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Turkmen Report: September 11, 2002

11 September 2002
U.S. Ambassador Gives Speech On The Anniversary Of 11 September Terror Attacks

11 September 2002

U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Laura Kennedy addressed RFE/RL on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, RFE/RL Turkmen Service reported the next day.

Terrorism is a global threat to all countries despite the fact that the 11 September attacks were targeted at the United States, she said.

"Although the United States was the site of the attacks last 11 September, terrorism struck at the entire civilized world. The United States is the only one of many nations whose people have suffered from terrorist violence. Citizens from more than 90 countries were killed one year ago in the attacks," Kennedy said.

In addition, she also thanked the government and people of Turkmenistan "for their efforts in facilitating humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan." "Forty percent of all food assistance donated by the international community is routed through Turkmenistan to Afghanistan," Kennedy continued. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmen Security Chief Dismissed

11 September 2002 At a government session on 10 September, President Saparmurat Niyazov fired Colonel General Poran Berdyev from the position of chairman of the National Security Committee to which he had been appointed in March, and Interfax reported. Berdyev was named governor of Balkan Oblast. The reasons for Berdyev's demotion are unclear.

At a meeting of top law enforcement officials the same day, Niyazov signed a decree transforming the National Security Committee into the National Security Ministry, and appointed to head it Colonel Batyr Busakov, who served as deputy head of the presidential guard before being named several months ago as deputy interior minister with responsibility for special assignments. National Security Committee First Deputy Chairman Geldymukhamed Ashirmukhamedov was named first deputy interior minister.

Also on 10 September, reported that Niyazov has posthumously rehabilitated five men who died at the hands of the previous, disgraced National Security Committee leadership. (Interfax,

NATO Seminar On Civil Defense Begins In Ashgabat

10 September 2002

NATO's regional seminar on the planning of civil defense and civilian-military cooperation began in Ashgabat on 10 September under NATO's Partnership for Peace program and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership program, Interfax reported.

The seminar was organized by the Turkmen Defense Ministry jointly with NATO's civil-defense planning division and supreme command in Europe, and is being attended by civil-defense experts from Turkmenistan, the U.S., Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. The participants will study the main principles of civilian-military cooperation from 10-14 September.

"Experience shows that it's a lot easier to ward off a threat than to deal with its consequences. Turkmenistan is taking all necessary measures to create a system that will defend the population and its territory from emergencies," President Niyazov told the seminar. (Interfax)

Turkish Company To Build Water-Purification Plant in Turkmenabat

10 September 2002

The Turkish Polimex company has started the construction of a $20 million water-purification plant in the eastern Turkmen city of Turkmenabat, Interfax reported on 10 September, citing an official in the Lebapagyzsuv water-supply company.

The project will be financed by the Turkmen government, which paid the contractor 20 percent of the contract value in advance.

The plant will process 150,000 cubic meters of water per day. This will be sufficient for the 230,000 people of the city and its suburbs. The construction is expected to be completed in February 2004. (Interfax)

Ukraine May Re-Export Turkmen Gas To Europe

10 September 2002

By Michael Lelyveld

Ukraine may be testing the limits of its energy relations with Russia by planning to export gas from Turkmenistan to Europe next year.

Speaking on 5 September in Kyiv, the head of the state oil and gas utility Naftohaz Ukrayiny told reporters the company plans to export "surplus" gas from Turkmenistan to Europe in 2003, Reuters reported. Yuriy Boyko said: "We expect a gas surplus of about 6 billion cubic meters [bcm] by the end of the year. It is Turkmen gas. This gas surplus will be sold onto foreign markets next year, and it will help improve the financial situation." According to Reuters, the term "situation" refers to Ukraine's unsettled debt of $1.4 billion to Russia for previous gas supplies.

But the plan to re-export Turkmen gas may raise several issues at once in relations with Russia.

First, Moscow has effectively barred Turkmenistan from exporting gas to Europe since 1993. Ukraine's plan could reopen that door. Although Turkmenistan once enjoyed relative prosperity from the hard-currency income of direct exports, Russia claimed control of the former Soviet gas-transit system years ago, saying it was needed for Russia's own trade. After that, Moscow steered Turkmenistan's gas toward debtor nations like Georgia and Ukraine.

A return to the profitable European energy markets has been one of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's top goals. But in the intervening years, Turkmenistan has changed the way it does business with its biggest commodity. Frustrated by Russia's restrictions and profits from transport, the country now sells gas at its border instead of the destination. Ukraine has become the country's biggest customer in a deal that lets Kyiv pay for half the gas in goods and services at less than full cost.

Ukraine may profit by selling the gas, although the plan may mean no new income for Ashgabat. But Russia may still take a dim view of the export competition in Europe, which gets one-fourth of its gas from the Russian monopoly Gazprom. Russia still controls the pipelines to Ukraine and could make transport for such a trade so costly that both Kyiv and Ashgabat would lose.

A second problem is that re-exports are touchy for Russia because of past experience. Ukraine admitted two years ago that it had diverted some of Gazprom's gas from transit pipelines to Europe and sold it on the spot market. Gazprom had already complained about diversions for years, but officials became furious when they found out that Ukrainian traders were actually undercutting Russian gas prices on the spot market in Europe using diverted transit gas.

Ukraine agreed to stop the practice and initially slapped an export tariff of $140 per thousand cubic meters on its gas exports to prevent it. The question of re-exports now appears confused.

According to Platts Global Energy news service, an accord signed in June 2000 prohibited Naftohaz Ukrayiny from re-exporting without Gazprom's consent. But in October 2001, "The Moscow Times" reported that Ukraine was not barred from re-exporting under a debt-restructuring deal. Another version reported by Interfax quoted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as saying that Ukraine would not re-export until it had a "sufficient reserve."

Whatever the legalities are, Boyko seemed to show sensitivity to Gazprom's concerns by stressing that Ukraine would only re-export a surplus consisting of Turkmen gas, not Russian fuel. Russia is still a major gas source for Ukraine, which buys some supplies and collects more as a transit fee. The reselling could reignite the argument with Gazprom and return negotiations to the conflict of two years ago.

A third issue is whether Boyko's announcement represents a new plan for paying Ukraine's $1.4 billion debt. Last October, Naftohaz Ukrayiny agreed to issue bonds as part of the debt-restructuring plan. But Gazprom has held up the transfer for the past 11 months after discovering that it would owe $700 million in tax to the Russian government.

Boyko may have been offering the re-export plan as a new way to pay Gazprom in spite of the impasse, but he may also have been seeking profits that have nothing to do with the debt. At the same time, an agreement in June to form an international consortium with Russia to manage Ukraine's pipelines also appears to be at a standstill. Ukraine has insisted on retaining majority control, leaving the two countries at odds.

It is questionable whether any of the agreements can be implemented without the others in the long disputes over transit, access, and debt. The re-export plan could prove to be a new complication rather than a solution to problems that have already taken years to resolve. (RFE/RL)

With 'Rukhnama,' Turkmenbashi Adds Title Of Spiritual Leader To His Resume

9 September 2002

By Zamira Eshanova

For many people throughout the world, it is currently the month of September. But in Turkmenistan, it is Rukhnama, a month named in honor of the latest creation of the country's president for life, Saparmurat Niyazov: a 500-plus-page book entitled "Rukhnama: Reflections on the Spiritual Values of the Turkmen."

When it comes to augmenting his list of personal accomplishments, the Turkmen leader appears tireless. Niyazov recently upgraded his title from Turkmenbashi -- literally, "Father of all Turkmen" -- to Turkmenbashi the Great. He has also renamed the months of the year to reflect the people and qualities he most admires, including his mother, the flag, independence -- and himself.

Now, with the publication of "Rukhnama," Niyazov appears intent on dominating the country's spiritual and literary life as well. The book has been promoted as the single most important source for spiritual growth in Turkmenistan. Bookstores have cleared their shelves to make way for the presidential opus, and television and newspaper reports have likened the work to the Koran, and its author to God's messenger.

Niyazov himself appears no less in awe of "Rukhnama's" spiritual import. In one passage from "Rukhnama," he describes how he was visited by the spirit of a legendary Turkmen hero, Gorogly, who called on him to lead the country to spiritual greatness: "The soul of Gorogly said [to me]: 'The nation that travels a straight road is happy. The happiness of the nation is the basis of the brave preservation of the country and the territory. Today, the happiness of your nation is in your hands. Saparmurat, show the way of the golden life to the Turkmen nation. This will be your task; this will be your way.'"

This grandiose claim may sound laughable to outsiders, but for Turkmens it is anything but. "Rukhnama" has become required reading at all of the country's schools, universities, and research centers. Citizens must now demonstrate sufficient understanding of the book in order to receive documents and licenses. In many ways, knowledge of "Rukhnama" has become as important as carrying one's identification card.

Mohammad Berdiev is a Turkmen historian and ethnosociologist who currently lives in Moscow. He said many outsiders look at Turkmenistan, with its innumerable statues and shrines to Turkmenbashi, as the Disneyland of Central Asia. But beyond the eccentric spectacle of Niyazov's leadership, Berdiev said, the intellectual and spiritual lives of millions of Turkmen are being subjected to cruel ideological manipulation. "This is a purposeful ideological action. Niyazov has usurped all political power [in the country]; he became Turkmenbashi and then he became president for life. He usurped the economy of the country; most of the country's revenue goes directly into his pocket. Now he wants to usurp people's minds. That's why 'Rukhnama' has appeared," Berdiev said.

In "Rukhnama," Niyazov also usurps world history, taking many of world's most seminal moments and recasting them as Turkmen history. He also takes a creative approach in retelling Turkmenistan's recent history, altering events that many Turkmen lived through and still remember, including the fact that he opposed the collapse of the Soviet Union and was among the last of the former Soviet leaders finally, grudgingly, to declare independence.

In "Rukhnama," Niyazov instead fashions himself as the bold founder of independent Turkmenistan. In the book's English-language edition, the year when Turkmenistan declared independence is omitted, making it appear as though the country became independent a year earlier than it did. "On 22 August 1990, I made a declaration that we would establish Turkmenistan as an independent, sovereign, stable state. Dear Turkmens, it was the moment in history that our ancestors had longed for. At that time, together with my colleagues, it was necessary for me to work day and night, without tiring, to establish an independent state, and troubles were not able to deter me. On 26 October [the year 1991 is omitted in the English version], we called a convention of the Turkmenistan High Council and we explicitly and definitively declared the independence of the State of Turkmenistan," the book reads.

Writing books on spiritual guidance is not a new phenomenon in Central Asia. Throughout history, most of the region's rulers either came to power as poets or went on to author poetic or philosophical works.

Tamerlane (Temur the lame), who built a powerful 14th-century empire stretching from the Black Sea to the upper Ganges, was the author of the famous "Code of Temur," which laid out key principles of state management.

Tamerlane's descendant, Mohammad Babur, who went on to found the so-called Great Mogol Empire in India in the 16th century, is considered one of the region's greatest poets. His autobiography "Baburnama," is still considered a literary and historical masterpiece.

Berdiev said it is this historical tradition, combined with the superstitious mentality typical of Central Asians, that paved the way for Niyazov's self-appointment as spiritual leader of the Turkmens. "As an ethnosociologist, I can say that the people of Central Asia tend to have a mythologized conscience. These people, by their tradition, believe more in legends than in science. 'Rukhnama,' from beginning to end, consists of legends and story. There is nothing based on research or real facts," Berdiev said.

But if, by writing "Rukhnama," Niyazov is looking to put himself in the historical ranks of great leaders like Tamerlane and Babur, he is also nodding to a more recent tradition. Soviet leaders, inspired by the founders of communism -- Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin -- were zealous writers in their own right, churning out volumes of socialist-realist and Marxist philosophical works.

Niyazov is not the only former communist leader of Central Asia to keep this tradition alive. This month, Uzbek President Islam Karimov published his 10th volume of speeches; his books are also mandatory reading at the country's schools and universities. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, together with their wives, have both written several books that are also compulsory reading for students. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov has also authored a book on the history of the Tajik people.

What sets Niyazov's literary efforts apart, however, is that "Rukhnama" is the only book to present itself as a spiritual guide, and Niyazov is the only president to lay claim to the additional title of spiritual leader. Berdiev offered an explanation. "Here we have another factor in action, the intellectual level of the former communist first secretaries that we inherited from the Soviet period. The presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as state figures, appear to be cleverer than Niyazov. If they wanted, someone could have written a book as stupid [as "Rukhnama"] for them and they could have just signed their name. But so far, they haven't let themselves sink as low in clownery as Niyazov has," Berdiev said.

But Yurii Byalyi of the Experimental Creative Center, a Moscow-based foundation, said "Rukhnama" and other products of Niyazov's whimsy are not the result of a low intellect. To the contrary, he said, Niyazov is a skillful manipulator of Turkmens looking to get back to essential Central Asian traditions after years under Russian and communist influence. "I would not disparage [Niyazov], and I would not demonize his so-called primitivism. He is far from being primitive. This is an experienced politician, in a very Asian way, which is unusual for those with a European mindset, who find most of his actions, like those of many Asian politicians, incomprehensible. But in Turkmenistan, in this Asian society that has started to return or has returned to its archaic, tribal code of existence, he is, to some extent, in the right place," Byalyi said.

But some question whether Niyazov's megalomania is truly in the interest of Turkmens in search of restoring tribal traditions. Mohammad Solih, a renowned Uzbek poet who has since become a well-known member of Central Asia's political opposition, said that unlimited power is dangerous for any individual and capable of degrading the intellectual and spiritual well-being of not only the ruler but his nation as well.

Solih recalled a time-honored tradition of the Ottoman Empire, in which the sultan, during public appearances, walked several steps behind a man whose responsibility it was to shout out warnings to the leader to remain humble, and that despite his greatness, there was still a higher power to whom he must answer.

Solih said this mechanism kept sultans from becoming overly arrogant and abusive of their otherwise unchallenged power. In an absolute monarchy, it was the one effective way of keeping a quasi-balance of powers. But now, Solih said, some Central Asian leaders operate without even these modest restraints. "Today, there are no such mechanisms, either in Turkmenistan or in Uzbekistan. In such conditions, if Karimov's or Turkmenbashi's arrogance appear to have reached a pathological degree, it would be logical to look for a reason not only in their characters, but in the environment in which they live. Laudation is a simple microbe. In normal conditions, it may be harmless. But microbes may become a dangerous enemy in bodies that have lost their immune system. Metaphorically, to rationally consider ideas that are opposed to yours and to look at your own actions with a critical eye is like the immune system for modern states. We can say that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are sociopolitical bodies with damaged immune systems," Solih said.

Solih said that with no "immune system" or proper control mechanism, life in Turkmenistan may grow even more subject to the whims of Niyazov. But Turkmenbashi, who at 62 is rumored to be looking ahead to the end of his career as the political and spiritual leader of Turkmenistan, may see his literary accomplishments -- like those of many Soviet leaders before him -- ridiculed and ultimately forgotten. (RFE/RL)