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Turkmen Report: May 11, 2004

11 May 2004
Turkmen Embassy Not Planning Probe Into Journalist Beating In Moscow
7 May 2004

The Turkmen Embassy in Russia has denied plans to examine reports from the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that Turkmen journalist Mukhamed Berdiyev was allegedly beaten in Moscow, Interfax reported on 7 May. "The Turkmen Embassy in Moscow has no intentions or plans to carry out any kind of inquiry into the incident. Investigations should be conducted by Moscow law-enforcement agencies," an embassy source told Interfax on condition of anonymity.

Berdiyev, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, was beaten by three unidentified individuals in his apartment on 30 April, according to an RSF press release. He sustained injuries to his head, face, and ribs. He was found three days later.

According to the RSF release, on the day of the attack, a Turkmen citizen, who has still not been identified, called the journalist and said that he wanted to give him some documents. The day before the attack, unidentified individuals searched the apartment of Berdiyev's son, Shanazar, also a radio correspondent. Berdiyev was then working on a report about Turkmen citizens who had fled their country, the organization said. RSF asked Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate the incident.

In a letter to Ustinov, the organization expressed concern that Turkmenistan's security services might have been involved in the attack and asked the prosecutor-general to open a criminal case to find the culprits and punish them.

"Did this beating actually take place? Isn't the report about it an attempt to once again draw attention to a reporter who is working for a Western publication and who is constantly addressing the so-called issue of human rights in Turkmenistan? There are a lot of reasons for doubts in this affair," the Turkish Embassy source said.

The embassy source said that reports about alleged attacks on Berdiyev had also been received previously. He expressed doubt that Berdiyev is in Moscow legally. "Moscow law-enforcement agencies will possibly check whether Berdiyev has registration," the embassy source said. (Interfax)

Niyazov Sets Age Limit For Turkmen President
7 May 2004

The age limit for the Turkmen presidency is now 70 years, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, 64, told delegates to the third congress of the Turkmen Makhtumkuli youth organization on 7 May, ITAR-TASS reported the same day.

"I do not think that a person older than 70 is capable of governing a country. This is abnormal," said Niyazov, who was declared president for life by the People's Council (Khalk Maslakhaty) in 1999. "There may be a future president in this hall. The presidential election will take place in 2007-08, and those who have the goal of heading the country still have time to prepare for this important role," Niyazov said.

The new version of the Turkmen Constitution adopted in August 2003 says, "an ethnic Turkmen citizen of Turkmenistan, who was born in Turkmenistan, aged between 40 and 70, knows the state language, has lived permanently in Turkmenistan for no less than 10 years, and is employed in governmental institutions, public organizations, or the economy, can be elected the president of Turkmenistan." (ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov: Youth Union Member May Win 2008 Presidential Vote
7 May 2004

President Niyazov has suggested that a representative of the country's Youth Union may win the presidential elections in 2008, Interfax reported on 7 May.

Speaking at the opening of the Makhtumkuli youth union's third congress in Ashgabat on 7 May, Niyazov said that this is an independent organization and neither central nor local bodies of power will interfere in its activities. The organization's congress will introduce amendments to its charter and elect its leadership.

The president said that the youth union may set up political parties in line with the country's interests and legislation. Handing over $100,000 to the organization's Central Council, Niyazov said that the union's leader will join the president's executive office as head of its department for youth affairs.

Makhtumkuli, which comprises more than 700,000 people, has offices in all of Turkmenistan's schools, universities, and enterprises. Niyazov told the congress's 2,500 participants that he is currently working on a new book about Turkmenistan. (Interfax)

RFE/RL Turkmen Correspondent Attacked In Moscow
6 May 2004

A correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen service was in serious condition after being beaten at his home in Moscow, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, AFP, and AP reported on 6 May. The media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 6 May reported that Mukhamed Berdiyev was attacked by three men on 30 April and suffered serious head injuries. His computer and phone line had also been destroyed.

Berdiyev's son, Shanazar Berdiyev, who is also an RFE/RL correspondent, had his house searched the day before his father was attacked. Both men were previously attacked in separate incidents last year. Two other Turkmen correspondents for RFE/RL were arrested earlier this year in Turkmenistan and later released. RSF said the recent cases show that working for the U.S.-funded broadcaster is "sufficient reason for harassment by the Turkmen authorities." (RFE/RL, AFP, AP)

Niyazov Praises Military Exercises
5 May 2004

President Niyazov expressed satisfaction with military exercises conducted about 60 kilometers outside the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat on 5 May, reported the same day. The exercises followed a scenario in which 3,500 "terrorists" attempted to seize key oil and chemical facilities. The war games involved two SU-25 fighter planes, missile and rocket systems, a mobile artillery complex, and two MI-4 helicopters, ITAR-TASS reported. Foreign diplomats and military attaches were invited. "The army of neutral Turkmenistan is capable of dealing with any threat," Interfax-AVN quoted Niyazov as saying. (, Interfax-AVN)

Media Group Calls For Educated Tourism In 'Paradise Dictatorships'
3 May 2004

The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 3 May criticized what it calls "paradise dictatorships," and called on tourists to be aware of the social and political situation in those countries, AFP and dpa reported the same day.

RSF released a statement marking the 14th International Day of the Press. The statement says, "Freedom of the press simply does not exist" in such "dream destinations" as Myanmar (also known as Burma), the Maldives, Seychelles, Tunisia, and Vietnam.

Earlier, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that Iraq has become the world's worst place for journalists to work in. The group also listed Cuba, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, China, Eritrea, Haiti, the West Bank and Gaza, and Russia, following Iraq in a ranking that it said "represents the full range of current threats to press freedom." (AFP, dpa)

Turkmenistan To Dismiss State Workers With Foreign Degrees
7 May 2004

By Antoine Blua, with Naz Nazar of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

Turkmen state workers who received their diplomas of higher education from schools outside of the country after 1993 have received a letter from the authorities notifying them that their degrees will no longer be recognized in Turkmenistan after 1 June.

The letter notes they will be dismissed from their jobs as of that date, as well. There will be exceptions -- for instance, when the student was sent abroad under an interstate agreement. The letter of notification implements a general decree passed by the Education Ministry in June 2003.

In a televised speech last year, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov explained the motives behind the decree. "There are about 5,000 Turkmen students who are studying abroad," Niyazov said. "Among them, there are honest as well as dirty people, too. If we don't have an agreement with those countries, students should be taught in our country."

It is unclear why the year 1993 was chosen, or how many people are affected by the decree. But the dismissal of teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals in Turkmenistan's state-run economy is expected to be massive. Observers say the move will further erode the country's social services, increase unemployment, and force many members of Turkmenistan's educated class into permanent exile.

Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in Vienna, called the move "one more step in the direction of isolation and mediocrity in Turkmenistan. It's another attack on the future of Turkmenistan as a member of the international community, and it doesn't bode very well for the ability of the Turkmen people to solve their own problems." Rhodes sees the decree as part of a broader effort by authorities to filter foreign influence out of Turkmen society and to exert more control over citizens.

An unidentified resident of the capital Ashgabat agreed. "It seems it is appreciated if fewer people move abroad," he told RFE/RL. "If they travel less, they will get less information. It may be done to block the development of the youth's worldview." However, he added that he does not believe the purpose of the measure is to abuse minority rights. "If minorities have an education, they could move to other countries and could find jobs there," he said. "Most of them are going to move if they can."

Bess Brown, a Germany-based expert on Central Asia, said the new measure is consistent with past government practices. "Obviously, most people affected by it were going to be people who had taken degrees in the Russian Federation because that's where people went to study, including Niyazov," Brown said. "His degree is from Leningrad [Polytechnic Institute]. [But] it affects everyone of every nationality. It's part of this policy of wrecking the educational system that Niyazov has been engaged in for several years now."

Turkmenistan's education system has been in steady decline. Universities accept only about 3,000 students a year, one-10th of the number before independence in 1991. Education levels are far below international standards, as well, making it more difficult for students to transfer credits to foreign universities.

Professors and students who do not have a thorough command of the Turkmen language are also being pushed out of the country's universities, which now teach almost exclusively in Turkmen. (RFE/RL)