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Turkmen Report: March 11, 2001

11 March 2001
RFE/RL Turkmen Service Celebrates 48 years Of Broadcasts

1 March 2001

Human Rights Watch official Cassandra Cavanaugh has congratulated all RFE/RL Turkmen Service journalists and its listeners on the occasion of the service�s 48th anniversary, saying: �Radio Liberty is one of the most important sources for freedom and for defense of human rights in the whole post-soviet space.�

She added that �Especially today, when the situation with the freedom of information is becoming worse in all of the post-soviet...and all of the central Asian countries, Radio Liberty plays an increasingly important role.�

RFE/RL�s Turkmen bureau, she continued, produces very important news stories about Turkmenistan to a broad range of listeners and readers across the United States and in European countries.

In Prague, RFE/RL President Mr. Thomas Dine also sent greeted the RFE/RL Turkmen Service on the anniversary of its first broadcast, celebrated on 1 March.

He stressed that �Today marks the 48th anniversary of RFE/RL�s broadcasting to the peoples of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is such a richly diverse place -- demographically, historically, culturally, religiously, economically. But this wealth of a background is woven together by a linguistic affinity and social organization. For 48 years, the Turkmen Service broadcasts of Radio Liberty have helped in bringing peoples together in freedom, emphasizing an independent Turkmen identity plus political openness, pluralism, and tolerance along with free market economics. I congratulate a long list of professionals who have worked and are working in RFE/RL�s Turkmen Service and have labored on behalf of freedom and democracy for Turkmenistan.� (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmenistan Seen As Key To Trans-Caspian Pipeline

7 March 2001

The U.S. presidential adviser for Caspian energy issues, Elizabeth Jones, said in Tbilisi on 6 March that whether the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia is built will depend on the willingness of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to continue negotiations on that project, Interfax reported. She said that the Trans-Caspian pipeline and the proposed pipeline to export to Turkey gas from Azerbaijan�s Shah Deniz Caspian field are not mutually exclusive in the light of the growing demand in Europe for natural gas. Nor, she said, can the Blue Stream pipeline to bring Russian gas to Turkey supply all of that country�s gas needs. Caucasus Press on 6 March reported that Jones has been scheduled to travel from Tbilisi to Baku that day, but failed to do so. (RFE/RL)

International Women�s Day Gala Concert
7 March 2001 A big gala concert was held on 7 March to mark the double holiday of Id al-Adha, the end of the hajj, and International Women�s Day, which falls on 8 March. Turkmen TV carried a live broadcast of the 100-minute concert. President Niyazov and other top officials were shown in the audience. (Turkmen TV)

Turkmenistan Restarts Natural Gas Supplies To Russia

6 March 2001

Turkmenistan has begun supplying natural gas to Russia for the first time this year, under a $400 million contract signed last month. Turkmenistan suspended shipments on 31 December after officials were unable to agree on a price. Under the current deal, half of the payments for gas will be made in cash, at $40 per 1,000 cubic meters, and half will be made in barter. (AP and RFE/RL)

Ukraine To Develop Gas Fields In Turkmenistan
3 March 2001

Vadim Kopylov, the chief executive officer of Naftogaz Ukrainy and senior deputy fuel and energy minister, has announced that his company and the government of Turkmenistan plan to sign a contract to develop a gas field in Turkmenistan by the end of March.

According to Kopylov, during his recent visit to Ashgabat Turkmen President Niyazov offered Ukraine concessions �for [the] development of any ground or offshore tract.� Ukrainian experts, including geophysicists and geologists, will arrive in Turkmenistan in mid-March to study the potential of the fields, and conditions of their development.

Naftogaz Ukrainy may sign a production-sharing agreement with the Turkmen government similar to the currently effective agreement between Turkmenistan and Shell regarding a number of gas fields located on the coast of the Amu Darya River.

The new project may become one of the biggest in bilateral cooperation between Kiev and Ashgabat involving investments in the Turkmen economy.

In Turkmenistan, Ukrainian companies are currently building a bridge over Amu Darya (worth $125 million), a compressor plant ($75 million), and a nitrogen fertilizer plant ($30 million). (

New Checkpoint Being Built On Turkmen-Afghan Border

3 March 2001

The �Jeyhun� building association has finished the main part of a significant site in the southeast town of Kelif. A complex of buildings have been built and equipment installed to check vehicles crossing the Turkmen-Afghan border. Once the entire complex is commissioned, the movement of goods between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan will increase considerably. It is planned to put the complex into operation in the near future. (Turkmen Radio)

Turkmen President To Pay Official Visit To Kazakhstan

2 March 2001

During a meeting with Kazakhstan�s first deputy prime minister, Daniyal Akhmetov, held yesterday in Ashgabat, Turkmen President Niyazov confirmed that he would pay an official visit to the Kazakh capital Astana on 10 May.

A source in the Turkmen president�s office told Interfax that the first session of the two countries� political council, formed at the suggestion of the two heads of state, would take place during the forthcoming visit.

It is expected that the development of both countries� oil and gas export potential will be discussed during the session and also during the April visit to Turkmenistan by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev for the Caspian states� summit. This refers, in particular, to the projects for refurbishing the Central Asia-Center (CAC) trunk gas pipeline and the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran oil pipeline.

It is also expected that the Kazakh Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources may soon open an office in Ashgabat, and this will make it possible to cooperate more closely when using the CAC gas pipeline. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Kazakhstan Acknowledges Energy Debt To Turkmenistan

2 March 2001

The progress being made by the bilateral Turkmen-Kazakh commission was discussed yesterday by Turkmen President Niyazov and Kazakhstan�s first deputy prime minister Akhmetov.

A source in the Turkmen president�s office told Interfax that Kazakhstan acknowledged part of the debt for the supplies of Turkmen natural gas and the whole of the debt for supplies of electricity.

According to Turkmenistan�s Central Bank, Kazakhstan�s debt to Turkmenistan on 1 January was $52.7 million, of which $ 21.8 million is for Turkmen gas supplies in 1993-94 and $ 28.9 million are for electricity supplied from 1995 up to and including 2000. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Iranian Foreign Minister Back Home After Trip To Turkmenistan
1 March 2001

Iran�s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi completed his one-day visit to Turkmenistan on 28 February.

Upon his arrival to Iran, Kharrazi told reporters that his visit mainly focused on preparatory talks for expansion of political and economic relations between Tehran and Ashgabat.

He said that he had discussed the Caspian Sea and the upcoming meeting of heads of Caspian littoral states, due to be held in April.

Kharrazi said that both Iran and Turkmenistan play effective roles in regional stability.

He also assessed Tehran-Ashgabat economic relations as �good�.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is due to start a two-day official visit to Moscow on 12 March. He and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, are likely to reach an agreement on how to divide the oil-rich Caspian Sea among the five littoral states.

The Caspian Sea is estimated to contain the world�s third-largest reserves of oil and gas after the Persian Gulf and Siberia.

The Islamic Republic has repeatedly indicated that it will agree to an equitable sharing of the oil-rich Caspian Sea that would give it a 20 percent share.

In February, Kharrazi insisted during the meeting that equals division of the Caspian Sea resources and its demilitarization provided the best solution to resolve disputes among the five littoral states.

He said that the legal status of the Caspian Sea was clarified between Iran and the former Soviet Union on the basis of treaties signed in 1921 and 1940. The two treaties, he said, should be the basis for adopting a new legal status. (IRNA)

Four Turkmen Judges Sacked For Discrediting Their Position
28 February 2001 Turkmen President Niyazov signed decrees in line with article 66 of the law �On the judicial system and the status of judges in Turkmenistan�. He decided that Dovletgeldi Nyzamov, Gurban Esenov, Saparguly Jumaev, and Atamurat Baylyev were to be relieved of their duties as judges �for committing an act discrediting the title of judge�. The decree said that henceforth they are �to be prohibited from working in the law-enforcement bodies�. (Turkmen TV)

Turkmen President Disciplines Two Cabinet Members

28 February 2001

At a cabinet meeting on 26 February, President Niyazov demoted Minister of Water Resources Sakhatmurad Kurbanov to the rank of deputy minister because of unspecified �serious flaws in his work�, Interfax reported the following day. Niyazov said that if Kurbanov�s work improves during the next year, he would be allowed to retain that post. Niyazov also dismissed acting Customs Committee Chairman Mered Khalovezov for �serious shortcomings�. Niyazov announced that in the future, individual customs officials will not be empowered to rule on whether to issue export permits and clear imports through customs, but must make such decisions collectively in consultation with officials of the state border service. Oraz Velliatayev was appointed a new Customs Committee Chairman of Turkmenistan by a Niyazov decree. (RFE/RL)

Turkmen Authorities Deny Imprisoned Baptist Tortured

28 February 2001

The Turkmen authorities have written to Amnesty International�s U.K. Section to deny that Shagildy Atakov has been ill treated while in detention. However, they have provided no evidence to support such a claim.

Responding to appeals by Amnesty�s Urgent Action Network, the director of the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, Yolbars Kepbanov, who is also deputy minister of foreign affairs, wrote that �Information that torture is allegedly being used against Atakov does not correspond with reality�. He did not say how the Turkmen authorities had reached this conclusion, and gave no indication that there had been any impartial and comprehensive investigation into the allegations. The political officer of the OSCE in Turkmenistan told the Keston News Service that Kepbanov�s response �sounds like the standard official line�.

In his statement, Kepbanov wrote that Atakov was transferred from Seydi labor camp to the city of Mary for medical assistance, and that �his health is at present in a normal state�. He gave, however, no details of the medical treatment given to Atakov.

Amnesty International has appealed to people to take further action in support of Atakov, including sending telegrams/faxes/letters in English, Russian, Turkmen or other languages, noting the response by the director of the Turkmen Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, continuing to urge Turkmen authorities to ensure that Atakov receives appropriate medical treatment.

It is necessary, as the Amnesty International appeal says, to continue urging the Turkmen authorities to carry out an impartial and comprehensive investigation into allegations that Atakov has suffered repeated ill-treatment in custody, including inappropriate medical treatment, with the findings made public and those responsible brought to justice.

The Turkmen government has not yet responded to a request by the OSCE center in Ashgabat to be allowed to visit Atakov. (Amnesty International and RFE/RL)

The Interpreter Goes On Line

9 March 2001

By Paul Goble

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the man who sought to promote the unity of the Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire, the International Committee for Crimea has launched a website devoted to the life and works of Ismail Bey Gaspirali, a step that promises to spread his ideas of �unity in language, thought, and action� to a new generation via an entirely new medium.

Ismail Bay Gaspirali was born on 8 March 1851, and is most often remembered for the 30 years he devoted to editing �Tercuman� (The Interpreter), a newspaper published in the Crimea which sought to create a common literary language among the Turkic peoples and to promote a new method of teaching children how to read and write.

Gaspirali was among the very first Muslim and Turkic figures to stress the importance of educating women and including them in public life. And as such, he exerted a profound influence on the national awakening of the Turkic-speaking community as a whole and individual Turkic nations in particular. Indeed, by the time of his death in 1914, he had almost single-handedly transformed these peoples into their modern form.

Not surprisingly, Gaspirali was frequently attacked by Soviet writers who portrayed him as a bourgeois nationalist who had sparked resistance to Russian rule among the Turkic peoples -- even though Gaspirali took many of his ideas from the Russian intelligentsia. And, for much of the last decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gaspirali has been discussed in the region, if at all, almost exclusively as a Crimean Tatar figure.

Now, however, with the launch of this website at which carries materials in both English and Turkish, that may change. Not only is he likely to be recognized by scholars and analysts for his broader contributions to the Turkic peoples, Gaspirali appears set to play posthumously a new role as promoter of unity among those peoples to which he devoted his entire life.

The appearance of this website is particularly interesting for three reasons. First, it is a remarkable example of the ways ideas can be recycled through a new medium. Gaspirali promoted his ideas via a newspaper, which reached the relatively few people among Russia�s Turkic peoples who could read at the end of the last century. Now, using the Internet, his ideas can reach a far larger audience and thus link them together.

Second, the launch of this site highlights a particular strength of the Internet as a medium and also one of limitations of that channel of information. In contrast to a newspaper which tends to reach a community defined in time and space and which is inherently diverse, Internet sites tend to attract those who already share a particular approach and thus to reinforce their attachment to the ideas contained therein.

Consequently, while �Tercuman� promoted community in the broadest sense, the Gaspirali site on the Internet may contribute to the development of an ideological enclave within that broader group, an enclave whose members may indeed be close to one another but who may in the process become more isolated from those among whom they live.

And third, it represents a response to a continuing effort at national and communal identification among the Turkic peoples, a process that Gaspirali was instrumental in promoting but which is far from over.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many analysts assumed that the Turkic peoples in the post-Soviet region would simply continue to live with identities which had been sponsored by the Soviet government or would revert back to identities, larger or smaller than the nation, which they had had earlier.

So far, none of the groups involved appears to have made a final choice. Instead, the peoples of this enormous region are continuing to struggle to define themselves. That is how Gaspirali almost certainly would have wanted it, and with the new website carrying materials about him, the �Interpreter� appears set to contribute in the future as he did a century ago to this ongoing process. (RFE/RL)