21 October 2000
Turkmenistan Begins Work On Artificial Lake
Friday, October 20, 2000
Turkmenistan has launched a 10-year plan to create a giant lake in the Karakum desert to solve water shortages and return land in the Central Asian republic to farm use, a government official said on Friday. The project, expected to cost $5-6 million, is the brainchild of President Saparmurat Niyazov. The amount is huge for impoverished Turkmenistan, which sits on vast oil and natural gas reserves but lacks export pipelines to carry its reserves to the world. "We will build this lake not in 20 years as was planned, but in 10 years," Niyazov said. "Today we have set an example to other countries on how to save water." The lake is expected to have a surface area of 3,460 sq km (1,336 sq mile). It is expected to create some 4,000 sq km (1,545 sq mile) of farmland capable of growing 450,000 tonnes of cotton and 300,000 tonnes of grain a year.
"We are doing this to make sure the next generation will not experience any water problems," Niyazov said at a ceremony announcing the start of the project, which he called "an historic event for the whole Turkmen people". the Karakum already has a 1,100-km long canal running through it, built in 1962, for irrigation purposes. the government official said Niyazov had rejected the fears of some scientists that the project would harm the environment, saying it would only have ecological benefits.
The planned lake is the latest in a series of extravagant projects by Niyazov, who was Communist Party boss of the resource-rich republic in Soviet days and all of the post-independence period. He also built the Neutrality Arch, which towers over the capital Ashgabat. It is topped by a 12-metre, gold-plated statue of himself which rotates once every 24 hours, tracking the path of the sun. Grandiose farming projects in the former Soviet Union have created ecological disasters. One of the best known is the destruction of the Aral Sea, bordered by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It has shrunk by hundreds of miles since the 1960s due to Soviet-era irrigation for growing cotton.(RFE/RL,RTR, AP,Itar-Tass)
The Baku-Ceyhan Pipline To Be On Stream By 2004
Thursday, October 19, 2000
Turkish officials and a group of sponsors, made up mostly of representatives from a consortium developing three Caspian oilfields, signed the host government agreement, the key project agreement and treasury guarantee document. Gokhan Yardim, head of Turkey's gas and oil pipeline concern Botas, said the accords were the legal framework for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, scheduled to be completed by 2004 and eventually carry one million barrels per day (bpd).
"Now that the legal background is ready, we can go ahead with the physical laying of the pipeline," he told Reuters before the deals were signed. the sponsor group, which signed similar accords with Azerbaijan and Georgia earlier this week, has formed the Main Export Pipeline Company (MEPCO), led by Azeri state oil company SOCAR with a 50 percent share. Other members are BP (BPA.L) with 25.41 percent stake, Unocal (UCL.N) 7.48 percent, Norway's Statoil (STAT.UL) 6.37 percent, Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) 5.02 percent, Japan's Itochu (8001.T) 2.92 percent, Britain's RamCo (ROS.L) 1.55 percent, Delta Hess (AHC.N) 1.25 percent.
The host government agreement allows the 1,730 km (1,074 miles) pipeline to pass through Turkey and offers tax breaks and other incentives to builders of the pipeline. The Turkish treasury, already under the burden of some $150 billion of domestic and foreign debt, pledges to guarantee $300 million in case the Turkish section exceeds the $1.3 billion price tag proposed in the feasibility project. John Wolf, U.S. President Bill Clinton's advisor on Caspian energy, said at the ceremony the Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC), Ex-Im Bank and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency were ready to provide finances and U.S. goods and services for the pipeline. (Reuters)
Turkmenistan To Transport Electricity To Turkey Via Iran
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
Beginning in April 2001, Turkmenistan will transport 300 million kWh of electricity to Turkey per annum. This announcement was made yesterday, after a meeting between President Saparmurat Niyazov and Turkish President Ahmed Sezer. The Turkish President arrived from Uzbekistan, where he met with President Islam Karimov. Sezer's trip aimed to strengthen ties between Turkey and the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia. During the talks in Ashgabad, the two sides agreed on power supply from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran, planned to begin next spring. The decision on the possibility of transiting Turkmen electricity through Iran to Turkey was taken in 1995. From that moment, construction began on a 380-km power cable from Balkan (western Turkmenistan) to the Iranian city of Ali Abad.
Ashgabat considers the Iranian-Turkish electricity export route and also the development of projects to transport electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to be an important part of its social and economic reformation strategy in 2001-2010. The reconstruction of existing thermal electric stations and the setting up of new capacities is dealt with in documentation for this program. This will involve the production of up to 15 bln kWh of electricity by 2005 and 25.5 billion kWh by 2010.
"We have already agreed on the export of 300m kWh of Turkmen electricity to Turkey and, God willing, we will start this in April next year. We have also exchanged views on gas exports. A joint working group will work on the issue. We have reached understanding concerning economic and trade cooperation, including in the field of investments," Niyazov said as broadcast by Turkmen TV.
The proposed Trans-Caspian pipeline has suffered a series of setbacks. The discovery of a gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan and the withdrawal of two U.S. companies from the Trans-Caspian project left the estimated $ 2 billion project on hold. The gas project dominates the Turkmmenistan-Turkey agreement on cooperation until the year 2010, which is being drafted now. The two presidents have agreed to sign the agreement in April 2001 during an official visit of the Turkmen president to Turkey. The visit is timed to coincide with the summit of heads of state of Turkic-speaking countries due in Istanbul. "We will make all preparations so that in April , God willing, we will sign important economic cooperation agreement beneficial for both sides," he added.
Niyazov also thanked the Turkish counterpart for training Turkmen students at Turkish military schools. "We are grateful to you also for one more thing, that you are educating and training Turkmen students at military schools. We are deeply grateful for this. At present 1,708 our lads are studying in Turkey. They will return to Turkmenistan as perfectly educated and skilled specialists," Niyazov said. (RFE/RL, Itar-Tass, AFP, Interfax Presidential Bulletin,BBC Monitoring/Turkmen TV channel 1)
Text Of Turkmen-Uzbek Border Delimitation Treaty
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
Following is the text of the treaty signed between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on delimitation of the state border:
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, hereinafter referred to as the high contracting parties, [acting] in a spirit of friendship and good neighbourliness, mutual respect and equality, embracing the principles of respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of the border between the two states, mutual understanding and non-interference in each other's affairs, proceeding from the terms of the treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the agreement between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on cooperation to protect the state borders, signed in the town of Chardzhou [renamed Turkmenabat, eastern Turkmenistan] on 16th January 1996, recognizing the inalienable right of all sovereign states to take the necessary steps to reliably protect their state borders, taking into account the need to maintain the international legal regime on the common border so as to provide the border, customs, health and other universally accepted forms of control, have agreed on following:
The high contracting parties confirm that they have no territorial claim against each other, and all issues relating to the line of the state border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have been settled. The high contracting parties affirm that the state border of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from now on and forever shall be a border of peace and accord between the states of two fraternal peoples.
The high contracting parties approve in full and completely the documents of the joint Turkmen-Uzbek intergovernmental commission on delimitation and demarcation of the state border, verified and compiled in August-September 2000, concerning the description of the state border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The high contracting parties confirm that the line of the state border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is positioned in full accordance with the description and the topographical charts of the line of the state border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (appendices No 1 and 2), which form an integral part of this treaty.
The high contracting parties appoint the joint Turkmen-Uzbek intergovernmental commission on delimitation and demarcation to start talks on demarcation of the state border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan with further description of certain sectors in areas of intensive farming and cultivation zones.
Any issue relating to commenting on, or use of, the terms of this treaty shall be settled through consultations and talks between the high contracting parties.
This treaty shall be used on the day it is signed, is subject to ratification and shall come into force on the day on which the instruments of ratification are exchanged.
This treaty has no term of expiry. Done in the city of Ashgabat on 21st September 2000 in two original copies, each in Turkmen, Uzbek and Russian, with all texts being authentic and of equal validity. (BBC Monitoring/Newspaper: Neytralnyy Turkmenistan)
Turkmen Ambassador To Armenia Considers Importance Of Development Of Bilateral Relations
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
Armenia and Turkmenistan are currently conducting negotiations for shooting a Armenian-Turkmen film. The Turkmen ambassador to Armenia, Toyli Kurbanov, announced the news at a press conference today. The conference held at the Embassy of Turkmenistan was intended to sum up results from an international symposium entitled "Turkmenistan's cultural heritage: ancient sources and prospects" which was recently held in Ashghabat.
The film on the history of Turkmen monuments in Armenia's territory is expected to be shot by Armenian cinematographers and financed by the Turkmen side.
Ambassador Kurbanov believes the Armenian-Turkmen economic relations to be a great success. Through a number of micro projects good foundations are also being laid for the development of relations in other areas. One of such projects is, according to Kurbanov, the construction of the Armenian-Turkmen garden in Argavand, near Yerevan. The project, including the construction of the garden and a number of buildings, has been elaborated by Armenian architects and is at the center of the Turkmen government's attention.
An Armenian scientist who participated in the Ashghabat conference also spoke at the news conference. Deputy Director of the Yerevan Matenadaran (Institute of Ancient Manuscripts) Vardan Grigorian emphasized the importance of the conference for the development of Armenian-Turkmen scientific and cultural relations. "That neutral Muslim country sympathizes with Armenia, which is of high importance," Grigorian said.
The participants in the news conference also pointed out that the joint study and protection of Turkmen monuments in Armenia and Armenian monuments in Turkmenistan strengthens Armenian-Turkmen relations.(Reuters)
Turkmenistan Plans Lawsuit On Disputed Caspian Oilfields
Monday, October 16, 2000
Turkmenistan threatened that it will turn to Western courts to protest oil drilling projects by Azerbaijan in the disputed offshore Caspian fields.
Primarily, it includes oil fields of Khazar and Osman located in the south of the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The two fields in the Caspian Sea have been disputed by the two republics since the USSR fell apart at the end of 1991. Turkmenistan insists that Khazar belongs to it and claims partial ownership of Osman.
An international consortium, which includes Azerbaijan's National Oil Company, British Petroleum Amoco of Britain, Exxon-Mobil of the United States and LUKoil of Russia, has been exploiting the field since 1994.
The Turkmen Khabarlary agency said the foreign ministry had already sent letters to all the members of the consortium, warning them of the lawsuit. (Itar-Tass, Reuters)
Turkmen GDP Increases In First Nine Months
Monday, October 16, 2000
Turkmenistan's GDP totalled 17,000 billion manats in the first nine months of this year. According to Turkmenistan's national institute of state statistics and information, GDP was 17 per cent up on the same period last year. Experts think that the decisive role in the increase was played by the basic sectors of the economy - industry, agriculture and construction. Value-added production increased by 18 percent in the consumer goods sector and by 15 percent in the service area. At the same time, there is a national economic trend towards an increase in the production of consumer goods, which currently account for 68 percent of GDP. The gas industry posted a considerable growth in production - 83 percent up on the same period last year. (Turkmen State News Service news agency)
Uzbek Prosecutor Charges 30 Rebels With Terrorist Acts
Saturday, October 21, 2000
The head prosecutor's office in Uzbekistan has charged more than 30 rebels with taking part in a series of terrorist attacks in the Central Asian state and attempting to overthrow the government of President Islam Karimov.
ITAR-TASS says among those charged are Takhir Yuldash, Djuma Namangani and Salay Madaminov, leaders in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. AFP says the three are believed to be based in Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The agency says the three are also suspected of training fighters in Afghan camps to seize power from Karimov.
The Islamic rebels were charged with a series of attacks in Uzbekistan, including a series of bombings in the capital Tashkent in February, 1999. Sixteen people were killed in the blasts in Tashkent, and more than 100 were injured. ( AFP, ITAR-TASS )
Tajik Islamic Opposition Calls For Peace Talks In Afghanistan
Thursday, October 19, 2000
Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party has issued a statement calling on the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani to embark on negotiations aimed at ending the Afghan civil war, Asia Plus-Blitz reported today. The statement says that only a broad-based government in which all ethnic groups of the country are represented can end the conflict and bring peace.
Kyrgyzstan, Turkey Discuss Terrorism Threat
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and his visiting Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, signed a declaration in Bishkek today, on cooperating to fight terrorism and organized crime, Interfax reported. Turkey has pledged to provide the Kyrgyz armed forces with military and technical aid worth $2.5 million. RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Trade turnover between the two countries in 1999 was $40 million.(RFE/RL)
Kyrgyz TV Station Refuses Air Time To Opposition Presidential Candidate
Thursday, October 18, 2000
The Kyrgyz radio and television station KOORT refused today to run any election-related propaganda by opposition presidential candidate Omurbek Tekebaev, a member of his campaign staff told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau the same day. The station, which is independent and owned by a former adviser to President Akaev, cited criticism of Tekebaev and two other opposition candidates by the Central Electoral Commission . But commission official Aichurek Eshimova told RFE/RL that the commission has not issued any instructions to the broadcast media not to air such campaign advertising. (RFE/RL)
Uzbekistan Sets Conditions For Re-opening Border Crossing
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdul-Aziz Kamilov told journalists in Tashkent that Uzbekistan "will do its best" to promote the start of a peace process in Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate with those authorities in that country that come to power legally, Interfax reported. He again said that Tashkent has established contacts with the Taliban, adding that "our meetings with the Taliban have been held between border guard commissars as well as at the ambassadorial level. Guerrillas from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has vowed to overthrow the Uzbek leadership, are believed to operate from bases in northern Afghanistan. (RFE/RL)
Turkey And Russia: New Links, Old Rivalries
Friday, October 20, 2000
By Ralph Boulton, Reuters
Turkey's thirst for natural gas and Russian eagerness to sell it will veil, if not banish, keen regional rivalries in the Caucasus and Central Asia when Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov visits next week.
Kasyanov will visit the Black Sea town of Samsun where the "Bluestream" pipeline, to pump up to 16 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year by 2007, should soon reach Turkish soil.
The brief, symbolic visit amid a three-day tour, precedes a winter that could see power cuts of up to five hours a day. "Gas is the main area of co-operation, whereas in oil they remain rivals to offer the best transit route for Caspian oil," Steve Dashevsky, working in Moscow for Aton brokerage, told Reuters. "I don't think anything meaningful can interrupt this project now."
Nationalists in the Ankara government are wary of Turkish dependence on Russian gas. Better by far, they argue, to buy directly from "ethnic kin" in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
History leaves its mark on relations. The Ottoman Empire and Russia were rivals. In the Cold War, Russia saw Turkey as a frontline NATO aggressor and Moscow was portrayed in Ankara as a fomentor of unrest.
LACK OF UNDERSTANDING
"Since the Cold War ended there's been a lack of understanding and it persists," Cem Oguz of Ankara's Center for Eurasian Strategic St hudies said. "If you analyse respective spheres of influence you see a clear clash of interests."
The collapse of the Soviet Union bred hopes here of a Turkic community, linked by language and culture, stretching from the Anatolian heartland to embrace Central Asia and Transcaucasia.
Some Russians saw in this the howling "Grey Wolf" -- symbol of Pan-Turkic dreams. The appearance in government of the Nationalist Action Party, keepers of the Pan-Turkic flame, and incautious remarks by a minister from the party about Turkish interests in Central Asia would not have eased suspicions in the Kremlin.
But suspicions go further.
"Russia sees Turkey as an instrument of the United States in this area, and Russia certainly doesn't want to see the U.S. there," Oguz said. "There are still people in the Caucasus who look to Turkey; not only (ethnic) Turks, but Muslims."
Ethnic links to the Caucasus generate friction. A large Caucasian community protested against Russia's first, abortive bid to restore its rule in Chechnya and gave aid to casualties.
This stirred Russian suspicions of government connivance.
NERVES IN TRANSCAUCASIA
Under the cautious stewardship of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, however, Chechen activity has been discouraged here, especially during the second Chechen war. Russia, for its part, appears to have withdrawn support for Kurdish separatist rebels.
But Turkey remains active in the volatile south Caucasus. It trains forces in Georgia, a weak ex-Soviet republic that borders Chechnya and still, if reluctantly, hosts Russian troops.
The General Staff watches nervously, fearing a coup against President Eduard Shevardnadze could end Turkish influence there.
In Armenia, bordering Turkey, Russian influence and troops are firmly ensconced. Ethnic kin in Azerbaijan court Turkey, but cautiously. In the Caucasus, Turkey keeps its foot in the door.
But Turkey sees Russia as having clawed back influence in ex-Soviet Central Asia more effectively. Hasan Koni of the Turkish- American Association sees a commercial and political opportunity lost in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.
RUSSIAN SUCCESS IN CENTRAL ASIA
"There is no competition in Central Asia (with Russia)," he said. "We lost. We lost because of a lack of U.S. support."
Cultural convergence, business, the influence of Turkish television and Turkish schools, may one day bring Central Asia "home". Ankara finds common cause in a battle against Islamist militancy. But in the medium term, economic imperatives speak.
Vladimir Putin has been vigorous in reasserting Russian influence. Soon after being sworn in as president, Russia agreed with Turkmenistan to buy vast amounts of Turkmen gas.
The deal, if pricing is agreed, would lock Turkmenistan into the existing Soviet-era gas pipeline network and boost Russian capacities at a time when Russian production is falling.
For Turkmenistan it would provide an assured market without the costly pipeline building required by an alternative project, the Western-backed Transcaspian Pipeline (TCP) to Turkey.
Bluestream need not kill off the TCP, but it might, leaving Askhbat firmly in Moscow's orbit and adrift from Anatolia.
Important for Turkey is that Bluestream can deliver quickly, by late 2002, the gas it urgently needs. Current Turkish gas consumption of 14.5 billion cubic meters a year will rise to 53 billion by 2010, of which Russia will supply 30 billion.
Kasyanov may well smile in Samsun. Bluestream marks another step in reviving Russian fortunes in Central Asia -- and much of the gas it delivers will have begun its journey in Turkmenistan.
Afghan Opium Crop Declines, but Neighbors Still Worry
October 19, 2000
By Douglas Frantz, New York Times
Opium production in Afghanistan dropped 28 percent this year because of widespread drought and a United Nations crop-substitution program, the senior United Nations drug-control official said today.
Afghanistan supplies an estimated 75 percent of the world's illicit opium, and the decline was one of the few bright spots at an international conference on drug trafficking and terrorism in Central Asia sponsored by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Despite the decline, regional and international leaders warned that illegal drug trafficking from Afghanistan and its rulers' links to insurgent movements pose the major threat to the tenuous political and economic stability of the five Central Asian nations.
"The threat is increasing and the major reason is the situation in Afghanistan," said Erlan Idrisov, the Kazakh foreign minister. "It is the source of instability in the region."
Thus, in a region where most trade travels by truck and roads built in the Soviet era lead deep into Russia, stopping drugs is a difficult task.
The conference is intended to promote cooperation on border controls and regional security. Organizers said they want to develop a "security belt" around Afghanistan to curb the flow of drugs and the spread of insurgent violence, which many believe is financed by drug money.
But speakers emphasized that the republics lack the money to fight the flow of drugs. They appealed for more aid to hire and train border guards and improve communications and detection equipment. And some chastised the United Nations and Western governments for promising assistance that never arrived.
Heroin is refined opium, and Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the United Nations antidrug program, said opium production fell this year in Afghanistan to about 3,600 tons, after doubling last year, to 5,100 tons. While drought caused most of the decline, Mr. Arlacchi said a crop- substitution program accounted for about one-third of the drop.
Internet Access Issue Underscores Clash Of Economic And Political Priorities In Turkmenistan
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
By Beatrice Hogan, Central Asia expert, writing in Eurasia View
The experience of Western businesses operating in Turkmenistan, specifically their access to the Internet, helps underscore the reluctance of Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov's to permit unfettered competition and the free flow of information.
Niyazov's totalitarian tendencies have hampered the development of civil society in Turkmenistan, an arid, but oil and gas rich nation of 4.7 million people [for background see EurasiaNet's Environment archive]. At the same time, some observers suggest Niyazov's leadership style is restraining the country from fulfilling its economic potential. It is also fueling the frustration of some foreign businessmen in Turkmenistan.
According to Wayne Merry, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, recent moves to restrict Internet access in Turkmenistan appear consistent with Niyazov�s efforts to "isolate the country from the modern world and prevent what he would see as subversive influences, particularly from the West, and particularly from manife stations of globalization from penetrating Turkmenistan.
"The Internet is something very new, very hard to control. [It] appeals to youth and opens up the outside world," Merry added.
Turkmenistan possesses the world's fourth largest natural gas reserves, and is a key player in the proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline. [For additional information see EurasiaNet's Business and Economic archive]. The potential for large profits have lured over 50 major US companies to Turkmenistan -- including Coca-Cola, Arthur Andersen, Halliburton, and UPS. However, a communications upgrade commensurate with the corporate influx has yet to occur.
Given the distances and time differential, the Internet would seem to be the most convenient means of communication. But instead of allowing the Internet to grow, Niyazov has done his best to stifle it. Predrag Zezelj, a public relations officer at Ford Motor Co., says that communications have always been very difficult in Turkmenistan. "It took ages to get a go od phone line, [and] as for e-mails, one could never tell whether they had reached the addressee or not."
The Internet arrived in Turkmenistan in 1996, through a government agreement with MCI. Only about 2,000 people � mostly those from the diplomatic and business communities -- are regular users. Turkmenistan had six Internet service providers (ISPs) -- four private and two state-run -- at the start of 2000. Even though the Internet had not made significant inroads in Turkmenistan, recent actions by the Ministry of Communication indicated that officials perceived the new technology as a threat to their economic and political authority.
The first independent ISP -- Ariana, LTD -- started operations with the help of USAID. Within three years, Ariana had attracted about 350 subscribers, and had established a reputation for dependable customer service, according to its founder Vagif Zeynalov. Meanwhile, Ariana's main rival, the state-run Turkmen Telecom, struggled to compete.
Ariana's success prompted a government backlash. Trouble for the independent ISPs began last February, when authorities approved a new provision requiring all ISPs holding operating licenses to re-register. Then, on May 25, the Ministry of Communications suddenly shut down all non-state ISPs for allegedly falsifying information about the technical and structural details of their services in mandatory reports.
ISPs and independent watchdog groups say the real reason for the shutdown was to destroy successful competition to Turkmen Telecom control of the market. A Western businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested the move follows a pattern of government behavior.
"There are many in the government who believe that if a sector is profitable, then they should monopolize that sector or business," the businessman said.
The restriction of competition has resulted in a deterioration of service, some business representatives report. For example, after switching from Ariana to Turkmen U Telecom, some experienced delays in downloading company e-mails.
Others, however, have adapted to the vagaries of the post-Soviet business environment. Jay Phebus, Vice President of American Machinery Co., which has been operating in Turkmenistan since 1994, says he no longer "expects a logical conclusion to anything," when dealing with former Soviet bureaucrats.
The disappointment experienced by some in the business community may be in part the result of unrealistic expectations. Vladislav Gourin, who represents Lockheed Martin, says that more patience and cultural understanding is needed. "The Turkmen market is a difficult one and implies a traditional Asian approach," he said in an electronic interview. "The time factor plays a totally different role compared with European or US markets and sometimes may even be totally disregarded."
The Limits Of Language
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
By Paul Goble, RFE/RL
Turkish President Ahmed Necdet Sezer's visit to Central Asia this week simultaneously calls attention to and highlights the limitations of linguistic and cultural affinities in defining geopolitical relationships.
Sezer arrived in Uzbekistan on Monday where he met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and signed documents on defense cooperation and international organized crime. He then visited Turkmenistan and will go to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan before returning home on Friday.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated a decade ago, many Western governments expected Turkey to play a key role in providing leadership for the five post-Soviet republics (the four he is visiting plus Azerbaijan) where members of the titular nationalities speak languages closely related to Turkish. And many observers would have predicted that any future v isit there by a Turkish president would thus be a major event.
At least so far, however, both the leaders Sezer is meeting with and the world media covering his trip have treated his meetings in a very low-key way. On the one hand, such treatment suggests that a Turkish president's visit to these countries has become something entirely normal. But on the other, it inevitably raises questions as to why the dramatic predicitons of a decade ago have failed to come true.
The reasons are not far to seek. When the countries of Central Asia gained their independence, many Western governments assumed that culture would play the key role in defining the future of the region. And some Western officials and commentators suggested that there would be a new "great game" for influence over these countries, this time between Turkey and Iran.
In this competition, the advocates of this view held, Turkey enjoyed certain advantages over Iran and therefore, many in the West hoped, wou ld become the dominant regional power. Unlike Iran, which was radically Islamist and Shiite, Turkey was secular and Sunni, making it more like the leaders and peoples of Central Asia and thus potentially more attractive.
Moreover, Turkey was relatively well-off and could be expected to serve as both a source and a conduit of Western assistance to these countries. Iran, on the other hand, was poor and an even poorer candidate to become a channel of any Western assistance to that region. And finally and for many most importantly, the people of Turkey spoke a language similar to if not identical with the languages of four of the five Central Asian countries.
But in many ways, this competition never really took place, not because Turkey and Iran did not have the qualities ascribed to them but because these qualities -- largely linguistic and cultural -- have not played as great a role as three others which were largely ignored in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Soviet power.
First and foremost among these factors was geography. Central Asia is a landlocked region with few good options to reach the outside world. As a result, it has always been an area of immense natural resources but typically been one of equally immense poverty.
Turkey has not been able to play the role of bridge to the West because it is not immediately next door to Central Asia. To go from one to the other requires passing through third countries, many of which have their own interests, agendas which sometimes are antithetical to both. And Iran, largely because of American hostility to its regime, has been a cork rather than a bridge for these countries.
The second critically neglected factor was economics. The Central Asian countries were and remain labor surplus but capital short. As economic theory would have predicted, they thus linked up with those countries able to supply the most capital. In the early 1990s, these were the capital-rich states of the Pacif ic rim, the so-called "little dragons of Asia."
Not surprisingly, for most of the last decade, three of the five presidents in Central Asia have had Koreans as economic advisors. As a result, Daewoo has proven to be a bigger player in the region at least so far than Mecca, something the cultural perspective did not predict.
And third, the linguistic and cultural assumptions behind a new great game neglected the political history of the region. In the absence of a concerted effort by a major outside power, Russia both as the center of the former imperial system in which the Central Asian elites were raised and as the country through which these states generally must try to reach the West, has remained the predominant power.
None of these factors was invisible a decade ago, but all of them were either ignored or downplayed by those who adopted a kind of cultural perspective they would not use elsewhere. Now, as the Turkish president makes his way through the region, the l ximitations of that approach are too obvious to be ignored, a factor that may lead to a more balanced and hence accurate assessment of just where Central Asia and its partners are headed.
CAS Summits Link Security, Economics
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
Recent events in the Caspian region and Central Asia suggest that tensions over economic and energy issues may be rising along with heightened security fears.
Over the past month, the questions of economics and security have seemed inseparable as Russia has joined its neighbors in a series of agreements and deals.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Puti n signed a five-nation pact in Astana to create a Eurasian Economic Community. One day later in Bishkek, Putin took part in a six-nation summit to spur activities under a 1992 Collective Security Treaty over the next five years. The two economic and security structures and their goals seemed closely intertwined.
Before the start of the economic meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan's ambassador to Russia, Tair Mansurov, said, "Today we will discuss not only economic but also political problems, strengthen military cooperation and move closer in the social and humanitarian spheres."
All five countries of the new Eurasian Economic Community -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus -- are members of the security arrangement, which also has Armenia in its ranks.
As a leading advocate of the economic group, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev made clear that he wants it to be more effective than the loosely-knit Customs Union to which the members have previously belonged since 1996. Nazarbaev said the countries are now expected to strengthen their external borders, adding, "If a state cannot fulfil this task, its membership in the Customs Union will be suspended."
The mixing of trade and security functions was echoed by Putin's statements in both Astana and Bishkek on the threat posed by Afghanistan's Taliban, as well as separate bilateral agreements between Kazakhstan and Russia.
In Astana, the two sides negotiated a deal to give Russia's EES electricity network a half-share in a Kazakhstan power plant to settle a $300-million debt. Putin and Nazarbaev also signed a declaration on a common position for dividing the Caspian. Putin, who is expected to take the plan to other Caspian shoreline states, called Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov on Friday to arrange a summit. Putin also used the occasion of the Astana meeting to grant Kazakhstan a higher quota to export oil through Russian pipelines, a move that could lower the flow through U.S.-backed routes.
Putin's dual mission and the flurry of activity has already met with some strong reactions among nations outside the economic and security structures.
A Taliban spokesman said Russia's actions were aimed at spreading fear and its own economic interests in the region, adding that Russia's military presence "is not only a potential threat to Afghanistan but also for all Central Asian countries."
In recent weeks, Uzbek President Islam Karimov has also dramatically changed his position on the dangers posed by the Taliban, rejecting Russia's stance on both new structures in defiant statements.
Karimov said last week that the Eurasian Economic Community had been built on "illusory foundations." And after charging last month that reports of Islamic terrorism were intended to increase Russian influence, Karimov insisted last week that the Taliban "do not represent a threat to Uzbekistan."
Karimov's motives, like Putin's, se em driven both by security and economics. The Taliban's recent military successes have convinced Karimov that their victory is inevitable. But his new policy was announced only after a meeting with Niyazov in Ashgabat last month. Niyazov, who enjoys good relations with the Taliban, has never given up hope for a project that would pipe Turkmen gas across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
That same project, previously backed by the U.S. oil company Unocal, also sought to pipe Central Asian oil through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Russia's growing closeness to Kazakhstan and its energy sector may leave Uzbekistan with fewer export prospects, particularly if Russian pipelines become filled with Kazakh oil and gas.
Last week, Karimov also softened his position on selling gas to Ukraine despite its debts, telling President Leonid Kuchma that he would never impose "impossible conditions." The move may have been aimed at pressuring Putin to ease his stand on Russia's own debt claims and gas supplies to Kyiv.
The polarization could renew Uzbekistan's participation in the GUUAM grouping of countries, which also links Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. While it has struggled to define its purpose, GUUAM is seen as pursuing a possible security role for the U.S.-backed oil pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan, which Moscow opposes.
While most of the GUUAM countries have mixed interests and must maintain ties to Russia, Uzbekistan appears increasingly angered by the recent maneuvers on security and economics. It may be months before the extent of the regional split becomes clear.
New Moves On An Old Chessboard
Monday, October 16, 2000
By Paul Goble, RFE/RL
Tashkent's new willingness to recognize the Taliban as the Afghan government challenges Russian efforts to recoup influence in Central Asia as well as some widely held assumptions about the sources of Islamic fundamentalism there and elsewhere.
But because it does both of these things simultaneously, this latest Uzbek shift appears likely to rearrange many of the pieces on the chessboard of Central Asian geopolitics, calling old arrangements into question, opening the possibility for new ones, and possibly undermining his own position.
Speaking in Tashkent on Thursday, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov said that he is ready to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. "It doesn't matter whether we like that government or not," he added. "The main criterion is whether the people of Afghanistan trust it."
If Uzbekistan eventually does take that step, Tashkent would become the fourth government around the world to do so, thereby reducing the isolation of a regime which controls 95 percent of Afghanistan's territory but which many believe sponsors terrorism.
But Karimov's remarks, a complete reversal of his position up to now, do not appear to be addressed primarily to the Taliban -- although his foreign minister has acknowledged that Tashkent has had informal conversation with Taliban representatives.
Instead, Karimov's about-face appears directed in the first instance at Moscow and those Central Asian countries which are following its lead and also at Western governments which up to now have been his biggest supporters.
By announcing his willingness to recognize the Taliban, Karimov effectively rejects Moscow's entire effort to regain influence in Central Asia by positing an external fundamentalist threat to these countries that they can meet only with Russian aid.
The most recent of these Russian attempts came earlier last week when Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as well as those of Armenia and Belarus to discuss a common response to Islamist threats.
The tenor of that Bishkek meeting was reflected in the comments of a Kyrgyz security official who argued that threats to the stability of the Central Asian countries are "external" rather than "domestic" and that they come "from Afghanistan."
And this same official added that the Russian Federation is "the core and the nucleus of regional security, around which other countries are consolidating" because they see Russian forces along the Tajik-Afghan border as an important deterrent.
Karimov not surprisingly stayed away from the Bishkek meeting, but his subsequent statement makes it clear that he rejects both Russia's diagnosis of the problems Central Asia faces and Russia's prescription as to how to deal with them.
Indeed, by adopting this new position on the Taliban, Karimov is challenging more than just Moscow's efforts. He is calling into question the view that Islamic fundamentalism is something that can be exported from one country to another.
That would put him at odds not only with Russia and his Central Asian neighbors but also with many Western governments on whom Karimov has relied to pursue his independent course. Almost all of them remain convinced that fundamentalism is an exportable phenomenon.
Moreover, some Western governments are likely to be especially concerned by the timing of his words. They came just as some suggested a link between the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and Osama bin Laden, to whom the Taliban gave refuge.
And Karimov's shift could also have some important domestic ramifications if either his regime or its opponents should conclude that Tashkent's harsh approach to Islam is breeding the very Islamic fundamentalism for which the Taliban had been blamed.
In either case, that could lead to new challenges and changes in Uzbekistan and as a result of these to changes in its relationship with its neighbors, with Russia and with the West.