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Central Asia Report: July 7, 2006

July 7, 2006, Volume 6, Number 21

WEEK AT A GLANCE (June 26-July 2, 2006). The trial of 10 defendants for the February murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev took a sensational turn when Erzhan Utembaev, former head of the administration of Kazakhstan's Senate, recanted his confession that he ordered Sarsenbaev's killing. Later, Rustam Ibragimov, who is charged with committing the murder, asked for protection for himself, his family, and his lawyers, after he testified that he knows the identity of a high-ranking official who met with Sarsenbaev the day he was killed. Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov warned that highly placed officials are targets of an investigation that focuses on corrupt schemes involving "large industrial enterprises and financial-industrial groups." Timur Kulibaev, son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, was named chairman of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz. And President Nursultan Nazarbaev visited Malaysia, where he sought to increase trade ties and cooperation in the high-technology sphere.

Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission annulled a parliamentary by-election in the Kurshab District of Osh Province after supporters of current deputy Mamat Orozbaev and rival candidate Sanjar Kadyraliev engaged in clashes. State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov ordered officials to hold news conferences at the Kabar news agency at least once a month. Parliament recommended to the cabinet that it form a commission to consider the state seizure of property belonging to the family of former President Askar Akaev. And Kurmanbek Bakiev issued a decree raising the salaries of teachers, doctors, and social-sector workers by 20 percent effective July 1. Tajikistan marked the ninth anniversary of the peace accord that officially ended the country's 1992-97 civil war. Jumaboy Niyazov, deputy head of the opposition Democratic Party, charged that the continued detention of party leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov in the Justice Ministry's pretrial detention facility is a violation of the law. Iskandarov received a 23-year prison term in October 2005, but he has not yet been transferred to an ordinary prison. Ukrainian and Russian delegations visited Turkmenistan, coming away empty-handed from talks on future natural-gas shipments. Negotiations between Aleksei Miller, chairman of the Russian state-controlled gas concern Gazprom, and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov over 2007 gas shipments were "broken off" after the sides "failed to reach an agreement" when Turkmenistan offered a price of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters for 2007 shipments and additional 2006 shipments -- nearly a 50 percent increase on the current price. Turkmenistan said it will finish deliveries of a previously contracted 30 billion cubic meters of gas at $65 per 1,000 cubic meters by September 2006, after which it will halt shipments to Russia unless a new agreement is reached. Later, Turkmenistan offered to sell gas to Ukraine for $100 per 1,000 cubic meters in the fourth quarter of 2006 if Ukraine can arrange transport of the gas through Russia, an offer the Ukrainian delegation did not accept. Elsewhere, the OSCE issued a press release expressing support for the OSCE Center in Ashgabat in the face of Turkmen allegations that OSCE Human Dimension Officer Benjamin Moreau engaged in illegal activities. Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed into law legislation tightening penalties for inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred. Aziz Abilov, spokesman for the Religion Committee in Uzbekistan's cabinet, said that the new legislation is intended to combat an influx of "printed, audio, and video materials with radical religious and missionary content." Uzbek authorities extradited Huseynincan Celil, a Canadian citizen, to China, where he faces the death penalty. Celil, who was arrested in Tashkent in March, was sentenced in absentia in China for founding an Uyghur political party in China's Xinjiang Province. And Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry found the Dutch NGO AIDS Foundation East-West in violation of Uzbek law, although it was unclear whether the ministry would seek to close the organization's offices in Uzbekistan.

TAJIKISTAN: AMBASSADOR RECALLS 1997 PEACE TALKS Anatoly Adamishin is a former Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom and Italy, and a former minister for cooperation with CIS countries. During Tajikistan's civil war he was first deputy foreign minister and, as such, was intimately involved in the inter-Tajik dialogue that led to the peace agreement signed in Moscow on June 26, 1997. He was reportedly one of the few Russian government officials who pushed for talks with the Tajik Islamic opposition. Adamishin, who is retired and currently works as a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, talked to RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Salimjon Aioubov on June 27, the ninth anniversary of the Moscow peace agreement that ended the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war.

RFE/RL: Anatoly Leonidovich, you made a crucial contribution to the Tajik peace settlement. Could you please tell us how the negotiation process started?

Adamishin: I must confess that the search for a peaceful resolution in Tajikistan was one of the most difficult tasks I encountered in my 40 years of diplomatic service. Those were times of trouble in Russia and no one cared about having the right diplomacy. There were various interests at stake. I would start with the spring of 1994, when the situation in Tajikistan was catastrophic. After several years of a bloody war, the country was effectively disintegrating into different autonomous regions. Those of us at the [Russian] Foreign Ministry who were dealing with Tajikistan believed it was necessary to make peace with the Islamic opposition -- even though it was dubbed "intransigent" -- or face another round of military operations, a new spark to this cruel and bloody civil war. Naturally, we started talking to [Tajik] President Imomali Rakhmonov. We had good contacts with him. Yet, we soon encountered problems. Dushanbe was in favor of direct talks with the opposition, but the opposition didn't want to enter into direct talks with [the Tajik government]. They preferred to talk to Moscow. I then convinced Rakhmonov that he should agree to my going to Tehran as a first step. He reluctantly gave his consent. However when I told him it would make things easier if he cancelled the decree making the opposition leaders outlaws and state criminals -- the General-Prosecutor's Office in Tajikistan had issued warrant arrests against them -- he refused. So I said to myself, "OK, let's not argue about that and let's get to work immediately." The next problem for us was to have the Uzbeks consent to our trip. You know that traditionally they have had a strong influence in Tajikistan. We eventually managed to get everyone's consent and in March 1994 I left for Tehran, where Hoja Akbar Torajonzoda and Muhammad Sharif Khitmatzoda -- the most prominent leaders of the [Tajik] armed opposition -- were living. My task was to take them with me and convince them to have direct talks with the Tajik government, if necessary through the mediation of the United Nations and other countries. For two days I had very difficult talks in Tehran. On top of that it was Ramadan and we could work only at night. Still, I managed to get their consent. In addition, the Iranians -- who were actively involved in Tajik affairs -- decided to help us this time. They understood that, firstly, it would be otherwise difficult for them to do anything in Tajikistan and, secondly, I must say that we started having a good working relationship on a regional level. We also had to convince Pakistan that they shouldn't interfere. We had to talk to the Turks so that they would not put up any obstacles. I also went there (eds: to Turkey) and talked to them.

As to the question of where the government and the opposition should meet, I strongly believed it should be in Moscow. The UN representative, [Ramiro] Piriz-Ballon, told me the opposition would not agree. All the more so that Dushanbe, as he put it, thought the most important thing was to hold peace talks and that negotiations could take place anywhere -- in Moscow, Tehran, Islamabad, or Geneva. For us, of course, the most important thing was that those talks take place in Moscow. This is why, before my departure, I came up with a diplomatic initiative. I told the UN representatives to let the opposition leaders know that I would meet their demand and come to see them in Tehran. But in return, they should come in Moscow to enter into contact with the [Tajik] government. The opposition's answer was "come to Tehran and we'll see." We had confidence in our strength and decided to go to Tehran. We had all the more reason to do so [because the Iranians] had told us that they would support Moscow's position. To sum it up, the opposition agreed to have talks with the [Tajik] government in Moscow. This was a very difficult mission -- I remember one newspaper at the time wrote that "Adamishin obtained in Tehran what was practically impossible to obtain."

As it turned out, however, that was not the most difficult thing. The main problem was now to not let anyone walk away from the [preliminary] agreement. As far as our (eds: Russian) side was concerned, there were different people with different approaches. Some people were beginning to say that we did not really need to engage in a political dialogue with the opposition. People in Dushanbe even started backpedaling. This is where we had to show resolution and decisiveness. [Abdujalil] Samadov was then prime minister in Tajikistan. At some point I told him: "You're asking Russia for money. We will give you that money but keep in mind that we cannot afford to be in a situation in which we would -- on the one hand -- give money and, on the other hand, get slapped in the face. We must first agree that talks will take place, then do whatever you want." This helped. I must confess I had no mandate to put things this way. [Viktor] Chernomyrdin, our prime minister, had already given instructions so that funds be made available to Tajikistan. Sergei Dubinin was then the head of the [Russian] central bank. I told him, "Sergei, let's hold it a little bit, let the two of us contribute to a peaceful settlement [of the conflict]." He agreed.

In one word, we managed to begin this dialogue. I have to say that President Rakhmonov adopted the right approach. We used to talk regularly. One day he even told me "You're the most respected person in Tajikistan and the one I cherish the most. It is because I respect you that I'm sending you [to Tehran]." The opposition also understood the role of Russia. Turajonzoda once said that no state could replace Russia in Tajikistan. The [inter-Tajik] talks started on April 5, 1994. As you know, it was very difficult. But finally -- on 27 June 1997 -- a peace deal was signed. This agreement has few equivalents in the history of peace treaties. We must do justice to the [Tajik] government and say that they agreed to share power with the opposition. This doesn't often happen. Although all the difficulties were still to come, nevertheless the peace process was launched.

RFE/RL: Later you decided to walk away yourself?

Adamishin: No, I was appointed ambassador to London and in September 1994 I left for London. My role had consisted of starting the peace negotiations. After that I was no longer in a position to influence the course of events. I observed everything [from a distance]. I saw how the opposition started walking away from the preliminary agreements that had been reached and tried to organize armed [unrest]. I could see how things were difficult along the Afghan-Tajik border, how our 12th border post there came under fire. But the most important thing was to have the process move ahead so that it could continue on its own.

RFE/RL: What prompted the sides to agree to enter into talks?

Adamishin: I think many factors forced them to sit at the negotiation table. To put it simply, both sides had come to the conclusion that the situation was hopeless. The only choice they had was either seek a [peace] agreement or continue fighting. Fighting would have meant more years of bloodshed, cruelty, and no solution in sight. On the one hand, their was a general understanding that the military operations were at a dead end and that it was necessary to work on an exit strategy. On the other hand, I still believe Russia played a very important role alongside the United Nations and other countries. Russia, in a way, forced the Tajik government and the Tajik opposition to take a seat at the negotiation table.

RFE/RL: Russia's role was indeed very important. Yet, Russian media at the time noted that Moscow had no clear-cut policy in Tajikistan, that its diplomats were doing one thing and its military another. What was your working relationship with the Defense Ministry?

Adamishin: I think this is a fair question. As I already said, Russia was then in a period of trouble. There was not at the time a clear-cut policy that all institutions and organizations would follow. Decisions were being made, then those decisions were violated by [entities] that were not interested in a peaceful resolution [of the Tajik conflict]. There was the difficult issue of narcotics. Unfortunately, some of our people were implicated in drug trafficking. Yet, we managed to come to an agreement. Andrei Nikolayev was, at the time, in charge of the [Russian] border guard administration. We had very good contacts. But those contacts did not exist on an institutionalized level; that is, between the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry. Both Nikolayev and myself were personally involved. Of course we could say Russia lacked a clear-cut policy, that was a fashionable theme [in the media] at the time. Still, Russia somehow had a policy. If Russia had not had a policy at the time most likely there would not have been a peaceful solution in Tajikistan. (Originally published on June 28, 2006.)

UZBEKISTAN: FAMILY DEMANDS RELEASE OF UYGHUR IMAM EXTRADITED TO CHINA The family of a Canadian Muslim religious leader extradited from Uzbekistan to China is demanding his release. Imam Huseyincan Celil, an ethnic Uyghur activist, is reportedly facing possible execution. Family lawyer Chris MacLeod told RFE/RL from Toronto that the Canadian government must make the strongest possible representations to Beijing to get him released.

Huseyincan Celil traveled from his home in Canada to Tashkent early this year to meet in the Uzbek capital with three of his children, who still live in China.

But disaster struck on March 27 when Celil was detained by Uzbek authorities apparently acting on a request from China.

Family members visited him regularly in detention in Tashkent until mid-June, when he disappeared. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs this week informed the family that Uzbekistan had extradited him to China.

"This is terrifying news," said Alim Seytoff, the director of the U.S.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project. He called this development "the worst-case scenario."

Seytoff was referring to the harsh treatment Chinese authorities have meted out to Uyghur rights activists and separatists seeking to restore an "East Turkestan" state in what is now China's western Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

In the Canadian capital, Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman Kim Girtel said Canada would continue to press China to confirm that Celil is being held there.

But the Celil family's lawyer, Chris MacLeod, wants a more forceful approach. He told RFE/RL that Canada must let the world know that it should not "mess with Canadian citizens." He said in this case, Uzbekistan has seen fit to turn over a Canadian citizen to China without even consulting Canada.

"We want the Canadian government to very vigorously remind Beijing that 'A,' this is a Canadian citizen, he belongs nowhere other than in Canada; and 'B,' to remind them as well that China is hosting the 2008 Olympics -- a coming together of nations from around the world -- and that it is very inappropriate for them to be detaining Canadian citizens whose only offense has been exercising their right to express themselves," he said.

Uzbekistan, like Russia and other Central Asian republics, has a security agreement with Beijing that human rights groups say commits them to extradite any political dissidents wanted in China who arrive on their territory. China reportedly negotiated these deals with a view to countering the Uyghur separatists.

MacLeod says that for Beijing to "flagrantly" trample on human rights when it is in the midst of preparing to host the world at the Olympics "is an offense to all freedom-loving people around the world."

The lawyer denied that Celil had been involved in any acts of violence to further the Uyghur separatist cause.

"His 'crimes' -- if you can call them that -- in China were teaching Uyghur children -- those under the age of 18 -- their Turkic mother tongue, which is an offense; teaching them the tenets of their [Muslim] faith, and speaking out broadly against the oppressive tactics of the Chinese government in its dealings with the Uyghur people," he said.

Celil carried on similar activities in Canada as a Canadian citizen, advising and reminding the Canadian government of what the Uyghur people face in China. It was for this reason that he came onto the "radar screen" of the Chinese government, MacLeod said, and that's "just unacceptable."

However, China reportedly wants Celil on charges relating to an attack six years ago on a Chinese state delegation visiting Xinjiang province. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Further complicating the situation is that Celil's name appears in the sentencing document of Uyghur activist Ismail Semed, who was sentenced to death in 2005 for separatist activities. Celil is described in that document as an accomplice of Semed. It is not clear if Semed has already been executed.

Neither Uzbekistan or China has publicly commented on Celil's case.

Celil fled China in the 1990s for Turkey, and arrived in Canada in 2001 as a refugee.

The 37-year-old Imam has six children (three of whom are in Canada) and his wife, Kamila, is pregnant. (By Breffni O'Rourke. Originally published on June 30, 2006.)

TURKMENISTAN: MEDIA COVERAGE OF LEADER DISTRACTS FROM REAL PROBLEMS Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has been called outlandish, eccentric, and insane, and described as a tyrannical dictator. But the international media's comic portrayals of Niyazov distract attention from many of the very serious problems the country is facing, observers say.

Turkmen citizens have no chance to enjoy ballet, opera, a philharmonic orchestra, or a circus because Niyazov -- also known as Turkmenbashi the Great or the "Father of All Turkmen" -- has banned them, saying they contradict Turkmen national values.

Niyazov has also ordered the dismissal of several thousand health-care workers and replaced them with military conscripts, while also closing down many rural hospitals.

Turkmen children only go to school until the ninth grade ever since the government reduced public education -- making it impossible for them to study at foreign universities.

Only adherents to Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy are free to worship in Turkmenistan, as those who follow any other religion or religious sect usually face harsh repression, with some churches having been bulldozed.

And Turkmen are constantly forced to better their knowledge of the nation's history and present by learning phrases from "Rukhnama," Niyazov's book on spirituality and proper behavior, which is compulsory study in schools.

Many Turkmen citizens live in poverty since Niyazov cancelled or cut payments to a large portion of the country's pensioners and cancelled maternity and sick-leave payments for others in February.

If Turkmen criticize the government or work for foreign media outlets, they are likely to be persecuted and can be internally exiled, evicted from their homes, or forcibly put in psychiatric hospitals while their personal property is confiscated.

This is the dire but realistic picture of Turkmenistan, according to exiled Turkmen dissidents and international human rights groups.

Many of them say the Western media, however, does not give an adequate picture of the country because they are too busy reporting about Niyazov's cult of personality or his strange behavior and comments, such as his criticism of gold-capped teeth, long hair and beards, and female TV anchors' use of make-up -- or his decision to ban the use of tobacco.

But focusing on such things creates a distorted picture of life in Turkmenistan and takes attention away from the real difficult issues that Turkmen are facing, says Eric Freedman of the journalism school at Michigan State University.

"It's obvious that he does a lot of strange things. Some of them [are] building an ice palace in the desert, renaming the days of the weeks and the months of the year, building the world's largest mosque [or] his putting up giant posters [of himself] all over the country," Freedman says.

"Those kinds of things draw attention to him as a person and they obviously have a public-policy implication," Freedman continues. "But the press doesn't tend to look at those kinds of public-policy issues. It's easier to put attention on things that are a little strange. There are some problems with that, I think, because you as a reader in the West get a distorted picture."

Farid Tukhbatullin, an exiled human rights activist and head of the Vienna-based nongovernmental group Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, tells RFE/RL that the media portrays Niyazov as a "clown dictator" and his decrees as whims and eccentricity. He says foreign media seem to forget that nearly 5 million people have to live a "tragic life" under Niyazov's rule.

Tukhbatullin believes it is because ordinary people in the West are not interested in getting to know more about Turkmenistan, noting that since he arrived in Europe, "I learned that people know practically nothing -- not only about Turkmenistan -- but also about other former Soviet republics.

"Unfortunately, the foreign press only portrays Turkmenistan as a country with a president who has a screw loose," he adds. "Journalists and perhaps their readers are not interested in having an in-depth knowledge about Turkmenistan. They are probably satisfied with reading about [Niyazov's] odd remarks and behavior over coffee, at their leisure."

Michigan State University's Freedman recently conducted research on several Western media outlets' coverage of Turkmenistan, and noted that personality-driven media coverage of other leaders is very rare.

"If the situation were reversed and it were foreign media covering events in the U.S. when Bill Clinton was president, it would be as if most stories about U.S. trade or military included references that Bill Clinton was not faithful to his wife, or had smoked marijuana...or had this 'Slick Willie' kind of image," he says. "And if you put it that way, you realize how ridiculous it would be for the foreign press to do that about the United States. So why wouldn't it be equally ridiculous for the Western press to do that about another country?"

Freedman says Western media coverage gets more serious when prominent international groups, like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or the World Health Organization take interest in certain events in the country.

Allison Gill, head of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, tells RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that the media should stop making fun of Turkmenbashi and pay more attention to his regime's disastrous human rights record.

"There is absolutely not enough attention to the human rights situation in Turkmenistan," Gill says. "Many people have forgotten about Turkmenistan or consider that the president is somewhat funny in his building of [his own] statues and his creating a cult of personality to himself. But there is nothing funny about what is happening in Turkmenistan. It is an incredibly serious and dire human rights situation that demands the attention of the world community."

Freedman, however, says that the odd and the bizarre about Turkmenbashi are likely to continue dominating media coverage because such stories attract a greater audience. (By Gulnoza Saidazimova. Originally published on July 1, 2006.)