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Turkmen Report: June 14, 2004

14 June 2004
December Summit On Caspian Postponed Until Next Year
An Iranian official says a presidential summit on the division of the Caspian Sea has been postponed until next year, RFE/RL and AP reported on 10 June. Mehdi Safari, Iran's special representative on Caspian issues, said the five countries with Caspian coasts need more time to prepare for the summit, originally scheduled for December. Safari did not say when the Caspian summit will be held.

However, a working meeting on Caspian issues is scheduled for Moscow in the fall.

The five countries on the Caspian -- Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- have longstanding disagreements over how to divide access to its oil and gas reserves and other resources. (RFE/RL, AP)

Turkmen President, Russian Ambassador Discuss Cooperation
Issues related to developing relations between Russia and Turkmenistan, primarily in the gas sphere, were discussed at a meeting of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Russian Ambassador Andrei Molochkov, Interfax reported on 10 June.

"The Turkmen president gave special attention to cooperation with Russia in the energy sphere, namely the oil and gas sphere," Molochkov told journalists following the three-hour meeting.

"Special attention was given to carrying out the agreement to import Turkmen gas to Russia over 25 years that was signed last year," the Turkmen presidential press service said.

This year, Gazprom will purchase 5 billion cubic meters of gas in Turkmenistan and, after gas export networks are restored, supplies will be increased to 70 billion cubic meters in 2007. Issues of regional policy, including cooperation between Central Asian and Caspian nations, primarily in defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea, were also discussed at the meeting. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Critical Of Media Comments On Russian Diplomas
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has issued an official statement protesting "inaccurate reports" in the Russian media on the situation with Russian college diplomas in Turkmenistan and asked the Russian authorities to take appropriate measures, Interfax reported on 9 June. Starting from 1 June 2004, Turkmenistan stopped recognizing foreign diplomas issued after 1 June 1993.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said that "a series of meetings has recently taken place between Turkmen representatives, Russian diplomats, and State Duma deputies to inform the Russian delegation that there have not been any cases in which diplomas have not been recognized or people dismissed because of this." (Interfax)

U.S. Extends 'Normal Trade Relations Status' With Turkmenistan
The United States has extended for another year the status of normal trade relations with Belarus and Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 June, citing the White House press service. President George Bush has informed Congress that these countries can be exempt from the Jackson-Vanik amendment for a further year. Though the procedure of extending trade relations seems just a formality, it actually allows the U.S. to make "remarks" to its trade partners. Concerning Turkmenistan, the United States noted that on the issue of emigration "the country made some progress last year following the previous setback." (ITAR-TASS)

Uzbek Foreign Ministry 'Not Ready' To Comment On Turkmen Citizenship Policy
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry is not ready to comment on the statement made by Turkmen President Niyazov in which he called on the ethnic Uzbeks who are permanently living on the Turkmen-Uzbek border to decide on their citizenship, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. "Those who want to stay will have to obtain Turkmen citizenship," Niyazov said during his trip to the western Balkan region. The issue of citizenship of ethnic Uzbeks was touched upon in connection with decisions made at the session of the Uzbek-Turkmen joint commission on the delimitation and demarcation of the border, which was recently held in Ashgabat. "The Uzbek side has recognized once and for all that 17,867 hectares of land -- which is located along the Turkmen-Uzbek border and has been used since Soviet times by Uzbek economic facilities -- is a part of the Turkmen territory," the Turkmen president said, commenting on the results of the commission's session. (ITAR-TASS)


Turkey's Fethullahci Schools: A Greenhouse For Central Asian Elites?
8 June 2004

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

The full-scale expansion of the Fethullah Gulen community beyond Turkey's boundaries coincided roughly with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The emergence of five new independent Turkic states in Central Asia and the Caucasus region gave Gulen's educational projects a formidable impetus and the religious thinker a unique opportunity to expand his activities abroad.

Over the six years that followed the Soviet collapse, the group succeeded in opening more than 100 schools and universities in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as in Russia's Turkic republics of Daghestan, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan.

Gulen's Nurcu schools also appeared in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan -- all countries with sizeable Turkic minorities.

The Gulen community also expanded in former Communist Eastern Europe --- Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania -- and Asia.

Today, the group supervises an estimated 150 educational institutions abroad, approximately the same number as in Turkey.

The community is also present in many Western countries where Turkish immigrants live, including Germany, France, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Gulen's teaching institutions in Central Asia -- not to be confused with state-sponsored Turkish schools -- include mainly high schools, but also half-a-dozen universities.

Those include a university named after former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in the former Kazakh capital of Almaty, the Ahmet Yesevi University in the southern Kazakh city of Turkistan, the Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University in Bishkek, and the International Turkmen-Turkish University of Ashgabat.

It is in Kazakhstan, where it has some 27 schools, that the Gulen community has been the most successful -- a circumstance generally ascribed to this country's comparatively greater openness to foreign influences.

Elsewhere in Central Asia, the Gulen community has known varying fortunes.

In 1994, Uzbek President Islam Karimov ordered most "fethullahci" teachers out of his country. The remainder were expelled four years ago, thus effectively bringing to an end the Gulen community's activities in that country.

It is unclear whether Karimov's decision was sparked by his fear of any religious movement not strictly controlled by the state, or a reaction to Turkey's decision to offer shelter to Uzbek opposition leaders.

U.S.-based sociologist Berna Turam, who has researched the Fethullah Gulen movement in Turkey and Kazakhstan, says its aim in setting up schools abroad varies according to region.

In Western Europe, she notes, the community's schools represent a way for immigrants to help strengthen their children's sense of their Muslim, Turkish identity. But in Central Asia, the schools were initially perceived as mere agents of Turkish expansion, which raised concerns among local populations: "Initially, [people] thought that the Turks came here to replace the Soviet domination. That was the initial feeling and that is totally understandable. Why, after all, did all these Turkish schools appear all of a sudden after the fall of the Soviet Union? So, the initial feelings and responses were actually cold. But later on, apparently, the parents started to appreciate these so-called 'Turkish schools,' which [in Kazakhstan] are called 'Kazak-Turk schools.' These schools became successful and people's suspicions decreased."

Like other former Soviet republics, Central Asian states have been struggling to maintain high education standards since they gained independence.

Yet, economic depletion has forced them to reduce their education budgets, leading to a significant decrease in teaching standards. In addition, unattractive salaries have drained the profession of many of its most competent teachers and university professors.

With its teams of dedicated Turkish-born teachers and its emphasis on modern technology, the Gulen community has helped local governments overcome this situation.

As in Turkey, a strong emphasis on sciences, ethics, and self-discipline is what characterizes Central Asia's fethullahci schools. Training is given mainly in English, but also in Turkish, local languages, and occasionally Russian.

Although Gulen's teachers are devoted Muslim believers, they do not teach religion at school and strictly observe Turkey's state-sponsored secular curriculum. They are also open to non-Muslim students, including representatives of ethnic Slav minorities.

Better standards of education and a strict entrance selection process have both contributed to maintaining the prestige of Gulen's schools and universities. Yet comparatively high admission fees make them mainly elite institutions.

Bayram Balci of the Istanbul-based French Institute of Anatolian Studies is one of the few scholars who have extensively researched the Gulen movement in Central Asia. He says some features of the group's missionary activities in the region suggest a parallel with the Roman Catholic Church's Society of Jesus: "[For Gulen's followers] the top priority is to spread modern, scientific teaching with a view to forming new cadres for these countries. That doesn't mean that they do not teach religious values. Simply they're kind of teaching a behavior based on ethics. They do not teach religion per se. For them this is not the priority. In all my works, I've been comparing them with the Jesuits. I call them 'the Jesuits of Islam,' because they give a high-quality education and kind of promote a sense of elitism. Teaching religious values comes only after that."

Balci says the moral integrity that generally characterizes Nurcu teachers has also contributed to making the Gulen schools popular among both local governments and residents.

Another leading expert on the Gulen movement, political scientist Hakan Yavuz of the University of Utah, says the close ties that the group has been maintaining with Turkish business circles have also played a major role in its Central Asian expansion: "The movement is successful, [first] because of its stress on education and because, as in Turkey, public education in Central Asia is in a poor state. Second, the foreign language [issue] is something very important. A third important thing is that [the Gulen community] has close ties with the middle class and bourgeoisie, especially with merchants and business groups. These schools are also networks to do business in Central Asia."

Paradoxically, while many state officials in Turkey view the Gulen community with suspicion, the movement's foreign expansion has served Ankara's interests by paving the ground for extensive business cooperation between Turkey and Central Asia.

The group has also been instrumental in both promoting a -- sometimes imagined -- commonality with Turkey and trying to stir pan-Turkic feelings among Central Asians.

In his recently published book on the Gulen movement in Central Asia, Balci describes how every Monday students in fethullahci schools attend the raising of the Turkish flag and sing both their national anthem and that of Turkey.

Sociologist Turam says Gulen's followers initially put the emphasis on the Turks' Central Asian roots to claim a "blood connection" between their home country and the "newly liberated" former Soviet republics: "Most of the time, when you asked [Gulen's] followers: 'Why do you go there and open schools? Why are the schools in Central Asia so concentrated, so high in numbers?' the [main] answer you received was something like 'Oh, because our brothers are there, because we, [Turks], came from there and because [we are] blood brothers.' So it is more nationalism, nationalist feelings and ethnic belonging [that] apparently called [them] to Central Asia. In other words, the secular teachers of the Turkish state and the Islam-oriented teachers of the Gulen community share the same discourse in terms of 'Let's go back to our roots and let's connect these countries together.' This kind of similar discourse over Central Asia facilitates cooperation between the [Gulen] movement and the [Turkish] state."

While describing Gulen's ultimate goal as a "bottom-up Islamization approach of society" through education -- as opposed to what he says is the "top-down approach" of Islamic parties -- political scientist Yavuz agrees that, as far as Central Asia is concerned, the community's primary aim of breeding a new generation of scientifically educated believers meets the objectives of many Turkish secularists: "Their goal is to create a new generation who is socially conservative, nationally oriented toward Turkey and 'Turkishness,' [and] scientifically endowed with new knowledge and new information. They have been active in Central Asia to create an 'altin nesil,' [or golden generation.]"

In a 1998 interview given to "Aksyon," the news magazine owned by his community, Gulen described his ideal Golden Generation as made of people "with minds enlightened by positive science and hearts purified by faith, [people] who would be an example of virtue, who would burn with the desire to serve their nation and humanity, and who would live not for themselves but for others."

Father Thomas Michel, who serves as secretary for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Society of Jesus in Rome and has visited the Fethullah Gulen schools in Kyrgyzstan, believes Gulen may achieve some success in his Central Asian teaching endeavors: "What I hope is that they would be training a group of people who really can compete on an international level with the graduates from any other schools and yet who are not only kind of seeking jobs, security and advancement, but actually trying to do something good. And I'd say that that's where their real importance lies."

Yet the real impact of Gulen's educational project remains to be seen.

Balci says fethullahci schools represent only 10 percent of Central Asia's education system. It's not enough, he says, if the aim of the schools is to really "transform" these countries -- at least in the short or middle term.

"But who knows?" Balci says. "Maybe is it a long-term endeavor over the next 30, 40, or 50 years. However, unless one can read Gulen's mind, this is a question no one -- not even people who have been working on the movement for years -- can answer." (RFE/RL)