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Turkmen Report: February 19, 2003

19 February 2003
NGOs: Turkmen Leader Should Mark Birthday By Introducing Rule Of Law
19 February 2003

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov should mark his birthday by committing himself to the protection of human rights, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported, citing the press release of a coalition of human rights groups published on 19 February. President Niyazov's birthday, 19 February, was a major event in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan's already appalling human rights record has deteriorated even further following an armed attack on Niyazov last November, which triggered a new wave of repression throughout the country, the press release said.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the International League for Human Rights, and Memorial Human Rights Center on 19 February called on Niyazov to release those arbitrarily or unlawfully detained, permit visits to those imprisoned, grant human rights monitors access to Turkmenistan, and ensure fair and public retrials for those convicted at unfair trials in relation to the November attack.

A series of actions was planned for Niyazov's birthday. Amnesty International also organized a birthday-card web event and demonstrations at Turkmen embassies. One such demonstration took place on 19 February in front of the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow. Some 30 demonstrators, including representatives of the Turkmen opposition in exile and human rights activists, gathered in front of the embassy building, holding signs and posters.

Despite the fact that picket organizers had all the necessary permissions of the city authorities beforehand, the chief of the group of police that arrived declared that the prefect of the Central district of Moscow, Gennadii Degtev, had prohibited the demonstration at the embassy.

Under threat of arrest, the demonstrators were forced to proceed to Gogolevskii Boulevard, about 150 meters from the embassy. Human rights activists prepared a letter addressed to Niyazov, urging the Turkmen leader to stop human rights violations, but none of the embassy's employees agreed to take it. The doors of the embassy were closed and participants of demonstration were not allowed to enter. (RFE/RL)

Oil And Gas Industry Turkmen-Chinese Cooperation Priority
16 February 2003

The oil and gas industry is a priority of cooperation between Turkmenistan and China, Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Zhou Ke Ren told a Turkmen governmental delegation on 16 February, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Zhou arrived in Ashgabat on 15 February with a delegation of Chinese businessmen.

Ten out of the 19 investment projects under way in Turkmenistan in cooperation with Chinese companies are in the oil and gas industry. The total value of these projects is nearly $196 million. (ITAR-TASS)

Tasks Of Russian-Turkmen Economic Commission Outlined
13 February 2003

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed a resolution on concluding an agreement between the governments of Russia and Turkmenistan on an intergovernmental Russian-Turkmen commission on economic cooperation, reported on 13 February, citing the department of government news.

According to the agreement, the main tasks of the commission are assisting the development of economic cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan, analyzing Russian-Turkmen economic cooperation, exercising control over the implementation of international agreements signed between Russia and Turkmenistan and other bilateral agreements, and coordinating the activities of ministries, departments, and government organizations aimed at preparing the drafts of bilateral interstate, intergovernmental, and interdepartmental agreements on economic cooperation.

The agreement also provides for the preparation and coordination of economic-cooperation programs between Russia and Turkmenistan, as well as working out coordinated measures to implement them. (

Niyazov Addresses Turkmen Citizens On Muslim Holiday
12 February 2003

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov made a statement addressing the people of Turkmenistan on the Muslim sacrifice holiday, Kurban Bayram, reported on 12 February.

While emphasizing that this year Kurban Bayram is being celebrated on the eve of the Day of the State Flag, Niyazov said that authorities made a decision on raising these two national holidays to the level of state ones.

Widely celebrated as a holiday of unification, peace, and welfare, Kurban Bayram has become one of the main traditions for Turkmens, which along with others can be stressed as characteristic feature of the Turkmen nation, Niyazov said. Niyazov also wished peace, friendship, and well-being to the people of Turkmenistan. (

Niyazov Congratulates Khatami On Revolution Anniversary
12 February 2003

President Niyazov in a message to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami on 12 February congratulated him on the 24th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, IRNA reported the same day.

"Turkmens and Iranians have lived as close neighbors for long centuries," he said. Niyazov said he was proud to see the two countries' friendly relations were based on an equal footing and mutual respect.

"I believe that the good-neighborly relations completely serve the interests of the Iranian and Turkmen nations, and have an important role in promoting peace and stability in the region," he added. Such relations, he said, would also guarantee the social and economic development of the region.

The Turkmen president further wished the Iranian nation peace and prosperity, and success for President Khatami. (IRNA)

Niyazov, Gazprom Head Discuss Cooperation
10 February 2003

Aleksei Miller met for 90 minutes with President Niyazov in Ashgabat on 10 February to discuss further cooperation in the exploitation of Turkmen natural gas and its export via Russia, and ITAR-TASS reported.

The talks focused specifically on reconstruction of existing gas-export pipelines and the construction of new ones. Miller said a long-term cooperation agreement will be signed "in the near future," and that "we have a full understanding of what steps should be meet each other halfway." Niyazov, in turn, invited Gazprom to develop deposits in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian. (ITAR-TASS,

In Central Asia, Women's Rights Activists Push For Higher Marriage Age
10 February 2003

By Farangiz Najibullah

Officially, the secular governments of Central Asia promote the active integration of women in social and political life. In Tajikistan, for example, every governmental organization is required by presidential decree to appoint a female deputy chief.

But in reality, many women in Central Asia are fighting for more basic freedoms. Throughout the region, women's rights advocates are pressing their governments to raise the minimum age at which women can legally marry.

Khairunniso Mirzojonova is a specialist with the Women's Committee of Uzbekistan, which has submitted a proposal to the country's parliament to raise the marriage age from 17 to 19. She said the change would spare many young women who simply are not prepared physically or emotionally for the burden of family life. "The Women's Committee of Uzbekistan has proposed that the minimum age of marriage should be changed from 17 to 19. From a physical point of view, young girls can only be ready to be wives and mothers when they're 19, at the youngest," Mirzojonova said.

A similar push is under way in Tajikistan, where the Association for Educated Women and rights activists are campaigning to return the minimum marriage age to 18, as it was during the Soviet Union. Nargis Nurullokhoja, who works in the Dushanbe office of the Oxfam advocacy and relief agency, said there are more and more instances of Tajik families forcing daughters as young as 16 into marriage. "[Early marriages] are a very big problem in Tajikistan. According to a recent sociological survey, 91 percent of parents are willing to force their daughters into an early marriage, sometimes at the age of 16 or 17. This problem is on the rise because of social and economic difficulties," Nurullokhoja said.

Women's rights advocates say early marriage is part of a vicious cycle of poverty that has affected the entire Central Asian region, particularly in rural areas where economic opportunity is virtually nonexistent and parents marry off their daughters because they cannot care for them themselves.

In turn, early marriages are contributing to a high rate of infant mortality, widespread pregnancy-related anemia, female depression, and a higher rate of failed marriages. Nurullokhoja said 80 percent of Tajik women suffer from anemia.

There is reason to believe the region's secular governments, with their customary support of women's rights, will pass the proposals raising the marriage age. But some activists argue that women's issues cannot be solved by decrees and a Soviet-style approach. They say the problem of early marriage is more systemic, springing from economic hardship and a lack of opportunities for young women.

Despite a widespread belief that early marriages are a part of Central Asian traditions, rights activists insist the problem would diminish if society provided more education and employment opportunities for girls.

Guljahon Bobosodiqova, chairwoman of the Tajik Association for Educated Women, said that work is being done to improve opportunities for girls and young women in the region. "Our organization, along with relevant UN agencies like UNICEF and UNESCO [the United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization], is setting up a regional meeting on girls' education in Central Asia. Improving women's education and skills would contribute to reducing their unemployment rate and other problems," Bobosodiqova said.

In most Central Asian countries, schoolchildren complete their secondary education at the age of 17. The only exception is Turkmenistan, where secondary schools have only nine grades, and students leave school at 15. Turkmen leaders openly promote a more traditional family structure, with men serving as the head of the household and women staying at home and raising the children.

In Turkmenistan, as well as in the rest of Central Asia, young women who graduate from secondary schools have few options regarding their future life. Few families can afford to send their daughters on to colleges or universities. Widespread unemployment leaves young women with little chance of finding a job with livable wages. In rural areas, employment opportunities for girls without higher education are almost nonexistent.

Dushanbe resident Gul Yahyoeva said her two daughters were married at the ages of just 17 and 14 because of her family's economic difficulties. "We have a difficult time financially. We can't afford our girls' education, and I cannot buy food and clothes for them. Marriage was the only option. I want stability for them," Yahyoeva said.

Some international and local NGOs such as UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women) and Oxfam and local women's committees are volunteering to support young women in learning new skills and increasing their chances of finding employment and becoming more socially and economically integrated. Some organizations are providing loans for women to start small businesses. Tajik universities provide special quotas for girls who graduate from secondary schools in remote mountainous regions. Girls who enter university according to those quotas receive financial support from the government. (RFE/RL)