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Turkmen Report: July 21, 2004

21 July 2004
Russian Mayak Radio Taken Off Air
The Russian FM radio station Mayak was taken off the air in Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 15 July.

Mayak Chairman Andrei Bystritskii confirmed this, telling RFE/RL, "According to the explanation of the Turkmen authorities, the reason is a problem with transmitters, because the Turkmen authorities, as they said, have no money to renovate and reconstruct transmitters."

Three years ago, popular Russian TV channel ORT was shortened in Turkmenistan. Reportedly, the station broadcast features criticizing Turkmen government policies. Also, last summer Turkmen authorities banned the delivery of Russian newspapers and magazines to Turkmenistan. Now the Turkmen people face a lack of information from the West, as well as from Russia. Bystritskii explained that "the transmitters are maybe OK now. At the same time, on the same frequencies, Turkmen radio stations launched broadcasting. It means that there are some transmitters for broadcasting."

According to a former leader of Russian society in Turkmenistan, the reason for the isolation from Russian media is the "restriction of people's possibilities to get information. Mayak was one of the most popular stations in Turkmenistan. People were listening to world news through Mayak, because in Turkmenistan everything is related to the president of the country. And Mayak was objective in its programs." (RFE/RL)

Turkmen Women Protest Demolition Of Their Homes
Turkmen authorities demolished about 100 homes in Keshi, a suburb of the capital Ashgabat, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 15 July. The inhabitants received no compensation from the authorities and it caused anger among the public.

On 12 July, a group of women tried to meet officials from the UN office in Ashgabat. It is not clear whether they were successful. But the women were taken to the police station the same evening. According to a former member of parliament, there were demonstrations in the streets of Keshi. "Groups of 10-15 women gathered in the streets and protested the demolition of their homes." A former inhabitant of Keshi, now in exile, said: " I have been informed that 40-50 women who were protesting were taken to the Niyazov District police station. There were also children among them."

Nurmukhamet Hanamov, co-leader of Republican Party of Turkmenistan in exile, said: "About 50 women attempted to see UN officials in the UN Ashgabat office and complain about the demolition of their homes by the government. The women were encircled by the police". (RFE/RL)

Leaflets Appear In Ashgabat
On 8-11 July, protest leaflets were distributed in some districts of Ashgabat, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 15 July. The leaflets appeal for protest against the Turkmen government's policies and President Saparmurat Niyazov's regime.

The authorities have strengthened the street patrols in Ashgabat. The leaflets were written in Turkmen in both Cyrillic and Latin script, and were unsigned. There are rumors, however, that the leaflets are related to the protest against the demolition of homes in Keshi.

An RFE/RL listener from Ashgabat confirmed that leaflets were distributed in Ashgabat: "It is true. But people are afraid. If you ask about this event, they usually reply not to ask such a question. People cannot tell what they know about this protest. They are scared." RFE/RL was able to get the text of the leaflets, which say: "Dear citizens of Turkmenistan! A human being is born not to be a slave but to live in freedom. The Turkmen people were always proud and fought against authorities of despots and tyrants. It is time to look straight at the truth, to take responsibility for the future of our children and to throw down the inhuman regime of S. Niyazov." (RFE/RL)

Niyazov Reforms Trade Ministry
A Ministry of Trade and Consumer Cooperation has been created in Turkmenistan through the joining of the Trade and Foreign Economic Relations Ministry and the Turkmen Union of Consumer Cooperation (Turkmenpotrebsoyuz), Interfax reported on 14 July.

The relevant decree was signed by President Saparmurat Niyazov, a presidential administration source said.

Gurbangeldy Melekeev has been appointed head of the ministry. Melekeev had been the head of Turkmenpotrebsoyuz since 1994. Former Trade Minister Charymmamed Gayipov was dismissed from his post "for serious drawbacks in his work" and has been sent to work in labor unions. President Niyazov was not satisfied with the Trade Ministry's work and repeatedly criticized Gayipov at government sessions for being unable to provide wholesale shipments of products for the retail trade. (Interfax)

Turkmen President Wants Ice Skating In The Desert
President Niyazov ordered on July 13 that an ice-skating rink be built outside the capital Ashgabat, AP reported the same day. Niyazov said he wanted the ice-skating rink built so children could enjoy skating in a country where summer temperatures often climb to over 50 degrees Celsius.

The ice-skating palace would be linked to Ashgabat by a cable car and according to Niyazov's instructions, is to be completed within 10 months. The cost was not reported.

Niyazov has ordered the construction of many objects such as five-star hotels in Ashgabat to accommodate great numbers of foreign businessmen who have yet to appear.

He also ordered the construction of Central Asia's largest mosque, complete with the largest underground parking garage, despite the strong earthquakes that have hit the region in the past. (AP)

Turkmenistan Replenishes Budget With Money Stolen By Bureaucrats
More than $9.23 million, allegedly stolen from the state coffers by bureaucrats, including high-ranking officials, has been returned, Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova told the cabinet of ministers at its meeting on 12 July, ITAR-TASS reported the next day.

According to Atajanova, "48 billion manats have been returned to the state in the past six months." The official exchange rate of the Turkmen manat against the U.S. dollar is 5,200/1.

The prosecutor-general named the corrupt officials, who were convicted and are now making up for the damage. Among them are the former chairman of the state customs service, Khabibula Durdyev, who misappropriated about $500,000, including by extortion; and former Education Minister Mametdurdy Sarykhanov, who misappropriated nearly $100,000 from the money earmarked for the maintenance of the ministry building.

The prosecutor's black list also includes the names of the former head of a district subsidiary of the Daikhanbank (nearly $500,000) and the former chairman of the Nisa soccer club (approximately $6.5 million).

"Each and every high official should draw conclusions for themselves," President Niyazov said. "All the probes into economic crimes will be brought to a conclusion and we shall be consistent and adhere to principle in this respect." (ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov Writes Second Volume Of "Rukhnama"
President Niyazov announced on national television on 12 July that he has written a second volume of the "Rukhnama," which is expected to be published in September, Interfax reported the next day.

In 1998, Niyazov proposed the idea of developing a program for the spiritual development of the nation. His "Rukhnama" has since become a code of conduct for Turkmen society.

Niyazov argued that the main idea of the book is to provide spiritual guidance for the people, to restore the old customs and traditions, and to revive the national spirit. "Rukhnama" is the way along which the current and future generations of the Turkmen people will advance, he said.

The book's first volume, published in 2001, has been translated into Russian, English, French, Japanese, Urdu, Arabic, Ukrainian, and other languages, including Zulu. Its print exceeds a million copies. The month of September has been named Ruhnama and Saturday is now called Rukhgyun (spiritual day) in Turkmenistan. (Interfax)

Russian Embassy Wants Explanation On Turkmen Shutdown Of Russian Radio Station
The Russian Embassy in Turkmenistan has sent a note to Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry demanding an explanation for taking the last Russian radio station broadcasting in Turkmenistan off the air, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 July.

Embassy First Secretary Aleksandr Letoshnev said there was still no response to the Russian request for an explanation as to why the Mayak radio station was taken off the air and its transmitting frequencies assigned to a state-owned Turkmen-language radio station. The Turkmen Communication Ministry said the transmitting equipment for Mayak, in use since 1964, was in need of repair which could take as long as one year if money could be found in Turkmenistan's state budget. Mayak Chairman Andrei Bystritskii said the Turkmen authorities did not provide any warning the station would be taken off the air. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan Invests $123 Million To Increase Gas Exports To Russia
Turkmenistan will make investments of more than $123 million to increase gas exports to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 July. The Turkmen president issued an order authorizing Turkmengaz to conclude a contract worth $123.6 million with the Belgian company Enex Process Engineering for building a compressor station in the Dovletabad-3 gas deposit by December 2006.

This deposit in eastern Turkmenistan is the main source from which gas is pumped via the trunk gas pipeline Middle Asia-Center (Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-Russia-Ukraine), a source in the Turkmen Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources said. The Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom buys and sells gas on the Turkmen-Uzbek border. Under the 25-year agreement with Turkmenistan Gazprom will increase fuel purchases from current 5 billion cubic meters to 60-70 billion cubic meters yearly by 2007. The compressor station will be built by then.

Under the long-term Turkmen-Russian agreement, the audit of industrial gas stocks will be carried out in Dovletabad this year. The deposit's gas stocks were 1.3 trillion cubic meters according to the 1995 audit by the U.S. company Unocal. Under the agreement for 2003-28 Turkmenistan should supply more than 1.5 trillion cubic meters of gas to Russia. (ITAR-TASS)

Leaflets Calling For Overthrow Of Turkmen Government Appear In Bazaars
15 July 2004

By Bruce Pannier

Police and security forces in Turkmenistan are still looking for the people responsible for distributing leaflets in bazaars in Ashgabat last week that called for the overthrow of President Saparmurat Niyazov's government. Acts of protest are rare in the country, where order is strictly maintained and dissidents are quickly jailed or forced into exile.

An Ashgabat resident was willing to confirm that the leaflets did indeed appear but he indicated in his comments that the topic is dangerous: "It happened, but people are afraid to speak about it. You ask people 'Were you there? did you see?' They say it's better not to bring it up. Many are afraid to talk about it; even in private conversations the subject is avoided. The people cannot say openly what they know."

The leaflets say that Turkmen people were born free, that they are a proud people who deserve to be liberated from tyranny. They say that the time has come to take responsibility for the future of the country's children, that the time has come to overthrow Niyazov and bring him to trial.

In an appeal to the country's Muslims, the leaflets call for the faithful to avoid worshipping at the new mosque Niyazov is building in his former hometown outside Ashgabat.

The mosque will be the biggest in Central Asia. But in the eyes of many Muslims it is corrupted because Niyazov has ordered quotations from his book "Rukhnama" -- something of a guide of proper behavior for the Turkmen people -- to be inscribed on the walls on the building alongside quotations from the Koran.

Exiled Turkmen opposition leader Nurmukhamet Hanamov knew about the leaflets and told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service what he had heard through his sources: "This information is true. They were distributing these leaflets not just between last Thursday and Sunday last week, we heard about it [happening] earlier. We knew it was planned. If you remember, it's been going on for two years and since then they've been distributing leaflets of Boris Shikhmuradov. It has been happening for two years now and we are glad about it."

Shikhmuradov was Turkmenistan's foreign minister for many years but once he started to fall from power in 2001 he joined with the Turkmen opposition and lived outside the country. He was arrested in Turkmenistan in December 2002, one month after a reported assassination attempt on President Niyazov, and jailed on charges of being one of the masterminds behind the attempt.

Hanamov is another opposition leader the Turkmen government believes was involved.

Another political dissident living in exile is Gulgeldy Annaniyazov. He was jailed for four years after organizing a protest against the government in 1995 and was only freed due to the intervention of the U.S. government and international rights organizations.

Annaniyazov was not surprised to hear about the antigovernment leaflets in Ashgabat, and credited their appearance to the destruction of homes in Keshi, a suburb of Ashgabat.

He likened the demolition of the homes, a seemingly small event, to the pebbles which start avalanches. But he was concerned that the news may not reach what he called "civilized governments," which many inside and outside Turkmenistan believe is the key to pressuring the current regime into changing its antidemocratic course: "The distribution of leaflets started just after they destroyed the homes in Keshi. In Turkmenistan there are many actions of protest, but the people there worry that civilized governments do not know what is happening in Turkmenistan."

Hanamov's claim that leaflets have been distributed in Turkmenistan for two years is supported by people who have left Turkmenistan recently. Prior to last week, those leaflets were left in mail boxes in the heart of the night. Distributing such literature in bazaars in the capital in the daytime for several days in a row seems to be a sign that discontent with the government in Turkmenistan is reaching a new level.

The Turkmen government, never tolerant of opposition in the best of times, has been cracking down on potential troublemakers since the attempt on Niyazov's life. The crackdown may be generating something of "an equal and opposite reaction" among some of the Turkmen people. (RFE/RL)

Turkmen Lose Radio Mayak -- Last Freely Available Outlet To Outside News
13 July 2004

By Jeremy Bransten

Radio Mayak's call signal is intimately familiar to anyone who remembers the former Soviet Union. The radio began its 24-hour-a-day broadcasts of news and music in 1964 to all corners of the USSR and remains a staple of many households across the region to this day.

The Soviet Union may have crumbled, but Radio Mayak -- the "beacon" from Moscow -- retains its listenership.

Although there are no precise ratings in Turkmenistan, Radio Mayak was believed to be the country's most-popular station -- until 11 July, when Ashgabat cut off its signal without warning.

Radio Mayak Chairman Andrei Bystritskii spoke to RFE/RL from Moscow. "The Interfax agency -- I got this in a telegram I received yesterday -- reported that Mayak was the most popular radio station in Turkmenistan," Bystritskii said. "But you understand that there are no audience surveys, so there are no precise figures. It is hard to say in general how many people listen to us. Occasional surveys show that across the region, about 40 percent of the population knows the Mayak radio station, but how often or how regularly they listen to us -- that we don't precisely know."

The Turkmen authorities explained their move in the state-controlled press by saying technical maintenance was responsible for Mayak's disappearance from the airwaves. The Turkmen Communications Ministry said the transmitting equipment for Mayak -- in use since 1964 -- is in need of repair, which could take as long as one year, if money can be found in Turkmenistan's state budget.

But Bystritskii countered that if maintenance were really the issue, local Turkmen stations would not have been able to take over Mayak's frequency on a Sunday, as they did.

The Russian Embassy in Ashgabat, too, is suspicious of the motives behind the Mayak shutdown in Turkmenistan and addressed a note to the government, demanding an official explanation.

At issue are not only the estimated 300,000 ethnic Russians living in Turkmenistan -- many of whom listened to Mayak -- but the fact that most of the country's 5 million citizens are now cut off from all outside sources of information, with the exception of a minority who own satellite dishes or shortwave radio sets.

In 1998, the Turkmen authorities pulled the plug on Russian television broadcasts provided by ORT television, and in 2002, all foreign newspaper and magazine subscriptions were halted. Mayak provided Turkmen with their last source of easily accessible outside news.

To a certain degree, like all radio stations broadcasting abroad, Mayak is used to occasional political difficulties. Bystritskii said the station intends to continue trying to serve its loyal "foreign" audience.

"The fact is that this radio station does still garner a certain amount of attention," Bystritskii said. "I am talking about Belarus, where we have periodic difficulties with the Belarusian leadership -- they turn us on and off -- in eastern Ukraine, in northern Kazakhstan. We have our audience everywhere. People are used to our radio station, and they listen to us."

The days are gone when most everyone across the former Soviet Union would listen to Mayak on a daily basis, thanks to cable-radio receivers installed in every apartment. Bystritskii said most Mayak listeners tune in to its programs through normal radio sets, meaning the station depends on rebroadcasting agreements with local operators across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to reach most of its listeners.

"Even in Russia, this system is gradually falling out of use, and the number of cable-radio sets is rapidly declining, so we cannot count on this system for the future," Bystritskii said. "This same phenomenon holds true -- to a lesser degree -- for the CIS countries and in Central Asia. So the main vehicle for our programs are radio frequencies."

Those frequencies -- at least in Turkmenistan -- are filled this week with government-sponsored bulletins of good news about a record grain harvest, bulging state coffers, and President Niyazov's latest project -- building an ice palace in the desert outside the capital, Ashgabat. (RFE/RL)