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Turkmen Report: April 22, 2001

22 April 2001
Turkmen President To Attend Turkic Summit In Istanbul

20 April 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov will fly to Turkey on 25 April to attend a summit of Turkic-speaking countries on 26-27 April. He is expected to hold talks during the summit with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on Friday. Niyazov is also to meet with Turkmen studying at Turkish universities. (Interfax)

Caspian Countries Will Settle Caspian Sea Status Before Year's End

20 April 2001

Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan will be able to reach an agreement on the status of the Caspian Sea before the end of this year, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said at a press conference in Astrakhan.

"The negotiating process between the Caspian coastal countries on the status of the Caspian Sea has been practically finished," he said. Russia exercises a reasonable approach, claiming no advantages, he added. He stressed, though, that Russia would not admit the participation of any other non-Caspian countries in solving questions of shipping and use of the natural resources of the Caspian Sea. He also expressed his conviction that the Caspian countries should never forget about environmental protection in their economic activities.

Urgent steps must be taken to work out the status of the Caspian Sea and to enable Russia to effectively use the natural resources and transport potential of the area, Kasyanov told a conference on protection of Russia's strategic interests in the area that is being held in Astrakhan, where Kasyanov is visiting in the course of his two-day working tour.

"The regional and federal authorities must work together on this issue," he said.

Russia wants the seabed divided into national sectors, while the water of the sea would be used jointly, Kasyanov said.

A consensus of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran must be reached in determining the sea's status, but no time must be wasted, he said.

The coastal countries are disputing several islands in the sea, Kasyanov said. One of them is Ukatny, which used to be in the scope of Russia's Astrakhan region as Soviet-era documents in regional files testify, he said.

Experts evaluate the natural resources of the area at 2.5 billion to 3 billion tons of the oil equivalent, Kasyanov said. Russia should make better use of its share of the sea's resources such as the stores of oil and gas on the Caspian shelf, he said.

At the moment the status of the Caspian Sea is still that which was recorded in Soviet-Iranian treaties signed from the 1920s to the 1940s, Kasyanov said.

The harvest of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea has fallen from nearly 12,000 tons in the 1990s to just 470 tons in 2000, Kasyanov said. The export of caviar that used to exceed 100 tons a year has dropped accordingly, he said. (Interfax)

Human Rights Without Frontiers Says Violations On The Increase

20 April 2001

Nadiya Milanova, an official from Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), a non-governmental agency (NGO) affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and based in Brussels, gave an interview to RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Naz Nazar in which she described the HRWF's work.

HRWF focuses mainly on international human rights issues. It issues two press releases each day -- one covers cases of religious intolerance and discrimination and violations of religious freedom. The other covers the European Parliament and other European institutions' activities in the field of human rights.

Unfortunately, Milanova said, recent experience has shown an increase in human rights violations in the world, including in Turkmenistan and the rest of Central Asia.

Recent HRWF projects deal with North Korea, the trafficking of women, and Romany issues in Central and Eastern Europe.

Milanova said the HRWF tracked a resolution that was eventually adopted by the European Parliament in March, and covered the release of annual reports published by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. The last report included several cases of violations of religious freedom in Turkmenistan in 2000.

The main purpose of the HRWF, Milanova added, is to assist people in their defense of human rights. She said that in order for people to be able to defend their rights they have to know what rights they are entitled to. (RFE/RL)

CIS Premiers To Meet In Ashgabat In September

19 April 2001

A meeting of the heads of government of CIS countries is to be held in Ashgabat in September on a proposal made by Belarusian Premier Vladimir Yermoshin, chairman of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) council of the heads of government.

This proposal was supported here on 19 April by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov during his meeting with CIS Executive Secretary Yuri Yarov, who had arrived here from Dushanbe the previous day in a tour of the capitals of CIS countries. However, the final decision on the question will be accepted at the Minsk summit.

Yarov told journalists that Niyazov and they hoped to resolve all matters, which are to be discussed at the summit. Niyazov confirmed that he would attend.

Speaking about the summit's agenda, Yarov said that he plans to adopt a resolution on the 60th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, discuss economic cooperation, the formation of an anti-terrorist center, and consider proposals on the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the CIS (ITAR-TASS/ and RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan Purchases Two French Helicopters

18 April 2001

The president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, has signed an order authorizing the government to contract with the French company Eurocopter SAS on buying two Super Puma A-S332 L-2 helicopters. The contract is worth $27.3 million. The maintenance of the helicopters is assigned to Turkmenhovaellary (Turkmen Airways).

Turkmenhovaellary officials said that in the previous contract Turkmenistan purchased airliners from Boeing and Sikorsky, and that the country now has three Boeing 737s and four Boeing 757s.

Two Sikorsky helicopters are mainly at the service of the president. This year, three Boeing 717s will fly domestically as well as to capitals of neighboring states. (RFE/RL,

New Turkmen Electoral Body Created, Members Appointed

17 April 2001

The People's Council of Turkmenistan and the Central Committee for Elections and Consultations has been set up in Turkmenistan after the issuance of a presidential decree.

According to the second paragraph of the 50th article of the Turkmen Constitution, the People's Council of Turkmenistan is to create the Central Committee for Elections and Consultations in Turkmenistan and to approve the composition of the Central Committed for Elections and Consultations.

The Central Commission for Elections and Referendums in Turkmenistan is composed of:

Murat Garryyev, the deputy head of the Council on Religious Affairs under the president of Turkmenistan. He heads the commission.

Deputies: Shemshat Atajanova, the head of the department of the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the president of Turkmenistan; Muratberdi Sopyyev, the chairman of the Muratberdi Sopyyev farmers' association in the Gavers District of Ahal Region.

Secretary: Jeren Taimova, deputy head of Turkmen State News Service. (Turkmenistan Radio)

Turkmenistan Sends Condolences On Death Of Afghan Mullah Rabbani

17 April 2001

A message of condolence on the occasion of the death of the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, was sent by the consul general of the Republic of Turkmenistan in Mazar Sharif Khodzhamurat Babaev.

Taliban officials confirmed that Rabbani, the second most powerful figure in Afghanistan's ruling Islamic militia, died of cancer.

The 44-year-old mullah was the head of the Taliban governing ministers' council. He died on 15 April in Pakistan, where he had being receiving treatment.

Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil described Rabbani as "a great leader." He also said three days of mourning have been declared in the country.

Rabbani was one of the original Taliban leaders and was appointed to run Kabul after the militia captured the Afghan capital in 1996. He is also thought to have ordered the execution of former Afghan President Najibullah. (AP, DPA, Radio Shariah -- Afghanistan)

U.S. Sends Humanitarian Cargo to Turkmenistan

16 April 2001

A humanitarian cargo from the United States arrived in the Dashoguz region in north Turkmenistan on 16 April.

The cargo of medical instruments and equipment worth more than $107,000 was addressed to the Turkmen regional health service and medical industry department.

It was the second time the U.S. supplied humanitarian aid to that Turkmen region, located in an ecologically unsafe zone neighboring the Aral Sea, in accordance with a U.S. program spearheaded by the U.S. State Department for support to vulnerable groups of the population and improvement of the standards of medical service.

Earlier, medical equipment worth around $465,000 was delivered to the Dashoguz region with the aim of improving medical service offered to patients in local clinics and hospitals. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmen Budget From 1st Quarter Shows Surplus

16 April 2001

In the first quarter of the current year the Turkmen state budget was implemented with a surplus worth 126.7 billion manats (the exchange rate is 5,200 manats to the dollar), or 2.1 percent of GDP, the National Institute for State Statistics and Information said.

The budget revenue over the period amounted to 1.29 trillion manats (69 percent of the target for this period) and were raised through the collection of taxes. State expenditures in the first quarter was 1.16 trillion manats, or 58 percent of the target for this period.

Most of the state budget expenditures, 966.8 billion manats (83.4 percent of all expenditures), were channeled to cover social and public costs. In the first quarter of this year, GDP was 5.9 billion manats. (Turkmen TV)

Niyazov Blasts Senior Officials

16 April 2001

The principles for selecting top officials were the main subject at a conference on 16 April chaired by President Saparmurat Niyazov, a government source said.

Another reason why Niyazov brought together senior officials was to hear a report on whether the government had done anything to clean up a river in a resort near Ashgabat that had been blocked by landslides. The president has a country residence at the resort. After accusing the Water Resources Ministry and other agencies of inefficiency, Niyazov put forward several principles for selecting top administrators.

"Honest people will be enlisted for senior posts, people who know their job well and who can behave simply and without any excessive sumptuousness in their personal life," he said.

"The most important duty of an administrator is to be able to find effective solutions to difficult problems, to discover malpractice before it is too late and uproot it."

Niyazov also criticized two regional governors. He accused Chary Kuliev of Mari of tactless behavior toward people under his command and Berdymurad Redzhepov of an illegal attempt to have his daughter enrolled in university. (Turkmen TV, RFE/RL)

Presidents Of Turkmenistan, Iran Talk By Phone

16 April 2001

The presidents of Turkmenistan and Iran, Saparmurat Niyazov and Sayed Mohammad Khatami, discussed relations between their countries in a telephone call on 16 April.

They exchanged opinions on oil and natural gas projects, on projects in agriculture, trade, and construction and on developing the Caspian region, a source in the Turkmen President's Office told Interfax.

Niyazov and Khatami were also in favor of putting off a planned Caspian summit until autumn, the source said.

Niyazov reissued an invitation for Khatami to visit Turkmenistan. The Turkmen and Iranian diplomatic services are to agree to the dates for the visit. (Interfax, RFE/RL)

The 'Turkmenization' Of Turkmenistan

19 April 2001

By Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan is becoming a more "Turkmen" place. Two weeks ago, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said that the former Soviet republic should dispense with Western-style ballet and opera. He described the two art forms as not "appealing" to the Turkmen national mentality.

Niyazov's statement came as a human rights monitoring organization reported that schoolgirls in one of Turkmenistan's regions, many of them not ethnic Turkmen, must now dress in Turkmen national attire.

The events are the latest in a string of occurrences that indicate a form of "Turkmenization" is taking place.

President Niyazov was quoted in the 6 April edition of the state daily "Neitralny Turkmenistan" as saying of ballet that "far from everything in its repertoire is in line with the national mentality. Our spectators," he added, "are alien to the sufferings of heroes expressing very unnatural feelings in indiscreet dances."

Niyazov often speaks on behalf of his people, whose true views remain unknown. He has told the world the Turkmen people are not ready for multiparty politics, which explains why there is only political party -- Niyazov's. He has also told the world his people have unique traditions, which explains why they have not yet opted for rapid political reform and democratization.

Last year, Niyazov told his people there were too many hospitals in Turkmenistan, and he closed down many of them. He recommended traditional Turkmen cures like tea instead of conventional medicines. He said that the health workers and teachers who became superfluous could find work in other sectors. Tens of thousands were laid off. Niyazov also decided that the country's Academy of Science was of little use to the people. It closed in 1998.

In place of ballet and opera, Niyazov said, will come drama and a music theater "more responsive to national feeling [and written by] contemporary Turkmen authors."

At the start of this month, Turkmenistan apparently began ridding itself of outside influence in another area. Vitaly Ponomariov, the executive director of the Moscow-based Information Center for Human Rights in Central Asia, told RFE/RL about reports his organization has received.

"We received reports from [the region of] Dashoguz -- where 30 percent of the people are Uzbeks and other non-Turkmen groups -- that the authorities demanded from parents that all schoolgirls, regardless of nationality, wear Turkmen national attire or else they would not be allowed to attend classes."

Ponomariov said his organization only has reports about the new dress code from one region, Dashoguz Province, and it's not clear whether this is a new nationwide policy. But in the past moves made officials in one province are copied by officials around the country.

The Turkmen government has already restricted access to the Internet by making a state body the only licensed Internet service provider. Media is under state control and there are countrywide campaigns aimed at stamping out opinions contrary to those of the government. Niyazov is currently working on a book, the Rukhname, which will be released later this year and contains instructions for proper behavior and morality in the country.

Ponomariov says the closing of opera and ballet and the introduction of a Turkmen dress code for schoolgirls is in keeping with the government's goal of creating a unique society. What sort of society this will be remains an open question. Niyazov has often said his country is traveling on its own path toward democracy, but the government's means of reaching this goal are unclear to many.

Ironically, the closing of ballet and opera and the demand for national dress in schools are reminiscent of the policies of Afghanistan's Taliban movement. The militia has banned education for girls, prohibited music and recently destroyed centuries-old statues of the Buddha the Taliban considered "un-Islamic."

In Afghanistan what Taliban leader Mullah Omar says is correct automatically becomes correct for the people living in Taliban-controlled areas. In Turkmenistan, when Niyazov says something is not "appealing," it automatically becomes officially unattractive. (RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)

More Questions About Canceled Caspian Summit

By Michael Lelyveld

19 April 2001

More than a week after the cancellation of a Caspian Sea summit, questions continue over the motives of the five shoreline states.

The meeting to approve plans for Caspian borders was to be held in Turkmenistan on 14-15 April. But after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, on 7 April, the summit was put off until an indefinite date in the fall.

Last week, Russia's Caspian envoy Viktor Kalyuzhny warned that frictions are growing because of the lack of an agreement on dividing resources.

Kalyuzhny told a news conference that "the Caspian Sea's undecided status is creating a certain amount of tension in relations between our five countries." He added, "Cracks have already appeared, and the more we delay, the deeper these will become."

If Kalyuzhny is correct, it raises the question of why the summit was delayed for so long. Kalyuzhny said Russia would press for a new date in September, five months from now. When the summit was postponed previously in March at Iran's request, the schedule was pushed back by only one month.

The decision is also hard to understand in light Kalyuzhny's statement that a joint declaration on the Caspian is "90 percent ready." The document is not believed to be a final agreement but only a statement of principles that the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran could sign.

Officially, the postponement was caused by "changes in the schedule of certain heads of state," the Interfax news agency said. Kalyuzhny later told ITAR-TASS that the leader was Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliev, who visited the U.S. for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh and then delayed his return for a medical checkup in the midwestern U.S. city of Cleveland.

But the explanation seemed to be little more than an excuse for the lengthy delay. Aliev's travel plans for the peace talks were known weeks in advance. The aging leader also announced his Cleveland trip before leaving Baku on 2 April, five days before the summit was called off.

In any case, Aliev's visit to Cleveland was so short that he arrived back in Baku on 14 April after another stop in London. The return could have given him time to join the summit in Turkmenistan, if it had taken place as planned.

Some Western analysts have voiced doubts about Russia's version of events. Robert Ebel, director of the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, suspects that Moscow has raised the entire division issue to block the building of pipelines across the Caspian for exports to the west. He says that the longer the issue drags on, the longer Russia can keep Caspian oil flowing through its territory.

Ebel said: "One might easily conclude that the Russians don't want a summit. If they were serious, they would be realistic about a schedule."

But there are also reasons to question the motives of other participants. Iran continues to have strong differences with Russia about Tehran's claim to an equal 20 percent share of the Caspian.

Iran is also concerned that Moscow's formula for sharing the waters would allow Russian warships to sail near its shores. Moscow clearly finds it easier to blame Aliev's schedule than to explain why it cannot solve its security problem with Tehran.

Turkmenistan's tactics are also suspect. Two weeks before the scheduled summit, Ashgabat announced that it was close to signing 10 billion in deals, including a contract to develop the offshore oilfield known as Serdar. Azerbaijan, which calls the field Kiapaz, has claimed the area as its own. The two countries have been feuding over the resources there for years.

By announcing its plans for the oilfield, Turkmenistan gave new life to its dispute with Baku, essentially dooming the summit before it began. The issue also involves Moscow, because Azerbaijan previously awarded a contract for Kiapaz to the Russian oil companies Rosneft and Lukoil in 1997. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin suspended the deal after Niyazov complained.

The list of differences suggests that tensions are the reason for the summit delays rather than the result. A working group of deputy foreign ministers may meet in Azerbaijan in May. But with all the problems, it may take at least five months to get the leaders of the five countries back together again. (RFE/RL)