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Turkmen Report: July 22, 2003

22 July 2003
Turkmenistan Accuses Former Envoy Of Role In Alleged Coup
18 July 2003

Turkmen officials on 18 July alleged that Turkmenistan's former ambassador to Britain was involved in an attempt to overthrow President Saparmurat Niyazov last year, AFP reported the same day. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that former Ambassador Chary Babaev participated in the alleged 25 November 2002 assassination attempt on Niyazov. Babaev abandoned his London post earlier this year and the ministry said that opposition groups believe he is in hiding. The ministry said no criminal case has been filed against him. Rights groups say the assassination attempt was staged as a means to justify a crackdown on the opposition. Hundreds of people, including two former foreign ministers, were rounded up following the incident. The accusation against Babaev was included in a Foreign Ministry statement rejecting reports that Turkmenistan's ambassador to Armenia has defected. (AFP)

Turkmenistan Gathers Record Grain Harvest...Again
18 July 2003

Turkmenistan's Agricultural Ministry reported on 18 July that the country has met its target of harvesting 2.5 million tons of grain this year, setting another new record, RTR reported the same day. It was the sixth straight year that Turkmenistan reported a record harvest. No independent confirmation has been possible of any of the agricultural figures provided by the Turkmen government and there have been suspicions that the figures do not correspond to the real harvest. Turkmenistan started reporting record harvests after 1997, a year when all five provinces failed to meet grain quotas set by the government. The agricultural minister, officials from the Agricultural Ministry, local agricultural officials, and provincial governors were fired in 1997 for their failure to meet government targets. Since then Turkmenistan reported gathering 1.2 million tons of grain in 1998, 1.5 million tons in 1999, 1.7 million tons in 2000, 2 million tons in 2001, and 2.3 million tons in 2002, despite the fact that only about 3.5 percent of the desert country's land is arable. (RTR)

Turkmenistan Denies Defection Of Ambassador
17 July 2003

Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry on 17 July denied the country's ambassador to Armenia has defected from his post, AP reported the same day. A ministry statement says the diplomat, Toyli Kurbanov, asked President Niyazov to be freed from his post because of his "desire to continue his education and study science." The statement says Niyazov complied with Kurbanov's request, and the ambassador has pledged to "further devote himself to the prosperity of Turkmenistan." On 16 July, a source close to the Turkmen Embassy in Armenia told RFE/RL that Kurbanov left a note in the embassy, saying that he refuses to work as an ambassador and he is not going to return to Turkmenistan. Kurbanov is the fifth Turkmen ambassador to defect, rather than return to Turkmenistan, since 2001. (AP)

U.S. Gives Asylum To Turkmen Diplomat
17 July 2003

Ambassador Kurbanov has received asylum in the United States, Interfax reported on 17 July, citing the Turkmen Embassy in Yerevan. An embassy spokesman said the Turkmen government is currently looking for a replacement for 32-year-old Kurbanov, whose family has also been given asylum in the U.S. Even a charge d'affaires has not yet been appointed, the spokesman said. An Armenian Foreign Ministry source said the emigration of Kurbanov and his family to the United States "has nothing to do with his diplomatic work in Armenia." (Interfax)

Turkmen State TV Gets New Head
16 July 2003

President Niyazov has reorganized the management of the country's state-television system and has appointed a pediatrician, Gurbansoltan Handurdyeva, to head it, and reported on 16 July. Perennially dissatisfied with Turkmen television offerings that are "uninteresting" and concentrate overwhelmingly on the doings of the president, Niyazov experimented for about a year with three "independent" television channels, each with its own head but without a single overall manager. This system was supposed to improve performance by means of competition for viewers. Handurdyeva served for a year as a deputy prime minister responsible for culture, tourism, and sports before being appointed the overseer of state television. Before that she reportedly worked as a pediatrician for 20 years. In announcing the reorganization to a regular cabinet meeting, Niyazov once again attacked state television as unprofessional and for not contributing to the "upbringing of future generations of Turkmen citizens in the spirit of love for their homeland and devotion to the traditions of their ancestors." Niyazov also fined his press secretary, Akmurad Hudaiberdyev, two months pay for failing to exercise sufficiently strong control over state television. (,

Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan Agree On Dividing Caspian Sea
16 July 2003

Kazakhstan on 16 July said Kazakh and Turkmen officials have reached a preliminary agreement on how to delineate their mutual border on the Caspian Sea, AFP reported the same day. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Kazakh and Turkmen negotiators on 16 July laid the basis for an agreement between the two countries, agreeing on further trilateral talks with Azerbaijan. An agreement on dividing the resource-rich Caspian is seen as necessary to attract Western investment in the Caspian's oil sector. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia have already agreed on how to divide the northern section of the sea, although Russia has not yet ratified the deal. Iran has insisted on an equal division between the five Caspian countries. (AFP)

ICG Reports Warn Repression Of Islam Will Further Destabilize Central Asia
14 July 2003

By Charles Carlson

Two reports recently published by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Belgian-based organization specializing in global conflict resolution and monitoring, advise Central Asian governments to re-examine the policies toward Islam and rely less on repression, which, the authors predict, will only fuel destabilization.

The reports include detailed recommendations to Central Asian countries and the West on the need to differentiate clearly between radical and moderate Islam. The report, titled "Central Asia: Islam and the State," takes a broader view of the historical role of Islam in Central Asia and the varying forms the Islamic revival has taken in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

The report says, "While each country has imposed different degrees of repression, all have sought to control any appearance of political Islam, whether moderate or extreme, and all have sought to use Islam as a tool of the state." The report offers a country-by-country breakdown of government action taken against Islamic groups. In Uzbekistan, it says, "restrictions [on Islam] have pushed religious teaching underground...provoking widespread discontent and fuelling political Islam as a focus for opposition."

In Tajikistan, "the role of Islam in state-building was a contributory factor to the outbreak of civil war in 1992." In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, "non-traditional Muslim tendencies have appeared, and there is a debate over the role of religion in society and in politics." In south Kyrgyzstan and southern Kazakhstan, "the growth in influence of groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir has sometimes been exaggerated, but they do have a committed following."

And in Turkmenistan, "Islam has only weak roots, but President [Saparmurat] Niyazov has combined widespread repression of any religious activity with attempts to create a pseudo-Islamic spiritual creed centered on his own personality." The report concludes by advising the leaders of the five Central Asian countries not to overreact to manifestations of religious belief and to step back from indiscriminate reprisals which could prove counterproductive.

"Undifferentiated repression of religious activism is likely to lead to more radicalization rather than less," the ICG's Central Asian project director, David Lewis, warns in the first report.

Repression in these countries has provoked "widespread discontent and fueled political Islam as a focus for opposition," ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer wrote in the media release preceding the reports.

The second ICG report, "Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir," focuses more narrowly on the Islamic party, which it estimates has recruited thousands of supporters across Central Asia since the mid-1990s. While not advocating or resorting to violence, Hizb ut-Tahrir nevertheless advocates the overthrow of governments throughout the Muslim world and their replacement by an Islamic state "in the form of a recreated caliphate." The ICG describes Hizb ut-Tahrir as the largest radical Islamic movement in Central Asia, with an estimated 15,000-20,000 members, mostly in Uzbekistan but also in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

The report characterizes Hizb ut-Tahrir as a political party rather than a religious organization aimed at bringing all Muslim lands under Islamic rule and establishing a caliphate where Islamic law -- Sharia -- is applied. It stresses that there is no evidence to substantiate claims by regional governments that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been involved in terrorist activities.

The report concludes that wider policies of repression by governments in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, may have contributed to the growth and radicalization of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The lack of alternative forms of political opposition in these countries, it feels, may attract new members into the party, especially among the youth. But at the same time, Central Asia project direct Lewis said he doubts that Hizb ut-Tahrir will abandon its self-imposed rejection of violence.

"I think in Uzbekistan there is a chance that some group within them could emerge that would argue that the present tactics are not working and they will become impatient and frustrated. So far, there is no sign that they will change their tactics. There is no evidence that they will move on, and you've got to remember they suffered a enormous amount from suppression of the Uzbek government and that hasn't yet forced them to change their mind," Lewis said.

Both reports appeal to the international community to encourage Central Asian governments not to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir but to take urgent measures to "change the environment" in which it thrives. The reports say that "closed political systems, lack of freedom of speech, lack of economic progress, and unreformed and brutal security services all contribute to the growth of radical opposition groups."

Lewis admits there are few prospects that Hizb ut-Tahrir will eventually participate in political life, given that its members reject the existing political system of the countries in which they live. This is particularly true for Uzbekistan, Lewis said, where there are no legal opposition parties at all, either secular or religious. Lewis also said that many Hizb ut-Tahrir members are not particularly religious, but are attracted to the party because it is the only vehicle for expressing their discontent with the existing political system.

But French scholar Olivier Roy pointed out that there is a precedent for a Central Asian government embarking on talks on power sharing with an Islamic party. Such a power-sharing agreement was one of the components of the agreement that ended the Tajik civil war in 1997.

Roy noted that the ICG report suggests that the Uzbek government could diminish some of the appeal of Hizb ut-Tahrir by promoting political liberalization. "The report concludes that the best way to deprive the Hizb ut-Tahrir of its basis, especially its appeal for the youth in Uzbekistan, is also to amend the political scene and to improve democracy in the whole area, especially in Uzbekistan," Roy said.

Lewis also highlighted the varying approaches among the Central Asian states as to how to deal with the threat posed by movements such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. "I think in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan there is some openness among officials to new ideas, to alternative ways of struggling with the Hizb ut-Tahrir. I think in Uzbekistan at the moment there is a deafness among officials to alternative policies, not just in the religion sphere, but in all aspects of government policy. But there are people close to the government in Uzbekistan who understand that this policy is self-defeating in the long term. But unfortunately at the moment they don't have the influence to put their policies in place," Lewis said.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)