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Turkmen Report: March 31, 2001

31 March 2001
Central Asian Opposition, Independent Media Leaders Hold Conference

31 March

Representatives of the Central Asian states' opposition and independent media held a two-day conference in London on 26-27 March.

Opposition and media leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan joined the conference, organized by the International Eurasian Democracy Foundation with the active participation of the British Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Delegates from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan did not attend this time, but are likely to join the next conference.

The conference resulted in the adoption of two important documents.

All the 14 delegates have signed "The Central Asian Democratic Forces Appeal to governments of and parliaments of Western European states, [the] USA, OSCE, and Europarliament." This appeal to well-known Central Asian opposition leaders described the current situation in Central Asia, criticized and blamed the authoritarian Central Asian regimes for human rights violations, dishonest and falsified elections, frequent parliament dismissals, antidemocratic laws and the closure of independent media sources.

Delegates paid particular attention to the corruption of power and the mass pauperization of common people in Central Asia. Western countries were also criticized for not controlling their investments, credits, and loans in Central Asia. Misuse of those funds by the regional governments, as well as their entire control over mass media had also become a major concern of the delegations. They appealed for a stronger defense of freedom of speech in the region and dialogue with the ruling regimes.

The second document adopted was called "The resolution on the foundation of the Democratic Forces Forum of Central Asia." The major ideas of that Forum are the consolidation and coordination of all the democratic parties, movements, and non-government organizations, constant monitoring of the political and social situation in the Central Asian region, identification of human rights and freedom of speech violations and the fight against them, joint actions for protecting democracy and the interests of civil society, legal and material support for political and conscience prisoners, independent journalists, and human rights activists.

The Forum is open to any organization or individuals who share its aims and tasks. A special foundation was established and all supporters of democratic development in Central Asia were welcomed for cooperation.

The conference delegates also met with British parliament members and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, who promised to render all possible assistance and support to the democratic movement for Central Asian countries.

One day after the conference, the delegations went to EU headquarters in Brussels and discussed Central Asian issues with EU officials. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Russian Envoy Criticizes Turkish Intentions To Restrict Traffic In Straits

30 March

Turkey has no legal grounds to ban or restrict traffic through the Bosphorus Straits, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and presidential envoy for the Caspian Sea Viktor Kalyuzhny told Interfax in Ashgabat on 29 March.

He was commenting on the statement by Turkish Minister of State Ramazan Mirzaoglu that "the transportation of Kazakh oil to world markets by sea may cause jams in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and Turkey reserves the right to impose restrictions on shipping along the straits."

Kalyuzhny said that "this is impossible because when any project is launched all its aspects are agreed upon from beginning to end, including environmental and financial aspects and consumers. Transportation routes are checked in calculating economic effects, and the Caspian Pipeline Consortium is no exception."

He said some 50 million tons of oil from the Russian port of Novorossiisk were shipped through the Bosphorus since the Caspian pipeline was constructed. Transit volumes of 67 million tons were agreed upon.

"It is a different matter and one can agree that safety should be guaranteed everywhere. And what should be done to this end -- whether to change the navigation equipment or reinforce the piloting or towing services -- these are matters for the Turkish government to decide," Kalyuzhny said. In his opinion, if it is necessary to tackle safety questions, Turkey "should resolve them, duly document them and others should either accept them or not." (Interfax)

Turkmenbashi Dismisses Chemical Sector Chief, Appoints Energy Head

30 March

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has dismissed the head of the Turkmen fertilizer and chemicals state concern, Ishanguly Gulmyradov, "for failure to carry out his official duties," Turkmen TV reported on 30 March. He was replaced by Rustam Artykov, who was appointed for a six-month probation period. The television also announced that a new first deputy minister of power engineering and industry had been appointed. The new appointee, Annaguly Jumagylyjov, was also named head of the Turkmen State Energy Corporation, again for a six-month probation period. (Turkmen TV)

U.S. Embassy In Ashgabat Announces Academic Exchange Programs

29 March

The U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan has announced two new academic exchange programs for Turkmen citizens for the 2001-2002 academic year.

The Fulbright Program provides opportunities for outstanding Turkmen scholars and faculty members to lecture or conduct research in the United States for one semester. Students from 135 countries have attended this program.

The Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP) is an 11-month training program that provides young faculty members from Turkmen universities with the opportunity to pursue a non-degree professional development program in the U.S. This program is designed for teachers from higher education institutions with two or more years of professional experience as a university lecturer or administrator.

The U.S. Embassy also offers 10 other cultural and academic exchange programs. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Timing For Caspian Summit Still Firm

29 March

The date for the meeting of the leaders of the five Caspian states has not changed, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister and special presidential envoy for Caspian matters Viktor Kalyuzhny told the press in Ashgabat on 29 March. As was reported earlier, the summit is to be held in the city of Turkmenbashi on the Turkmen stretch of the Caspian coast on 14-15 April.

Kalyuzhny said he discussed a wide range of Caspian issues with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Foreign Minister Batyr Berdiev. The position agreed upon by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, according to which the Sea's floor should be divided and its surface remain for common use, "meets with [Niyazov's] understanding," the Russian presidential envoy said. "The most important and specific issues can be resolved only at a meeting of the five presidents."

Kalyuzhny said his regular trips to the countries ringing the Caspian are gradually bringing closer the positions of all the sides concerned, and help in the definition of further directions for the negotiations. (Interfax)

Iran Repays Rail Debts To Turkmenistan With Heavy Machinery

28 March

Iran has supplied Turkmenistan with heavy road-building machinery in partial payment for debts owed by the Iranian Islamic Republic Railway, the Turkmen State News Service reported on 28 March. In all, 16 excavators, heavy-graders, trucks and road rollers arrived for Turkmen State Railways at the end of March to start work on the 560-kilometer railway line, which is being built to link the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, with Dashoguz in the north of the country. "The new equipment has been supplied in line with an instruction by the Turkmen president in payment of Iranian Railways' debt," the agency said, without specifying the sum.

The Ashgabat-Karakumy-Dashoguz line is one of the projects in Turkmenistan's program for the development of railway transport for 2000-2005 and through 2010. Amongst those to be completed in 2001 is a small branch easing transit to Iran. "Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan recently expressed great interest in the opening of passenger transport along the Almaty-Tashkent-Mary-Tehran route. These states, which before the Tedzhen-Sarakhs-Mashhad line was opened had no outlet to the sea, have for the last few years been making active use of the possibilities of transit through Turkmenistan, sending their freight to ports in the Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Turkmen State Railways are making this route shorter by building a small additional branch which will make it possible to go on to the main route towards Sarakhs-Mashhad without going into Saparmurat Turkmenbashi station. This five-kilometer sector is to be completed in May this year," the agency said. (Turkmen State News Service)

Turkmen Plant Exports Diesel To UK, Afghanistan

28 March

Over 10,000 tons of diesel has been shipped to the U.K. and Afghanistan by the Seydi oil refinery [eastern Turkmenistan]. The quality of the diesel produced at the plant meets all world standards, and it is in great demand on foreign markets. The demand for other oil products from the plant is also increasing. Currently the plant exports nearly 90 percent of its output of diesel, high-grade petrol, and fuel oil. (Turkmen TV)

Shagildy Atakov Transferred To Enclosed Prison

27 March

Ailing Baptist minister and prisoner of conscience Shageldy Atakov has again been transferred to a new prison. The German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston News Service that on 23 March Atakov was transferred from the labor camp in Seydy in northeastern Turkmenistan across the country to an "enclosed" prison at the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), where prisoners have no contact with the outside world.

The Friedensstimme mission is interpreting this as a bad sign. "The prisoners are kept under one roof and therefore have no contact with the outside world at all," mission director Klaus Karsten told Keston News Service on 27 March. "They are trying to isolate Shageldy totally." There is no news on Atakov's current state of health.

Atakov -- a member of a congregation of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists -- is serving a four-year sentence on charges fellow Baptists believe were fabricated to punish him for his activity in the Baptist church in Turkmenbashi, where he was arrested in December 1998.

In early February he was transferred to a prison hospital in the town of Mary after widespread concern about his rapidly-deteriorating health, then on 1 March he was transferred back to the camp in Seydy. It is not known why he has been transferred yet again.

From early March Atakov's wife Artygyul and their five children have been put under intense pressure in the town of Kaakhka. Artygyul has been pressured by the local mullah, administration officials, and officers of the KNB secret police (former KGB) to convert to Islam. (Keston News Service)

Turkmen President Unhappy Over Performance Of Culture Ministry, National TV

27 March

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has sharply criticized the activities of the Culture Ministry and the national TV company.

Niyazov accused Culture Minister Oraz Aidogdiev of failing to organize the work of his ministry, deputies, and ministry divisions, a source in the presidential headquarters told Interfax on 27 March.

Writers, actors, artists, and other members of the artistic community "do shoddy work while heads of artistic unions are busy tackling their own commercial operations instead of educating young poets and prose writers and supporting them," Niyazov said.

Niyazov was also very unhappy about the performance of Kakadzhan Ashirov, who is supposed to coordinate the activities of theaters as well as TV and radio broadcasting. He said that theatrical shows have become a rare phenomenon while television features numerous substandard programs lacking content and failing to reflect the national features of Turkmen. (Interfax)

Niyazov Instructs Cabinet To Negotiate With Saudi Company

26 March

President Saparmurat Niyazov has instructed the Cabinet to hold early talks with Amianit, a multifaceted company from Saudi Arabia, for mapping out concrete bilateral cooperation projects.

The Saudi company is expected to explore for and extract fuel resources and take part in setting up glassware, pharmaceutical, sewage-treatment, and drainage facilities and in designing rain and floodwater collectors in Turkmenistan. (Interfax)

As Caspian Summit Nears, Rifts Over Its Division Continue

29 March

By Michael Lelyveld

As the new date for a Caspian summit draws closer, the positions of the five shoreline states seem to be drawing further apart.

The meeting, which was postponed from early March to mid-April, may be put off again unless rifts over dividing the sea can be resolved soon.

In the past two weeks, Russia has been trying to mend fences with its neighbors since it signed a joint declaration on the Caspian with Iran. The statement issued on March 12 by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Mohammed Khatami sparked immediate outcries from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Russia's Caspian envoy Viktor Kalyuzhny flew hastily to Astana to make amends for the document, which said that Moscow and Tehran "do not officially recognize any borders in this sea" until a settlement on the legal regime is reached.

The joint declaration implied that current offshore oil contracts could be considered illegal. It stated that "All decisions and accords concerning the legal status and the regime for the use of the Caspian Sea shall have force only if they are accepted by the common agreement of the five Caspian littoral states."

Kalyuzhny confessed to a cold reception in Kazakhstan, which signed a Caspian border deal with Russia in 1998 and has large offshore contracts. After smoothing things over, Kalyuzhny was due to pay a similar call on Baku, which also reached a Caspian accord with Moscow in January.

But the visit set for March 20 was delayed for undisclosed reasons until 27 March of this week. At the meeting with President Heidar Aliev, Kalyuzhny had promised to explain all the "nuances" of the Russian-Iranian pact, Azerbaijan's ANS News said.

That task may have been tough, considering the statement's clear wording. The only option may have been to explain that the statement does not really mean what it says. But that interpretation could be even less satisfying, since Russia is trying to convince its neighbors that it will honor its words.

The joint declaration with Iran is hardly the end of Russia's troubles with Tehran, either, because the statement during Khatami's visit to Moscow was only a last-minute substitute for a meaningful agreement.

Russia continues to press its case for dividing only the Caspian seabed into national sectors, while keeping the water and its surface in common use. Iran has insisted on a 20 percent share of both the seabed and the waters, which is more than its proportion of the shore. Tehran opposes the common use formula because of concern about Russian warships.

Until recently, Turkmenistan appeared to be siding with Iran against Russia. But in his latest statement, President Saparmurat Niyazov outlined a position between the two. Niyazov, who would host the Caspian summit in the port of Turkmenbashi, now says that he supports a division of the entire waterway into national sectors, leaving a 20-mile zone in the middle for the passage of ships.

Such a plan could keep Russian warships far from Turkmenistan's coast, but it is unclear how close the north-south corridor would come to Iran.

In an interview with "Iran Focus," a British-based monthly, an Iranian expert on the Caspian said that Russia has also proposed a new compromise formula to Iran.

Abbas Maleki, a former government official who now heads the International Institute for Caspian Studies in Tehran, said that Russia has proposed a solution that would divide the Caspian in half. The northern part would be split between Russia and Kazakhstan, which have already agreed on their shares. The southern half would be shared by Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran, giving each roughly 17 percent.

Maleki said that Azerbaijan has shown no interest in the idea, because Russia's earlier formula would give it 21 percent. Turkmenistan might be persuaded, since its sector has been calculated at about 18 percent. Iran stands to gain, since a line from its coastal boundaries now gives it only 13 percent.

So far, it is unclear whether Iran would agree to the compromise, especially if worries about Russian warships continue. The plan could explain why Kalyuzhny delayed his trip to Baku, giving him time to pursue the formula with the other shoreline states.

But with the summit now scheduled for April 15, much selling still needs to be done. And the Iran Daily, a government-run newspaper, recently urged that the meeting be called off until the Caspian disputes are resolved. (RFE/RL)

Baku-Ceyhan Energy Transit Route In Danger

26 March

By Nadir Devlet

Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan are forced to wait for a certain period or some decades to be able to export their natural wealth to the Western markets in large volume because the decision on Caspian Sea hasn't yet been taken. In other words, these three countries are still bound to Russia and they don't have any other alternative when they export their natural resources. The construction of the oil pipeline between the Tengiz oil filed of Kazakhstan and Russian port of Novorossiisk has been finished and soon oil will be pumped to oil tankers. These huge oil tankers will cross Turkish straits and reach the Western markets. Azerbaijan oil goes the same route, too. According to the Turkish newspaper "Radikal" of 25 March 2001's issue, after three months these oil tankers will pose a great danger to the Turkish straits. At the moment there is no other route than the Turkish straits for transporting this oil to the West. But there is always a danger of a collision of such vessels in this strait, something that occasionally occurs. Especially in the Bosphorus, which goes through Istanbul with its 10 million inhabitants, is in danger when an oil tanker sinks or collides. When such a disaster happens, the Turkish strait had to be closed until the wreckage and its effects have been cleaned up.

Therefore Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are thought to need new transit routes. Such routes will also give these countries more flexibility in foreign trade. In the future there are other alternative transit routes for these two states and for Turkmenistan, too, and one is the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project. Certainly, Turkey is very interested in this project, because, first of all, since it is suffering from an energy shortage, Turkey can use the oil for it's needs; and secondly, it will benefit from the transit fees.

But the recent political development showed that for a certain period oil and gas producing countries of the region would be able to realize their dreams of earning money. The main obstruction is the Caspian Sea and the fact that the participating parties have not signed the agreement on Caspian waters and the seabed yet. Two main actors on the scene -- Russia and Iran -- seem to be happy that the Caspian Sea has not been defined. For Russia, keeping the Caspian status unsolved is very convenient, because at the moment Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan don't have any other alternative ways to export their wealth to the world except through Russia. For Iran it is also convenient, because when the political climate changes, it can become another alternative route for Turkmen natural gas and even for Kazakh oil. Both countries postponed the conclusion of the agreement on the Caspian Sea and in this manner blockade another actor in the region, Turkey, which plans to become a transit country through the Baku-Ceyhan oil (and probably gas, too) pipeline project.

When Iranian President Mohammed Khatami visited Moscow on 12-13 March this year, both sides reached an agreement stating that "until the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is finalized, the parties do not officially acknowledge any boundaries on this sea." Russia and Iran also said that "the parties openly declare their disagreement to laying any trans-Caspian oil and natural gas pipeline on the seabed. That would be dangerous in the environmental sense in conditions of extreme geodesic activity." In addition, they stated that "the use of Caspian Sea will only have force if they are approved on the general consent of the five littoral states." In other words, no oil contracts or bilateral pacts could be considered until they were approved by Russia and Iran or that the challenge to Caspian pipelines was intended only to force oil transit routes to run through Russian or Iranian territory.

Turkey is annoyed by this statement, because it could delay the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project. Even if this pipeline comes to fruition, only Azerbaijani oil could be transported through it and that would not be a profitable situation because the volume of the Azerbaijani oil is too small. To make it profitable Kazakh oil will be needed, too. A parallel gas pipeline on the same route, which is also on the agenda, could deliver Azerbaijani and Turkmen gas to world markets.

The last Iranian-Russian agreement on Caspian Sea has annoyed not only Turkey, but Kazakh and Turkmen leaders, too. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said on a national television program on 15 March 2001 that the Caspian waters and seabed should be divided into national sectors in conformity with the UN maritime regulations and a 20-mile zone could be opened on the middle of the sea for free navigation. Before that, on 12 March Niyazov dismissed Boris Shikhmuradov, the country's representative on Caspian talks, and named him as the ambassador to China. This decision could be the result of Niyazov's anger to the problems facing his planned Caspian summit in Ashgabat in the end of April.

Kazakhstan also considers the Russian-Iranian declaration on the Caspian Sea contradictory to previous agreements between Moscow and Astana and does not rule out the possibility of laying a pipeline along the seabed, Kazakh Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev said on 14 March.

According to the Russia's RIA Novosti, Russia's special presidential representative for the Caspian, Victor Kalyuzhny, said on 7 March that he "disapproves of Kazakhstan's moves to support the U.S.-backed pipeline project from Azerbaijan to Turkey's Mediterranean coast." Despite Kalyuzhny's warning, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said later on local TV that his country would take "a purely pragmatic approach" to export routes, including both Baku-Ceyhan and a possible pipeline through Iran.

Baku also believes that the challenge to the Caspian pipeline was intended only to force oil transit routes to run through Russian and Iranian territory. But prospects for Baku-Ceyhan boosted as some Western oil companies had voiced interests in joining a sponsor group. The recent naming of Italy's Agip to develop Kazakhstan's giant Kashagan oilfield shows the current western attitude. But a long time will still be needed for solving the Caspian Sea's status problem. Even Turkey, which is very active in the Baku-Ceyhan oil-gas pipeline, which would bring Turkmen and Azerbaijani gas to the Turkish Mediterranean coast, has signed an agreement on natural gas imports from Russia. The "Blue Stream" gas pipeline will cross the Black Sea. Its construction has already started on both sides and is planned to be finished at the end of 2001. (RFE/RL)

An e-mail from a website reader

19 March

Thank you so much for all the work that you and Radio Liberty do in reporting on the current state of Turkmenistan. I read the website frequently and was particularly struck by the letter from one of your listeners on 19 March 2001.

I, too, have witnessed the horrors associated with Turkmen customs and the KNB. I am an American who worked under the auspices of the Peace Corps as a teacher in Turkmenistan from September 1998 until October 1999. During this time I was frequently harassed by the KNB, which demanded my documents and tried to extort large bribes for fictional transgressions. This pales in comparison, however, to the experience of my close friend and mentor.

In August of 1999, I was traveling from Uzbekistan across the Turkmen border at Charjou. I had my passport with a Turkmen visa and the Turkmen equivalent of a "green card," which described my profession. At this time, I was accompanied by my friend, an older Russian woman who was born in Turkmenistan and lived there all year with the exception of one month in the summer. This month was spent in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with her daughters. Although her passport was Uzbek, all her documents and information were in order. When we crossed the border, we were both allowed to pass through with little questioning. (The officer there was very kind and knew the Peace Corps.) We immediately found a taxi and were on our way to our homes in Bairam Ali. Throughout the drive back, we were stopped repeatedly and were totally at the mercy of the police. It was only because of the support from other Turkmen in the taxi (again, they were familiar with the work of other Peace Corps volunteers) that I managed to make it home without having my money or documents stolen. At the second KNB checkpoint, however, my friend was pulled from the car and repeatedly harassed for not having a proper visa to be in Turkmenistan. They questioned her for hours, demanded money, and then deported her back to Uzbekistan. I couldn't do anything but watch. They demanded far too much money for the visa that she or I could pay -- neither could her mother, a permanent Turkmenistan resident.

I am telling you this because the letter writer from Israel is not alone. I left Turkmenistan feeling that there couldn't be a worse, more oppressive place on earth. In many ways, I still believe this is true. Traveling and living there is a nightmare. Your work helps publicize all the human rights violations in Turkmenistan and for that, I am extremely grateful.

-- Samantha Morse, Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.