5 August 2000
Niyazov Wants New System For Training Government Employees, Turkmen Language Enforced
August 1, 2000
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov today officially announced that all Turkmen government officials must be fluent in the Turkmen language.
Niyazov first criticized officials last month for their poor knowledge of the state language. Niyazov questioned why documents are usually written in Russian, then translated into Turkmen.
The dismissal of Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov last week was reportedly due in part to his poor ability to use the Turkmen language.
Niyazov said all candidates for leadership posts will be subject to strict selection and their genealogy will be checked back over three generations. Successful candidates will be admitted to training theoretical and practical courses in the presidential administration, and only the best of them will be appointed to leading posts - for a trial period.
"This doesn't mean that the probe should discover compromising information about future government officials. This is only a way to find out whether the prospective official will cope with his duties or hold government offices at all," Niyazov said.
Niyazov also said the administration's translation department will be reformed so as to compile official texts "using all the wealth and inexhaustible resources of the Turkmen language."
Scholars of Turkmen language outside Turkmenistan have often said that Niyazov's Turkmen language is not perfect and has delayed a standardization of the language. Officials and scholars inside Turkmenistan fear Niyazov and will not correct his Turkmen. (RFE/RL, Interfax)
Turkmen President Urges Stronger U.N. Role In Afghan Peace Efforts
August 1, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has called on the United Nations to play a more active role in resolving Afghanistan's long-running civil war.
The Neitralny Turkmenistan newspaper reports today that Niyazov agreed with the U.N. special representative to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell that the U.N. should have an active and defining role in efforts to resolve the Afghan conflict.
Vendrell arrived in Ashgabat yesterday after a one-day visit to Afghanistan where he had talks with the dominant Taliban militia. (RFE/RL)
Turkmen Groups Propose Honorary Title For Niyazov's Mother
July 31, 2000
The political council of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan and the Galkynysh national revival movement have proposed honoring President Saparmurat Niyazov's mother, Gurbansoltan-edzhe, with the title of "the national heroine mother of Turkmenistan," Interfax-Kazakhstan reports.
The address adopted by the two organizations notes that "Gurbansoltan-edzhe's achievements in life have assumed especially important significance in the epoch of Turkmenbashy [Saparmurat Niyazov's], when the Turkmen people have entered their golden age."
Niyazov is expected to make the final decision on establishing the honorary title for his mother. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)
Turkmen Foreign Minister's "Burden Too Heavy" - Niyazov
July 30, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on July 28 July that the foreign minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, had asked to be relieved of his post on health grounds. Thanking Shikhmuradov for his contribution, Niyazov added that there had nevertheless been "certain shortcomings" in the minister's work, in particular in regard to controlling people coming to and leaving the country, and in his command of the Turkmen language. Niyazov instructed the new FM, Batyr Berdyev, to "demand more from our embassies" and to monitor visitors entering the country, saying "it is your duty to identify visitors with evil intentions".
The following are excerpts from the report, broadcast on Turkmen TV on July 28:
Niyazov: "From now on all officials will be appointed for a six-month probation period. If anyone fails to show his merit during this period, let us relieve him of his duties and look for another candidate to replace him. This should become a rule.
Now about the foreign minister, [Boris] Shikhmuradov. He has performed the duties of foreign minister for a long time and made a good contribution to our foreign policy in making Turkmenistan known to the world and particularly, in obtaining the status of neutrality. Acting under my instructions, he made many visits to other states and met many leaders, and also took part in drawing up some UN documents. In general, he had done a great deal towards performing the Foreign Ministry's work. We thank him for it all and are grateful to him.
However, there were certain shortcomings at the same time, and I have told him personally about this.
There were certain shortcomings particularly regarding people coming into and leaving the country. There were violations too and these are gradually being corrected at present. On the other hand, of late he has himself been complaining of poor health and has been asking me to relieve him of his post. This burden is becoming too heavy for him, he feels.
He also had some problems with [Turkmen] language. He himself admitted this, he has in particular had problems with exact use of the Turkmen language, for he was out of Turkmenistan for a long period of time. So he himself asked to be relieved of the post of foreign minister. At the same time he expressed readiness to perform any other duty. Therefore, I will satisfy his request, if you agree.
Boris Shikhmuradov has a particular interest in sports and he himself asked to be appointed rector of the Institute of Sports and Tourism. I decided to meet his request and appoint him rector of that institute. He also has very rich experience in foreign policy affairs which we, Turkmens, should use efficiently. And in order not to offend him, I have decided to appoint him presidential envoy for special missions.
Nobody should think that he [Shikhmuradov] was dismissed for something serious. He himself complained about his state of health, so we are just meeting his request. I am going to appoint Batyr Berdyev foreign minister. He has just started the duties of the first deputy [foreign minister]. He has enough skills, educational background and experience. For the last five years he has been working as ambassador in Vienna and simultaneously representing our country at the European security organization [OSCE]. He was also our envoy to Slovakia. In all three positions he showed good skills and performance.
Yolbars [Kepbanov, currently deputy foreign minister], I am going to appoint you director of the Institute of [Democracy and] Human Rights [under the president of Turkmenistan]. You have enough experience and a good educational background in juridical sciences. Your task is to study international legislation thoroughly and make use of it in Turkmenistan. This point also involves human rights. So I am appointing you director of the [Turkmen national] Institute of Democracy and Human Rights. At the same time you will hold your current position of deputy foreign minister in charge of international legislation issues.
[Niyazov presumably addresses the new foreign minister, Batyr Berdyev] You have to demand more from our embassies and to keep close links with the international bodies dealing with human rights and with domestic law-enforcement bodies. All visitors should be monitored even though there is nothing to be banned - our doors are open for all visitors of goodwill, so it is your duty to identify visitors with evil intentions. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV channel 1)
Iran, Turkmenistan To Link Over Caspian Oil And Gas
August 4, 2000
Iran and Turkmenistan look set to join forces amid a bitter dispute for control over the Caspian Sea's oil and gas resources, a state newspaper reported today.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed during a meeting in Ashgabat that the "two countries should prepare a bilateral document, which would determine their joint position on Caspian questions," the Neitralny Turkmenistan newspaper reported.
Both countries agreed that all border states have an equal right to participate in determining the legal status of the Caspian and use of the sea's riches, it said.
Sarmadi expressed gratitude to the Turkmen leadership for Ashgabat's position on the Caspian problem settlement. "Tehran is grateful to Ashgabat for the fact that Turkmenistan has always opposed any attempts to discriminate against Iran in determining the international legal status of the Caspian in the new circumstances in all the years of its independence," the Iranian diplomat said.
Sarmadi and Niyazov also agreed it would be "counterproductive" to participate in an August meeting to discuss the Caspian's status, which was suggested by Moscow's envoy on Caspian issues Viktor Kalyuzhny, Interfax reported.
Iranian and Turkmen representative confirmed their countries' position that "without the settlement of the legal status of the sea, any consultations on other problems are just senseless and may lead to most grave consequences for all countries neighboring the Caspian in the future."
The Caspian is estimated to contain the world's third-biggest reserves of oil and gas after the Gulf and Siberia. But the division of its waters has not been formally clarified and has prompted bitter rivalry between the littoral states.
Sarmadi's visit follows a tour by Kalyuzhny to the countries that border the Caspian along with Russia - Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan said after Kalyuzhny's visit it would refuse to take part in a decision on the Caspian's status if Iran were excluded and would not tolerate any discrimination against Iran.
Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told Kalyuzhny this month that Iran would accept a 20-percent share in the wealth of the Caspian if other countries agreed.
Iran has accused its neighbors, particularly Azerbaijan, of being too friendly to the United States and Israel.
Azerbaijan has secured a number of major energy contracts with U.S. and other foreign firms since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Tensions between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have soured as the two countries lay claim to three Caspian oil fields: the Azeri, Chyrag and Kyapaz. (AFP, Interfax)
Turkmenistan To Tighten Control Over Foreign Companies
August 4, 2000
Control over foreign companies working in Turkmenistan should be tightened, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov declared at the cabinet's meeting yesterday.
"Unfortunately, not every foreign company is a worthy partner of ours," Niyazov said.
He added that from now on Turkmenistan will pay careful attention to conditions of business contracts. They should discuss all details of joint work considering interests of both sides, extent of work to be done, and dates of its completion.
Before the cabinet's meeting, Niyazov met with representatives of Turkish construction companies Polimeks and APT Pipes Industry & Trade Ltd. and discussed construction of the Bezmeinsk paper factory. The Turkmen president pointed out discrepancies between APT's construction proposal and the project's demands. (Interfax)
Moscow Might Support Call For Caspian Summit
August 2, 2000
Russia may support a call to hold a summit of leaders of the five Caspian states, Viktor Kalyuzhny, the special presidential representative for the Caspian, told Interfax.
Kalyuzhny said Russia's "support for the initiative" might come after he briefs President Vladimir Putin on the results of talks with the government leaders in the other four Caspian states.
A meeting of the heads of state on the status of the Caspian Sea would help jump start efforts to resolve the problem, he said, adding that dialogue should not be allowed to stand in place.
Kalyuzhny said delays could invite unwanted meddling "by certain third states that will try to exploit disagreements between the Caspian states."
Experts on the Caspian will gather for a summit in Moscow on August 15, to be followed by a September meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian states in Tehran.
Kalyuzhny said the Iranian leadership still has not responded to the invitation to take part in the Moscow meeting. Tehran is probably taking a time out in order to consult with other Caspian states, particularly Turkmenistan, Russian envoy added. He speculated that Iran was delaying a response on the Moscow meeting because it wanted to avoid a possibility of being outnumbered.
Kalyuzhny further mentioned that during his yesterday talks in Tehran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi responded favorably to Russia's proposal to divide the disputed oil fields on a 50-50% basis. Iran is also interested in formation of the common center for strategic development of the Caspian states. The center, Kharazi said, should combine economic functions and monitoring of the Caspian Sea and of the proposals made by the heads of state.
However, Kalyuzhny said, Iran's proposal for each state to have equal 20% sectors of the Caspian is "a dead end."
Kalyuzhny insisted that dividing the Caspian Sea into national sectors is unacceptable to Russia.
According to a Russian Foreign Ministry report, both Russia and Iran confirmed that "the legal mode established by the Soviet-Iranian treaties of 1921 and 1940 should be observed until the definition of the Caspian's new legal status." (Interfax)
STFA And Postford Duvivier Win Tender In Turkmenistan
August 2, 2000
The Turkish STFA company has won an international tender for the reconstruction of Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk) sea port. Technical control over the reconstruction will be provided by British Postford Duvivier consulting company.
In the nearest future the administration of Turkmendenizellary (Turkmen steamship line) is expected to sign a $26.97 million contract with STFA for the reconstruction of the Turkmenbashi sea port and a $1.59 million contract with Postford Duvivier for technical control.
Both companies are exempt from all types of taxes, duties and charges for the time necessary to complete the work. (Interfax)
Ukrainian President To Visit Turkmenistan In Mid-September
August 1, 2000
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is to visit Turkmenistan in mid-September, Ukrainian side reported after Kuchma's telephone conversation with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov yesterday.
The two presidents are expected to sign agreements on renewed deliveries of Turkmen gas to Ukraine and on a new mechanism of debt payments for gas delivered in 1993-94 and in 1999. The draft of the agreement should be ready by September 10, Turkmen government information agency has said.
During the telephone conversation, Kuchma once again invited Niyazov to participate in the informal CIS summit that may be held in Crimea, Ukraine.
The Turkmen news service said Niyazov declined, citing "the impossibility of canceling a number of international meetings scheduled for this period." (Interfax, Itar-Tass)
Kyiv Considers Giving Moscow Part Of Pipelines To Settle Debts
August 1, 2000
Interfax quotes Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko as saying today that Kyiv may seek to pay off its natural gas debts to Russia by giving Moscow part of Ukraine's pipeline network.
Most Russian gas deliveries to western Europe pass through Ukraine. Kyiv currently takes a portion of that gas as a transit fee. But the Kremlin complains that Ukraine takes more than it should without paying.
Some Russian officials say Kyiv owes 2,000 million dollars for natural gas. Yushchenko says the debt is 1,400 million dollars. Yushchenko last month visited Moscow in a failed bid to resolve the dispute.
Gazprom officials are threatening to reroute westward shipments through Belarus, Slovakia and Poland. Meanwhile, Ukraine is seeking new gas supply contracts with Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL)
Turkmen Gas Deliveries To Russia Proceed Ahead Of Schedule
August 1, 2000
Turkmenistan is delivering natural gas to Russia ahead of schedule.
The Turkmen Oil and Gas Ministry has told Interfax that 16.2 billion cubic meters of gas were pumped into the Central Asia-Center pipeline by August 1.
The bulk of the gas - more than 15 billion cubic meters - was delivered under the December 1999 agreement with the Russian gas giant Gazprom that provides for the transportation of 20 billion cubic meters of gas this year at $36 per 1,000 cubic meters at the border with Uzbekistan. Russia is to make 40% of its payments in cash and 60% in goods and services. (Interfax)
U.S. Company To Supply Gas Extraction Equipment To Turkmenistan
August 1, 2000
The state-run Turkmengaz concern and the U.S. Compressor Controls Corp. will sign a contract under which the U.S. company will supply equipment for the development of the Naip gas field.
The $2.659 million contract provides for a comprehensive system for control of compressor units in a liquefied gas plant and a compressor station. (Interfax)
Germany's Pall To Deliver Gas Treatment Equipment To Turkmenistan
August 1, 2000
Germany's Pall company will sign a contract with Turkmengaz on delivery and installation of equipment for gas treatment and filtration at the sulfur-removal and treatment unit located at the Dovletabad field.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov officially authorized the deal today.
Work on the unit, which has capacity to process 5 billion cubic meters of gas a year, will cost $1.567 million.
The contract will be financed out of the state fund for development of Turkmenistan's oil and gas industry and mineral resources. Based on the results, Turkmengaz may propose similar work to be carried out at the remaining blocks.
Turkmengaz and Pall have been exempted from all project-related taxes throughout the implementation period. (Interfax)
Shell Presents New Proposals For Trans-Caspian Gas Project
July 31, 2000
The British-Dutch concern Royal Dutch/Shell has made its final attempt to revive the Trans-Caspian gas project. If the authorities of Turkmenistan reject the new terms of the gas pipeline's construction, worth $2.5 billion, Turkey will not receive Turkmen gas and will be dependent on the Blue Stream project of the Russian Gazprom and Italian ENI for its source of gas.
Until recently, the American company PSG was the leader of the Trans-Caspian project. Its failure to reach an agreement with President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan in March led to a rejection of the proposal to transport Turkmen gas on the floor of the Caspian Sea via Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Turkish market. In June, PSG permitted Shell, its partner in the project (both companies have equal stakes in the international consortium Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline), to continue negotiations. Shell promptly began negotiations in early July. According to available information, the company has already presented new commercial offers on the project to President Niyazov. Kevin Graham, the Vice President of Royal Dutch/Shell for Central Asia, reported, "We negotiated with Niyazov and his ministers, and discussed commercial alternative proposals, which more effectively meet the expectations of the Turkmen party." (Vedomosti)
Central Asian Tourists Seek Asylum In Norway
August 4, 2000
The Norwegian government said today that 31 tourists from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan left a cruise ship to seek political asylum.
The passengers, including entire families, left during stops at ports along the Norwegian coast in the past week.
A spokesman for the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, Menahem Paz, told Reuters news service that most of the 212 passengers who remained on board when the ship left for Denmark are Russians.
Paz said they are still unsure why the Central Asian residents left the ship and added that it can take months to translate and process asylum applications. In the meantime, the applicants will stay at state-run immigration centers.
He said the immigration directorate rejected asylum applications of a few passengers from Kazakhstan who left a cruise vessel last year. (RFE/RL)
Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee Sets Up Office in Vienna
August 4, 2000
The chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Committee for Human Rights said today he will run the organization from Vienna.
Ramazan Dyryldayev said the organization's work in Kyrgyzstan will continue as well.
Dyryldayev was out of Kyrgyzstan late last month when authorities closed down the Bishkek office of the human rights organization. Dyryldayev gave a press conference from the headquarters of the International Helsinki Federation criticizing moves against his organization in Kyrgyzstan. He said the actions were prompted by the upcoming presidential elections and that the Kyrgyz government wanted to silence the organization.
A worker who was trapped in the group's building for four days after it was surrounded by Kyrgyz police has joined Dyryldayev in Vienna. Dyryldayev's son was taken into custody in Kyrgyzstan, but escaped and remains in hiding. (RFE/RL)
Azeri Opposition Parties Form Election Bloc
August 4, 2000
Azerbaijan's two main opposition parties agreed today to join forces, creating a single slate of candidates for the country's upcoming parliamentary elections.
However, the Popular Front and the Musavat parties warned that they would boycott the November vote unless current election laws are changed. The opposition says Azerbaijan's current election laws give an advantage to the ruling party of President Heydar Aliyev.
These elections are considered an important indication of Azerbaijan's commitment to democratic reforms. The Council of Europe has said that Azerbaijan will not be admitted until it holds free and fair elections. (RFE/RL)
Nazarbayev To Look Into Tax Policy Of Major Companies
August 3, 2000
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has said he intends to study the situation surrounding leading companies' tax payments to the budget.
"Now we will see why Kazakhstan's largest companies provide a lower percentage of taxes to the budget," the president told the press in Pavlodar while travelling in the north of the republic.
As an example, the president cited figures indicating how much certain companies pay in taxes. According to the president's information, the Eurasian Bank group, chrome and aluminum producers, pay 14 billion tenge to the budget and their turnover is 70 billion tenge (142.7 tenge/$1). The Kazakhmys copper corporation pays the same amount while its turnover is 130 billion tenge. The Ispat-Karmet metallurgical company (formerly the Karaganda group of metallurgical enterprises) has a turnover of 70 billion tenge but "for some reason" pays only 7.5 billion tenge in taxes, Nazarbayev said.
"Now we need to get these industrial-financial groups to reveal their secrets to us, so that every Kazakh citizen and journalist can know the amount of products they have manufactured, to whom they were sold, what the world price was, how much profit they made and how much profit tax they paid according to the law," the president said.
When privatization was carried out from 1994-1997, Kazakh management "was still weak," the president said. Therefore, the republic placed foreign investors in the trusteeship of its largest companies, he said. Now, "our businessmen have opened and can build their businesses independently," he said.
The president said Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov should "start working closely" on the imports substitution program. (Interfax)
Kazakhstan Urges Foreign Special Services To Help Detain Kazhegeldin
August 3, 2000
Kazakhstan's law enforcement agencies are holding talks with special services of foreign countries, primarily Britain and the U.S., on the possibility of detaining and extraditing former Kazakh prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin.
The Kazakh authorities intend to try Kazhegeldin on charges stemming from a series of crimes he committed in Kazakhstan, Kazakh Prosecutor General Yuri Khitrin said today at a press conference in Astana.
An investigation into these crimes, involving the abuse of power, continues, he said.
Kazhegeldin faces charges of bribe-taking, money-laundering, legalization of illegally obtained property, abuse of office, illegal holding and transfer of weapons, and tax evasion, Khitrin said.
Kazhegeldin headed the Kazakh government from October 1994 to October 1997. He has been living abroad for almost two years and is the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party.
In the autumn of 1999 and the summer of 2000, Kazhegeldin was detained by Russian and Italian law enforcement agencies with Interpol assistance in Moscow and Rome. He was freed both times. (Interfax)
Kazakh Prosecutor General Denies Reports About Officials Taking Bribes
August 3, 2000
Kazakh Prosecutor General Yuri Khitrin has denied foreign media reports about alleged bribe-taking by Kazakh officials.
Khitrin said that he is familiar with these reports, particularly those dealing with bribes worth $35 million that high-ranking Kazakh officials allegedly received from U.S. oil companies.
The newspaper accusations "directed against the president" of Kazakhstan are "complete nonsense and fiction," Khitrin said today at a press conference in Astana.
The Kazakh government has the right to open and possess accounts abroad, Khitrin said. "Why should there be such a prohibition?!" he asked.
Western media reports stating that the Swiss authorities have allegedly blocked the Kazakh government's accounts in Swiss banks are "not true," he said.
"I have contacted the Kazakh Finance Ministry and learned that it is not true," the prosecutor general said, claiming the accusations are a case of "a deliberate, clearly propagandistic campaign aimed at slandering Kazakhstan." (Interfax)
Seals Perish In Caspian Sea's Kazakh Sector
August 3, 2000
Fish inspectors have discovered 20 dead seals and over 60 animals "in an extremely bad condition" on the Bautin spit running into the Caspian Sea across its Kazakh sector.
Kanat Suleimenov, chief of the North-Caspian center for bio-resources protection, told Interfax on today that the symptoms of the dying animals' disease are the same as those seen in a total of over seals that perished in the sector in spring. The last registered seal death dates back to early June.
Scientists have never established a single reason for the demise of the Caspian seals. The most popular version of what caused their death is a condition called cumulative polytoxicosis, or systematic poisoning.
It has been calculated that over the last ten years of the reproduction crisis, the Caspian seals' population has shrunk by 20% down to about 420,000. (Interfax)
Tajikistan No Longer Has Mass Opposition - Tajik Security Council
August 3, 2000
Mass opposition supported by a considerable part of the population no longer exists in Tajikistan, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov has said.
"Some of the political parties and opposition movements legally operating in the republic are more of a declarative nature," he told Interfax.
"The main guarantee of the republic's civilized development is President Emomali Rakhmonov's peacemaking policy and the unity of the country's administration, which includes representatives of the opposition as well, Azimov said.
Azimov's said in his opinion, the next 2-3 years will see a sharp leap in the development of the national economy which "will bury the revanchists' dreams forever."
"Not all influential foreign forces, and, above all, international Islamic terrorist organizations, are interested in the current stable socio-political situation in Tajikistan," he said. (Interfax)
Trial Against Alleged Would-Be Assassins Of Kyrgyz President Begins
July 31, 2000
A trial against nine men accused of planning to kill the president of Kyrgyzstan started today in a Bishkek court.
Prominent opposition figure Topchubek Turgunaliyev and eight others are accused of conspiring to assassinate President Askar Akayev last year. Law enforcement officials reportedly found some hunting rifles and cartridges at an undisclosed location. Later authorities linked the weapons and a Bishkek apartment with what officials say was a partially completed dungeon to the alleged conspirators.
The criminal case against Turgunaliyev opened six months after the other suspects were arrested in May 1999, and he is not in custody. Turgunaliyev says he is innocent. (RFE/RL)
The Politics of Language
by Paul Goble, RFE/RL
Turkmenistan's decision to require all officials there to speak Turkmen and charges by ethnic Russians that such a requirement is discriminatory calls attention to one of the most difficult balancing acts he and the leaders of the four other Central Asian countries now face.
On the one hand, all of them feel compelled not only to build up the national identities of their own nation but also to meet the demands of their increasingly numerous educated young people for access to positions typically occupied by Russians or other Slavs in Soviet times.
But on the other hand, all of them are concerned that any assertion of the special rights of their titular nationality languages could drive out specialists they still need and might create problems in their relationship with the Russian government in Moscow. As a result, most have moved cautiously, now advancing in one direction and then moving off in quite another.
But Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov appears to have taken a step that may call that balance into question. At the end of July, he announced that officials and students who do not speak Turkmen will lose their positions, a move that follows his declaration last spring that he wanted to see "the complete and universal introduction" of the national language in public life.
To underscore his seriousness on this point at least for the time being, Niyazov ten days ago sharply criticized his foreign minister for the latter's weak knowledge of Turkmen and then abruptly fired him. And he has lashed out at other officials who speak Russian or some other language better than they do the national tongue.
Given Niyazov's willful and sometimes inexplicable actions, it remains unclear just why he acted as he did. But there are three compelling reasons why a Central Asian leader would seek to promote the language of the titular nationality, just as there are three compelling reasons why such a leader would likely be extremely cautious in doing so.
First, in Central Asia perhaps more than anywhere else in the post-Soviet space, language is identity. Supporting the language of the dominant nationality thus helps to promote national identities and loyalty to the state. And in regimes which are anything but democratic, such national symbolism helps to build a bond between the leader and the indigenous population.
Second, pushing out Russians and others who have occupied specialist positions in government and elsewhere since Soviet times may be popular among the titular nationality not only because it represents a form of nationalist expression but also because it opens jobs for increasingly well-educated Central Asians who might otherwise take part in opposition movements.
And third, such an approach flows from a demographic revolution that has already taken place in Central Asia. Ethnic Russians have been leaving for more than a decade, and Central Asians continue to increase in number with each passing year. As a result, ethnic Russian communities are ever smaller components of the populations of these countries and hence have ever less political clout.
Between 1989 and 1998, the last year for which statistics are available, the percentage of ethnic Russians in the population of all these countries fell significantly: from 37 to 31 percent in Kazakhstan, from 21 to 14.6 percent in Kyrgyzstan, from 7.6 to 6 percent in Tajikistan, from 9.5 to 7 percent in Turkmenistan, and from 8.3 to 6.5 percent in Uzbekistan.
But as all of the Central Asian leaders are aware, there are three other reasons which point in the opposite direction. First of all, their regimes still need many of the ethnic Russian specialists who have skills that few Central Asians have acquired and that the Central Asian leaders themselves cannot do without. Indeed, many of the officers in their armies and security forces speak only Russian, even if they are members of the local nationality.
Moreover, these leaders are all aware that such measures could have the effect of powering precisely the kind of populist and nationalist movements that they might not be able to contain, especially if the members of the titular nationality see such policies as giving them carte blanche to attack other groups.
And finally, the Central Asian regimes are not insensitive to the fact that Russian human rights groups have attacked them for these linguistic policies, and they certainly fear that the Russian government may become critical as well.
So far and in sharp contrast to Russian policy regarding the Baltic countries, where Moscow has regularly criticized Estonia and Latvia for their language laws, the Russian government has been extremely restrained in its criticism of Central Asian countries on this score.
But that could quickly change, and if it does, Niyazov's incautious approach could entail far greater risks than he apparently expects.
A Diplomatic Signal
by Paul Goble, RFE/RL
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's decision to dismiss his longtime foreign minister suggests that Ashgabat may have decided to turn away from the West and back to Moscow.
Niyazov on July 28 fired Boris Shikhmuradov, who had been his foreign minister since 1993. The Turkmen president gave no reason for the firing, although a few days earlier he had criticized Shikhmuradov, who is half Armenian, for a weak knowledge of the country's national language.
But few observers believe that Shikhmuradov's linguistic competence dictated his face, and instead many are seeing his departure as a diplomatic signal of a fundamental shift in Turkmenistan's foreign policy rather than a simple change of leadership in the foreign ministry there.
There are three reasons for drawing that conclusion. First, Shikhmuradov himself had been a survivor. In a government marked by frequent and often inexplicable changes in ministerial portfolios, he had retained his position longer than anyone else.
His ability to survive for so long in a regime where envy and suspicion play such an enormous role in the entourage of Niyazov suggests that he was removed less for personal or domestic policy reasons than for foreign policy ones.
Second, Shikhmuradov's successor is almost as different a diplomat as could be imagined. Shikhmuradov, 50, is an urbane English speaker with extensive ties to Europe and the United States and someone who has promoted the idea of a trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmenistan's natural gas to the West.
His replacement, on the other hand, is a career diplomat with much closer ties to Moscow and to Tehran abroad, and to the pro-Iran faction within the Turkmen political elite. Indeed, despite his position as first deputy to Shikhmuradov, Batyr Berdyev has played only a marginal role in pipeline talks.
Consequently, Berdyev's appointment gives Niyazov even greater freedom of movement in the coming months, allowing him to blame Shikhmuradov for past policies and offering the chance to present a new face in talks with governments which viewed Shikhmuradov as too pro-Western.
And third, Shikhmuradov's departure comes at a time when Niyazov has appeared to be ever less happy with Western countries and ever more interested in pursuing ties with Moscow, Tehran and Beijing.
Niyazov has been increasingly upset by American and European criticism of Turkmenistan's human rights record and his own dictatorial rule. He has indicated that he expected greater Western "understanding" of his approach because of Islamist threats and because of his country's enormous gas reserves.
And he has been even more upset about what he sees as the West's failure to deliver on pipeline plans. Despite many promises, no Western company has built a single meter of pipeline to carry Turkmen gas to European markets. And many Western firms which had come to Ashgabat are now leaving.
At the same time, Niyazov has found a greater understanding for his less than democratic approach from governments in Moscow, Tehran and Bejing and a greater willingness in all three places to purchase Turkmenistan's natural gas and thus provide him with the earnings he needs to keep his government in place.
When Vladimir Putin visited Central Asia a few weeks ago, for example, the Russian president expressed his understanding of what he said was the tough approach the Central Asian regimes had taken to combat Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.
Other Central Asian leaders quickly indicated their support for Putin's approach, thus tilting away from the West and toward Moscow. Now, Turkmenistan has done the same thing, not only sacking a pro-Western official but restarting gas deliveries to the Russian Federation as well.
And in recent months, Ashgabat has also stepped up its diplomatic and economic contacts with Iran and China, yet another indication of Niyazov's unhappiness with the West and his willingness to cooperate with regimes that his earlier foreign policy approach had precluded.
That shift in Ashgabat appears to have cost Shikhmuradov his job. But because his dismissal is part of a broader sea change across the Central Asian region, his departure now may be a diplomatic signal pointing to changes far beyond the borders of Turkmenistan.
Azerbaijan, Iran Reach Agreement Over Caspian
by Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
Azerbaijan and Iran smoothed over their differences on the Caspian Sea, announcing an agreement to conduct joint research in border areas following a dispute two weeks ago.
On July 31, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on joint geological and mineral research in their Caspian border areas, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported. The agreement, reached by deputy ministers on both sides, foresees the formation of several working groups and creation of a geographical atlas on the region, officials said.
The seemingly innocuous news may have wider implications for Caspian countries at a time when Russia has mounted a new initiative to settle the question of the waterway's legal division among the five shoreline states.
It is hardly likely to escape Moscow's notice that Iran chose to announce its agreement with Azerbaijan on the same day that Russia's Caspian envoy, Viktor Kalyuzhny, opened talks on the division issue in Tehran. Kalyuzhny has been making headlines since his recent appointment by reviving the question and visiting all the Caspian littoral nations.
The preliminary accord, and its relatively low level of negotiation, suggest that Iran is signaling that it can either pursue bilateral deals on its own or delay them if a better multilateral pact comes along. Russia did much the same thing by first raising the Caspian legal issue in 1994 and then signing separate agreements with Kazakhstan to suit its own needs.
Kalyuzhny, a former Russian energy minister, may also have blundered with Iran by first holding talks with Presidents Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan before consulting Tehran. It is Iran, after all, which negotiated previous Caspian treaties with the Soviet Union as an equal party, a fact that may give it an expectation of primary status.
But Tehran has traditionally kept silent in public about its disagreements with Moscow, choosing to show them instead through indirect means. That dynamic may have been on display two weeks ago when a Caspian incident led to a bitter exchange between Iran and Azerbaijan.
Baku reportedly charged that Iranian boats crossed into Azerbaijani waters and removed a signaling buoy that marked the Caspian border. Iran then allegedly violated Azerbaijan's airspace while monitoring the buoy's position when it was replaced.
Iran's version of the incident was reflected in a reported statement last week by the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a visit to the northern border town of Ardebil last week.
Khamenei said, "Azerbaijan is laying claims to some boundary areas on the Caspian Sea. Iran is not going to attack or quarrel with its neighbors, but it will decisively defend the historic rights of its people both onshore and on the Caspian Sea." Khamenei reportedly added that "Iran won't allow insulting actions of hostile states on its borders."
The message, while directed at Azerbaijan, may also have been aimed at Kalyuzhny, who proposed during a recent visit to Baku that all border disagreements in the Caspian be solved by joint development of the disputed resources. Such a plan could have profound effects for Iran with its borders on the Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan sectors. Yet, Kalyuzhny apparently failed to consult Iran in advance.
Shortly after the Khamenei statement, Azerbaijan agreed on the buoy's replacement and declared the case closed. On the same day, Iran announced that it had invited Russia's newly-created Caspian Petroleum Company to explore Iran's sector of the Caspian. The company is a venture of Russia's Gazprom, Lukoil and Yukos.
Iran seems to be pursuing several strategies in inviting Russia into its sector and then cooperating with Azerbaijan to map the area. Clearly, neither country enjoys a full measure of trust in Tehran.
By dealing with both, Iran seems to be trying to keep both off balance. Iran has consistently sought joint development rights to all of the Caspian or a 20 percent share, which it would presumably like to calculate as a percentage of its total wealth.
The resources near Iran's shore remain open to question. So far, it has done little to explore them, in part due to lack of technology. Ultimately, Western oil companies may be needed to deliver the Caspian benefits that Iran wants. In the meantime, it seems to be worried about any formulas that could prove costly later on, when the full extent of Caspian resources become known.
Its agenda with Russia may also make it necessary to show its anger over Caspian issues only toward smaller neighbors like Azerbaijan. At the same time, Iran's relations with Azerbaijan in the Caspian could prove useful in showing Moscow that Tehran may not depend on Russia alone.
Even if borders agreements are reached, the complexity of regional relations will remain. It is little wonder that solutions have so far been harder to find than Caspian Sea oil.
The Turkmens Of Iraq: A Nation Between Two Fires
by Orhan Ketene, Head of the Iraqi Turkmen Cultural Center in Toronto, Canada
Anybody who is interested in Iraqi politics has a fair amount of knowledge about Saddam [Hussein], the Baath party and the Kurds, but almost none about the Turkmens of Iraq.
One of the reasons for this knowledge blackout is the official Iraqi statistics which is currently the source for all information on web sites, in books and in the press. The official Iraqi figures show the Turkmens as 2% of the total population of Iraq, which comes to 400.000-450.000 people. But in fact, the Turkmen population in Telafer area alone, which is just one of the Turkmen provinces in the north, is 500.000 people.
Unfortunately, the Western media and other information sources, including the 1998 Facts Book published by the CIA, stick to the official forged figures and never question them.
This attitude of suppressing the real numbers and claiming that the Turkmens are a "small minority" and "recent comers" in Iraq is common to both the Arabs and the Kurds, two of Iraqi Turkmens' rival neighbors.
The other reason for being unnoticed by the world media is that the Turkmens are a peaceful, quiet nation which declined participation in the usually undemocratic, turbulent and violent Iraqi politics. Actually, the Turkmens are the only people in Iraq who have not revolted or resorted to arms fighting for their rights.
The question that must be asked is: why this hatred toward a peaceful population that has not harmed anybody so far? The answer lies in the history of the Iraqi Turkmens and in their oil. The Arab nationalists in particular resent the Turkish rule in Iraq which lasted for over a millennium. The Turkmens remind them of that long era.
The other reason, and the most important one, is the oil. Both neighbors want to possess this treasure at any cost to fulfill their long awaited dreams. For the Kurds, it is to establish the great Kurdistan from the Gulf of Iskenderun to the Persian Gulf. For the Arabs, it is to unite the Arab world from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, then wipe out Israel and liberate the captive Arab lands in Turkey and Iran. But in their way they find the Turkmens whose only dream is to live in peace.
Who are the Turkmens and when did they come to Iraq?
The Turkmens are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq numbering 3 million people. Sandwiched between the Kurds in the north and the Arabs in the south, they live in northern Iraq on a diagonal strip of land called Turkmeneli, or Turkmenland, stretching from the Syrian border in the north to the Iranian border in central Iraq. Their main cities are Kerkuk, Erbil, Mosul, and Telafer.
The Turkmens began settling in Turkmeneli in the 9th century A.D. Since then, they have come in waves from Central Asia and either formed various states and principalities like the Atabegs, Bayindir, and Barans, or became subjects in empires like the Seljuks, the Safawids, and the Ottomans.
The Turkmens are a mix of many migrating Turkish tribes, mainly the Oguz. They speak a unique Turkish dialect similar and well understood by the Turks of Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Desires of both the Arabs and the Kurds to include Turkmeneli in their domain intensified after the Generals took power on July 14, 1959. First, the Kurds, led by Barzani and in collaboration with the Communists, tried to wipe out the Turkmens in a bloody and brutal massacre in Kerkuk. Later, the Arabs, under the rule of the Baath party, began a slower but intensive ethnic cleansing campaign. Since then, the Arabs and the Kurds have been fighting with each other over Kerkuk and the oil fields.
The Baath party came to power on July 17, 1968 and until today has managed to change the demographics of the area by supplanting thousands of Turkmen families from their homes, sending them to southern Iraq, and replacing them with southern Arabs. They have made life extremely difficult for the Turkmens in their homeland. No Turkmen can buy any property under his name, they cannot even get a permission to repair their houses. But they are free to sell their properties to Arabs. The Iraqi government encourages Arabs to marry Turkmen girls to assimilate them. It is impossible for the Turkmens to find jobs in their homeland, which forces them to go and work in the south.
The oppression has reached such a level that talking in the Turkmen language on the street and on the phone is forbidden by the security forces. All Turkish names of newborn children, cities, towns and streets have been forcefully changed to "revolutionary" Arab names.
The world began to pay attention to Iraq and Saddam's brutalities after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But after his defeat, the Kurds of the north and the Shias of the south revolted against him, but he only intensified the brutalities. The Western powers intervened immediately to declare the Kurdish north a "safe heaven," guarding it against the Iraqi army, but leaving the Turkmen areas to the mercy of the most brutal man in history - as if the Turkmens were not subjects to similar persecution or as if they have never existed.
The West has been paying considerable attention to the Kurds and their problems for quite a while. There are thousands of books and academic studies in foreign languages about the Kurds. Yet, there is hardly a book in English about the Turkmens.
It is this imbalance in attention that the Turkmens resent about the West's position. Western powers helped the Kurds to establish the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil in northern Iraq, which is virtually independent from Baghdad. In the meantime, they ignored the rights of Erbil's Turkmen population, which makes half of the city and accounts for 13% of all the Turkmens in Iraq, by placing them under the mercy of the KRG.
Kurdistan's Democratic Party (KDP) has been the governing authority in Erbil since August 1996 when Saddam Hussein sent his army to Erbil to oust their rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and to destroy the opposition headquarters, specifically the Turkmens. Hundreds of renown individuals where executed. Since then, KDP has adopted similar methods for oppression and assimilation of the Turkmens which Saddam practices in his domain. Clashes and frictions are frequent between the KDP forces and the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF).
Two major confrontations have happened since then, one on August 10, 1998 and the last one on July 12, 2000 when KDP forces raided the ITF headquarters.
The only modest support and recognition from the outside world for the Turkmens comes from Turkey which still avoids too much involvement in internal Iraqi politics.
After the recent attacks, the Turkish foreign minister issued a warning to the KDP, but it had a very little effect.
The world should realize that if the current ethnic cleansing of the Turkmens by both Saddam and the KDP is allowed to continue, the 3 million Turkmen population, which has been living peacefully in Turkmeneli for more than a millennium, will be no more. A unique nation with a glorious past and countless contributions to world civilization will disappear.
Even if Saddam is ousted from power and a new government is formed, the situation for the Turkmens will not change dramatically. In the absence of an international agreement that is enforced by the world's leading powers and guarantees their rights and safety in Iraq, the Turkmens will not feel safe. What they need now the most is a Turkmen "safe heaven" to protect them from annihilation.
The Turkmens appeal to the world community and to the superpowers to pay attention to their plight in Iraq. They need the support of every human rights organization, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and the world press to publicize their just cause.
The Turkmens want to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors. They would like to work together to end 82 years of racial tension, oppression, persecution and hatred. They would like to cooperate with all of their neighbors to establish a democratic and a prosperous Iraq. (Turkistan Newsletter)