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Turkmen Report: May 13, 2001

13 May 2001
Turkmen President: State Insurance System Can Be Only 'Reliable Guarantor'

11 May 2001

Speaking on 11 May at the opening ceremony of a new office building of the state insurance inspectorate, Turkmendovletatiyachlyk, Saparmurat Niyazov said that though there is an enough room for the activity of other insurance bodies, the state insurance system remains the most reliable guarantor for the functioning of all types of ownership.

In his brief remarks broadcast by the Turkmen television's Altyn Asyr channel on the same day, Niyazov said: "It would be better if all state-owned and private organizations, all of them, conclude their insurance contracts with the state insurance bodies. There is no room for so-called democracy to give up previous licenses and issue new ones. Perhaps they are necessary too but only the state can come forward as a basic guarantor. The state insurance guarantee is the most reliable one. No private firm or company can offer such a service." (RFE/RL, Turkmen TV)

Azerbaijan Denies Hindering Caspian Development

11 May 2001

Azerbaijan rejected charges by Turkmenistan that Baku was hindering the process of dividing the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

Azerbaijan Vice Premier Abbas Abbasov said that an allegation by the Turkmen Foreign Ministry on 10 May was merely an attempt to pressure his government.

The accusation was baseless, he told Baku's 106 FM station.

"Turkmenistan, using its political methods, is attempting to pressure Azerbaijan and other Caspian states," Abbasov said.

"The development of the Caspian is taking place," he added. "Azerbaijan and other countries have successfully begun to develop their sectors."

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry report said Ashgabat "totally disagrees with the acts of Azerbaijan concerning the development of oil fields at Khazar and Osman", areas of the Caspian Sea which are claimed by both ex-Soviet republics.

The ministry called on Baku and international oil companies to "cease all work in the sea," and to "stop the exploitation of oil fields in the Caspian Sea which are disputed between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan".

Two days of talks between the two republics recently ended in deadlock, dimming hopes that a comprehensive agreement among the Caspian's five littoral states could be reached soon.

Kazakhstan, Russia, and Azerbaijan have already agreed to divide their sectors from a line running down the center of the sea. But a summit in Turkmenistan, scheduled for mid-April, has been postponed.

Azerbaijan has signed contracts with international oil companies potentially worth more than $50 million (57 million euros), if oil is discovered. But Turkmenistan claims ownership of fields currently under production in the Azerbaijani sector. (AFP,

Turkmenistan Criticizes Azerbaijanis, Protests Against Unilateral Use Of Caspian Oil

10 May 2001

Turkmenistan has reaffirmed its flat opposition to unilateral action by Azerbaijan in developing oil deposits in the Caspian Sea.

Azerbaijan's methods to draw the equidistant line marking each country's share of the sea and attempts to be guided by "the current practice in the Caspian Sea" are running counter to the international law and factual state of things, Turkmen Deputy Premier Elly Gurbanmuradov said in a communiqu� circulated on 9 May.

"At a time when talks to fix the legal status of the Caspian Sea have not finished, unilateral oil production is having a negative effect on the region's political climate and is fraught with unpredictable consequences," the communiqu� said.

Turkmenistan insists on involving international experts in drawing the equidistant line, which is to secure an objective and impartial solution.

Should disputed territories be illegally used, Turkmenistan reserves the right to file a complaint to a competent international body, the document said.

On 2-3 May the two countries tried to define the contours of the equidistant line meant to determine who owns what, but the talks failed.

Moves by Russia and Iran to put the issue on the back burner have prompted some analysts to speculate that the two countries may wish to use a prolonged disagreement over the Caspian's legal status as a tactic to prevent the construction of U.S.-backed oil and gas pipelines. (ITAR-TASS, Interfax, AFP)

Turkmenistan Marks Victory Day

9 May 2001

Victory Day was widely and solemnly marked today in Turkmenistan as a national holiday. It was preceded by Memorial Day, and on 8 May the people of Turkmenistan paid memorial tribute to 350,000 natives of the republic who perished in World War II. Among them there was also the president's father, Atamurat Niyazov, whose monument was opened in the center of Turkmenistan's capital the day before. (

Turkmenistan's Foreign Debts Total $1.6 billion

8 May 2001

Turkmenistan's foreign debt totals $1.6 billion, the Turkmen president said on 8 May, addressing a government meeting on the results of the country's economic development over the past four months of the current year.

The president noted that payments on credits, granted to retool the oil refinery in the city of Turkmenbashi, make up a considerable part of the debt -- $1.1 billion. Payments are made on time, and the country's solvency is beyond any doubt.

Speaking about the country's foreign debt, Saparmurat Niyazov found it necessary to mention other states' debts to Turkmenistan, some of which are in no hurry to pay them.

According to the Turkmen president, foreign debts to the country are as follows: Ukraine -- $412 million, Georgia -- $341 million, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan -- $52 million (each), Iran -- $45.4 million and Tajikistan -- $37 million.

Speaking of Russia, Niyazov noted that out of $162 million of the total debt, $107 million were recognized as a crown debt as a result of mutual settlements in 1992 and 1993.

Depicting this comprehensive picture of the country's foreign economic financial state, Niyazov expressed hope that all the countries owing debts to Turkmenistan will speed up negotiating and other processes to pay them. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates Discuss Cooperation, Visits

8 May 2001

Turkmen President Niyazov and Muhammad Ali Aysa al-Behesh, an adviser to the Abu Dhabi crown prince, discussed on 7 May aspects of cooperation between Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Niyazov and Behesh discussed a planned visit to Ashgabat by an UAE delegation, which is to work on projected oil, natural gas, medical, banking, and humanitarian agreements, sources in the Turkmen president's office told Interfax.

Companies in the UAE are particularly interested in the possibility of developing Turkmen offshore hydrocarbon deposits in the Caspian Sea, the sources said.

The adviser passed to Niyazov an invitation from UAE Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan al-Nuhayyan and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan to visit the Emirates at a time convenient to the Turkmen leader. (Interfax)

Turkmen Head Instructs Officials To Wear National Headgear

8 May 2001

Turkmenistan's President Niyazov has promised to erect a big mosque in his home village of Gypjak, near the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. In a 15-minute speech at a function held there on 8 May in memory of war victims, broadcasted at 1600 GMT on the same day on Turkmen state television's Altyn Asyr channel, Niyazov said: "God willing, we will start the construction of a big mosque on 6 October. This will be one of biggest mosques in Turkmenistan." He promised to give sacrificial meals, sadakas, twice a year, on 8 May and 6 October, both at his own expense.

Niyazov instructed officials to wear the takhya, the national Turkmen headgear, on all occasions. "Let us wear it during festivals and on days of mourning, and at work too. It cannot be bettered," he said.

Niyazov also demanded that local authorities take better care of the country's 7,564 war veterans. (Turkmen TV)

Russian Protestant Deported

8 May 2001

A Russian Christian who left Turkmenistan in April after being held in prison for four days (see "RFE/RL Turkmen Report," 30 April 2001) was deported, Keston News Service has learned. Yevgeny Samsonov, a member of the Word of Life Pentecostal church, was arrested after taking part in an Easter service and deported on the orders of the police and Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB). Unlike in most previous cases where the government has deported foreign citizens it accused of being involved in "illegal" religious communities, the authorities gave Samsonov a certificate of deportation -- though the certificate makes no mention of his arrest on religious grounds.

The Turkmen-language certificate -- dated 14 April, of which Keston has received a copy -- recounts that the deportation was ordered by A.G. Charyev of the Lebap region KNB and two police officers. "Reason for deportation: violation of Turkmenistan's visa regime," the certificate declares. The authorities claimed that Samsonov, a Russian citizen originally from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, did not have a visa or residence permit to live in Turkmenistan.

Protestant sources have told Keston that Samsonov was seized at his home in the eastern town of Turkmenabat (formerly Charjew) in the evening of 8 April.

Keston has been unable to reach Samsonov by telephone so far.

Turkmenistan has the harshest policy towards religious minorities of all the former Soviet republics. Only communities of the state-sponsored Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have registration. All other faiths are treated as illegal. (Keston News Service)

Turkmen President Makes Further Reshuffles

7 May 2001

By decrees of the president of Turkmenistan, Akmurat Bayjayev was dismissed from the post of head of the State Committee of Turkmenistan for Tourism and Sports, for grave shortcomings in his work and failure in duties of this committee; Enebay Atayeva, head of the Turkmen trade unions, was appointed to the post of minister of social security of Turkmenistan on a probation period of six months and, in event of her failure to carry out official duties, she is to be relieved of the post without offer of another post; the defense minister of Turkmenistan, Batyr Sarjayev, was relieved from the post of deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan.

On 7 May, Turkmen President Niyazov signed a Law of Turkmenistan on the chairman of the Turkmen Mejlis (parliament). According to the document, Rashit Meredov, former deputy chairman of Mejlis, was appointed to the post of chairman of the Mejlis.

Chairman of the Mejlis of Turkmenistan Sakhat Muradov was relieved due to retirement.

By Niyazov's decree, Arslan Nepesov was appointed to the post of the head of State Committee of Tourism and Sports.

The head of the National Security Committee of Turkmenistan, Muhammet Nazarov, was appointed to the post of the council of the Turkmen president for legal issues and coordination of activities of law enforcement and military bodies. (Turkmen TV)

Central Asia At Risk Of 17th-Century 'Dutch Disease'

10 May 2001

By Ron Synovitz

An internal report by the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or EBRD, warns that some Central Asian economies are at risk because of overdependence on high prices for their energy exports.

The warning is contained in the EBRD's latest "Capital Resources Review," which was approved at the Bank's annual meeting in London last month.

The report says the challenge for Central Asian republics is to prevent so-called "Dutch disease" scenarios. It warns of situations where high international prices for oil and natural gas result in inflation and higher exchange rates, but stunt the development of agriculture and other industries.

The report says Central Asian leaders must devise ways to use revenues from energy exports more prudently so that their countries have a broader economic base.

The warning about "Dutch disease" is a reference to an economic calamity that occurred in 17th-century Holland because of a European craze for tulips. The event has become a basic economic lesson taught to schoolchildren throughout the West.

After tulips were introduced into Europe from Turkey in the mid-1500s, the vividly colored flowers quickly became a popular commodity.

As with international energy markets last year, the demand for different varieties of tulips during the 1600s exceeded the supply -- and prices for rare types of tulip bulbs rose to unwarranted heights in Northern Europe.

By 1610, a single bulb of a new tulip variety was acceptable as dowry for a bride, and one profitable brewery in France was exchanged for a single bulb of a variety called Tulip Brasserie.

The steadily rising prices of tulip bulbs tempted many in Holland to speculate in the market -- at the cost of developing other sectors of the economy.

Homes, estates, and industries were mortgaged so that bulbs could be bought for resale at higher prices. But the tulip market crashed early in 1637 when doubts arose about whether prices would continue to rise.

Almost overnight, the price structure for tulips collapsed. Fortunes were swept away and Holland was left in financial ruin because its economy was too dependent on high tulip prices.

Macroeconomic data on Turkmenistan shows its dependency on oil and gas exports is similar to Holland's tulip economy nearly 400 years ago.

The EBRD estimates that the country's Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, grew by nearly 18 percent last year. Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov claims that growth rate is proof that the country is prospering under his policies.

But David Hexter, the EBRD's vice president for Russia and Central Asia, told RFE/RL that Turkmenistan's growth last year was primarily due to high international prices for Turkmenistan's main exports -- oil and natural gas.

"The growth in Turkmenistan over the last 12 months or so has been actually very positive -- largely fueled, of course, by the [global] trends in [high]) natural resource prices. Turkmenistan is very well endowed with natural resources -- which largely drive the economy."

Most important, while Turkmenistan's overall industrial output grew because of the strong but temporary boost provided by higher energy revenues, the country's non-energy sectors are in decline.

Although there are many differences between 17th-century Holland and today's Turkmenistan, the EBRD board is concerned about the similarities from a macroeconomic perspective.

For example, although cotton and wheat crops have traditionally been a major part of Turkmenistan's economy, agricultural output last year fell by 10 percent and is expected to fall again this year.

EBRD chief economist Willem Buiter predicts that lower global energy prices will cause overall GDP growth in Turkmenistan to slow from last year's 18 percent level to 6 percent this year.

Lower energy prices also have caused the EBRD to downgrade its growth forecasts for all other former Soviet republics that rely on oil and gas exports.

Kazakhstan's GDP growth is expected to fall from 9.6 percent last year to about 6 percent this year. Most of Kazakhstan's growth last year also was due to high world oil prices, while its agricultural output declined by 5 percent.

Russian's GDP growth -- which was about 7.7 percent last year -- is expected to slow to 3.4 percent because of lower prices received for its energy exports.

The forecast for Azerbaijan says GDP growth will slow from last year's 10.5 percent to about 8.5 percent this year.

EBRD President Jean Lemierre is visiting Azerbaijan today and tomorrow for talks with President Heidar Aliyev and other senior officials in charge of economic matters.

Lemierre is expected to praise the country's economic stability. But a statement from the EBRD says the main purpose of its strategy in Azerbaijan is to promote balanced economic growth.

As with its work in Central Asia and Russia, the EBRD is trying to help Azerbaijan become less dependent on energy exports. Bank projects are aimed at promoting small and medium-sized businesses, helping to build a more reliable financial sector, assisting in the privatization of medium-sized state firms, and helping to improve conditions for foreign investors in the country. (RFE/RL)

Secret Police Raid Baptist Service And Ban Pastor From Leading Worship

10 May 2001

By Felix Corley

Baptist pastor Vasily Korobov from the Turkmen capital Ashgabat was told by an officer of the country's secret police, the KNB (former KGB), on 7 May that he should not try to leave the city for at least six months, Keston News Service has learnt. He was also banned from holding further Baptist meetings. The KNB officer suggested to Korobov and two fellow Baptists that they should go to the Russian Orthodox Church (the only legal Christian denomination in Turkmenistan) and "there would be no problem." The "suggestion" came after pastor Korobov and his colleagues were detained the previous day for leading a Sunday service in the open air near the town of Mary, 350 kilometers (220 miles) east of Ashgabat. Since all Baptist and other Protestant activity was banned, Turkmenistan's Baptist churches have all been closed down, including Korobov's own in Ashgabat. Some groups have revived the Soviet-era practice of holding services in the open air in a bid to avoid detection.

It is not yet known if the ban on Korobov leaving Ashgabat was issued officially or "unofficially." As he has not been subject to a sentence imposed by a court, any restrictions on Korobov's movements violate Turkmenistan's international commitments to freedom of movement. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Turkmenistan has signed, declares: "Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence." The ban on any further Baptist meetings violates Turkmenistan's international commitments to freedom of religion and of association.

On the morning of Sunday 6 May, fearing that it would be too risky to hold a service in Mary itself, the Baptists went 10 kilometers (6 miles) out of town and began their service in the open air. Shortly after the service started three KNB officers arrived. Asked what was going on, the Baptists declared they were meeting to pray and read the Bible. The KNB halted the service, and one officer asked who was from Ashgabat. Korobov and his two colleagues from Ashgabat identified themselves. The KNB were apparently mostly interested in the three, though they wrote down personal details of all those present, including name, address, telephone number, place of employment, and passport number.

The three from Ashgabat were told they would be taken to the local police station for questioning and "processing." One KNB officer went in Korobov's car and the other two went with Korobov's two colleagues. The three were questioned for about an hour and a half at the police station before being escorted to Mary's KNB headquarters. There Korobov was questioned by a senior KNB officer, while the other two were questioned by a more junior officer. The KNB officer told Korobov they had been waiting for them for three days.

The three were questioned from noon until 7:30 in the evening. They were then escorted to the edge of Mary and handed over to a waiting police escort from Tedjen, a town about halfway between Mary and Ashgabat. They were not allowed to retrieve their belongings from the home where they were staying, although the KNB did allow a friend to fetch them while they waited. They then left under escort for Ashgabat.

At both police checkpoints before Tedjen the escorting officer advised the checkpoint that the three Baptists and the car they were in were never to be allowed through in future. This same instruction was given at the Tedjen checkpoint. The escort left them there and they were allowed to continue to Ashgabat on their own.

The Ashgabat KNB phoned Korobov's wife Lyudmila at home several times asking whether he had arrived. Finally they asked her to tell him to call the Ashgabat KNB as soon as he returned. The three Baptists arrived in Ashgabat at 11 o'clock the following morning. Korobov phoned the KNB and was instructed to come in at 2:00 p.m. Korobov arrived as instructed at the KNB office, where officers told him he knew he should not conduct meetings. He was warned that if meetings did not stop he would be in "really big trouble."

When Korobov asked how the KNB knew they were going to Mary, the KNB officer eventually replied that the information came from one of Korobov's "enemies."

Keston did not telephone Pastor Korobov to confirm the report for fear of making his position even worse. (Keston News Service)