1 December 2003
Russia Considering Measures Against Turkmenistan
29 November 2003
The Russian Foreign Ministry is drafting a list of possible measures to be taken against Turkmenistan after the Turkmen government restricted operations at Russia's Embassy in Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 November. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Fedotov said on 28 November that "in diplomacy, everything is reciprocal, so we intend to fully realize this principle."
Turkmenistan unilaterally canceled a dual-citizenship agreement with Russia earlier this year, raising the possibility that tens of thousands of ethnic Russians and non-Turkmen Russian speakers would suddenly move to Russia. Fedotov said some 200 Russian notes sent to Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry this year have yet to be answered. Fedotov said Russian diplomats are not able to travel in Turkmenistan without special permits, which reduces the effectiveness of the mission's operations. Fedotov also said the Turkmen government was to blame for the postponement of a second meeting of the Russian-Turkmen commission on citizenship issues. (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmen President Appoints New Security, Border-Guard Chiefs
28 November 2003
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has appointed a new minister of national security and a new border-guard chief, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. In a decree signed on 28 November, Niyazov named Annageldy Gummanov, 36, to be the new head of national security. His predecessor, Batyr Busakov, was appointed deputy chief of the State Agency for the Registration of Foreign Citizens.
Niyazov appointed Annanur Atjanov, also 36, to be the new border-guard chief. No reason was given for the changes but Niyazov regularly shuffles officials in his government. (ITAR-TASS, Interfax)
Western Democracy Is Not For Turkmenistan, Niyazov Says
26 November 2003
President Niyazov said Western democracy is not for Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 November, citing CNN. Niyazov said, "Turkmenistan intends to introduce a multiparty system by its own way, but Western democracy is not for us."
He believes that "society should be ready for both a multiparty system and the opposition. It will take time to create such a system. As we see many parties in the CIS are bought and sold, which infringes upon the authority of the state and the well-being of the people," he added. "As of today there are over 40,000 extremely wealthy people who can create political parties and form an opposition," Niyazov said.
Commenting on human rights in the republic, he said the Turkmen government is ready for dialogue with international bodies about the human rights situation in his tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic. Niyazov said his country is preparing a national report on human rights, and he said a permanent invitation remains open to experts from the UN Commission on Human Rights to visit Turkmenistan. (ITAR-TASS, CNN)
UN Committee Calls For Turkmen Compliance With Human Rights Standards
24 November 2003
A UN General Assembly committee has approved a resolution calling on Turkmenistan to end "serious and continuing human rights violations" in the country, RFE/RL reported on 24 November. The assembly's human rights committee approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 37, with 53 abstentions.
The resolution, introduced by current EU President Italy, urges compliance with the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission on ending abuses, particularly religious and political repression. It calls for the Turkmen government to work with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to facilitate visits of its high commissioner on national minorities. And it calls on the government to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as lawyers and relatives, immediate access to detained persons.
Approval by the UN committee means the resolution is likely to be passed by the whole General Assembly. Such measures are not binding but carry symbolic importance. (RFE/RL)
Niyazov's Visit To Belarus Delayed
24 November 2003
A visit by Turkmen President Niyazov to Belarus planned for 27-28 November was delayed until next year "by mutual agreement of the sides," Interfax-West reported on 24 November, citing the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
"The specific dates of the visit will be agreed by the state protocol services," ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh told Interfax.
Earlier, Turkmen Ambassador to Belarus Ilya Veldzhanov told reporters that Niyazov planned to visit the Minsk Automotive Plant, the Minsk Tractor Plant, and the Belarusian National Polytechnic Academy. Veldzhanov said Turkmenistan bought 1,050 tractors, 400 motor vehicles and buses, and 40 loaders and bulldozers worth more than $35 million from Belarus in the first half of this year. "Turkmenistan's purchases will reach $50 million this year," he said. (Interfax-West)
Turkmens Get Rare Look At Relations With U.S. -- From Both Sides
28 November 2003
By Bruce Pannier
Two separate interviews that Turkmens were able to hear during the last 10 days provided some interesting insights into the way the United States and Turkmenistan view each other and view events in Turkmenistan. One was an interview a U.S. television network did with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov several months ago, but which aired on Turkmen state television this week. The other was an interview by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service late last week with the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, Tracey Ann Jacobson.
In his interview with the U.S. network, Niyazov denied human rights are violated in Turkmenistan. As proof that no one in the country has grievances with officials over such issues, he said he himself can travel anywhere with no need of armed guards to protect him. "Here, you see, not a person has had their human rights violated. If you want, go to the bazaar, in any city. I am ready. We do not have security guards. The leaders [of the country] do not have bodyguards," Niyazov said.
But the short shrift the president gave to the human rights issue contrasted dramatically with the importance U.S. Ambassador Jacobson gave the subject in her remarks. She repeatedly referred to Ashgabat's need to make improve its human rights record.
"At the [U.S.] Embassy, we have three principle goals in Turkmenistan -- that's to promote the development of democracy and human rights, to promote economic cooperation, and to promote security cooperation. All of these goals are important to us. When we talk about economic development, we're talking about two things principally -- the development of trade and trade opportunities between our two countries because trade not only can promote prosperity, but also promotes mutual understanding. However, our goal of democracy and human rights is our most important goal. And for this reason, this is the goal that we focus on the most. We have to work on all three of these goals together, but certainly, in order to make progress on our goals of economic cooperation and security cooperation, we also need to make progress on promoting democracy and human rights," Jacobson said.
Jacobson also said she talks about human rights and democracy every time she meets with a member of the Turkmen government. One of the issues undoubtedly mentioned in these talks is use of the court system to imprison political opponents, a fact Niyazov contends is untrue, but rights organizations and exiled Turkmen opposition figures say is common practice. Niyazov has said on several occasions that there are not now, nor ever have been, people imprisoned in Turkmenistan for political reasons. In fact, Niyazov mentioned in his interview that he views Turkmenistan as something of a land of liberation. "In the last 10 years, in Turkmenistan, if we have freed 120,000 prisoners, then how are we putting people in prison? 'They' say we are throwing people in jail, but it is the opposite, we are freeing them," he said. Niyazov said the prisons only house murderers and terrorists who deserve to remain behind bars.
The president did not comment on the recent decision in Turkmenistan to reintroduce the exit visa, abolished just a few years back, without which no citizen can leave the country. That was reintroduced a few months after an alleged assassination attempt on Niyazov on 25 November 2002. He compared the visa reintroduction to stepped up security measures taken in the U.S. after the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. But Jacobson's remarks showed that Washington hardly views the visa question the same way. She said the reintroduction of the exit visa was a matter of great concern for the U.S. -- which views freedom of movement as a basic human right. She also said it is an issue that cannot be overlooked in U.S.-Turkmen relations.
"My government believes that freedom of movement is a basic human right. And we do not believe that Turkmenistan is permitting this basic human right at the current time. It doesn't matter whether you call it an exit visa, an exit permit, an external passport, if citizens of Turkmenistan are prevented form leaving the country based on political or social reasons, that's a violation of the principles of freedom of movement. Our Jackson-Vanik legislation, passed in 1974, says that we must impose sanctions on countries that do not permit freedom of movement. For that reason, we're in a discussion now, both in the United States and here in Turkmenistan, about freedom of movement," Jacobson said.
But while the two separate interviews showed some dramatic differences in official points of view, there were some areas of agreement, too. Both the Turkmen president and the U.S. ambassador said that a good relationship between their two countries is important. Jacobson noted that Turkmenistan was extremely helpful in providing corridors for humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, and Niyazov remembered the support the U.S. gave in Turkmenistan's successful quest to obtain UN status as a "neutral nation." The two countries also have potentially strong mutual economic interests in developing Turkmenistan's energy sector and exporting its oil and natural gas. The U.S. government is encouraging Turkmenistan to export via a planned pipeline across the Caucasus to Turkey.
But clearly the two sides do not interpret events in Turkmenistan the same way. Niyazov said during his interview that Western democracy was not for Turkmenistan -- a sign that relations between the U.S. and Turkmenistan are very likely to endure some future uncomfortable moments. (RFE/RL)
UN Body Presses Turkmenistan To Improve Rights Conditions
25 November 2003
By Robert McMahon
A UN General Assembly committee has approved a resolution calling on Turkmenistan to end what it calls "serious and continuing human rights violations" in the country. The assembly's human rights committee approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 37, with 53 abstentions. The main supporters of the measure were European states. Russia also voted in favor of the resolution although it normally votes against efforts to single out states for rights abuses. Approval by the UN committee means the resolution is likely to be passed by the whole General Assembly next month. Such measures are not binding but carry symbolic importance
The resolution, introduced by current EU President Italy, urges compliance with the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission on ending abuses, particularly religious and political repression. The abuses are linked to a crackdown that followed an alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov one year ago.
The rights situation has deteriorated since the commission's April resolution calling for reforms in Turkmenistan, according to an Italian UN envoy, Andrea Cavalieri. In introducing the new measure on 21 November, Cavalieri pointed to new restrictive laws on public associations and freedom of religion and religious organizations passed by the Turkmen parliament in October. Cavalieri told the committee the laws impose onerous legal requirements for organizations to acquire official registration.
"Individuals involved in a civic organization, operating without registration, face harassment, intimidation and, most disturbing of all, criminal prosecution for their peaceful activities. These laws are not in line with international standards of human rights and the international obligations of the government of Turkmenistan," Cavalieri said.
The resolution, approved yesterday, calls for the Turkmen government to work with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to facilitate further visits by its high commissioner on national minorities. It calls on the government to grant international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as lawyers and relatives, immediate access to detained persons.
Turkmenistan's UN ambassador, Aksoltan Ataeva, said her country was making progress in addressing human rights concerns and the resolution was undeserved. Ataeva told the committee yesterday that Turkmenistan has begun working with the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights and has invited UN experts to the country in January for technical assistance. It has also worked with the OSCE on various rights projects, she said.
The ambassador said Turkmenistan is willing to maintain dialogue and cooperation with international bodies on human rights issues. But the resolution, she said, was not an effective way to deal with them. "We believe that the attempt to expedite the process of democratization and transformation of a sovereign state through these methods will not produce the desired results," Ataeva said.
Most of the opposition to the measure came from Islamic states, which regularly vote against efforts to single out developing states for rights abuses. An envoy from Pakistan, Ishtiaq Andrabi, defended Turkmenistan's rights record, saying it has taken a number of concrete steps since April to work with UN rights experts. Andrabi told the committee there is a need to maintain a "conducive atmosphere" for deepening cooperation in human rights reform. "This practice [of adopting a resolution] transforms the work of this committee into an extremely political exercise rather than to advance the call of human rights," Andrabi said.
Yesterday's resolution does take note of the Turkmen government's recent contact with UN and OSCE experts. But Cavalieri, in his introductory remarks, said the government still must take significant steps to improve the rights situation. "We want the nascent dialogue between Turkmenistan and the international community, including the OSCE, to continue, and most of all, we want it to yield concrete results, like more cooperation with all the commission of human rights mechanisms and access to detainees for independent international bodies like ICRC," Andrabi said.
The resolution calls on Turkmenistan to inform the UN Human Rights Commission of the steps it has taken prior to the commission's annual meeting next March. If rights abuses continue, Turkmenistan is likely to face another critical resolution by the commission. (RFE/RL)
Interview Of U.S. Ambassador Tracey Ann Jacobson By RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
20 November 2003
People of Turkmenistan know the United States as a country that most strongly supports democracy and human rights throughout the world. But we often come across statements made by the U.S. government that say that the United States "wants to develop economic relations with the government of Turkmenistan." How should this be understood?
Tracey Ann Jacobson:
Our embassy has three principal goals in Turkmenistan: to promote the development of democracy and human rights, to promote economic cooperation, and to promote security cooperation. All of these goals are important to us. When we talk about economic development, we're basically talking about two things: The development of trade and trade opportunities between our two countries, because trade not only can promote prosperity; it also promotes mutual understanding. When we talk about economic development, we're also talking about prosperity for the people of Turkmenistan, because prosperity leads to stability.
Security cooperation is also important, particularly the fact that Turkmenistan has joined the international coalition against terrorism. However, our goal of democracy and human rights is our most important goal and for this reason this is the goal that we focus on the most. We have to work on all three of these goals together. But, certainly, in order to make progress in our goals of economic cooperation and security cooperation, we also need to make progress in promoting democracy and human rights.
Recently, the U.S. ambassador at the OSCE said, "We will not close our eyes to human rights issues in Turkmenistan, even though in other areas of cooperation there can be very productive relations." How should his words be understood? Does it mean that there is going to be a new approach in the U.S. position or policy regarding Turkmenistan?
What Ambassador Minikes had in mind was that our promotion of democracy and human rights is our most important goal and that we will not sacrifice that goal to achieve any other goals. For example, some people have suggested to me that the United States has good export opportunities in Turkmenistan and so we shouldn't worry about human rights and democracy. But this is not our approach. Our approach is to promote the free and full participation of all members of society in the development of their community and of their country. For this reason, what Ambassador Minikes said does not represent a change in policy. It represents our consistent policy of promoting full democracy and respect for human rights in Turkmenistan.
How can the United States influence the improvement of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan?
The United States government seeks to work with the government of Turkmenistan and the people of Turkmenistan to promote human rights. On every occasion that I have to speak with a member of the government of Turkmenistan, we discuss this issue.
We [the U.S. government] follow developments in Turkmenistan very closely -- for example, the new laws on public associations and religious associations. And when we see something that we feel violates international human rights standards, we immediately discuss it with the government of Turkmenistan. We also are very active in international organizations, such as the United Nations and the OSCE. Because we believe that a common approach in cooperation with Turkmenistan is the way to achieve future results.
How would you evaluate the level of Turkmenistan's cooperation with the U.S.-led international coalition in the fight against international terrorism in Afghanistan? Does this cooperation satisfy the U.S. government?
Turkmenistan deserves recognition for its cooperation in the international coalition against terrorism. Particularly, it deserves recognition for participating in the creation of a corridor for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. This partnership is very important not only for the international coalition against terrorism, but for the development and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan itself.
How does the reimposition of the exit-visa regime influence your relations with Turkmenistan?
My government believes that freedom of movement is a basic human right. We do not believe that Turkmenistan is permitting this basic human right at the current time. It doesn't matter whether you call it an exit visa, an exit permission, or an external passport. If citizens of Turkmenistan are prevented from leaving the country based on political or social reasons, that constitutes a violation of the principle of freedom of movement.
Our Jackson-Vanik legislation passed in 1974 says that we must impose sanctions on countries that do not permit freedom of movement. For that reason, we are in a discussion now, both in the United States and here, with the government of Turkmenistan about freedom of movement.
For what reason was the Jackson-Vanik amendment waiver granted to Turkmenistan? Why did the White House decline the recommendation, made by the U.S. Congress Commission on Religious Freedoms, to include Turkmenistan on the list of "countries of particular concern" for continued violations of the religious rights of its citizens?
The waiver to the Jackson-Vanik amendment was approved by the U.S. government in the spring of this year. At that time, exit visas had only just been reintroduced and we had assurances from the government that they would be temporary. However, we have entered a new phase. The exit visas, or exit permissions, are still in place; and people are not allowed to travel freely.
On both "countries of particular concern" and Jackson-Vanik, we are currently engaged in a process, in Washington and here in Turkmenistan, to decide the next steps, but it is clear to me that a decision on Jackson-Vanik will not be favorable unless the government of Turkmenistan takes steps to allow the free movement of its citizens out of the country should they so desire.
Regarding "countries of particular concern," the government of Turkmenistan needs to take immediate steps to allow greater religious freedom. For example, ending the harassment of religious minority groups and allowing religious groups to register. The new law on religious associations is even more draconian than the previous practice, and it concerns us greatly. I am concerned that if this law is still in place as we move into the decision on "countries of particular concern," Turkmenistan runs a very real risk of being so designated -- as a country of particular concern. This decision will be made in the spring of 2004.
In your opinion, Madame Ambassador, what is the reason for the people of Turkmenistan to like the United States and to idealize it as a democratic country? People in Central Asian countries, such as Turkmenistan, actually like America's policy more than the people in countries like Iraq. Generally, there are no anti-American protests in Central Asian countries. What do you think is the reason the United States attracts Turkmens?
I think people like America and the concept of the American ideal, because they represent freedom and opportunity. I believe that the people of Turkmenistan are patriots of their country and in that respect, they have a lot in common with the citizens of America, who are patriots of their country.
I have had an opportunity to meet many people in Turkmenistan. It seems to me that they have a lot of intelligence, a lot of energy, and a lot of good will. The people in Turkmenistan want to work hard, to the best of their ability, and to the best of their effort, to improve conditions for their families, their communities, and their country. In order to achieve true stability and true prosperity, any country must allow and encourage the free participation of all members of society and the responsibility of all members of society to do their best to improve their community. I think America represents this idea. I think people who travel to America will see many people who are working hard in different directions to do the best that they can to achieve prosperity for their community. People in Turkmenistan want the same thing. For that reason, I think that we have a natural affinity and a natural friendship, and that we have good opportunities to cooperate in the future.
What is the reason for the U.S. government's strong emphasis on educational programs in Turkmenistan?
I would say that this emphasis on education is not only in Turkmenistan, but throughout the world. We in America realize that the future of any country and the future of the world lies in the next generation. For this reason education is particularly important.
I have said in the past that Turkmenistan has many natural resources, but the most important of these is its people. In order to fully achieve the potential of Turkmenistan's resources, a strong education system is necessary. We also promote education, because the United States is a big fan of educational exchanges. Educational exchanges provide opportunities for people to gain perspectives on another language, another culture, another country. They also promote mutual understanding and offer stronger possibilities for future cooperation.
When we have students from Turkmenistan go to the United States, it gives people in America a better opportunity to learn about Turkmenistan, its rich history and culture. Those students will come back to Turkmenistan with a greater familiarity with the United States, its values and culture. This helps increase mutual understanding for both nations.
I am also particularly proud that Secretary [of State Colin] Powell hosted an Iftar dinner on 5 November of this year. He decided that he wanted to fill his table with young people. So at his Iftar dinner, he sat with exchange students from various countries throughout the world. I have a wonderful picture of this event. The most impressive part of the event was that the person sitting immediately to the right of our secretary of state was a Turkmen girl, an exchange student who currently attends high school in the United States. What a wonderful opportunity for a citizen of Turkmenistan to sit next to the secretary of state of the United States during an Iftar dinner and explain to him the culture, the religion, the customs of the people of Turkmenistan. Through educational exchanges we can build this mutual understanding and the basis for cooperation.
Madame Ambassador, within a short period of time in Turkmenistan, you have already traveled to Turkmenbashi, Dashoguz, Gokdepe, Tejen, Baharly, and Mary. What was the purpose of those trips and what do you think you have achieved during your three months in Turkmenistan?
When I first arrived in Turkmenistan, I set a goal of visiting every corner of the country. My goal for this year, before the end of 2003, is to visit every welayat at least once. Next month, we hope to travel to Turkmenabat. Then we will have achieved that goal. In every city and every village and every etrap that I visited, I have met with community leaders, alumni from our exchange programs, and representatives of the government of Turkmenistan.
I think it is important for an ambassador or for any diplomat to meet people both in the capital and outside of the capital in order to learn about local achievements and challenges and define all possible methods for future cooperation. For this reason, I'm traveling as much as I can. I really enjoy it. It has been a fantastic opportunity to see your beautiful country here in Turkmenistan and to meet the wonderful people that are scattered throughout the country, who are working hard to improve their communities.
Madame Ambassador, thank you very much for your interview for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service.
My husband and I are thrilled to be here. Turkmenistan is a wonderful, beautiful country, and we still feel the warm hospitality from all the people of Turkmenistan. I hope that over the next three years of my stay here, we will have many more opportunities to meet, to exchange views and to cooperate together.
I would like to read a message from President Bush: "On behalf of the American people, I extend my best wishes on the occasion of Oraza Bairam. This is an important holiday for Muslims around the globe, and we wish all the best to the Turkmen people, both Muslims and non-Muslims. May the friendship between our peoples continue to grow in the next year." As American ambassador, I would also like to extend the best wishes from my embassy to the people of Turkmenistan. Thank you very much. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)