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Turkmen Report: July 31, 2001

31 July 2001
Turkmen President To Miss CIS Summit

30 July 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov will not take part in the informal CIS summit to be held in Sochi on 1-3 August at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The announcement was made on 30 July after a government meeting devoted to the preparation of celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence.

Niyazov plans to spend this week working on his book "Rukhnama" to prepare it for publication, a source in the government told ITAR-TASS. The book, in which Niyazov explores the historical and cultural roots of the Turkmen people, is considered as the Turkmen leader's advice to future generations. The book is expected to be presented at the national forum of the Revival Movement in October.

This is the second time Niyazov will stay away from an informal exchange of views by CIS heads of state. He is the only CIS leader who did not attend the latest full-scale CIS summit in Minsk last June. (ITAR-TASS)

Azerbaijan Disagrees On Debt To Turkmenistan

30 July 2001

Turkmen authorities are dissatisfied with the results of negotiations between official delegates from Ashgabat and Baku that ended on 29 July.

A source in the Turkmen capital told Interfax on 30 July that the sides have been unable to agree on the amount owed by Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan.

According to the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, total Azerbaijani debt to Turkmenistan amounts to $59.69 million, which includes restructured debt for supplies of natural gas to Azerbaijan in 1993-1994 amounting to $36.7 million and debt on interbank settlements between the central banks of both countries amounting to $22.9 million.

However, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation, First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov, said that he recognized debt of $18.7 million, and that the remaining amount "is debt owed by companies and this issue is currently being dealt with by experts."

The Turkmen vice premier and president of the central bank, Seyitbai Gandimov, in an interview to local journalists remarked that "the sum of the indebtedness is based on particular financial documents, which were shown to the Azerbaijani party and if necessary can be shown in international court." At the same time, according to Gandimov, "the Azerbaijani delegation and its leader could not offer proper arguments in a documentary form to prove the validity of their supposed numbers of the debt." He added, "the responsibility for the talks' failure lies on official Baku, whose delegation has arrived in Ashgabat, apparently, not to achieve a compromise, but only to stall the process of debt payment."

Turkmen sources close to the negotiation process said that "during the negotiations Abbasov "adopted an uncompromising, intractable position, but in the corridors admitted the legitimacy of the debt demands on Azerbaijan." This was one of the main reasons for the breakdown of the talks, the sources said.

Leaving Ashgabat on the night of 30 July, Abbasov expressed regret that he failed to follow an order by Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and personally meet the president of Turkmenistan." In his opinion, "such a meeting with [Niyazov] could have promoted a successful outcome of the talks." (RFE/RL, Interfax,

Turkmenistan Protests To Azerbaijan Over Disputed Caspian Oil Fields

27 July 2001

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry sent its Azerbaijani counterpart a note of protest, saying that the development of disputed Caspian oil fields must not be allowed.

The note says Azerbaijan continues oil development, exploration included, in disputed areas in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan regards such actions by Azerbaijan as "absolutely unlawful" and "flying in the face of other Caspian states."

"By using the whole array of diplomatic means at its disposal, Turkmenistan continues to adopt measures for settling issues concerning the definition of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, which is borne out by meetings and negotiations, held bilaterally and multilaterally alike," says the document.

Despite repeated protests by Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, along with foreign companies, continues to carry out oil work on the lucrative Altyn-Asyr (its Turkmen name) or Sharg, which is located in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea.

Ashgabat says any unilateral actions in the Caspian region "infringing on the rights and interests of other Caspian states" are unacceptable until the legal status of the Caspian Sea has been defined in full. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry urged Baku to refrain from further work in the disputed territories. (Interfax)

Itera Starts Turkmen Gas Deliveries To Ukraine

27 July 2001

The flow of Turkmen natural gas to Ukraine via the Central Asian pipeline system was halved on 26 June, according to Itera press secretary Nikolay Semenenko. "At present, 80 percent of the contract volumes are supplied to Ukraine," he said, pledging gas deliveries in full volume within the next few days. The reason was that Itera, which had not been paid by the Ukrainian energy-producing companies, could not make payments to the Uzbek and Kazakh gas delivery companies. The chance of a full resumption of gas deliveries has emerged following a meeting between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and the head of the Itera international group of companies, Igor Makarov, in Kyiv. Kuchma guaranteed the transfer of $20 million to Itera as part of the energy companies' debt, which totals $50 million.

Itera had planned to supply Ukraine with 3 billion cubic meters of gas in July -- 110 million cubic meters up from June. (RFE/RL, Interfax,

U.S. Directs $27 Million To Refugee Aid

27 July 2001

U.S. President George W. Bush has ordered that $27 million in emergency aid be made available to help ease the plight of refugees and other people uprooted by conflicts in Afghanistan and Africa.

Bush said in a memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell that the funds are to be distributed primarily through international and non-governmental organizations helping refugees and displaced persons in Afghanistan, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Eritrea.

Bush said up to $5 million of the funding may be set aside as a contingency fund for urgent U.S. responses to refugee crises. (RFE/RL, dpa)

Turkmen, Uzbek Presidents Hold Phone Conversation To Discuss Relations

26 July 2001

A telephone conversation took place on 26 July between Saparmurat Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The heads of the two neighboring countries exchanged views on very important issues of mutual interest, including international events.

They also determined ways of strengthening bilateral relations within the framework of agreements reached previously. Particularly, both leaders expressed satisfaction with the Turkmen-Uzbek border delimitation agreement coming into force. It was signed by the two presidents in Ashgabat. The leaders said this was a positive factor in the development of multifaceted relations between the two sovereign states.

The Turkmen and Uzbek presidents discussed progress in coordinating their border guard and customs activities.

Niyazov and Karimov congratulated each other on forthcoming 10th anniversaries of independence. (RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, Turkmen TV)

EBRD Warns Turkmenistan It May Halt Lending

26 July 2001

This week the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) sent an open letter to one of its members, Turkmenistan, objecting to the lack of democratic as well as economic change in the country.

The bank was established with public money in 1990, with the main aim of fostering market economies in formerly communist countries. Over the past year or so the EBRD has put a new emphasis on trying to promote democracy. Now it has issued a threat: if Turkmenistan's ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov, does nothing to change the situation in his country over the next year, it may stop lending there.

Under Niyazov's one-party, authoritarian leadership, the bank observes, political opponents and religious minorities are persecuted, and Turkmenistan's citizens lack freedom. They cannot, for instance, leave the country without an exit visa. On the economic front, the bank's lending to small businesses has been thwarted by restrictions on access to foreign currency. The EBRD also worries about what Niyazov is doing with Turkmenistan's $1.7 billion "foreign-exchange fund", a pot of money worth about 60 percent of the country's GDP, which comes directly under his control and does not form part of the state budget.

Niyazov, whose latest bit of despotism is to decree that foreigners must pay $50,000 to marry into the Turkmen race, may well ignore the EBRD's letter. The EBRD said that there had been harassment of religious minorities in Turkmenistan and political opposition to President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov had been suppressed.

After all, the bank remains committed, for now, to its biggest venture in Turkmenistan, a $75 million loan facility to Dragon Oil, majority-owned by Emirates National Oil Company. The bank has not ruled out financing the development of another hydrocarbon field, this time with Burren Energy, a British oil and shipping company. For some at the EBRD, this would be an embarrassment. Niyazov benefits personally from the EBRD's lending to such projects, because production-sharing agreements allow for part of the revenues to go straight into his foreign-exchange fund.

No one in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan's capital, is expecting any political transformation as a result of the EBRD's new hard line. When Charles Frank, the bank's second-in-command at the time, went to express his concerns last year, Niyazov refused him an audience. And the EBRD does not lend a great deal in Turkmenistan, relatively speaking. The total value of its four projects there, 155 million euros ($136 million), forms only a small portion of foreign direct investment, which in the field of natural resources alone came to $500 million last year. The country can get hard cash by selling its natural gas to Ukraine, Russia, and Iran. Still, the EBRD hopes that its letter will have an effect as a warning signal to Western energy companies who, let us face it, are not easily put off by an unpleasant political regime.

Although the economy grew by 17.6 percent in 2000, outstripping the rest of the region, the EBRD said there had been virtually no progress in key areas like currency liberalization, privatization, and transparency. "The overall conclusion is that little has changed over the past year, and to some extent the environment for private investors may have become more difficult," EBRD President Jean Lemierre said in a review of the bank's operations. (Reuters, The Economist)

Niyazov To Turn Three Rural Areas Into Prosperous Region

24 July 2001

Turkmen President Niyazov plans to turn three rural areas outside Ashgabat into a region "with well-organized, effective production." He made his plan public at a conference on crop processing held on 23 July.

A government source told Interfax that the conference took place at Kipchak, a small community near Ashgabat, where a tomato cannery has been under construction since May of this year.

It is this plant that the head of state wants to be Turkmenistan's first joint-stock business, including the entire chain of production from crop growing to processing.

The creation of a joint-stock company, whose activities the president will personally control, will be the first stage in upgrading the rural districts around Ashgabat. Forty-nine American-made tractors will be delivered to the Turkmen capital soon.

Niyazov believes that the Ashgabat region tops the list of rural areas up for improvement, followed by the Geoktepin and Gyaur regions. (Interfax)

Pregnant Mother To Be Deported

23 July 2001

Two Baptist women -- one of them heavily pregnant -- have been told to leave Turkmenistan along with their nine children, in the wake of their husbands' deportation from the country. Nadezhda Potolova is expecting her fourth child in August but Keston News Service has learnt that on 16 July she and Valentina Kalataevskaya -- whose husbands were deported for their religious activity at the end of June -- were told by Ziyad Ishchanov of the KNB (former KGB) that if they and their children have not left the country by 15 August, the authorities will send soldiers to load them and their possessions into vehicles and deport them.

"Ishchanov did not present any written decision about this," local Baptists wrote in an 18 July statement passed to Keston by the German-based Friedensstimme Mission. "He simply said they are being deported for activity forbidden in Turkmenistan." (Keston News Service)

Atakov Back In Turkmenbashi Prison

23 July 2001

Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov has been returned to the Interior Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), Keston News Service has learnt from the German-based Friedensstimme Mission. The prison, which holds some 700 prisoners, was where Atakov had been held since March until his surprise transfer by plane to the Turkmen capital Ashgabat in May in a bid to persuade him and his family to agree to leave the country for the United States. His wife Artygul was taken by car from Kaakhka for a meeting with her husband at the headquarters of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB, but both declined to leave the country. (Keston News Service)

Turkmens, Azeribaijanis Step Up War Of Words Over Caspian

30 July 2001

By Marat Gurt

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, at odds over who owns what in the oil-rich Caspian Sea, traded new barbs on 30 July and the Turkmen government threatened to seek international arbitration in the dispute.

Russia last week said such disputes showed the need for talks to decide the status of the sea, while the United States has stressed the need for stability in the region.

A Turkmen official, who took part in the latest round of talks that ended in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on 29 July, told Reuters the Azerbaijani side was responsible for a lack of progress.

"The absence of compromise solutions at these talks stems from the actions and negotiating tactics of the Azerbaijani delegation which is totally responsible for such a result," he said. Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov, who headed Baku's team at the latest talks, said in Baku that "the fruitless negotiations" were due to "Turkmenistan's lack of objectivity."

Abbasov said all his attempts to meet Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had yielded no result. At issue in the diplomatic row between the two ex-Soviet states are potentially huge energy deposits on the inland sea, which has not been formally divided between the states around it -- Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are vying for two fields, one called Osman in Turkmen and Chirag in Azerbaijani, another called Khazar in Turkmen and Azeri by the Azerbaijanis, which Ashgabat claims Baku has been developing illegally. Exploration of the Altyn Asyr oil and gas structure, called by Azerbaijan Sharg, is another bone of contention.

"Ashgabat is categorically against any kind of activity on the oil and gas structures located in disputed parts of the Caspian shelf, before the sea has acquired clearly defined borders of national sectors," Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Yelly Gurbanmuradov was quoted in a press release as saying.

The statement also quoted Turkmen Oil Industry and Mineral Resources Minister Kurbannazar Nazarov as saying that "Turkmenistan would use all legitimate means to defend its interests, including international arbitration."


The territorial dispute in the Caspian became more heated last week when an Iranian gunboat ordered two exploration ships licensed by Azerbaijan out of what it considered Iranian waters. Abbasov said Ashgabat's tough-worded diplomatic note to Baku on 27 July and Tehran's act of gunboat diplomacy represented a well-orchestrated action against Azerbaijan.

Amid a diplomatic war of words, Western businesses appear to be sitting on the fence waiting for the outcome of the battle. British oil major BP said on Monday it was too early to say when it might resume exploration in a disputed Caspian sector, following last week's incident with an Iranian gunboat.

"It is far too early to say when exploration will resume, it is a matter for the Azerbaijani and Iranian governments to sort out as part of the big issue of Caspian demarcation," said BP's spokeman in Moscow, Peter Henshaw.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov wants to host a summit of all littoral states in his capital, Ashgabat, on 26 and 27 October. Analysts say the idea of the summit may fall through if at least one country decides not to take part in the meeting.

The United States has targetted the Caspian as one area in which it would like to build influence. National Security Adviser Condeleezza Rice said during a visit to Moscow last week that the region needed stability and criticised Iran for the gunboat incident. Russia has also expressed concern, calling for talks to smooth things over and finally to decide the status of the sea. (Reuters)

Gunboat Diplomacy Reflects Caspian Oil Tension

25 July 2001

By Rosalind Russell

A confrontation between an Iranian gunboat and oil ships exploring Azerbaijani-claimed Caspian waters was an incident waiting to happen due to squabbles over who owns what in the oil-rich sea, analysts said on 25 July.

The spat would also make oil firms wary of crossing swords with the countries around the sea, but major projects were likely to plough ahead, they added. The Iranian military on 23 July ordered two ships operated by British oil giant BP to retreat from the disputed area which both Iran and Azerbaijan claim as their own. "This area is a key point of dispute," said Vincent Noual of consultants IHS Energy Group. "And BP got an immediate and clear response from the Iranians: stop."

A BP-led consortium has a licence from the Azerbaijani government to explore the area it calls the Araz-Alov-Sharg concession. But Tehran -- which calls the block Alborz -- has licenced it to an Iranian company. Part of the area is also contested by Turkmenistan on the Caspian's eastern shore. It is just one area of dispute in the landlocked sea.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Caspian's status was governed by agreements between the Soviet Union and Iran. Now there are five littoral states and so far they have failed to agree on how to divide it. But that has not stopped oil companies rushing in to sign deals.

Another BP-led consortium has an $8-9 billion contract with the Azerbaijani government to develop the huge Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli complex, despite Turkmenistan's claim to some of the same area.

Other disputed acreage has been licensed by Azerbaijan to U.S. supermajor ExxonMobil, while the northern Caspian holds potential for spats between Russia and Kazakhstan.

"It's a big mess," said Noual. "And there's been practically no progress at all towards sorting it out."


A new round of talks between the leaders of the five littoral states is expected to take place in October in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.

While Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan have found some common ground, the positions of Iran and Turkmenistan make any agreement unlikely, say analysts. "Right now there is not the slightest common denominator between them. In fact their views look more divergent than ever," said Jean-Christophe Fueg of the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Iran, which has been slower than others to exploit the Caspian, has demanded a 20 percent area which analysts describe as "pure fantasy."

Nevertheless, a carve-up of the Caspian along median lines -- a system which also divides up the North Sea -- would give Iran a bigger wedge of territory which could include some of the Araz-Alov-Sharg concession, they say.

"The 20 percent claim is certainly overdoing it," said Fueg. "But maybe the (military) show of strength is an effort to extract compromises in Ashgabat.


Meanwhile BP, which is in the middle of negotiating major upstream contracts for two Iranian fields, one onshore and one in the Gulf, has suspended its operations in the disputed area.

A BP spokesman said the company "expected to pursue its discussions with Iran separately from projects in the Caspian." But analysts said the threat of commercial retaliation from Iran was real and would keep oil companies wary. "I would not expect BP to jeopardise major business in Iran for the unknown prospects they have exploring Alov," said Noual.

However, the Azerbaijanis remained defiant in their row with Iran. "Nobody, no state, no structure and no force can turn back the oil strategy that has been implemented since 1994," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Natik Aliev, the head of Azerbaijani state oil firm SOCAR as saying. (Reuters)

'Lawlessness' In Turkmen Prisons

23 July 2001

By Vitaly Ponomariov

The conditions in Turkmenistan's prisons are still very poor, despite the mass amnesties in 1999-2000, which somewhat eased the overcrowding in the correction institutions of Turkmenistan.

The number of prisoners in different colonies and remand centers exceeds the permissible number from 1.4 to three times (for comparison: in 1999 there were four times as many prisoners as correction institutions could accommodate).

According to a law-enforcement officer, in remand centers, in rooms which can accommodate five people they keep 15-17 people under investigation, and prisoners take turns sleeping.

The people kept in remand centers suffer from lack of water. In the summer, one prisoner gets one half-liter bottle of water meant both for drinking and washing. This is absolutely insufficient.

Different sources say that the food for prisoners is of extremely poor quality. A usual ration consists of soup without meat and cottonseed oil. Dysentery, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases are rife among prisoners. However, prisoners get virtually no medical treatment and the required medicines are not available.

The prison hospital of colony MP-K/15 in Mary, southern Turkmenistan, is mainly for prisoners with severe forms of tuberculosis, cancer, and other almost incurable diseases and also those who have been transferred there for a bribe or thanks to connections in the law-enforcement bodies. The colony is designed for 200 inmates, but 680 patients are kept there. About 80 people die every year. The colony is now being expanded.

The mortality rate in other colonies is extremely high, too, and is going up. The worst situation in this respect is in the correction institutions of eastern Lebap Region. Food and sanitary conditions there are described even by those working there as "terrible." Describing the conditions, convicts say: "we are dying like flies" and "there is a new corpse every day". About 212 convicts died in 2000 alone in colonies LB-K/11 and LB-K/12 which are in Seydi near Charjew. The conditions are not better in Krasnovodsk prison (now Turkmenbashi), western Turkmenistan. A total of 72 prisoners died there in 2000.


The investigation agencies and prison administrations still widely use torture. In colonies supervisors often practice regular beatings of inmates with truncheons. A prisoner gets beaten and is put into a cell for any offence.

It is typical to see entries like the following in reports about violations of discipline: "unarmed combat and a truncheon were applied to convict Petrov for breaking internal rules." Convicts are placed in cells wearing only underwear irrespective of season, which often results in sickness or death.

In the high-security colonies of Lebap Region they use torture by electric shock, for which they have a special device. Such torture was applied to convict G. Avdeyev in colony LB-K/10 in February 2001. After the torture, Avdeyev was admitted to the prison hospital of colony MR-K/15 in serious condition and he is still there. According to reports from the colony, his condition has been getting worse every day.

Despite the fact that torture and cruel treatment are widespread, not a single staff member of Turkmen correction institutions was held responsible over the past three years. Officially there is considered to be no such problem in Turkmenistan.


For the last two and a half years in connection with mass campaigns to release convicts, which are carried out at the initiative of the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, staff of the Turkmen law-enforcement bodies have been taking bribes for putting a convict's name onto a list of amnestied prisoners which is signed by the president. The list includes thousands of names. Not only officials from the central institutions in Ashgabat but also members of local amnesty commissions, including heads of prisons and colonies, security committee officials, prosecutor's offices, and courts are involved in this.

In 1999 the Turkmen media reported another "humanitarian action" by the president -- the amnestying of hundreds of foreigners and handing them over to their countries' authorities. The texts of the amnesty decrees were not published in the press. In fact, the foreign nationals were not amnestied and were not freed.

For example, all "amnestied" Russian citizens were taken home under escort and put into correction establishments, as they were handed over by Turkmenistan under a corresponding intergovernmental agreement on extradition of convicts for further serving their terms. (Kazakh Eurasia website, Memorial human rights center)

The Southern Azeri-Iraqi Turkmen Connection

27 July 2001

By David Nissman

The connection, or actual relationship between the Southern Azeris, while it has been the subject of both Southern Azeri and Iraqi Turkmen literature, has rarely, if ever been highlighted outside of areas where the two peoples reside. If the Southern Azeris, and their difficulties with Iran have often been the subject of academic literature, the Iraqi Turkmens have not. The primary question, then, is who are the Iraqi Turkmens?

There are some 3.5 million Iraqi Turkmens in Iraq, generally concentrated in northern Iraq near the oil city of Kirkuk. They are the third-largest ethnic minority in Iraq, behind the Arabs and Kurds, and just ahead of the Assyrians.

The region (known commonly as "Kurdistan") they inhabit has often been the subject of regional geopolitical struggles, primarily between the Ottomans and the Iranians, largely because it was situated at the junction of trade routes leading from the Ottoman Empire and Iran to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. Long before oil became a significant geopolitical determinant, the area was a zone of conflict, both real and potential.

The Kirkuk region was the subject of a monograph by Nouri Talabany, "Iraq's Policy of Ethnic Cleansing: Onslaught to Change the National/Demographic Characteristics of the Kirkuk Region" (London, 1999). In the late 19th century, Talabany notes that "one may consider the time of occupation of Kurdistan by the Saffawis during the reign of Shah Ismail as the point in time at which the enforced settlement of Turkmens in the area began. The Saffawid tried to impose the Shi'ite Qizilbashi' faith on the Kurds in an attempt to replace the Sunni Muslims whom they did not trust."

The Turkmens, thus, were given the role of a microgeopolitical component in regional power struggles. It goes without saying that if Baghdad were able to remove the Turkmen component from the region, they would essentially be removing a future threat, not from the Turkmens but from those who would protect them. In all this, it is then relevant to ask how the Iraqi Turkmens define themselves. The first steps toward a self-definition were taken in the earlier efforts of the Iraqi Turkmens to form a modern political organization.

At the First (Iraqi) Turkoman Congress, held in Irbil from 4-7 October 1997, a "Declaration of Principles" was adopted. The second article defines who they are and what the name "Turkoman" represents: "The name Turkoman represents a people belonging to the Muslim Oghuz branch." According to this principle, they "migrated from Central Asia to today's Turkmenistan." This migration, according to them, began in the year 53 A.H. Here they are no doubt referring to the immigrations leading to the foundation of the Seljuk empires, which also brought a large part of the ancestors of the present-day Turks of Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Turkmenistan to the regions which they now inhabit. All three Turkic peoples -- the Turks of Turkey and the Balkans, the Azeris of Azerbaijan and Iran, and the Turkmen of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are members of the Oghuz group of Turkic languages. That means that there is a relatively high degree of mutual linguistic comprehensibility among them.

Article Three of the "Declaration of Principles" clarifies how the Iraqi Turkomans perceive their linguistic kinships among the Oghuz Turks: "The official written language of the Turkomans is Istanbul Turkish, and its alphabet is the new Latin alphabet." By contrast, in Turkmenistan, the official written language is the Turkmen of Ashgabat, and the alphabet is the modified Cyrillic script imposed on them under the Soviet regime.

When Ashgabat discovered the presence of Turkomans in Iraq in the early 1970s, a Turkmen literary newspaper published a number of Iraqi Turkoman short stories which had to be accompanied by vocabulary lists to aid readers in understanding the language. This is because, as stated in Article Three, the Turkic language in Iraq was much closer to that of Istanbul than Turkmenistan. Hence, the ambiguity of the name "Turkoman"; it is, firstly, an English rendition of a persified expression; "Turkman" represents an arabicized term; and "Turkmen" a genuine ethnonym, although it is not ethnolinguistically accurate. The Turkomans of Iraq have been cut off from having a voice in the international community and have thus been unable to define themselves. And that has meant that others have defined who they are rather than they themselves. The convening of the First Iraqi Turkoman Congress was but the first step in reattaining an international identity; the convening of the February 1999 congress in Irbil was a further step in this direction.

Some questions arise from their definition of themselves: if their officially accepted language, their language of education, is Istanbul Turkish, then, in a world without politics (or geopolitics), their language would be Turkish, not Turkmen. Their language is clearly Oghuz but the Turkmen elements in it are vestigial, but there. The key to the solution is buried in their extremely complex history, especially in the period during and after their arrival in Iraq.

According to the noted regional historian Nouri Talabany in "Iraq's Policy of Ethnic Cleansing" (London, 1999), the first stratum of the present-day Turkmens arrived during the 'Omayyad and Abbasid periods, when they were in demand by the rulers because of their prowess in battle. Very little is known about the language(s) they used during this period because there seem to be no surviving traces.

It is commonly believed that the period of a lasting settlement began during the Seljuk period in the 9th-10th centuries. These Turkmens may indeed have been ethnically closely to the Turkmens of Turkmenistan in Central Asia.

The third stratum can be said to be that which arrived during the Mongol invasions of the regions. These Turks spoke a dialect closely akin to Azeri, something quite perceptible in the language and literature now. Religious differences also help in isolating dialectical elements: Talabany notes that "...Shi'a Turkmens have their own culture and have rituals of their own which differ from those of the Sunni Turkmens. The two sects have different dialects also; the Shi'a Turkmens' dialect is more akin to that of the Azeri Turks."

This strong Azeri influence may explain the close literary relations between the Azeris and the Iraqi Turkmens. At the beginning of the year 2000 an Iranian Azeri scholar, Qaybali Sakina, published an article in the Southern Azeri journal, "21 Azar" published by the Sweden-Azerbaijan Federation on "Iraqi Turkmen -- Southern Azeri Literary Relations" in which she highlights the works of the prominent Iraqi Turkmen writer, poet, literary historian, and folklorist Abdullatif Benderoglu. He has translated a number of modern Azeri writers (Northern and Southern) into Turkmen, and has analyzed the origins of Azeri poetry in his book "Azeri Poetry" published in Baghdad in 1989. He also wrote a response to the masterwork of the Southern Azeri poet Memmedhuseyn Shahriyar, "Heydar Baba'ya selam". Benderoglu's poem is called "Gur-Gur Baba." Heydar Baba is a mountain dividing north (or independent) Azerbaijan from Iranian Azerbaijan; Gur-Gur Baba is a mountain in Kirkuk, which symbolizes the national aspirations of the Iraqi Turkmens.

Iraq's viewpoint is largely conditioned on two factors: the view of the Ba'th Party which is promoting the ethnic cleansing effort directed against the Turkmens, and Baghdad's approach to relations with Turkey. In an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 23 September 2000, Iraq's former Prime Minister Adnan Al-Pachachi referred to talks he held with the Turkish foreign minister in 1966: He said that "three factors have always dictated our relations with Turkey. They are water, the situation of the Kurds, and the situation of the Turkmens in Iraq."

While water is irrelevant to the present topic, the Kurds have achieved a measure of autonomy, which some of the Turkmens share with them, but the Turkish relationship remains strong. Iraqi Turkmen relations with Turkey have not always been strong. When, in 1932 the British gave up their mandate over Iraq, the Iraqi prime minister at the time, Nuri Al-Sa'id, stated in his declaration issued on 30 May 1932 that Iraqi minorities would receive "full and complete protection of life and liberty, without distinction of birth, nationality, race or religion." In this respect, it has been downhill ever since.

Turkmens were able to lobby successfully for inclusion in the Turkish regional security plan, and then-Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit presented a "revised security plan," updating his original security plan presented in 1995. It stipulated the Turkmens play a role in a post-Saddam, or new Iraqi government, and that "the world should be reminded of the Turkmen presence in Iraq. Baghdad should be aware of this presence and it should be noted providing certain rights and guarantees to the Turkmens will contribute to ending the division in the country" (quoted by Kemal Balci in the "Turkish Daily News" of 28 January 1999).

Yet, despite the Turkish efforts to help the Turkmens of Iraq, ethnic cleansing continues and education is lamed because the current Iraqi Constitution forbids the use of any script save Arabic (the Turkmens use Latin).

It should be noted that the Turkmens living in Iraqi Kurdistan north of the 36th parallel are not exposed to Baghdad's efforts to destroy their identity. In the south, however, which includes Kirkuk, they are exposed to constant efforts by Baghdad to expropriate their land and property, and liquidate their nationality.

The pressures on them are at least as great as those on the Iranian Azeris to conform to the demands of Iranian ethnic, political, and religious pressures. And yet this is not what unites the two peoples: it is that they share the same language and, in part the same traditions. It is these elements which unite Heydar Baba and Gur-Gur Baba. ("Caspian Crossroads")

1. Talabany's work can be found at a website belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan at:

2. Qaybali Sakina, ""Iraq-Turkman Sairir Abdullatif Benderoglunun yaradiciliginda Guney Azerbayjan edebiyyaty" 21 Azer, 2000/Payiz-1/1379, (Stockholm)