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Turkmen Report: June 24, 2003

24 June 2003
Turkmenistan May Complain To UN Over Russian 'Propaganda'
20 June 2003

Turkmenistan on 20 June said it may complain to the United Nations over what it called "propaganda" directed against it by Russian media amid a row over Turkmenistan's decision to end dual citizenship for its Russian minority, AFP reported the same day. Under a decree issued by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, Russians in Turkmenistan from 22 June will no longer be able to hold dual Turkmen and Russian citizenship. That could strip Russians choosing to stay in Turkmenistan of basic rights such as property ownership and access to education. Following the decision, Russia's State Duma foreign affairs committee announced that Turkmenistan will be placed on a list of around 20 countries deemed unsafe for Russians. A Turkmen Foreign Ministry statement on 20 June said Turkmenistan would readily receive another visit by Russian officials to clarify the situation. Niyazov's decree followed an alleged attempt on the president's life in November 2002 in which Turkmenistan says several dual citizens were involved. (AFP)

Russia, Turkmenistan Trade Words In Dual-Citizenship Dispute
19 June 2003

Russian politicians and the Turkmen government have traded words again in the dispute over the elimination of dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship, AP reported on 19 June. On 22 June, a two-month Turkmen deadline expired for dual Russian-Turkmen citizens to decide which passport they want to keep or be automatically considered Turkmen citizens only by the Turkmen government. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Turkmen government of declaring what he called a "war" on Russian citizens in Turkmenistan and said his committee would put Turkmenistan on a list of countries that Russians are advised to avoid. Andrei Kokoshin, head of the Russian State Duma committee on relations with other ex-Soviet republics, said Russia must be ready to introduce sanctions against Turkmenistan. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing what it called "propaganda" in the Russian media about the dual-citizenship issue. The ministry said in a statement that if the alleged media campaign is not stopped, Turkmenistan could appeal to international organizations, including the United Nations. (AP)

Contest For Turkmen Journalists: 'Who Flatters Turkmenbashi Less'
19 June 2003

Turkmen television journalists on 19 June were given a chance to participate in a contest called "Who Flatters Turkmenbashi Less," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. President Niyazov, known as Turkmenbashi, told a government session that he is dissatisfied with all three channels on television constantly praising him. Niyazov has made similar comments for years. Niyazov said the tendency to focus on him demonstrates the "low level of professionalism" among TV journalists who, in their competition with one another, often copy their colleagues. Niyazov called on Deputy Prime Minister Gurbansoltan Khandurdiyeva to organize the competition. The winner will receive "the personal gratitude of the president." (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan Sets Up Commission To Review Dual-Citizenship Issue
17 June 2003

Turkmenistan has set up a commission to decide whether some Turkmen citizens may legitimately hold Russian passports, just ahead of a deadline by which Turkmen residents must give up their dual citizenship, AFP and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 17 June. Niyazov on 16 June said the commission will examine some individual cases, determine whether residents' Russian citizenship was received legally, and set conditions for travel. Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed earlier this year to eliminate the two countries' dual-citizenship agreement. But the Turkmen government then surprised Russia by giving residents just two months to decide which citizenship to give up. (AFP, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service)

Constitutional Amendments Planned In Turkmenistan
16 June 2003

A number of amendments aimed at enhancing security will be introduced to the Turkmen Constitution, President Niyazov said on national television on 16 June, Interfax reported the next day, citing a source in the Turkmen government. However, he declined to specify the nature of the planned amendments, noting that they are intended "to strengthen the security of a neutral Turkmenistan." The president said that the document will be presented at the annual session of the People's Council, which will take place in the city of Turkmenbashi in the second half of August. According to a source, the proposed amendments will ban Turkmen citizens from obtaining other citizenships and introduce changes to the functions of the security services. In particular, they will be granted broader powers to protect the state border, conduct document checks, and examine foreigners. (Interfax)

Russian Duma Declaration Puts Heat On Turkmen Government
20 June 2003

By Bruce Pannier

Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on 20 June adopted a declaration that expresses "deep concern" over recent events in Turkmenistan. The declaration comes after a dispute between Russia and Turkmenistan over a dual citizenship agreement the two countries signed in 1993. Turkmenistan has announced that the agreement will be void as of 22 June.

The declaration was authored by three Duma committees -- the Foreign Affairs Committee, the CIS Affairs Committee, and the Duma's Security Committee. The declaration says the Russian government does not recognize the annulment of the agreement since the Russian government has not ratified the decision to cancel the agreement.

The declaration calls on the Turkmen government to rescind the 22 June deadline for citizens in Turkmenistan to decide whether they want Turkmen or Russian citizenship.

Andrei Kokoshin is chairman of the Duma's committee on CIS affairs. Speaking on 19 June, Kokoshin indicated the statement is meant to "pressure" the Turkmen government into reconsidering its policies, particularly the nearing deadline. "We will work out and recommend to our government the kind of sanctions that would exert pressure on the behavior of the government of Turkmenistan."

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov pressed for the agreement's cancellation when he visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in April. Putin agreed to the cancellation, but whereas in Turkmenistan Niyazov decides all issues, in Russia canceling a bilateral agreement requires ratification by parliament. During a nationally televised press conference on 20 June, Putin indicated Russia has a different interpretation of what was signed in April. "I should say we did sign the appropriate document on canceling the dual-citizenship agreement, and right there we agreed the document would affect the citizens who at the moment of the document's signing wanted to get dual citizenship," he said. "They cannot do that anymore. It does not apply to those citizens who already have dual citizenship."

Putin said, however, that after a bilateral commission figures out the mechanics of canceling the agreement, those holding dual citizenship will have to decide whether they wish to be citizens of Russia or Turkmenistan. Until then, Putin said he has Niyazov's word that nothing serious will happen to Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan. "The Turkmen president and I discussed this question recently. He called me again yesterday [19 June], and he and I discussed this issue [canceling the dual-citizenship agreement]," Putin said. "The Turkmen president assured me that in Turkmenistan no action would be taken that would worsen the situation for Russian citizens [in Turkmenistan] until the work of a bilateral working group is completed."

Some Russian officials have estimated that as many as 100,000 Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan could be affected by the decision. The Russian press has said the move will amount to the "forced deportation" of tens of thousands of Russian citizens from Turkmenistan. Turkmen authorities have put the figure of those affected by the cancellation of the agreement at less than 50.

The Duma declaration says the Russian government considers the dual-citizenship agreement to still be in effect and says the unilateral move by Turkmenistan violates existing agreements on friendship between the two countries.

The declaration also cites "numerous instances of mass violations of human rights" in Turkmenistan after the alleged assassination attempt on Niyazov last November. The attempt prompted Niyazov to press for the cancellation of the dual-citizenship agreement after the Turkmen government claimed many of those behind the attack had dual citizenship.

The Duma declaration also calls on the Turkmen government to lift restrictions on the teaching of the Russian language at educational institutions, on broadcasting Russian federal television channels, and on the free circulation of Russian printed media. Some Russian television channels are available in Turkmenistan but are rebroadcast after a 24-hour delay to give time to Turkmen censors to review program content. The Duma also plans to appeal to the Russian government to "immediately inform the Turkmen government about these demands and insist on their full and prompt fulfillment."

The declaration also calls on Russia's Cabinet of Ministers to grant refugee status "to all persons justifiably fearing reprisals" in Turkmenistan, and asks the cabinet to create a special fund in the 2004 budget to provide aid to refugees and people forcibly exiled from Turkmenistan. The declaration recommends that Russia should work in coordination with other governments and international organizations with the goal of bringing "the necessary pressure on the government of Turkmenistan."

The Duma declaration came one day after Dmitri Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma's committee on foreign affairs, announced that Turkmenistan had been put on a list of places that Russian citizens should avoid because of the absence in Turkmenistan of "proper security." Rogozin said that list currently has more than 20 countries on it, mostly from Africa, the Persian Gulf, and South America. But, Rogozin said, "We have never had an instance when a CIS state was put on this list, but today we were forced to take this decision." (RFE/RL)