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Turkmen Report: November 18, 2001

18 November 2001
Internet Access Censored In Turkmenistan

15 November 2001

After a series of publications in Russian mass media, the authorities in Turkmenistan have decided to introduce restrictions on access to particular materials concerning the various rearrangements of Turkmen officials and the political opposition declared by former Turkmen Vice Premier Boris Shikhmuradov.

This could be described as the beginning of the next stage in the monopolization of Turkmen mass media and the access to information in Turkmenistan, which follows the liquidation of all independent Internet service providers in May 2000. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations,

Protestants Fined Thousands Of Dollars

16 November 2001

More than 40 people were detained when police raided a service of the Word of Life church in Ashgabat on 15 November. Officers of the police and of the KNB security police (the former KGB), as well as officials of the local hakimlik (administration), were involved in the raid. The detained protestants have been released, but only after paying fines totaling more than 40 million manats ($7,700 at the official exchange rate, $2,000 at the street rate). Sources in Ashgabat told Keston News Service that although the fines varied from individual to individual, most paid the equivalent of the average monthly wage in Turkmenistan.

A police inspector admitted to Keston that the group had been arrested and then released, but declined to discuss why the meeting in a private home had been raided. No other official was prepared to explain why the church service was raided. (Keston News Service)

Niyazov Fires Interior Ministry Officials, Judge, Reprimands Border Chief

14 November 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has issued a document strongly reprimanding chief of the Turkmen border service Lieutenant General Turkish Termiev and imposed a fine in the amount of his monthly salary.

Termiev was fined for "grave drawbacks in his work and a careless attitude to organizing the operations of the service." Termiev was warned that if the flaws were not amended in a month's time, he would be dismissed from his job without being offered another.

At the Turkmen Interior Ministry on 14 November, Niyazov issued decrees to dismiss and strip the ranks and benefits of the deputy head of the department of investigation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan Colonel Gurbangeldy Gandymov and his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Khovly Allaberenov.

The high-ranking officials were reported to have covered up crimes for a certain fee, to have illegally closed criminal cases reducing the perpetrators to the status of witnesses, and at the same time to have illegally persecuted and intimidated certain innocent people.

Also, Gurbanguly Kerimov was relieved by Niyazov of the duties of judge of Gubadag district court of Dashoguz region for violating the law and for actions not appropriate to the high title of judge. (Interfax, Turkmen radio, "Neitralny Turkmenistan")

Turkmenistan, UAE Negotiating Agreement On Cooperation In Oil And Gas Sectors

14 November 2001

President Niyazov and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheik Zayid Al Nuhayyan met in Ashgabat on 14 November. A number of cooperation projects, including in the oil and gas sectors, were discussed.

The Turkmen president's visit to the UAE was postponed several times. But now the sides have agreed that the time after Ramadan is best for the visit. (Interfax)

Humanitarian Aid For Afghans Reaches Turkmenistan

12 November 2001

An aircraft of the state-owned Turkmenhovayollary (Turkmen airways) delivered 35.5 tons of humanitarian aid to the Ashgabat airport from Denmark on 12 November. The cargo is addressed to the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an international group that has organized a constant flow of humanitarian aid to the population of Afghanistan. The aircraft delivered medicines, building materials, and a number of vehicles.

This humanitarian aid will soon be transported to Turkmenabat, and then, after another humanitarian relief convoy is formed, will be sent to the Afghanistan office of the MSF. (Turkmen State News Service)

Russia May Lose It's Influence On Turkmenistan, Be Deprived Of Cheap Gas

12 November 2001

Russia may lose a great deal after completion of the Afghan military operation, "Gazeta" newspaper writes. According to the paper, a special representative of U.S. President George W. Bush had negotiations with Turkmen officials on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to the U.S., which was not made public. This could result in the U.S. gaining a strategic ally and Russia losing its influence, and cheap Turkmen gas as well.

According to sources cited by "Gazeta," the special envoy of the U.S. State Department on Caspian energy issues, Stephen Mann, has hinted in conversation with Niyazov that American companies are ready to pay for construction of a gas pipeline from Afghanistan to Pakistan. For Russia, realization of this plan could mean a loss of income from transportation of Turkmen gas to Ukraine, Moldova, and other countries of the CIS, worth more than $500 million a year. "Russia will have to give up the relatively cheap gas for domestic needs, "the newspaper writes. "To understand what this means, it is enough to mention that a direct consequence of the loss of Turkmen gas would be a sharp increase in prices at all public utilities."

As the former Gazprom head Rem Viahirev said, "It is easier and cheaper to buy Turkmen gas, rather than develop new deposits above the Arctic Circle." Because of a decrease in gas extraction by Gazprom, Russia buys about 10 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan for its domestic market. If it were to export to new markets, Turkmenistan could raise the price for gas and Russia would no longer be able to dictate the terms of sale.

Turkmenistan has the fifth-largest gas reserves in the world. Today Ashgabat exports about 40 billion cubic meters of gas annually: 30 billion to Ukraine and 10 billion to Russia. It provides the republic 70 percent of its income. At the same time, the country could easily triple production. After the end of the military operations, Turkmenistan could ship its gas through Afghanistan to the market of Pakistan which, in turn, could open for Turkmenistan the way to India and its population of 1 billion and corresponding needs for gas. Certainly, this will only become possible after the end of the war with the Taliban.

But if Turkmenistan finds new markets and new revenues in the long term, the U.S. can expect to receive a generous political advantage immediately and, after the advantageous economic offer, to seek closer cooperation from Niyazov in its military operation against the Taliban. For example, he could provide the Americans with bases for ground operations in Afghanistan.

In any case, the considerable economic and political damage, with consequences difficult to sum up, could be done to Russian interests. (NTV)

Conditions Said To Be Not Right Yet For Convening Loya Jirga In Afghanistan

14 November 2001

The Loya Jirga, an all-Afghan tribal assembly that would appoint new leaders for the country, cannot be convened anytime soon, Sakhi Gairat, press secretary of the Afghan Embassy in Moscow, told Interfax on 14 November.

The situation in the country is not favorable for having the entire nation represented in the assembly, he said, adding that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden may have taken refuge in Pakistan.

Gairat did not rule out the possibility that the Taliban may have weapons of mass destruction, in particular biological. "This issue must be taken very seriously," he said. (Interfax)

Taliban Envoy Says Defeat Only Temporary

14 November 2001

The Taliban defeat should be considered temporary. They will soon take Afghanistan back from the Northern Alliance. The Taliban can die, but they will never hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. General Abdorrashid Dostum has suffered defeat at the hands of the Taliban three times in the past. The Afghan nation has never accepted defeat. The Taliban are well aware of the constraints of the Pakistani government.

The ambassador of the Taliban government, Mola Abdossalam Zayif, in a special interview with Nawa-i-Waqt, expressed the above views while he was traveling from Dara-e Ghazi Khan to Quetta. He said the temporary defeat given by the United States to the Taliban through the Northern Alliance would soon lead to the destruction of the United States. He said Pakistan has also opposed Northern Alliance's occupation of Kabul, because the Northern Alliance has always worked as a Russian agent. He said the Taliban and the Afghan people are thankful to the Pakistani people for their support in this difficult time.

Replying to a question, he said: "The Taliban are not disappointed. They have faith in God and will continue jihad against the United States and its allies." He said the Taliban have vacated Kabul as a strategy, and soon will give a forceful reply to the attack. (Ausaf, Islamabad)

Over 400 Tons Of Humanitarian Cargo Crosses Tajik-Afghan Border

16 November 2001

Between 9 and 16 November, more than 400 tons of humanitarian aid crossed the border into Afghanistan, an official in the press service of the Russian border guards in Tajikistan told Interfax on 16 November.

This does not include a convoy of 30 trucks that crossed the Ishkashim border post, he said.

A humanitarian cargo of wheat, flour, sugar, diesel fuel, and other food was sent by the United Nations. (Interfax)

There Will Be No Foreign Troops On Uzbek Territory

16 November 2001

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has denied that military units of foreign countries supporting Afghanistan's Northern Alliance will be stationed on the territory of Uzbekistan.

Karimov said at a briefing during his visit to Astana on 16 November that he does not know anything about France's plans to station its military forces in Uzbekistan. He also denied Russian media reports according to which a military contingent consisting of 10,000 German, British, and French troops will be stationed on the Uzbek-Afghan border.

Karimov said that such "misinformation" is "launched by interested special services to determine the reaction of the people and the government to this information." On the basis of this reaction the special services of countries that are "interested in taking their military forces through the territory of, in particular, Uzbekistan, take the corresponding measures," Karimov said. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Shikhmuradov Will Have A Hard Time Heading The Opposition To Official Ashgabat

13 November 2001

By Anatolii Volk

Turkmenistan doesn't have any legal opposition political parties or movements, since it doesn't have a multiparty system in general. The sole party ("the party of authority") is organized from members of the Communist Party of the former USSR. It is permanently headed by President Saparmurat Niyazov, former first secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee of the union republic. Occasional statements about the appreciable activity of the democratic opposition are obviously exaggerated. The opposition in question is a force forcibly thrown out of the country. Hundreds of Turkmens -- politicians, doctors, scientists, and artists -- have left Turkmenistan and work in Prague, Kyiv, Istanbul, Moscow, and Paris. The majority of this Turkmen public, scientific, and intellectual elite, sent into exile by virtue of different circumstances, is concentrated in Russia. There are two hospitals in Moscow considered Turkmen in which doctors have authority. The leadership of the Moscow diaspora in the midst of oppositionally spirited Turkmens belongs to former Minister of Foreign Affairs Avdy Kuliev. He says that in the summer of 1998, supporters of democracy created the Committee of National Rescue, which describes its task as conducting legal, open opposition activity.

Occasionally, one of the active supporters of the Turkmen opposition in exile appears in the free press with accusations of the authoritative policy of the president-for-life. In other words, the propaganda purpose of the opposition is to create a negative image of Niyazov as a dictator and autocrat.

Boris Shikhmuradov, who recently made a number of notable revealing statements in the Russian press, is no exception. Some analysts came to the conclusion that Ashgabat faced "some serious opposition." It is possible to argue with such a hasty conclusion.

The 52-year-old Shikhmuradov has held the Turkmen government posts of vice premier, minister of foreign affairs, and the special representative of the president on Caspian Sea issues. At his last position of Turkmen ambassador to China, he was relieved by Niyazov's decree at the end of October, when the president carried out a routine personnel clean-up in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Right after his dismissal, Shikhmuradov declared that he was joining the democratic opposition. He is convinced that the time has come to begin the process of liberalization in the country, as the present political and economic condition "no longer suits either Turkmen intelligence, nor the whole nation." He added, "Turkmen deserve a better life, and despite Niyazov's opinion that Turkmen are unprepared to accept democratic values, they are capable of finding a way out of this historical blind alley."

Turkmen authorities reacted immediately to the former official's attacks, using their usual technique in such cases. The former vice premier was put on the wanted list the day after his statement of opposition to Niyazov, and Turkmen Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atadjanova sent a request to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Ustinov to detain and extradite Shikhmuradov. It turned out that the Turkmen Office of the Prosecutor-General had charged Shikhmuradov with "abuse of power and large-scale theft of state property" in 1994. In particular, Shikhmuradov was allegedly in complicity in the theft and sale of five SU-17 warplanes worth a total of $25.27 million, 9,000 AKS-74 submachine guns, and 1.5 million cartridges worth a total of $2.5 million. Shikhmuradov has publicly rejected all the accusations.

Why have the authorities only now pulled from the archives this old criminal case against Shikhmuradov? This is the method of Niyazov's employment policy: to collect and hold compromising evidence on officials for the time being. This is carried out by the Committee of National Security, the former KGB.

The opposition in exile is made up of higher state, economic, and administrative nomenclature who suddenly lost their prestigious posts at home. The employment policy of Niyazov is well-known; he regularly cleans out governmental posts under various pretexts. Some of these government officials who lose their posts leave the country and join the ranks of the opposition. It gives them grounds to act under political slogans. Thus, the original class of former officials fired by Niyazov who consider themselves unfairly offended is created. Personal mercenary motives are hidden at times under their appeals for the democratization of the country. In our opinion, the main weakness of the Turkmen opposition is first of all the pursuit of personal ambitions and their own claims for a return to authority.

Shikhmuradov has come up with a new idea, which could unite and rally the opposition. As opposed to the old opposition staff, who call for Niyazov's resignation, Shikhmuradov, being a skilled politician, supposes the probability of beginning the country's liberalization process in the presence of the current president, believing that Niyazov has a chance to take advantage of it for his own blessing, and the blessing of the state. Such an approach, taking into account the situation in Turkmenistan, is more realistic and closer to realization. But will Saparmurat Niyazov want to begin the movement towards democratic reforms? He has not undertaken such actions so far. But the president should clearly realize a new factor: under Shikhmuradov's influence the opposition can soften its hard line and make a compromise with the authorities in power. In other words, it is a variant which could satisfy the ambitions of the both sides.

Niyazov, according to our sources, has taken Shikhmuradov's challenge seriously. Shikhmuradov knows a lot, he is the author of the idea of neutrality, and he has good ties in Moscow (neither Shikhmuradov nor anyone in his family speaks Turkmen).

As far as is known, Ashgabat has allocated money for publication of custom-made materials against Shikhmuradov in the Russian press. Moscow is unlikely to give up Shikhmuradov, otherwise its democratic image will be ruined. Also, Shikhmuradov has Russian citizenship, as do members of his family. This excludes his extradition to Ashgabat, since according to the Russian Constitution, on the territory of Russia his Turkmen citizenship is not valid. Moscow, however, is put in a difficult position. A large-scale contract between Turkmenistan and Gazprom about deliveries of gas to Russia should be signed in the near future. Shikhmuradov could become a bargaining chip between Moscow and Ashgabat. (

Exclusive Statement Of Boris Shikhmuradov For RFE/RL Turkmen Service

15 November 2001

In the interview to RFE/RL Turkmen Service on 14 November Boris Shikhmuradov, former Turkmenistan's foreign affairs minister and ambassador to China, made the exclusive statement.

"It has been over two weeks since I made the statement, regarding my political opposition to president Niyazov. It has provided the reaction that I have expected both from him and from the ordinary citizens of my country, from the intellectual circles of our society, political elite, youngsters, who are suffering now in the collision, created by the dictatorial regime, established in Turkmenistan.

This action of mine proved to be politically justified and timely, although my friends and supporters, sharing my views both inside and outside Turkmenistan, considered it risky for my personal safety. Niyazov has reacted to my statement in his typical manners of paranoiac nature, trying to discredit me as his political opponent.

The statement evoked among ordinary citizens the hopes for relieving Turkmen society of Niyazov�s regime. It became evident that changes in the system of power were imperative. Time has come for decisions, actions to take the country out of the political, economic and social knots.

I am not at all overestimating my own part in this process. But I am sure that my action will be cleaning the starting point that will be in turn used by specific action of hundreds professionally educated citizens of my country, will consolidate their efforts to build new and democratic Turkmenistan.

I am not a power-hungry politician. I have never taken part in any competition to occupy a special position or to have a high power position. This time I am trying to create a favorable international background that would be conductive for the efforts of the democratic opposition to transform Turkmenistan into a civilized state. In this context I am counting on the adequate reaction of OSCE that in fact is facing an abstractive behavior of Niyazov, who turned down the programs for Turkmenistan and in whose hands democratic legislation in the country is. Civil rights and religious freedoms are imperfect in Turkmenistan, which has signed the basic OSCE documents.

Today intellectuals, religious dissidents are suffering a lot from the anti-OSCE behavior of Niyazov. Numerous appeals of the international, state and political leaders, including the OSCE chairman, have been entirely ignored by Niyazov.

Thousands of people from my country became the victims of the dirty political tricks, practiced by Niyazov. Serious falsifications were announced the next day after my statement was made. The absurdity and evil nature of those acquisitions are so evident. I can prove it any time. By the way, my family members in Ashgabat, including my brother, are suffering a lot today. And I hope Niyazov understands that this dirty game will not be forgotten by me personally and by my people. If I am guilty of anything it is the fact that I really could not take this action before. But now I will do my best to help my nation to get rid of Niyazov and his regime.

I am fully understood by my people and very thankful to those, who send messages and give great support. It makes my position stronger and encourages me a lot.

Using this opportunity, I would like to address to my countrymen and to assure them that I will continue the political fight against the anti-democratic regime of Niyazov. And I will do everything possible to help the democratic process to acquire serious shape and speed.

I would like to once again thank RFE/RL Turkmen Service, which is now the only channel to deliver truthful information about Turkmenistan and the world�s attitude towards Turkmenistan, to my countrymen. Thank you."