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Turkmen Report: October 31, 2001

31 October 2001
Former Turkmen Minister Announces Opposition To President

1 November 2001

Boris Shikhmuradov, former foreign affairs minister, vice premier, and ambassador of Turkmenistan in the Chinese People's Republic, held a press conference on 1 November. Shikhmuradov said: "The situation in my country has made me take a decision to not only improve it for the better, but to stand in open opposition to the policy of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov.

"Having kept the worst, odious methods of Soviet-style management, Niyazov has added to them the obsolete political technology of traditional oriental society's management," said Shikhmuradov.

Because of Niyazov's policy, "Turkmenistan is transformed into a primitive police state with its only purpose President Niyazov's political survival. Niyazov has discredited the idea of the state's constant neutrality, which was supposed to promote harmonious integration of Turkmenistan into the world community. In fact Turkmenistan today has a dubious reputation, both in the West, and in the East."

He also added that in Turkmenistan "...there are no constitutional opportunities of expression of disagreement with such a situation at all. Anyone who tries to protest is immediately exposed to persecution, accused of criminal plans and subversive activities." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmenistan Celebrates 10th Anniversary Of Independence

27 October 2001

Turkmenistan celebrated the 10th anniversary of its independence on 27 October in lavish style.

The Turkmen military displayed new tanks and armaments in a parade through the center of the capital Ashgabat.

Turkmen President Niyazov, who has maintained an iron grip over this former Soviet republic since it claimed its independence from Moscow exactly 10 years ago, watched serenely as row upon row of troops marched across Independence Square shouting the national slogan "People, Fatherland, and Turkmenbashi."

Seated on a podium with a view of golden domes and marble-coated buildings, the president for life watched as young children in traditional costume danced and sang songs in his praise.

The celebrations, which were broadcast on Turkmen state television, went ahead in blithe disregard for the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

While Afghanistan's other neighbors have been in a high state of agitation over the U.S. bombing campaign, Turkmenistan has been content to remain on the sidelines, cherishing its neutrality and isolation. Some of the country's 5 million residents, however, are alarmed at the prospect of an influx of refugees and violence from Afghanistan. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, AFP)

French Company To Build Largest Turkmen Mosque

24 October 2001

The French company Bouygues will construct the largest mosque in Turkmenistan. The main Mosque in the Republic is to be constructed in the village of Kipchak outside Ashgabat on the territory of the memorial complex named after Gurbansoltan-eje (President Niyazov's mother). The contract is worth $86 million, which will be allotted from Turkmen governmental funds. (CNA, Interfax)

Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan Refuse To Discuss Fishing In Caspian Sea

24 October 2001

The fishing agencies of Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan have rejected the Russian State Fishing Committee's proposal to negotiate the control over the Caspian Sea's resources, the committee told Interfax. Only the Azerbaijani side supported the Russian committee's initiative.

Participants in the proposed talks were to discuss the acute problems of sturgeon fishing, including recommendations of the Permanent Commission of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The negotiators would have addressed a temporary moratorium on sturgeon fishing and caviar exporting. (Interfax, RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Niyazov, U.S. Envoy Discuss Future Afghan Government

23 October 2001

Turkmen President Niyazov and the U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy discussed possible ways of forming the future government of Afghanistan at their meeting in Ashgabat. "We both hope that it will reflect the ethnic composition of the country's population," Laura Kennedy said after the meeting. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkish Foreign Minister: Terrorism, Religion Should Not Be Mixed Up

22 October 2001

Terrorism and religion have nothing in common, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said during talks with Niyazov in Ashgabat on 21 October.

A source in Niyazov's staff has told Interfax that the Turkish foreign minister stressed the importance of preventing the world from splitting into two parts following the terrorist acts in the U.S. on 11 September. Turkey is categorically against viewing Muslims' religious feelings and terrorism as one phenomenon. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan, UN Discuss Gas Project, Humanitarian Aid To Afghanistan

22 October 2001

Turkmen President Niyazov and UN Deputy Secretary-General Kenzo Oshima discussed the current operation to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in Ashgabat on 21 October.

Niyazov also asked the UN to consider the possibility of implementing a gas pipeline project through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The notion of a pipeline from natural gas-rich Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan was floated before the fundamentalist Taliban militia came to power in Afghanistan five years ago (Interfax, AP)

Giant Turkmen Carpet Put In Guinness Book Of Records

22 October 2001

A giant 301-square-meter Turkmen carpet has been put in the Guinness Book of Records. Forty people made the carpet from wool yarn. Each square meter of their work has 304,000 stitches in it, and it took 7 1/2 months to make the world's largest carpet. (Interfax)

Northern Alliance Says Former King Can Play Stabilizing Role In Afghanistan

26 October 2001

Afghan Ambassador to Russia Abdul Wahab Assefi has expressed confidence that Afghanistan's former King Zahir Shah can play a significant role in Afghanistan's revival.

Zahir Shah is "a key figure who is able to play an important role in the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the determination of its future," Assefi said at a press conference in Moscow on 25 October.

Assefi recalled that the Northern Alliance has advocated the creation of a popular unity government representing all ethnic groups living in Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban "will never" obtain a seat in the Afghan government, he said. "This military-political force directly supports terrorists and terrorists must not be granted government posts," he noted.

Asked about the slow pace of the Northern Alliance's advance in Afghanistan despite the support of U.S. aircraft, he replied that the Taliban "were protecting themselves with a live shield of civilians, who live in the cities that they control."

"Our objective is to isolate the Taliban and advance, albeit slowly, but with maximum safety for civilians," he added. (Interfax)

Situation Of Afghan Refugees Near Tajik Border Critical

30 October 2001

The position of Afghan refugees concentrated along the Tajik-Afghan border has grown worse and is critical, Tajik Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations Islam Usmanov has told Interfax.

He said there are some 2,000 refugees on the Tugul Islands of the Pyanj River and about 6,000 on the three-kilometer Dashtikalai-Bahowuddin stretch of the border. Most of them are children, women, and old men. The 210 tons of Russian humanitarian aid and several dozen tons of aid from Germany and Japan delivered from Tajikistan since the beginning of October have been fully distributed among the needy on Afghan territory.

Tents, blankets, and warm clothes constituted almost half of the aid, while food and medicines are running out, Usmanov said. In the past four days temperatures in northern Afghanistan have dropped sharply, while the first snow has fallen in the mountains, causing an outbreak of colds among the refugees.

Tajikistan expects Russia to deliver humanitarian aid worth $4 million and a $3 million increase is being considered, due to the extremely serious condition of almost 250,000 civilians living in territories controlled by the Northern Alliance, Usmanov said.

At the moment it is impossible to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghans in areas controlled by the Taliban, he said. (Interfax, RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Afghan President Does Not Want Taliban In Future Government

22 October 2001

Burhanutdin Rabbani, president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan and leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, told a news conference in Dushanbe following his talks the night before with Russian and Tajik leaders Vladimir Putin and Imomali Rakhmonov, respectively, that he would not have so-called moderate Taliban leaders in a coalition government.

The anti-Taliban coalition wants the people of Afghanistan to choose their leaders in a democratic way enabling them to determine their own future, Rabbani said. What other countries could do is to aid in a peaceful settlement, he said. He thanked all countries, above all Russia, Tajikistan, and Iran, which have been "helping us to restore justice and providing humanitarian aid."

The Northern Alliance's efforts are now concentrated on liberating the city of Taloqan in Tahor province and seizing areas east of Kabul, Rabbani said. Once Taliban units in those parts of the country are defeated, the alliance's forces will begin an offensive in the whole of Tahor province and north of Kabul, he said. (Interfax)

Tashkent Permits Use Of Its Territory For Humanitarian Shipments To Afghanistan

25 October 2001

Uzbekistan will permit the use of its border territories for the transportation of UN humanitarian cargo to Afghanistan, UN Undersecretary General Kenzo Oshima said at a briefing in Tashkent on 24 October.

He said Uzbek President Islam Karimov had reaffirmed the assistance of humanitarian cargo shipments from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan has for the first time agreed to permit the use of the Termez river port on the Uzbek-Afghan border and barges for the transportation of cargo across the Amudarya River.

The Uzbek government has also agreed to receive and store humanitarian cargo in the Termez airport, Oshima noted.

The humanitarian aid is gaining momentum, he said. Some 1,500 tons of food is delivered daily to Afghanistan, but there are some problems with food distribution, he noted.

It is necessary to mount the humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan now that the onset of winter is imminent, Oshima said. About 3 million Afghans live near the boundaries of three Central Asian republics. 1.5 million of them are refugees, who are near Mazar-i-Sharif. (Interfax)

Bargains Abound As Turkmens Mark Independence

25 October 2001

By Sebastian Alison

A small airport in eastern Turkmenistan. Evening. Hot and tired after a grueling 800-kilometer drive. Approach the ticket office.

"Do you have a seat left on the Ashgabat flight tonight?"


"How much?"


"Dollars?" Sounds too cheap.

"No, manat."

Can't be. Try to figure out the exchange rate.

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure, 34,000 manat."

Pay; take the ticket, stop and think. That's $1.55, for a 600-kilometer flight in a brand new Boeing 717. Welcome to Turkmenistan.

This landlocked, largely desert Central Asian state marks the 10th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union on 27 October. Its economic and political development since then can make understanding the country a challenge for outsiders.

Home to only around 5 million people, it is one of the largest natural-gas producers in the world and a major cotton grower.

In Soviet times Moscow took the bulk of revenues from the raw material exports, but independence changed all that. Suddenly Turkmenistan found itself with real income -- and a president, Saparmurat Niyazov, with big ideas for spending it.

"The president has determined that there will be a certain range of public services that will be provided at low or no cost," says Stephen Mann, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan and now special envoy for Caspian energy issues.

So Turkmens enjoy free gas, electricity, and water, and airline tickets at prices which the visitor can hardly comprehend.

Fuel is so cheap as to be almost free. Supplies are often bought up, taken over the border to neighboring Uzbekistan and sold for a more realistic price, sometimes leaving farmers without fuel during the harvest season.

A taxi for the nearly 800-kilometer run from the Uzbek city of Termez to the Turkmen border cost $130 last week. Beating the driver down from $150 seemed like a great achievement.

Hence the astonishment, on crossing into Turkmenistan, at being asked $1.55 to continue to Ashgabat by air. This may be the only journey in the world where the taxi to the airport costs more than 80 times the flight itself.


Niyazov, who has ruled Turkmenistan as Communist Party boss from 1985 and as president from 1991, says wages are rising fast, compounding the benefits of massive state subsidies.

Widely known as Turkmenbashi, or leader of the Turkmen, and increasingly often as Turkmenbashi the Great, he told a meeting of the advisory People's Council last week that the average income in 2001 was $4,500, some three times the level at independence.

To a series of standing ovations and calls that he should be awarded more medals to add to his collection, he said the figure would rise to $7,000 by 2005 and $15,000 by 2010.

Not so, says Yura, an Ashgabat taxi driver.

"Some very rich people make a million manat (around $50) per month. 800,000 ($40) is good pay and 600,000 ($30) is more common," he told Reuters.

Puzzling over economic data is complicated by the fact that the official exchange rate has been stable for months at 5,200 manats per dollar, while the free rate is around 22,000.

Even allowing for this, there appears to be a wide difference between Turkmenbashi's assessment of average income and Yura's.


The economy had a setback in the late 1990s when Turkmenistan halted gas exports following a row with Russia, then the country's only export route, over pricing.

Exports have now resumed although at a lower level than the Soviet peak, and most go to Ukraine, which has difficulty meeting its debts.

Despite this, money has come in and been lavished on Ashgabat, now being transformed into a fitting capital for the Niyazov era, known as the Golden Age.

Gigantic posters of Turkmenbashi adorn almost every public building. He was called a prophet by his spokesman this year, and has written a spiritual guide for the Turkmen people described as a "holy book" in an official program of events celebrating the anniversary.

Ministries are being transformed from drab Soviet office blocks to opulent palaces. Statues of the leader, many in gold, are everywhere, and monuments to his mother and father have recently started to appear.

Ashgabat's most striking monument, the Arch of Neutrality, is a vast and vaguely Eiffel Tower-shaped tripod topped off with a huge revolving gold statue of Turkmenbashi. The national slogan "Halk, Watan, Turkmenbashi" (People, Motherland, Turkmenbashi) is never far from sight.

Many of the new buildings are officially described as "gifts" from the personal funds of the president to his people, although the source of these funds is not clear.

Indeed, many aspects of Turkmenistan's economic and political life are not immediately clear to the visitor. But if you're a passenger on a Turkmenistan Airlines domestic flight, why worry? (Reuters)

Niyazov Outshines Stalin In Personality Cult

26 October 2001

By Maxim Stepanenko

On 27 October 1991, the parliament of Turkmenistan declared the country independent. On 27 October 2001, the 10th anniversary of that event was celebrated by a joint session of both houses of the national legislative assembly, the Council of Elders and Khalk Maslahaty, with the Galkynysh National Movement. The speakers stated that all successes witnessed by Turkmenistan have been achieved "through the leadership of the chief of the Turkmen nation Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, sent to Turkmens by Allah." What else has Allah sent to Turkmens during the past decade?

10 Years Of Dependence

Upon the bankruptcy of the political holding called the USSR, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic did not face the problem of choosing the country's status -- all the members of the former union automatically took sovereignty and became new subjects of the world community upon completing a number of formalities. The new Republic of Turkmenistan was automatically headed by Turkmenistan's Communist Party first secretary, Saparmurat Niyazov. He took the position of the president, the prime minister, and the commander in chief of Turkmenistan. A new period in the life of the Turkmen people began.

In the last 10 years, the following "outstanding" results have been achieved.

Members of the opposition, as well as people with a different way of thinking, have all been deported or imprisoned. Those who escaped now live abroad in exile. All the political parties, except the ruling "democratic" party (the former Communist Party), are prohibited.

The national parliament works formally, because according to the Turkmen Constitution the president can cancel any laws or decisions.

Ministers and other state officials are appointed or fired personally by Niyazov, often without any explanation.

Mass media are controlled directly by the president; censorship is a must in all public media. Alternative mass media do not exist at all. Freedom of speech means a chance to use different positive expressions concerning "Turkmenbashi the Great" and his policies.

Officially only Islam and Russian Orthodoxy are allowed. The open repression of other confessions is under way. Some members of the prohibited religious organizations have been imprisoned on falsified charges.

Human rights are violated frequently in Turkmenistan. Courts and judges protect the interests of the ruling regime. The national police, the KNB intelligence service, and the public prosecutors have unlimited rights and practically no responsibility for their acts.

From 1991 to 2001 unemployment has risen, and the average salary has decreased. Turkmen consumer ability has been weakened, too. Drug trafficking, as well as the number of drug addicts, has dramatically increased. This is especially true in reference to the Turkmen teenagers.

Niyazov shut down the National Library, the Opera and Ballet Theater, the National Academy of Sciences. Much has already been said about those "positive cultural acts" for the "prosperity" of the Turkmen people.

Thinking of future Turkmen generations, "the father of all the Turkmens" has cut the length of secondary education to nine years. A Turkmen secondary school diploma is no longer valid in other countries.

The latest bestseller in Turkmenistan is the book "Rukhnama," a moral code for all the Turkmens in the world, published on before the 10th anniversary of independence by the country's spiritual leader, Niyazov. Some of the more active of the president's supporters compare that collection of postulates to the Koran and Bible. This "masterpiece" brings to mind the notorious "moral code of the builder of communism," which was propagated for a long time in the Soviet Union. It is well known what was built on the basis of that manual.

It is not enough to declare independence. It is not enough to only achieve a high speed of economic development. There was also "constant economic growth" in the USSR, but mostly on paper. In real life everything ended up in the total stagnation and breakdown of the "society of developed socialism." Turkmenistan's achievements in economics are based on the sale of natural gas and oil. It is not a big deal to sell natural resources.

Ten years of formally proclaimed independence have finally led Turkmenistan to an impasse and the total dependence on the will and the wishes of one person.

Comparing the present Turkmen president with the former Soviet dictators, a lot of similarities can be seen.

Niyazov has combined in himself certain features of many of the former USSR leaders. Being raised and educated by the utopian ideas of communism, Turkmenbashi involuntarily repeats the destinies of his "talented" teachers.

Both Lenin and Stalin replaced their true surnames with Communist Party nicknames. Lenin's real surname was Ulianov. Stalin before seizing power had in his passport the name of Dzhugashvili.

Niyazov has taken the same path and adopted the name Turkmenbashi, "the father (or head) of all the Turkmens." A similar reference was already frequently used in the last century. "The father of all the nations, dear comrade Stalin" -- that was for 29 long years the official form of address for one of the worst dictators in mankind's history. Niyazov was not very original in choosing a nickname.

Addresses to Niyazov are to start with the words "Serdar (leader) of the Turkmen people," "termless president," or even "your excellency". The last one seems to be in compensation to the failed attempt to proclaim Niyazov a shah or king.

Recently the Mejlis (parliament) added another title for Turkmenbashi -- "the great." The gift was given to the president, and Stalin had been overtaken as well.

The record of Leonid Brezhnev has not yet been broken. The former USSR leader collected five gold star medals as the Soviet Union's Hero and the Hero of Socialist Labor. Turkmenbashi owns "only" four gold medals as the Hero Turkmenistan. But there is still plenty of time left for Niyazov to break that record. The presidential elections are to be held in 2010.

There had been an idea to proclaim Niyazov a prophet this year at the session of the "Turkmens of the World" association. But in this case the supporters of the president went too far, and the decision failed to be taken. Islam is not a local Turkmen ideology, but one of the world's religions. The Muslims of the world would be unlikely to add another candidate to prophet Mohammed. The saints are not appointed.

Nevertheless, the true fans of Turkmenbashi cannot leave the topic of Islam, and the place of their "father" in it, alone. At the 11th joint session of the Turkmen Elders' Council, People's Council (Halk Maslakhaty), and the Galkynysh National Movement on 27 October this year, where Niyazov accepted his fourth title of Hero of Neutral Turkmenistan, a statement was made that all the recent successes of the Turkmen people had been achieved "...under the leadership of the Turkmen people's Serdar Saparmurat Niyazov, granted to Turkmens by Allah." The supporters of Turkmenbashi's talents forget the fact that Niyazov was appointed the head of the Turkmen SSR by the leadership of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) in 1985.

Niyazov and his team have been enjoying the "Golden Age" since 1985, when the current president became the first secretary of the Turkmen Communist Party's Central Committee. The country's high society can celebrate not 10, but 16 years of personal prosperity and independence from their own people and their problems. The rest of the nation can get only 300 square meters of "Golden Age" -- the giant carpet recently produced in Ashgabat to mark the 10th anniversary of national sovereignty. Although the carpet is the largest in the world, ordinary Turkmens are unlikely to even step on the "Golden Age." In real life the entrance to the "Golden Age" is strictly prohibited for them and they have to wait for another "bright future" as they once used to do in the Soviet era a short time ago. The bright present remains available for just a few persons, chosen by Turkmenbashi.

The example of the USSR and its collapse is still fresh in the people's memory. History repeats itself.

The city of Krasnovodsk, a street and 60,000-square-meter park in Istanbul, as well as a star and even a fungus have been named after the Turkmen president's nickname -- Turkmenbashi. History has seen many cases when renamed cities, streets, and squares were given back their historical names.

Happy holiday in hopes of independence! (

Turkmen President Content To Sit Out Afghan Campaign

22 October 2001

By Sergei Morgunov

While the rest of Afghanistan's neighbors have been in a high state of agitation over U.S. military activities in the region, Turkmenistan has been content to remain on the sidelines, cherishing its neutrality and isolation.

The republic's autocratic and increasingly eccentric President Saparmurat Niyazov could have expected to benefit greatly from cooperating with the U.S.-led antiterror campaign, notably financial support for a proposed pipeline project.

However, he has maintained his unswerving policy of neutrality and thwarted efforts by outsiders to influence the foreign policy of this former Soviet republic over which he exercises nearly total control.

An impoverished desert nation which earns most of its hard currency from sales of natural gas, Turkmenistan shares a 750-kilometer (450-mile) border with Afghanistan and has maintained good relations with its ruling Taliban regime.

After the 11 September strikes in the United States, Niyazov offered the U.S. Turkmenistan's airspace for "humanitarian" missions to Afghanistan but said his country would remain neutral in any U.S.-led conflict in the region.

The country has stocked up more than 212 tons of humanitarian supplies, not including UNICEF aid, since the end of September.

"Our position is to be ready for an emergency situation," said Francoise Muller Lauritzen, head of the Ashgabat office of the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

There was no sign yet of a build-up of refugees along the Turkmen-Afghan border, she said.

Turkmenistan has one of the most porous frontiers of the countries neighboring Afghanistan and has become a major route for the trafficking of opium and heroin from the strife-ridden state.

However it has been unaffected by the Islamic extremists trained in Afghanistan who for the past two years have terrorized other former Soviet republics such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

On several occasions Ashgabat has attempted to mediate peace talks between the Taliban and the opposition Northern Alliance, prompted by a pragmatic desire to boost economic ties with its volatile neighbor. Resource-rich Turkmenistan is keen to export its vast energy reserves through Afghanistan to Pakistan and beyond, thus reducing its dependence on Russia.

Some observers speculate that the U.S. could have offered Turkmenistan the chance to export its oil and gas via Iran or financial support for a proposed pipeline through Afghanistan in return for Turkmen cooperation in its campaign to hunt down Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden. But Niyazov appears unwilling to seek any help that would result in anyone else encroaching on his territory.

"He really wants to completely exclude any external influence or potential for outsiders to have any leverage over the situation in Turkmenistan," said Oksana Antonenko of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"It is quite consistent with that policy that he is not actively cooperating with the coalition," she said.

Since gaining independence a decade ago, Turkmenistan has shunned all military, political, or economic pacts and pursued an increasingly isolationist path, while Niyazov has fashioned an elaborate personality cult around himself. Placards bearing the leader's portrait hang from every public building while a golden statue of Niyazov, permanently rotating to face the sun, dominates the Ashgabat skyline.

The U.S. has in any case shown less interest in working with Turkmenistan than with Uzbekistan where some 1,000 U.S. troops are reported to be based and where Soviet-era military infrastructures have been better maintained.

"At the moment Turkmenistan is not in a strategic location where its territory is really needed for humanitarian or military purposes," said Antonenko. "If it was really in a strategic location they would have found a way to reach out to Niyazov," she noted. (AFP)

10 Years Of Independence -- Interviews On The Streets Of Ashgabat

27 October 2001

By Saparmurat Ovezberdi

Question: What has Turkmenistan's independence given to Turkmens?

Answer (36-year-old man): Independence has not given anything to Turkmens, but has taken something. Before independence all the people had professions and jobs. Now most of us are unemployed, no matter whether you have a profession or not. Those who have money have the jobs.

Question: What can you say about the newly constructed buildings in Ashgabat?

Answer (36-year-old man): I am hungry and see no beauty. When you are satisfied, only then you notice beautiful things around.

Question: Wide nice roads have been built during the independence years. What is your opinion on them?

Answer: This is all temporary. Those roads get broken fast. It is just a show. The Turkmen government is said to have paid $1 million per kilometer of road constructed. It is already damaged. And when our children drive on them, the roads will be destroyed.

Question: What else do you want to say? Anything about new industrial constructions?

Answer: Yes, it is necessary to construct new facilities. However, I must talk about destruction, too. Many people have lost their homes. I have talked to one old man from Yanbash recently. He said his house had been demolished. He managed to find a trackman's hut and now lives in there.

Question: In the Soviet era there were not such nice flowerbeds and flowers in Ashgabat.

Answer: Do you know how much those flowers and flower-beds cost? There were apartment houses in their place before. Those houses were demolished, and many people were left homeless. Those people worked their whole lives to earn those apartments. Those flowers cost tears and misery of the people. How could houses have been destroyed for flowers?

(Young Turkmen woman, 24 years old, answering the questions.)

Question: What has Turkmenistan's independence given to Turkmens?

Answer: Sovereignty, neutrality, and freedom, as well as peace and stability. In neighboring Afghanistan there is a war. Watching it, we value our peace. Besides, independence has given free business to Turkmenistan. Nevertheless, there are many drug addicts and unemployed people, especially among the youth, as President Niyazov says. But this situation can be improved.

(Young Turkmen woman, 28 years old, answering the questions.)

Question: What has Turkmenistan's independence given to Turkmens?

Answer: A lot of new plants, factories, buildings, and roads have been constructed. At the same time many houses of Turkmen citizens have been destroyed.

Turkmen girls and women are dressed nicely today. Foreign guests are impressed by their beauty. The Turkmen carpets and horses are still some of the best in the world. There are still some economic difficulties, and when we overcome them, Turkmenistan will prosper. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Bread In Exchange For Natural Gas

26 October 2001

Sources close to the Turkmen government report that R. Saparov, the vice premier and agriculture minister of Turkmenistan, has been secretly holding negotiations with the Itera company management in Moscow. He is trying to reach an agreement with Itera on their purchase of 1.2 million tons of wheat from Russia in exchange for Turkmen natural gas supplies.

The major Turkmen condition and the reason for secrecy is Saparov's recent report to the "lovely leader" on the completion and harvesting of 2 million tons of wheat by Turkmen farmers this year, which would be enough for the state's population. In fact, 700,000 tons of wheat, three times less, were harvested. The badly needed 1.3 million tons of wheat are supposed to be secretly purchased from Russia.

The food crisis could change the situation in the relations between Russia and Turkmenistan. Moscow can now dictate its conditions, as far as the wheat-gas deal is concerned. If Niyazov finds out that Turkmenistan might face a shortage of bread this year instead of "fulfillment of wheat harvest," Saparov will have a hard time.

This information has not been confirmed by official sources. (Ashgabat)