25 January 2001
NATIONAL AND REGIONAL NEWS
Double-Lock the Door
January 24, 2001Turkmenistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has imminent plans to make it harder to obtain entry visas and exit permits. At a recent session of the State Council Niyazov charged that MFA staffers had been involved in corruption and lost control over foreigners that overstayed their welcome, necessitating that they be tracked down by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, KNB, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and border guards service. The new director of the consulate services department, Serdar Jagishev, has been simultaneously been appointed to Turkmenistan's National Security Committee by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. (Turkmenistan.ru)
False Modesty or Epiphany?
January 24, 2001In remarks connected with the planned mid-February joint session of the People's Council and Elders Congress, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov criticized his own omnipresence in the country's cultural life, specifically noting that concert and entertainment programs "make me ashamed�by singing only about Turkmenbashi." He went on to ask that his logo image be pulled from TV programs. Niyazov also gave clear marching orders to concentrate less on the president's name and more on unspecified "critical material. " (Turkmen TV)
Chief Forecaster's Salary Slashed
January 24, 2001In accordance with a presidential resolution, the head of Turkmenistan's National Hydrometeorology Committee, Sukhanberdi Bayramov, has had his salary slashed by 50% for failing to provide reliable weather forecasts. (Turkmen TV)
Turkmen Industrial Output
January 23, 2001Turkmen industrial output rose by 29% in 2000 on the year prior, according to the republic's National Institute for State Statistics and Information. The state body attributed this growth to a 42% increase in labor productivity, despite a 3% fall in the number of employees at industrial enterprises. Growth was led y the natural gas industry, which grew by 220%, followed by light industry, with 115%. Extractive industries accounts for 59% of overall industrial output. (Turkmenistan.ru)
The Face of Turkmen Entrepreneurs
January 22, 2001According to a survey conducted by Turkmenistan's National Institute of State of Statistics and Information, 50% of those heading private companies in the republic is between the ages of 30 and 44, 88% are men, and 61% have completed higher education. Of the private companies set up, 93% were done so with the entrepreneur's own capital. The overwhelming majority, 76%, are former state workers, with the remainder largely associated with farmer's associations. (Turkmen State News Service)
Petroleum Product Export
January 22, 2001According to the National Institute for State Statistics and Information, Turkmenistan exported petroleum products worth $500 million in 2000. (Turkmenistan.ru)
New Turkmen Ambassador to US
January 22, 2001Meret Bayramovich Orazov has been appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Turkmenistan to the US, in accordance with a resolution signed by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Orazov was formerly Foreign Economic Relations Minister. (Turkmen TV)
Nazarbayev, Niyazov Chat
January 22, 2001During a telephone conversation, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov invited his Kazak counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev to attend a planned summit of the Caspian Sea littoral states to be held in Turkmenbashi, in early March. Nazarbayev accepted the invitation and reportedly invited Niyazov to undertake an official visit to his country at an unspecified date, which the Turkmen leader agreed to do in principal. (Itar-Tass/ Turkmen TV)
Rome Meeting on Afghan Crisis Ends
January 23, 2001A two-day meeting convened by Afghanistan's former king Mohammad Zahir Shah was held in Rome to discuss organizing a Loya Jirga, or Grand National Assembly, as a first step toward bringing peace to the country. Some 30 individuals, including Sibgatullah Khan Mojaddadi, the former president of Islamic State of Afghanistan and Pir Said Mohammed Gilani, leader of a Mujahadin group, and representatives of ethnic and religious groups from Afghanistan dwelling in Turkey and Pakistan at present, participated in the latest meeting. A similar gathering was held six months ago in Rome, where Zahir Shah resides. Discussions focused on current situation in Afghanistan and organizing a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan itself, optimistically in the next six months. Since the last gathering in Rome a delegation was sent to Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan; a delegation was scheduled to leave for Turkmenistan on January 24 to confer with officials there. Zalmai Rassoul, private secretary of ex-Afghan King Mohammed Zahir, praised Turkmenistan for its "very good stance toward Afghanistan." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - See Features and Analyses below)
Georgian Debts to Turkmenistan
January 19, 2001As of September 30, 2000, Georgia's external debts total $1.5 billion, of which Turkmenistan is owed $342.8 million. The Georgian debt to Turkmenistan appears to be principal and penalties on gas deliveries dating from 1993-1995. (Turkmenistan.ru/Prime News)
FEATURES AND ANALYSES
Turkmenistan Crushes Religious Minorities
January 25, 2001By Felix Corley, Keston News Service editor
Their faith may be the only thing sustaining Christians in Turkmenistan this year, a community which--with the exception of 12 Russian Orthodox parishes - has now been almost completely crushed.
All other Christian groups there have had their legal status revoked since 1997, when all the country's religious communities were barred from retaining legal status under harsh amendments to the religion law, except for Muslim communities aligned with the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox.
In 1999 the authorities in the capital Ashgabat spent a week destroying the newly-built Adventist church with bulldozers while Western ambassadors looked on helplessly. To this day a pile of rubble is all that remains. Officials insisted the site was needed for a new road, but it has never been built.
This month saw a court order the confiscation of Ashgabat's Pentecostal church, a ruling its pastor Viktor Makrousov is now desperately challenging.
The Turkmen authorities have done nothing to mask their policy of destroying the country's religious minorities, at least from the locals (they have consistently refused to justify their policy to outsiders). When raiding the Ashgabat Baptist church in 1999, one of the Committee for National Security (KNB, formerly KGB) officers openly announced, "First, we'll deport all foreign missionaries, then we'll strangle the remaining Christians in the country."
During a raid in December 1999 on the home of Vyacheslav Shulgin, a Baptist in Mary, senior lieutenant Davlet Yazykuliev of the Mary KNB told him: "We will hang you." Shulgin and his family escaped this fate: they were instead deported to Russia.
This past year saw the Turkmen authorities complete their self-imposed task of expelling all foreigners known to have been engaged in religious activity. Hundreds of Iranian Islamic preachers and dozens of Westerners (mainly Protestants) were forced to leave the country, as well as numerous citizens of other CIS states. In August 1999 the Hare Krishna leader Aleksandr Prinkur was expelled to Uzbekistan, while in December of that year Ramil Galimov, a member of a Jehovah's Witness group in Kyzyl-arbat who held dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship, was summarily deported. Six Baptist missionary families were deported between December 1999 and May 2000, mostly to Russia.
With the expulsions completed, the Turkmen authorities are close to completing their second goal: crushing all religious minority activity. Two believers are known to be serving four-year prison terms for their faith - Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist, and Yazmammed Annamamedov, a Jehovah's Witness. Several Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are also imprisoned.
Those isolated believers who remain live in a state of fear. Believers of many faiths have been expelled from their jobs, condemning them to poverty in a country where the state dominates the economy. Four Protestants, led by Pastor Shokhrat Piriev, were detained in November 2000, tortured with electric shocks and beaten. They were freed after being fined one-month's average wages and being forced to make over their homes as "gifts to President Niyazov". Piriev's home in a village near Ashgabat was seized on 9 December.
Officials at all levels - whether in the KNB, the police, local administrations or the Council for Religious Affairs - repeatedly declare that only Islam and Orthodoxy are allowed in the country, despite the fact that nowhere is this stated in law. The Turkmen constitution guarantees religious freedom, and the country has signed a range of human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a member of the OSCE it is also committed to respect human rights.
Turkmenistan's violations of religious liberty have been carefully documented by a range of institutions, including the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, Keston Institute based in Oxford, UK, and Amnesty International.
The world is beginning to take notice. OSCE chairwoman in office Benita Ferrero-Waldner called on President Saparmurat Niyazov to free Atakov when she visited Ashgabat last May, but her appeal fell on deaf ears. In December 2000, Amnesty International chose Atakov as a featured prisoner, while campaigning group Christian Solidarity's Austrian branch also focused on Turkmenistan. The World Evangelical Fellowship has also campaigned on the country. Adventists throughout Russia and Central Asia observed a day of prayer and fasting on 23 December "in response to ongoing persecution of Adventists and other religious groups in Turkmenistan".
But only pressure from the United States is likely to lead to greater success. Although in September 2000 Turkmenistan escaped being labeled one of the US State Department's "countries of particular concern," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging that Turkmenistan be designated as such. The Commission likens the Niyazov regime to Stalin's.
Many believe the illusion that the situation in the region is improving should be dispelled. "We look at the year 2000 as the decisive turning-back point - the point at which it should be clear to everyone around the world that these countries are not engaged in democratic transition," declares Cassandra Cavanaugh, a researcher on Central Asia for Human Rights Watch. "They are engaged in a transition to authoritarianism."
Some say Turkmenistan's move to authoritarianism requires drastic action, such as expulsion from the OSCE. But Gerard Stoudmann, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, argues that expelling any member for failing to meet up to its human rights commitments would not help. "You can't solve these problems by closing the door on a state's ability to participate in the Organization," he reasoned
For Turkmenistan's religious minorities, this authoritarianism has brought them to the brink of official extinction. Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran and Armenian Christians cannot legally meet. Bahais, Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews are likewise denied the right to meet to practice their faith peacefully. (RFE/RL)
January 19, 2001Bowing to kiss his hand, tribal leaders and ex-ministers of a government gone for decades paid allegiance Friday to the long-deposed King of Afghanistan, white-haired center of an aging Afghan opposition movement in exile. Loyalists in robes, turbans and fezzes and in European-cut suits clustered around 86-year-old ex-monarch Zahir Shah, who took up life in exile in Italy after his 1973 overthrow. The purpose of the two-day meeting, participants said - eventual promotion of an alternative to the Islamic Taliban that now controls 95 percent of the Central Asian country. "It's up to the people. We need to go back to the people, work to mobilize the Afghan people in a peaceful way, to have the opportunity to express their" wants, Zalmai Rassoul, private secretary to the ex-king, told reporters. Zahir Shah's 40-year reign ended with a coup by his nephew, which opened the mountain country up to three decades of conflict. The overthrow led to the eventual arrival of a communist government, the 1979 Soviet invasion and fighting among rival Islamic factions. The Taliban today runs its lion share of the country as a strict religious regime, with prayer compulsory five times a day and education and outside jobs forbidden to women. The exiles' assembly came on the same day new U.N. sanctions went into effect in Afghanistan, punishing the Taliban for failing to close suspected "terrorist" training camps and surrender suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden for trial. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, whose government sees itself as a promoter of reform in some Islamic nations, said the outside world has an interest in seeing Afghanistan change its status as an exporter of drugs and terrorism and a destabilizing regional influence. "Afghanistan today is battered, divided and impoverished, hence, the need for the commitment of the international community," Dini said. Dini welcomed the former Afghan Cabinet ministers and religious and tribal leaders - gathered from Afghanistan and points across Europe - for two days of talks in Rome. It was the third forum arranged by the king since 1999. Zahir, speaking in comments translated into French by a cousin after decades in the country, thanked Dini for Italy's role as host to the assembly and himself. Participants said their hope was the eventual convening of a traditional Grand Assembly of Afghan leaders in the Afghan capital of Kabul - a move currently out of the question under the Taliban. The exile figures said they were in contact with both the Taliban and with the opposition alliance in control of the tiny remainder of the country. Rassoul and others spoke of opening up a "humanitarian corridor" to get aid between the two areas, as one way to open up the country for change. (AP)