion cubic meters of gas will be supplied to Ukraine in 2002 at $42 per 1,000 cubic meters, Niyazov said. Ukraine will make 50 percent of the payments in hard currency and cover the rest with "an investment policy," which calls for the implementation of projects amounting to $412 million in Turkmenistan, he noted.

Kuchma called it an historic event, stressing that gas for Ukraine was not only an economic matter, but also a major policy issue of state security. Kuchma said he could not answer questions about how this could change Ukraine's dependence on Russia, noting that Ukraine and Russia both depended on each other. The deal does not fully meet Ukraine's needs of 70 billion cubic meters a year. Currently, Turkmenistan and Russia each provide 30 billion cubic meters (1,050 billion cubic feet) of gas a year to Kyiv, which can only meet 22 percent of its needs.

Turkmenistan and Ukraine plan to sign around "2003 or 2004" another contract for gas supplies over the next 10 years, according to the Turkmen president.

"This is a strategically profitable project which will guarantee stable work on the Ukrainian gas market," he added.

Trade between the two countries reached $1.1 billion (1.3 billion euros) last year, of which $950 million represented Turkmen exports to Ukraine. On 15 May Leonid Kuchma and Saparmurat Niyazov attended an unveiling ceremony of a container ferry terminal at the Illichevsk commercial port in the Odessa region.

The terminal is an integral part of a multimode complex through which main transport railroad and motor ferry lines run, connecting Bulgaria, Georgia, and Turkey. The complex is capable of annually handling 6 million tons of cargo in railroad cars and over 300,000 tons of cargo in containers and motor vehicles.

The complex is a key staging post on the Varna-Illichevsk-Poti/Batumi-Illichevsk-Varna international railroad ferry line.

Before arriving at the port, Kuchma and Niyazov visited an agricultural exhibition in the village of Chubynske near Kyiv to look at samples of Ukrainian-made agricultural machinery.

Niyazov told the press following the excursion that Turkmenistan intends to purchase agricultural machinery in Ukraine. Special envoys from Turkmen regions will come to Ukraine on 29 May to choose the best samples for further purchasing.

Ukrainian-made agricultural machinery is well known throughout the world, the Turkmen president said, adding that Turkmenistan needs, in particular, harvesters and plows.

Turkmen President Niyazov believes Turkmenistan can wait for two to three months for Ukraine to repay its gas debts, until Ukraine settles its matter with the Paris club of creditors, Niyazov said on 14 May at a press conference he held together with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma after their talks.

Ukraine will fulfill its obligations to repay its earlier-accumulated gas debts to Turkmenistan. At present, Ukraine owes $415-420 million to Turkmenistan, including $40 million to be paid in commodities.

The Turkmen president emphasized he did not intend to make Ukraine return the debt as soon as possible, since many things depend on the Paris club, and Kyiv is settling accounts with Turkmenistan very well.

According to Niyazov, the debt will be leveled by documents on investment projects.

This year Turkmenistan will supply 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine. Russia will supply another 30 billion, and Ukraine will extract 18 billion cubic meters of gas on its own territory.

Saparmurat Niyazov told a press conference in Kyiv on 14 May that he had invited Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to visit Turkmenistan at any time.

Niyazov said that he would like to see the Ukrainian president as his guest at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence (in October 2001).

The Turkmen president also said that he had presented Kuchma with a unique horse named Figar-Winner. But during the visit, he handed over to Kuchma just a photo and an international certificate of the animal. The horse will be delivered to Kyiv later, Niyazov said. Niyazov wrapped up his three-day official visit to Ukraine and flew from Odessa to Ashgabat in the evening of 15 May. (RFE/RL, Interfax, AP, Turkmen TV, AFP,, ITAR-TASS)

Life Expectancy Increases In Turkmenistan

14 May 2001

Economic development, and social and international stability have had an influence on the demographic situation in the country. On the basis of complex demographic estimates, the Institute of Turkmenmillihasabat (National Institute for State Statistics and Information) determined that average life expectancy in Turkmenistan in 2000 increased to 68.3 years, as against 64.7 years in 1995

According to statistics, on 1 May 2001 the population of the country was 5,000,410. More than 2,000,482 of these live in urban areas, while 2,00,928 people live in rural areas. Moreover, there has been significantly high population growth in cities as well as in rural places -- up by 3 per cent in January-April 2001 in comparison with the same period last year. (Turkmen State News Service)

Iran's Central Asian Chess Game In Turkmenistan

18 May 2001

By Farshid Motahari

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago, the Central Asian states have become a strategic spot for Islamic Iran and Teheran has chosen neighboring Turkmenistan as a gateway to a new world of political and economic opportunities.

"Central Asia is a chess board...all countries aware of the potentials of this area are maneuvering like chess players and waiting to make the final move," said Zareh, a senior diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Ashgabat.

Iran and two of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia -- Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan -- plus Azerbaijan in the Caucasus and Russia share the Caspian Sea and they hope for a rich oil and gas potential once the sea's legal regime is finalized. Iran further hopes to act as a transit route for transferring Central Asian and Caucasus oil and gas via Iranian soil to Europe and consequently by securing a long-term non-oil income.

Technically no country, including the United States, doubts that Iran is the most economical route, but political tensions with arch-enemy U.S., which accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, have so far deprived Iran of the desired transit role. This has also made other regional countries hesitant of supporting Iran.

"Turkmenistan is one of the few CIS countries where there are no internal and external tensions and hence an ideal neighboring country for Iran for investing in Central Asian potential," the Iranian diplomat said. The Turkmen side is also full of praise for Iran. "Iran is more than a brother for us," said Deputy Transportation Minister Saguly Grabanniyazowic in his office in Ashgabat. "A real brother who is also at our side in dire need," the Turkmen official added, referring to prompt Iranian aid in 1994 when the country was involved in a severe bread crisis.

Investments in Turkmenistan for Iran, which maintains a huge embassy building, a cultural center, and a mosque in Ashgabat, are however, far from what can conventionally be called profit-making businesses. "There is no profit here...we have our expenses in dollars and our income in manats (Turkmen currency)...keeping this establishment is probably only part of higher politics," Mossadeqi, a businessman in Ashgabat, said. Mossadeqi is deputy manager of Iran Payaneh, an unloading center located 30 kilometers from the joint border which is supposed to act as the first gateway for exports of Iranian goods to Turkmenistan and other Central Asian states.

A branch of Iran's main automobile industry, Iran-Khodro, has also been active in Ashgabat for more than five years, and provides the country with Iranian-made Peugeots as well as buses (fitted with Mercedes Benz engines). But the turnover here is also not even adequate to cover the expenses. "We have problems with the local banks returning our manat income in dollars and some of the payments are eight months behind schedule," Ali Mirdamadian, the vice-director of the branch office in Ashgabat, said.

Iran and Turkmenistan also plan to expand the Silk Road route -- the legendary Shanghai-Istanbul railway link via Turkmenistan and Iran -- to southern Iran as a way of connecting the Persian Gulf market to Central Asia. "The two sides plan to establish a railway link from the joint Sarakhs border in northeastern Iran to the Chabahar free-trade zone in southeastern Iran to enable a Gulf-Central Asian market via Iran and with Turkmenistan as the center," Mirdamadian said.

Yet none of the commercial activities in the rather economically humble Turkmenistan and neighboring states are expected to bring huge profits unless gas and oil are involved. "Turkmenistan has always been a provider of energy and not a commercially oriented country and should therefore be approached accordingly...Iran nevertheless believes that even symbolic economic cooperation with Turkmenistan can lead to strategic fruitful cooperation in the future scenario in Central Asia," the Iranian diplomat said.

Iran considers last March's Iran-Russia summit in Moscow as an acknowledgment of Iran as being part of Central Asia and therefore entitled to be involved in the future policy-making in that area. President Mohammad Khatami's first-ever foreign visit as president was to Turkmenistan in December 1997. "Iran is no longer only part of the Middle East but also part of Central Asia...and this makes new political planning inevitable," said former Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Maleki, who is now in charge of Caspian Sea affairs. (DPA)

Outlook Dims For Caspian Summit

15 May 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Hopes for a Caspian compromise faded further last week after Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan exchanged angry words.

The latest blow to negotiations on dividing the Caspian Sea came from Baku, as First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov accused Turkmenistan of "arrogance" in demanding a halt to Azerbaijani offshore oil projects.

Abbasov was responding to a note from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, which charged Baku with acting against the norms of international law by developing oil fields that are claimed by Ashgabat.

The roots of the latest row over the disputed resources can be traced to a meeting last month between Azeri President Heidar Aliyev and President Saparmurat Niyazov at the Turkic summit in Istanbul.

The two leaders declared that the time had come to end their long feud over the Caspian dividing line, offering the first glimmer of hope for a settlement in several years. Teams of experts from both sides were hastily convened in Ashgabat to settle the affair.

The dispute over a border oil field that Azerbaijan calls Kyapaz and Turkmenistan calls Serdar has been a sticking point for dividing the entire Caspian among the five shoreline states. But the result of the expert talks was a diplomatic disaster. Turkmenistan derided the Azerbaijani proposals on a dividing line as a package of old formulas that Ashgabat had previously scorned.

Instead of leading to compromise, the talks broke down as Turkmenistan renewed its claims not only to Kyapaz/Serdar, but also to fields that have been part of Azerbaijan's "deal of the century" project since 1994. Ashgabat also charged Azerbaijan with unilaterally blocking a border agreement among the five littoral states.

Last week, Abbasov rejected the Turkmen demand to stop its production in an interview with the Turan news agency, saying, "There are no legal grounds based on the norms of international law for the note from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry."

The exchange leaves the Caspian argument right back where it started, but with renewed expressions of ill will. The episode raises the question of why the meeting was called in the first place. Both sides may have believed that the other was ready to compromise.

Azerbaijan has previously shown its ability to make concessions when its greater interests are at stake. In March 2000, Aliyev gave up a portion of its transit fees from the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to Georgia in order to strike a deal with Tbilisi after progress was stalled for several months.

Niyazov may have thought that Azerbaijan would be so eager to clear any legal clouds over its offshore projects that it would grant Turkmenistan a share in both Serdar/Kyapaz and the "deal of the century." He seems to have been badly mistaken.

An earlier rift between the two countries over shares in a trans-Caspian gas pipeline to Turkey has effectively scuttled the project. Neither side has been willing to give ground, while Azerbaijan has proceeded with plans for gas sales to Turkey on its own.

On his side, Aliyev may have thought Niyazov was ready to bargain because his plan to host a Caspian summit has essentially collapsed, having been put off first from March until April and then from April until October.

In March, Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Yelly Gurbanmuradov said his country was negotiating $10 billion worth of Caspian contracts. But oil companies are believed to be waiting for the legal problems to be solved. Both sides may have seen reasons why the other would back down, but neither seemed motivated to make the first move.

In the meantime, Kazakhstan is preparing to invite Azerbaijan to sign a bilateral Caspian border agreement, the Interfax news agency reported.

Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov argued in a letter to Kazakh Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev that "It will take additional effort and time to reach a consensus on the legal status of the Caspian on a five-party format." In other words, countries would be foolish to wait indefinitely for an overall settlement before reaching deals on their own.

That position may raise tensions further in the Caspian region.

In March, Iran and Russia signed a joint declaration in Moscow, stating that neither would recognize bilateral boundary pacts until all five nations agree. Iran is said to have sought the pledge, which Russia has since tried to discount.

But the events may be a sign that the delay in the summit may be filled with incidents that incite anger instead of steps toward a Caspian compromise.

Lack Of Reform In Turkmenistan Prompts EBRD To Consider Further Scaling Back

15 May 2001

By Steve Levine

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which last year stopped public-sector lending to Turkmenistan, is considering scaling back further in the Caspian Sea state, people familiar with the matter say.

The review, soon to be made by the EBRD's board of directors, comes as international lending institutions have been increasingly cautious in dealing with the former Soviet Union because of concern about the sluggishness of economic and political reform. The International Monetary Fund, for example, has suspended operations in Belarus and Uzbekistan as well as in Turkmenistan.

The London-based EBRD has a mandate to promote both economic reform and multiparty democracy in the former Soviet bloc. At a 10th-anniversary meeting last month, EBRD officials said they will focus on democracy more than in the past, and cited Turkmenistan and Belarus as states they are monitoring.

Turkmenistan, led by President Saparmurat Niyazov, has among the world's largest reserves of natural gas, but it was ranked at the bottom of nearly every economic and political reform indicator in the EBRD's annual report last year. Among the former Soviet Union's most autocratic leaders, Niyazov, 61, calls himself Turkmenbashi, or Leader of the Turkmen. He is known for spending considerable public sums on palaces and monuments, many named after himself.

The EBRD has committed to 165 million euros ($145.5 million) in lending in Turkmenistan, including one 32 million euro public-sector loan to modernize the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi. The bank's decision to halt further public-sector lending followed Niyazov's refusal to receive a senior bank official who flew to the republic in April of last year to discuss economic and political reforms. The republic was given a year to demonstrate progress on both fronts.

People familiar with the matter say EBRD officials believe there hasn't been sufficient improvement on reforms and that a renewal of public-sector loans is highly unlikely. Instead, these people say, the board of directors will probably decide to broaden penalties against Turkmenistan -- for instance, attaching stricter conditions on continued private-sector loans, or even suspending all lending.

The EBRD press office referred calls to bank President Jean Lemierre, who was out of town and unavailable for comment. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry didn't return calls. ("The Wall Street Journal")

In Ruin, Symbols On A Stone Hint At Lost Asian Culture

13 May 2001

By John Noble Wilford

In an unexpected benefit of the Cold War's end, Russian and American archeologists say they have discovered an ancient civilization that thrived in Central Asia more than 4,000 years ago, before being lost in the sweep of history. The people of that area, the archeologists say, built oasis settlements with imposing mud-brick buildings and fortifications. They herded sheep and goats and grew wheat and barley in irrigated fields. They had bronze axes, fine ceramics, alabaster and bone carvings, and jewelry of gold and semiprecious stones. They left luxury goods in the graves of an elite class.

The accomplishments of those unknown people in what are now the republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan began to emerge over several decades of excavations by archaeologists of the Soviet Union, who worked diligently but in academic silence behind closed borders. The surprising scope of society suggested a stage of social and economic development generally regarded as civilization. All that seemed lacking was evidence of number or writing systems.

With the end of the Cold War, American archeologists have joined the Russians in exploring the region, and now they are reporting that they have found inscriptions showing that these people may have indeed had writing, or at least were experimenting with a form of proto-writing, around 2300 B.C.

"We are rewriting all the history books about the ancient world because of the new political order in our own time," Dr. Fredrik T. Hiebert, a University of Pennsylvania archeologist involved in the excavation, said in an interview last week. In the most recent and provocative discovery, Dr. Hiebert uncovered a small stone object engraved with four or five red-colored symbols or letters that apparently bear no resemblance to any other writing system of the time. Other scholars agreed that the symbols seemed to be unlike contemporary scripts in Mesopotamia, Iran, or the Indus River valley.

Dr. Hiebert made the discovery last summer in ruins at Annau, a site near the border with Iran and only eight miles from the Turkmenistan capital, Ashgabat. He described the findings a week ago at a symposium at Penn and yesterday at a conference on language and archeology at Harvard.

"You can say we have discovered a new ancient civilization," Dr. Hiebert said. At the same time, the pyramids of Egypt had been standing for three centuries, power in the Tigris and Euphrates valley was shifting from Sumer to Babylon and the Chinese had yet to develop writing.

Dr. Victor H. Mair, a specialist in ancient Asian languages and cultures at Penn, who was not on the research team, said of the inscription, "I definitely think that's writing." Dr. Mair added that the discovery of ruins of an advanced culture in a region "where there was thought to be just space and emptiness fills an enormous gap" in terms of trade and cultural exchange across Asia in antiquity. It suggested that people in Asia more than 4,000 years ago were not as isolated as once supposed, he said, but probably had continent-wide connections.

The dozens of settlement ruins of the newfound civilization stretch east from Annau across the Kara-Kum desert into Uzbekistan and perhaps the northern part of Afghanistan. It is an area 300 to 400 miles long and 50 miles wide. Since no one knows who the people were or what they called themselves, archeologists have given the culture the prosaic name of the Bactria Margiana Archaeology Complex, or BMAC (pronounced BEE-mack), after the ancient Greek names of two regions it encompasses.

Long after the ruins were buried in sand, the area was traversed by the legendary Silk Road, the caravan route linking China and the Mediterranean lands from the second century B.C. to the 16th century A.D. The oases that served as way stations for rest and resupply on the Silk Road also supported the BMAC civilization, which presumably was trading far and wide over some kind of ancestral Bronze Age Silk Road.

Dr. Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, a Harvard archeologist, questioned whether the symbols on the artifact represented true writing. But he said that Dr. Hiebert's discovery "falls into place with other research showing that this culture was working out some sort of communication system, though it never reached the level of complexity in writing as its neighbors did."

Until the waning days of the Soviet Union, foreign scholars knew almost nothing of the nature and extent of the BMAC culture. Reports of findings were confined to Soviet journals. In the post-Cold War openness, Russian archeologists are eagerly sharing their knowledge and inviting collaboration with Westerners. Dr. Hiebert plans to return to Annau, possibly next month, for further excavations to be financed in part by the National Geographic Society.

Dr. Victor Sarianidi of the Institute of Archeology in Moscow found a distinctive architectural pattern in many of the ruins. The buildings at each site appeared to be erected in one burst of construction according to the design of a single architect. The largest buildings were like huge apartment complexes, each bigger than a football field and divided into dozens and dozens of rooms. They were surrounded by multiple mud-brick walls, some as much as 10 feet thick. Beyond lay traces of agricultural fields.

In the 1990's, Dr. Hiebert began digging slowly to deeper, and therefore earlier, levels of occupation. He was rewarded last June while excavating beneath a room in what appeared to be an administrative building at Annau. That was where he found the carved symbols on a piece of shiny black jet stone, a type of coal, less than one inch to a side.

Archaeologists believe that it was a stamp seal, commonly used in ancient commerce to mark containers by their contents and ownership. The site also contained many lumps of clay that were used to seal vessels or parcels.

Scientists analyzing charcoal found with the artifacts dated the material at 2300 B.C., before the larger settlements were built. American radiocarbon dates have established that the BMAC culture was present in Central Asia from 2200 B.C. to 1800 or 1700 B.C. Russian research generally underestimated the culture's antiquity by about 500 years. ("The New York Times")