12 August 2000
Turkmenbashi Unmasked In A Prominent Newspaper's Article
August 8, 2000
"Stalinist Disneyland of Central Asia" is how a front-page International Herald Tribune article calls Turkmenistan.
The article, published in IHT on August 8, portrays aspects of President Niyazov's personality cult. It goes on to say that according to oil company executives, Turkmenistan's failure to clinch a deal on Turkmen gas exports to Western markets is due to Niyazov's "suspiciousness" and his inability "to grasp the complexities of modern contracts."
The article mentions weakening health care, deteriorating public education, decreasing political tolerance, and declining media freedom as defining aspects of life in Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL)
Family of Political Prisoner Suffers Persecution
August 8, 2000
Wife and children of prominent political prisoner, Turkmen physician Pirimguly Tangrykuliev have been subjected to Stalin-like repressions, independent sources in Ashgabat tell RFE/RL in an open letter also addressed to international human rights organizations.
The letter further informs that one of Tangrykuliev's accusers, Aga Kurbanov, has been promoted by the government and now occupies Tangrykuliev's last professional position as the head of stomatology center in Ashgabat.
Tangrykuliev's wife, who worked at the same stomatology center, has been fired by Kurbanov and was forced to leave Ashgabat. She has not been allowed to see her husband in prison for the past two months.
Pirimguly Tangrykuliev is serving an eight-year prison term in the town of Gyzylgaya, infamous for its most dangerous prisoners and uranium deposits. RFE/RL has learned from another letter that many prisoners in Gyzylgaya die of lung cancer contracted while laboring at the deposits.
Tangrykuliev was sentenced in August 1999 in a closed trial after he expressed interest in participating in December 1999 parliamentary elections. His conviction was denounced by the OSCE, international human rights organizations, and foreign governments. (RFE/RL)
Niyazov Receives Unique Mercedes As A Gift
August 8, 2000
Management of the Mercedes Benz AG representation office in Turkmenistan, the Austrian company IP Consult Ashgabat, presented Turkmen president Niyazov with an exclusive 2000 model of Mercedes Benz CL Coupe.
Turkmen president drives himself, both in Ashgabat and on trips across the country. His new car has been assembled by hand and is a one-of-a-kind armored vehicle specially designed for Niyazov. (Interfax)
Turkmen President Launches Television Network Devoted To Himself
August 7, 2000
Turkmenistan's Soviet-style President Saparmurat Niyazov today launched a television network dedicated to what appears to be his favorite subject - himself.
Called the Epoch of Turkmenbashi, the channel will air five hours a day, every day, and glorify the self-styled "Father of All Turkmen" in the latest feature of his Stalinesque personality cult.
The channel will be focus on "the great accomplishments and changes in the country during its independence - the epoch of Turkmenbashi," a spokesman for Turkmen national television and radio explained.
Those of Turkmenistan's five million inhabitants with television sets can tune in to programs like "In Turkmenbashi Country," where they will learn about the "head of state's most important initiatives and large-scale economic and cultural projects."
Two state-owned channels already exist in Turkmenistan.
Programs from Russian ORT were reduced to a few hours each evening after Niyazov complained that its films "contained scenes of bloodshed and sex." (AFP)
Turkish Ambassador Presents Credentials To Turkmen Leader
August 7, 2000
New Turkish ambassador in Turkmenistan, Mehmet Gursoz, today presented his credentials to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.
In the course of the meeting, Niyazov and Gursoz discussed Turkmen-Turkish relations and stressed the need for dialogue between the two countries whose peoples share linguistic, ethnic and historical roots.
Niyazov praised active participation of Turkish companies in economic development of his country, particularly in the textile industry, construction of hotels and administrative buildings in Ashgabat, and development of transport and communication systems.
Niyazov and Gursoz also discussed construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline which could bring Turkmen gas to Turkey. The Turkish ambassador confirmed that his country is interested in speeding up the project. (Itar-Tass)
Turkmen Head And U.S. Envoy Pledge Cooperation In Education
August 7, 2000
Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov met today with Steven Mann, U.S. ambassador in Turkmenistan. Following the talks, Ambassador Mann praised them as "warm" and "cordial." In his comments, Mann singled out the issue of U.S.-Turkmen cooperation in educational exchanges.
"We are going to continue strengthening our student exchange programs. We are going to strengthen our business program between Texas A&M University and Turkmen State University, and we are going to be working with different ministries and organizations of the government to look for ways of strengthening training of specialists for the economy in the future," Mann said.
The ambassador mentioned that he and Niyazov also talked about Turkmen economy and development of society in Turkmenistan. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)
Turkmenistan To Use Foreign Loans To Upgrade Civil Air Fleet
August 10, 2000
Turkmen TV carried a report today announcing Turkmenistan's social and economic program for the period to 2010. According to the report, Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov has proposed "rapid development of the transport and communications system to strengthen the country's economy and to improve people's prosperity in the Turkmens' Golden Age."
Turkmen TV quoted Niyazov as saying at the 9th session of the Turkmen Congress of Elders in December 1999 that 2,160 billion manats [official rate is 5,200 manats/$1] would be invested in developing transport and communications sector in 2000-2005. 1,960 billion manats [375 million dollars] of that amount would come from foreign loans.
During this period, the report said, all ground facilities will be upgraded to meet international standards. Flight safety standards will also be significantly improved. New enterprises will be equipped with modern technology to provide the aircraft and helicopter fleet with the most updated service system and improve the quality of passenger services at the airports situated in the towns of Balkanabat, Turkmenabat and Mary.
Another 900 billion manats [173 million dollars] is to be invested in developing the transport sector in 2006-2010, with foreign loans accounting for 800 billion manats [153m dollars], Turkmen TV said. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)
Turkmenistan To Introduce New Excise Tax Rates, Customs Duties
August 10, 2000
Turkmenistan is introducing new rates and procedures of levying the excise tax on locally produced and imported commodities on September 1.
Under the new regulations, the tax rates on locally brewed beer will be 10% of the cost, on drinks with a lower than 20% alcohol content - 15%, with a 20-30% alcohol content - 30%, with an alcohol content of 30-40% - 40%, and with an alcohol content over 40% - 55%. A 40% excise tax will be levied on gasoline and diesel fuel.
The excise tax on imported beer will be $0.5 for one liter, on wine - $1.5, and on alcohol used for making alcoholic drinks - $4, except for alcohol imported by enterprises of the Food Industry Association, the Trade Ministry, the Ministry for Foreign Economic Relations and the Health Ministry. The tax on strong alcoholic drinks and other alcoholic goods will be $3 for one liter, while the tax on tobacco goods will amount to 150% of the customs price but no less than $1 for a package.
A 15% tax will be levied on jewelry made of precious metals, natural and cultivated pearls, and precious and semiprecious stones. The tax on small cars, depending on the engine size, will range from $0.25 to $0.35 for each cubic centimeter.
The excise tax will not be levied on commodities imported under projects and programs of international humanitarian, financial and technical aid (except for alcohol and tobacco), or on alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, precious metals and cars duly imported for personal use.
Government of Turkmenistan also passed a resolution on customs duties for exports and imports to go into force on September 1.
Resolution sets out a list of and rates for customs duties on import and export commodities. Duties must be paid in Turkmen currency, the manat.
The list of goods subject to import duties includes cheese, sausage products, canned fish, vegetables, honey, lemons, grapes, cottonseed oil, vegetable oil, pasta, legumes, fruit, nuts, wheat (not including seed and hard wheat), flour, semolina, selected confectionery products, ice-cream, chemical products, printing products, and hand-made carpets.
The list of goods subject to export duties include cattle and sheep hides, Astrakhan and non-standard hides, hand-made carpets, wool yarn, wool, ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate, super phosphate, ammonium sulfate, Turkmen sheep dogs, and nonferrous metals and alloy products. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan's Industrial Output Up 15% In Seven Months
August 9, 2000
Turkmenistan posted industrial output of 8.3 trillion manats in the first seven months of 2000, up 15% year-on-year in comparable prices, the national statistics institute told Interfax.
Companies in the state sector (basic industry) accounted for output of 5.95 trillion manats, up 22% year-on-year.
Fuel and energy industry made up for the biggest share of basic industrial production at 65%, while light industries accounted for 18%.
Turkmenistan produced 25.3 billion cubic meters of gas, up 50%; 4.2 million tons of oil and gas condensate, up 2%; and 5.4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy, up 7%. Cotton production went up 7% to 25.8 million square meters. Production of cotton thread totaled 28,200 tons, up 38%.
Turkmen companies and organizations posted pretax profit of 2.1 trillion manats in the first half of 2000, up 140% year-on-year. The industrial sector accounted for 80% of profits received
Pretax losses are estimated at 151 billion manats. A total of 165 businesses posted losses, 13% of all studied companies.
The official exchange rate on August 9 was 5,200 manats/$1. (Interfax)
Status Of The Caspian Should Be Resolved By Talks - Baku
August 9, 2000
Azeri Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Halef Halefov says bordering countries should sort out their differences over the status of Caspian Sea through talks, not unilateral decisions.
According to Turkish daily news, Halefov said yesterday in Baku the dispute over the sea's status should be tackled through negotiations among the littoral states, but added that there have been no concrete steps to this end so far.
Halefov said Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have serious problems over sharing the Kepez region. Turkmenistan has also made claims to Azeri and Cirak oil-beds. Halefov said Azerbaijan has already signed oil extraction agreements on these fields with the Azeri International Oil Company. (Interfax)
Shell Confirms Support For Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline
August 8, 2000
Royal-Dutch Shell has confirmed its interest in building the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline.
In an interview with Turkmen newspaper "Neutral Turkmenistan," company Vice President Gavin Graham said Shell remained committed to the project.
The project has colossal commercial importance for the Caspian region and especially for Turkmenistan, he said, adding that the pipeline would give Turkey access to 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas a year.
Shell has plans to transport Turkmen gas to growing markets in Pakistan, India, China and Turkey. Current company priorities include creation of joint ventures with Turkmengaz and signing of a production-sharing agreement on the Malai field. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan-Ukraine Gas Pipeline Bypassing Russia Would Break Even In 6-10 Years - Kiev
August 7, 2000
A proposed gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Ukraine bypassing Russia would significantly lower the cost of transporting gas to Ukraine and would pay for itself within six to ten years, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said on August 5 in Kharkov.
Tymoshenko said the Turkmen leadership proposed construction of a pipeline during her recent visit in Ashgabat. "It has not been rejected," she said, adding that sides are considering several options for the pipeline construction. (Interfax)
Armenia Reschedules Debt For Turkmen Gas
August 7, 2000
Armenian news agency "Snark" reports that Armenian president Robert Kocharyan on August 5 signed a decree ratifying an agreement "On rescheduling the remaining debt in state credits of the Republic of Armenia, according to the results of mutual accounting for Turkmen gas supplied in 1994-95 on the basis of an agreement between the governments of Armenia and Turkmenistan." The document was signed on August 3 in Yerevan. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - "Snark" news agency)
Four Kyrgyz, Five Uzbek Soldiers Killed In Clashes With Islamic Militants
August 12, 2000
At least four Kyrgyz soldiers have died fighting Islamic militant fighters in Kyrgyzstan.
Reuters news agency quotes an official in the provincial administration in Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken region as saying Defense Minister Esen Topoyev has taken command of government forces fighting the militants. The official said military supplies were being flown to the region.
Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov said yesterday that five soldiers were killed during fighting with Islamist rebels. Almatov said government troops dispersed up to 70 rebels who had infiltrated Uzbekistan from Tajikistan and killed several of them.
An RFE/RL correspondent in the area of the fighting in Uzbekistan said the army decided to use only helicopters to attack the rebels to avoid having more troops killed.
Early yesterday some 30 to 40 Islamist fighters from Tajikistan, attempting to reach Uzbekistan via Kyrgyzstan, were intercepted by Kyrgyz forces. Fighting on the remote border was still reported to be continuing, and at least two government troops were injured in the clash.
Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev met with the secretary general of the CIS Collective Defense council, Valery Nikolaenko, in Bishkek yesterday. The president's media service said Nikolaenko assured Akayev that Russia would help Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan if the Central Asian nations fail to get rid of the rebels.
Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Osmonakun Ibraimov told a news conference in Bishkek that the fighters are believed to belong to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. "According to our reports, the group of bandits is on foot, and they're carrying firearms. It appears that they were attempting to secretly cross into Uzbekistan, but our border guards did not give them the opportunity to do so," Ibraimov said.
The Kyrgyz presidency said up to 100 militants have fought with Kyrgyz troops since yesterday. Kyrgyzstan says the militants are Uzbek Islamic fighters crossing Kyrgyz territory from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan. Last year, the group invaded southern Kyrgyzstan from bases in Tajikistan's mountains in an attempt to reach Uzbekistan. The movement wants to overthrow the Uzbek government and establish an Islamic state. (RFE/RL)
Turkmens Restrict Movement In Area Bordering On Uzbekistan
August 6, 2000
According to Turkmen newspaper "Esger," Turkmen territories bordering Uzbekistan have been declared "a special border zone."
Newspaper says every Turkmen citizen aged 16 and older residing in the border area must always carry his or her passport with a stamp confirming permanent residency and a special permission stamp from the police. Holders of such passports can freely move within the border area.
Nonresidents intending to visit the border area or to move there should carry with them their identification documents and a special permission issued by the police in the place of their permanent residency. Permission can also be issued for children under 16 years of age.
Citizens visiting the border area on business, for medical treatment, or for holidays in resorts, tourist camps, or guest houses, should carry with them their identification documents and also certificates confirming purpose of their visit issued by the police in the place of their permanent residency.
Visitors who intend to stay in the border area for more than three days should register at the local police department or administration within 24 hours after arrival, Turkmen newspaper "Esger" reported. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - "Esger")
Iranian Embassy Denies Military Buildup On The Caspian
August 11, 2000
The Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan has denied reports of an Iranian military buildup on the Caspian sea.
Earlier, the Azerbaijani press reported that Iran plans to additionally deploy 6,000 soldiers, 75 armored vehicles and tanks, eight fighter planes and 12 radars on the border with Azerbaijan, as well as 34 patrol craft, two boats, one small frigate and one submarine on the Caspian Sea.
The Iranian embassy's statement says that Tehran is opposed to the militarization of the Caspian and supports efforts to resolve its problems through talks between coastal countries. However, it says, Iran has the right to increase its defense potential in the face of a possible dangerous situation emerging on its borders. (Interfax)
Famine Possible In Tajikistan - UN Representative
August 11, 2000
Part of the Tajik population may be facing a famine, the UN World Food Program representative told the press yesterday in Dushanbe.
The official made a working tour of Tajikistan with a group of World Food Program experts in order to determine economic loss caused by a drought in Tajikistan.
He said the UN World Food Program is to grant Tajikistan 136,000 tons in food aid and grain and is looking for ways to attract resources from other donors. (Interfax)
Thirteen Candidates To Contest Presidency In Kyrgyzstan
August 10, 2000
13 candidates had expressed desire to run for Kyrgyz presidency as of August 10.
Presidential elections are scheduled for late October. The nomination campaign ends on August 30. A would-be presidential candidate needs to collect at least 50,000 signatures in his support country-wide.
The list of candidates includes leader of the Ata-Meken party Omurbek Tekebayev, leader of the Peoples Party Melis Eshimkanov, leader of the Kairan El party Dooronbek Sadirbayev, one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party Almaz Atambayev, and Chairman of the Communist Party's Osh branch Iskak Masaliyev.
All candidate must pass a Kyrgyz language test in order to be registered. So far, only five nominees have passed this test.
Candidate also must submit an income declaration to the Central Election Commission and leave a deposit of 100,000 soms (47.04 soms/1$). (Interfax)
Prosecutor To Appeal Kulov's Unexpected Acquittal
August 9, 2000
Kyrgyz prosecutor Sharapidin SheishenAliyev told RFE/RL's corespondent in Bishkek today that he would appeal against the acquittal of Kyrgyz opposition leader Felix Kulov.
SheishenAliyev said the ruling judge ignored evidence that proves Kulov's guilt in charges of abuse of power. The prosecutor also said it was "very strange" the judge, while acquitting Kulov, convicted three other men on trial with him.
vKulov was unexpectedly acquitted by a military court earlier this week after being arrested in March on charges of abusing his powers as Kyrgyzstan's national security minister in 1997 and 1998.
Kulov, who heads the Arnamis party, said today he would stand in the October presidential elections.
Kulov said that his priority now was to reactivate his party ahead of the election. He said many members have gone underground, and he must get "people moving again."
The Vienna based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights today welcomed Kulov's acquittal, but said that the conviction of the three other men reflects that Kyrgyz democratic practices are still weak. (RFE/RL)
Second Suspect in Killing of Israeli Diplomat Apprehended in Kyrgyzstan
August 8, 2000
Police in Kyrgyzstan captured the second man suspected of killing an Israeli diplomat in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek last week.
The 19-year-old student identified as Anatoly Polyansky was taken into custody today. The other suspect, Rahimjon Timiraliev, was detained last week shortly after the killing.
Israeli diplomat Elazar Brosh was found stabbed to death on August 3 in an apartment he rented in Bishkek. The woman who owned the apartment was also killed in what police say was a robbery interrupted by Brosh, who usually works out of Israel's embassy in neighboring Kazakhstan.
The Interior Ministry in Kyrgyzstan yesterday said that [men] arrested for killing an Israeli embassy diplomat in Bishkek last week could face the death penalty if convicted. (RFE/RL)
Independent Kazakh Newspapers Shut Down For Reprinting Corruption Allegations Against Government Officials
August 9, 2000
The New York-based media rights organization Committee to Protect Journalism has expressed its outrage over the Kazakh government's apparent efforts to shut down independent newspapers "SolDat" and "Vremya Po" for reprinting articles from foreign media about alleged corruption in the Kazakh government.
According to CPJ sources, in June and early July of this year both papers reprinted stories from respected international publications, alleging that top Kazakh government officials, including President Nazarbayev, had accepted massive bribes from American and Russian businessmen in exchange for favorable contracts to reprocess iron and aluminum ore and to develop oil fields in the Kazakh part of the Caspian Sea.
On July 17, acting on a complaint that was apparently filed by one of the newspaper's readers, the Almaty prosecutor's office opened a criminal defamation case against Yermurat Bapi and Argyngazy Madiyanov, respectively editor-in-chief and director of the opposition weekly "SolDat" (formerly "Dat"). Bapi and Madiyanov are accused of insulting President Nazarbayev by reprinting two articles about high-level corruption in Kazakhstan from the Web sites of the U.S.-based "Fortune" magazine and the Italian newspaper "Corrierre della Sera." The case is now being investigated by the local department of the National Security Committee.
Two weeks earlier, the prosecutor's office notified "SolDat" that it was launching an investigation into the newspaper's allegedly defamatory May 30 article "Decembrists accuse Nazarbayev," which "SolDat" had reprinted from the Web site of the Information Analytical Center Eurasia (www.eurasia.org.ru). The article held the president responsible for violent ethnic clashes in the former Kazakh capital, Almaty, in December 1986.
The next day, Kazakh customs officials seized the newspaper's entire print run at the Russian-Kazakh border and arrested Bapi, who was accompanying the shipment. The editor was held in custody for a few hours and then released.
According to CPJ's local sources, the investigators have frozen the newspaper's bank accounts. As a result, on July 10, "SolDat"'s entire staff was placed on indefinite unpaid leave. The newspaper's publication is currently suspended.
In a separate incident, another Almaty newspaper, the Russian/English-language biweekly "Vremya Po", has come under similar pressure. On July 6, the newspaper's regular printer, the state-owned company Dauir, refused to continue printing "Vremya Po" on the grounds that the paper had an overdue balance. However, local sources told CPJ that the real reason behind the refusal was that government officials had pressured Dauir to stop printing "Vremya Po" after July 3, when the paper reprinted articles on the corruption scandal that had already appeared in "Newsweek" and "The Wall Street Journal." Ever since, the paper has only been able to publish on the Internet.
CPJ urges activists and international human rights organizations to send appeals to President Nazarbayev protesting his government's blatant harassment of the independent press in Kazakhstan. (CPJ - IFEX Action Alert Network)
U.S. Official John Wolf Discusses Trans-Caspian Pipeline
by Naz Nazar, RFE/RL Turkmen Service
August 11, 2000
Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov has apparently changed his attitude toward a proposed Trans-Caspian pipeline to move natural gas to Turkey from his country's deposits in the Caspian Sea.
For the past several months, Niyazov has made only negative comments about the U.S.-backed project, agreements for which were signed at last November's summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But this week, Niyazov told the new Turkish ambassador to his country that it would be well for both countries to move forward on the Trans-Caspian pipeline.
RFE/RL's Turkmen Service yesterday asked John Wolf, U.S. special envoy to the Caspian, whether the United States still hoped to see the project completed. The American diplomat responded positively, but said realization of the project depends on Turkmenistan.
"Our position has been to continue to support the realization of the project. But there are [other] good offers on the table and it's really for Turkmenistan to decide whether or not it will go forward with the project. For our part, we are working with Turkey, because Turkey has requirements for [natural] gas and a strong desire to get gas from the Caspian. We're going to work with them to cooperate with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, whenever it's ready," Wolf said.
Wolf also commented on the recent reports of a possible long-term deal between Russia and Turkmenistan for shipping natural gas, which could affect the Trans-Caspian project, as well as Turkmenistan's recent efforts to increase its natural gas exports to Iran:
"Turkmenistan made clear as recently as this week that it still hopes to supply gas to Turkey. That was in the meeting between President Niyazov and the new Turkish ambassador to Ashgabat. We hope he (Niyazov) will take concrete steps now to achieve that. The fact of the matter is, neither his sales to Russia, nor his sales to Iran, nor his sales to Turkey are going forward. Turkmenistan needs to make a choice and move forward."
The U.S. envoy was also asked about the views of some experts who have said the costs of the Trans-Caspian pipeline could prove to be exorbitant. He responded, saying financial side of the project is not the most important one:
"It's not a question of [finance] - in fact, this project is readily financed. We support the project, because we think that it is important for the countries on the east side of the Caspian and the countries on the west side of the Caspian to have an opportunity to export their natural resources - gas and oil - to Western markets without having to go through some of the world's largest competitor nations."
Wolf illustrated the American view of how the Trans-Caspian pipeline could be financed:
"We have always made clear that this project needs to be financed commercially, but that we would be prepared to help with [U.S. government-backed] Export-Import Bank credits and Overseas Private Investment Corporation [or OPIC] project insurance to support the project. OPIC insurance would be very important because it would reassure commercial investors that they would have a government guarantee for the project. And we have been very consistent in the position for two years."
Wolf denied that the U.S. government is rethinking its policy on the pipeline project because of Niyazov's unwillingness so far to participate in it.
"Turkey has said that it has a strong desire to expand its suppliers and to acquire gas from the Caspian region. We are working with Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan - and we will work with Turkmenistan - if and when it's ready to achieve that purpose," U.S. special envoy John Wolf said in the interview to RFE/RL.
Niyazov May Be Ready To Reconsider Pipeline Project
by Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
August 10, 2000
After several months of negative comments, Turkmenistan's president has suddenly turned positive on the prospects for the Trans-Caspian pipeline project.
This week, President Saparmurat Niyazov had hopeful words for the gas pipeline to Turkey as he met with Ankara's ambassador and invited Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to visit the country.
Niyazov noted that Turkey will soon be getting gas from both Iran and Russia's Blue Stream pipeline across the Black Sea.
The president told the ambassador, "These two countries will sell Turkmen gas to Turkey as if it were their own. It will therefore be as well for us to finalize the Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline project," the Turkish Daily News reported.
Niyazov invited Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to visit Turkmenistan and said he would soon send Turkmen Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyev to meet with his counterpart, Ismail Cem.
The statements mark one of the few favorable signs for the U.S.-backed project since agreements were signed at the OSCE security summit in Istanbul last November. Shortly afterwards, Azerbaijan discovered gas in its Caspian sector, touching off a struggle over sharing the pipeline's capacity.
Since then, Niyazov has frequently criticized the financial terms offered by the pipeline's developers. PSG International, a partner in the project, all but ceased operations in June, leaving Royal Dutch/Shell to pursue it alone.
Last week, Shell warned that Turkmenistan would soon lose its opportunity for exports because of Azerbaijan's plan to pipe its own gas to Turkey. That concern may finally be having an effect on Niyazov.
Also last week, Iran signed a new protocol with Turkey to finalize the operational terms of its 1996 gas supply contract. Iran is now set to start deliveries by next July. As the plans of both Russia and Azerbaijan for new pipelines show signs of progressing, Niyazov may be slowly starting to realize that the competition is no idle threat.
But Niyazov may be too quick in assuming that both Iran and Russia will only be selling Turkmen gas. Turkmenistan has yet to reach deals on increasing its supplies to either country, despite repeated attempts.
In April, Iran cut its modest gas imports from Turkmenistan by half after complaining that Ashgabat had been unable to make enough supplies available to a pipeline between the two countries. Niyazov tried but failed to reach a deal on raising his exports to Iran in time for the Tehran summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization in June. Iran received only 1,100 million cubic meters of Turkmen gas in the first six months of this year.
Niyazov has also apparently made little progress in negotiating a price for more gas exports to Russia since President Vladimir Putin visited Ashgabat in May. Despite Niyazov's recent claim that he is ready to sell 100,000 million cubic meters of gas without "any preliminary preparation," he has been forced to invest in new facilities for the Dauletabad gas field in order to honor his export pledges to Moscow.
While he has rejected concrete proposals for the Trans- Caspian pipeline, Niyazov has continued to chase a series of dreams. The latest idea is a deal to deliver huge volumes of gas to Ukraine, despite its long history of failing to pay its gas debts. Meanwhile in Kiev, government officials have floated the idea of building a pipeline from Turkmenistan that would bypass Russia. It has yet to be determined who would pay for such a line.
So far, the negotiations with Ukraine have only led to embarrassment. Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko reached an agreement on gas sales during meetings in Ashgabat, only to have President Leonid Kuchma denounce the pact as a "deception" one day later because Russian transit charges were left out.
The next day, Niyazov fired his respected foreign minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, after criticizing his poor command of the Turkmen language. It is unclear whether bad translation was blamed for the problem with the Ukrainian deal. Kuchma now plans to visit Ashgabat and negotiate the issue himself.
Meanwhile Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan have all been proceeding with their plans for gas exports to Turkey, leaving Niyazov with no progress to show. Even with his agreement, the Trans-Caspian project would face serious engineering and political challenges. But dealing with Niyazov seems to be the toughest problem of all.
Why Is A Well Known Journalist Attacking The National Action Party Of Turkey On Turkic Questions?
by Dr. Nadir Devlet, Professor at Marmara University, Turkey
Yagmur Atsiz, a well known columnist for the Turkish newspaper "Milliyet" in the August 2 issue accused the National Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi - MHP) of not taking care of Turkic/Turkish culture and its historical monuments. The Turkish media has claimed that Turkey is loosing its influence over Turkic republics in the past, but Atsiz is the first to print such harsh accusations. Using very sarcastic phrases, such as "so-called Pan-Turkist MHP, who claim to sympathizing with all Turkic peoples," Atsiz accused MHP and especially one of its ministers responsible for the Turkic affairs of doing nothing or wrong.
MHP is the second largest political party in the coalition government and known as a far right wing party. Its former leader, late Alparslan Turkesh, was one of the leaders of the 1960 military coup d'etat. It is correct that when most political parties and leading intellectuals were not interested in Turkic peoples abroad, only this party and its followers were trying to bring this issue to the political agenda. But they were not influential because of their tiny representation in the parliament. They were often accused of being a radical, racist movement. Some of their former members were involved in crime. Certainly there were many other people in Turkey who were involved in crime, but former MHP members' involvement in such activities was widely publicized in the press.
As a result of the 1999 parliament elections, MHP became the second biggest political party in the country, and when it joined the coalition government, it was expected to bring more involvement in Turkic affairs. This did not happen, however. On the contrary, Turkey's relations with other Turkic states started to weaken. In a way, Turkey's inability to perform an influential role abroad is understandable because of its domestic problems, such as inflation, unemployment, and economic shortages. Also, Turkey's priorities have changed towards becoming a member of the European Union.
Still, journalist, scholars, politicians and many others who have some interest in the Turkic peoples do ask questions about deteriorating relations with them and growing influence of the Russian Federation after Vladimir Putin's election to the presidency.
In his column, Atsiz claimed that the name of the state minister, Abdulhaluk Chay, came to the agenda in connection to rumors of a governmental coup several years ago in Azerbaijan. Even Azerbaijan's president Haidar Aliyev had accused Turkey of its involvement in the coup.
Atsiz also lashed out against TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency), an organization under the supervision of the same minister. According to Atsiz, TIKA has poured money into the restoration of Ahmet Yesevi's tomb instead of distributing this huge amount of money among suffering Kazakh people.
Chay immediately reacted to Atsiz's criticism and accusations. His response, also written in a very harsh style, has been published in the August 4 issue of the "Milliyet" newspaper. The minister asks Atsiz to prove his claims and threatens the journalist with a lawsuit. Chay also explains that the decision for the restoration of the Ahmet Yesevi's tomb was not made during the MHP's rule. According to him, the restoration took very long, 16 million dollars has been spent, and another 1.5 million dollars has been found to finish the job.
In his response, minister Chay also wrote that he does not want an advise on "Turkish/Turkic consciousness" from someone who has rejected his own father's ideals. This is a hint to the journalist's father, famous pan-Turkist Nihal Atsiz. Yagmur Atsiz, on the other hand, is known as a socialist.
We are not sure whether the polemic between the journalist and the minister will continue, but it is safe to assume that while some of Atsiz's accusations may not be true, some of his claims do have some ground. After all, most political analysts, journalists, businessmen and scholars agree that Turkey's involvement and its influence in the Turkic republics is growing feeble. The MHP's reaction proves righteousness of such claims further.
According to Turkish newspapers, MHP is working now on an economic plan in order to reinstate relations with Turkic republics. At the moment, however, nothing certain is known about this plan.
Uzbek Islamic Militants Renew Fighting
by Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL
August 9, 2000
The rebel Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), considered by regional authorities to be a major security threat, has renewed attacks after being quiet almost a year.
The fighting started last weekend with at least two battles: one in northern Tajikistan near the Uzbek border and the other in southeastern Uzbekistan, about 20 kilometers from the Tajik border.
The governments of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had been preparing for fighting, but the attacks came as a surprise and in areas that are difficult to defend.
Not much is known about the IMU's size and aims. Many of the group's commanders - including leader Juma Namangani - fought alongside Tajikistan's Islamic opposition during the 1992 to 1997 Tajik civil war. The group publicly advocates the overthrow of the Uzbek government and the establishment of an Islamic state in the country.
The IMU achieved international notoriety last year when about 1,000 militants launched a series of attacks in southern Kyrgyzstan in order to prevent their being forcibly repatriated to Uzbekistan. The attacks were later repulsed by Kyrgyz soldiers and, with the approach of winter, the militants were forced to retreat to bases in the Tajik mountains.
Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov has confirmed that fighting in southeastern Uzbekistan is continuing. He puts the current number of militants at around 100 soldiers. He also says Tajikistan is helping to combat a militant group. "I would like to emphasize that Uzbek and Tajik authorities are cooperating completely in conducting this operation, the goal of which is the elimination of the terrorists," he said.
The IMU's numbers began to grow in 1997 after the government in Tashkent began cracking down on Islamic groups following the killings of some Uzbek policemen, and last year when a series of bombs exploded in the capital Tashkent. The crackdown forced many militants to leave the country.
The return of the IMU to Uzbekistan, and to areas near it, had been expected. But even as fighting has begun, questions are being asked about how the group managed to re-enter Uzbekistan.
Uzbek Foreign Minister Kamilov maintains the militants got in via Tajikistan, helped by commanders from the former Tajik opposition. Tajikistan, however, denies this. Tajik Deputy Minister of Defense Ghairat Adhamov, once a commander in the Tajik opposition, tells RFE/RL that the Tajik opposition did not help the Uzbek militants:
"I can tell you the forces of the Tajik opposition do not have, and have not had, any connection with the Uzbek opposition on the territory of Uzbekistan, [and] has never helped them do so."
Neither claim can be verified. One possibility is that many of the militants were already in Uzbekistan simply awaiting orders to begin fighting.
Tashkent is clearly taking the renewed threat very seriously.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahodyr Umarov says his government has no plans to negotiate with the rebels. He says there is only one way to make the militants understand the futility of their efforts: to eliminate them.
Uzbek Security Council Secretary Rahmonkulov admits it will be difficult to locate all the militants. He said yesterday the country's high mountains, deep ravines and numerous caves provide many possible routes and hiding places.