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Turkmen Report: May 27, 2001

27 May 2001
Ukraine To Implement Projects Worth $420 Million In Turkmenistan

25 May 2001

In 2002 Ukrainian companies will launch 20 investment projects worth $420 million in Turkmenistan, Ukrainian Ambassador to Ashgabat Vadim Chuprun told Interfax on 25 May.

The fulfillment of the projects is envisioned by a treaty of economic cooperation between Turkmenistan and Ukraine for 2001-2010 and a ten-year intergovernmental program of long-term economic cooperation.

Among the most important, Chuprun named the construction of a bridge across the Amu-Darya River ($123 million), three gas compressor stations ($280 million) and water-supply and communication networks in Ashgabat. (Interfax)

Georgian Owes $336 Million For Turkmen Gas

25 May 2001

On 26 May, Georgia celebrates the 10th anniversary of its independence. On this occasion, the special envoy of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Genri Pataraya, gave an interview to a Turkmen State News service correspondent.

"Between 1992 and 1995, the most critical period in our country, Georgia made enormous efforts to cope with the situation of ruin and chaos inherited from the previous regime. The very existence of hundreds of thousands of Georgian families depended on Turkmen gas deliveries.... Georgia's state debt to Turkmenistan ran up to $600 million, which has not been repaid in full even now; it has been repaid in installments and currently stands at $336 million. The Georgian leadership is examining every possible way of repaying its debts. However, the current situation in the national economy does not allow us to repay all of the debt commitments..." (Turkmen State News Service)

U.S. Researcher Finds Example Of Ancient Civilization Writing In Turkmenistan

24 May 2001

A U.S. archaeologist, Pennsylvania University professor Fredrik Hiebert, has discovered a pebble-sized seal in Turkmenistan containing evidence of a 4,000-year-old writing system previously unknown to modern researchers.

Fredrik Hiebert said at a news conference in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on 23 May that he and colleagues from the Central Asian nation discovered the seal last June during excavations 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Ashgabat, near the Iranian border at the site of an ancient settlement near Annau. The seal with four or five red symbols or letters engraved on it most likely dates back to 2300 B.C. and was someone's personal property, Hiebert said.

A find of Hiebert and his Turkmen colleague Murad Kurbanov supports the hypothesis of a hitherto unknown civilization in Central Asia. It took them almost a year to study the find, which dates back to 2300 BC.

Hiebert said the symbols carved on the stone seal, which he said was barely more than 1 centimeter by 1 centimeter (a half-inch by half-inch), do not belong to any known system of writing. The signs have no resemblance to any written language that was used in that period in Mesopotamia, Iran, or the Ind River valley. The local origin of the stone and some other evidence confirm the existence of a earlier unknown civilization, which was rather highly developed, Hiebert said

Hiebert signed an agreement on 23 May with Turkmen archaeologists to conduct further digs in the area where the seal was found. The three-year research program will begin in October, he said. The three-year research program of Turkmen and U.S. archaeologists will be financed by a grant from the U.S. National Geographic Society, he said.

Hiebert was also part of a team that discovered a wooden ship -- perhaps 1,500 years old -- in the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey last year. (AP, Interfax)

First Exhibition-Sale Of Turkmen Carpets Opens In Ashgabat

24 May 2001

The first exhibition and sale of famous Turkmen all-wool and hand-made carpets opened in Ashgabat on 24 May. The event was held in the Expo center of the Turkmenistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and on the occasion of a holiday of Turkmen carpets, marked on the last Sunday in May.

The exhibition's organizer, state-owned "Turkmenhaly" (Turkmen carpets), has granted its visitors an opportunity not only to become familiar with the best examples of modern Turkmen carpet weaving, but also to purchase them. (RFE/RL,

Turkmen Religious Council To Transport Turkmen Students In Turkey

24 May 2001

By presidential decree, the Ministry of Education and the president's Council for Religious Affairs will organize the transportation of Turkmen students currently studying at educational establishments in the Republic of Turkey to Ashgabat during July and August 2001 for the summer vacation and back to their places of study in August and September 2001. (Turkmen TV)

President Niyazov Gets Another Title -- 'The Great'

24 May 2001

The sixth jubilee conference of the world's Turkmens has awarded the title "Great" to President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The assembly, in which 64 members of an association representing Turkmen societies from 24 countries are taking part, has decided to elect Niyazov president of the association for life and to call him "Beik President," which means "Great President."

The Turkmen press published the resolution on 24 May. From now on the leader of Turkmenistan will be called "Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great." The honorary title is awarded for "great services to the Turkmen people of the people's son, hero, and leader Saparmurat Turkmenbashi."

Meanwhile, a source in the presidential staff has told Interfax that Niyazov is dissatisfied with the work of the national mass media.

The president said at a 23 May cabinet session, where media heads were also invited, "the excessive praise simply hampered his activity." The press says nothing about "the gradual advancement of Turkmenistan," and there is "an impression that correspondents have nothing to write about and fill the pages with praise of me," Niyazov said.

The activity of television, which now has three independent channels, leaves much to be desired, the president said. He noted that his instruction "to mirror reality" has not been met and television channels broadcast the same concerts "which nobody watches or listens to."

It is necessary to make television programs about people, "display the moral potential of the people and publicize the cultural heritage of the nation," Niyazov said. The outlook of journalists "is very narrow" and they are unable to form "public opinion and educate the young," he remarked.

Journalists "must become professional and work for the people, not for the president," Niyazov said. (RFE/RL, Interfax)

Turkmen Leader Is Hailed As 'Prophet'

24 May 2001

The personality cult of President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan is showing signs of turning into a religion after the Central Asian despot's spokesman hailed him as "a prophet" and praised his "divine abilities."

Already exalted as "Chief of the Turkmens," Niyazov was described by the spokesman as "a national prophet sent down to the Turkmen people in the Third Millennium." The pretext for the latest display of homage was the forthcoming publication of the president's spiritual testimony, the "Rukhname."

Worshipping Niyazov as divine is a logical next step. All public buildings are decorated with his picture and everything that could be named after him was so honored years ago.

Niyazov criticized the campaign to turn him into a prophet at a conference in his capital, Ashgabat, on 22 May. Delegates responded by voting him the title "Great President."

The "Rukhname" will "become a beacon, a bright light in the Third Millennium, which will illuminate the earth from Central Asia and this will be the light of the prophet Saparmurat," his spokesman, Kakamurat Balliyev, declared recently. In the "Neutral Turkmenistan" newspaper, Balliyev said he had no doubts about Niyazov's "divine gift and divine abilities." ("The Daily Telegraph")

Turkmen President Criticizes Domestic Media

23 May 2001

On 23 May Turkmen President Niyazov held an expanded meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. The heads of the national television and radio, the editors of all central newspapers, and other top officials attended the meeting.

The president spoke about preparations for celebration of the 10th anniversary of independence this year:

"When one switches on the television or radio or opens a newspaper, he cannot find anything which gives him any idea about mechanisms of our movement forward, as well as about obstacles on the path of development," Niyazov said. "I spoke many times about this helplessness of the domestic mass media," he added.

"They talk about the same old subjects over and over again and run the same endless concerts on television. Who needs them, who will watch and listen to it? The situation with newspapers is not any better. I think that they have nothing to write about and they fill their pages by singing praises to me. Do not do it, excessive extolling disturbs my work and burdens me," said Niyazov

"But here is a question: can you do anything else? Can you write articles, make programs about people and events, talk about the moral potential of the nation, and propagate the cultural heritage of the nation and its great art?

"It is time," demanded Niyazov, "you became professionals, worked for people, but not for the president. If you cannot, find through selection talented young people and keep away yourselves, do not disturb them.

"Judging by the level of many programs we can draw the conclusion that the range of interests of their authors is equal to zero. Meanwhile, you must form public opinion and bring up the young. You have all the means to influence the masses but you put them off from television and newspapers, which do not carry a single worthy message," Niyazov said. (Turkmen State News Service)

U.S. Government Assistance For Turkmenistan To Arrive

22 May 2001

Over $400,000 worth of clothing, footwear, and medical equipment will arrive in Ashgabat in the coming week, donated by the U.S. government as part of its ongoing program of cooperation with Turkmenistan in the field of health care.

The project is being administered for USAID Counterpart International Humanitarian Assistance Program (CHAP), in collaboration with CHAP�s distribution partner, the National Red Crescent Society of Turkmenistan (TRCS). TRCS will receive and distribute clothing and footwear to the elderly, orphans, disabled, and large families. Medical equipment and supplies will be provided to TRCS�s Charity Houses in all velayats of Turkmenistan, with the aim of upgrading patient care service all over the country.

"Thanks to this aid, we managed to help the victims of natural disaster in Dashoguz and Garagala regions in the last 2 years, where we distributed meals, sweaters, shirts, sleeping bags, and tents. And this new shipment will undoubtedly assist the needy groups of elderly, disabled, and low-income people. I would like to express gratitude to CHAP on behalf of all recipients," TRCS's Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Specialist Natalya Levaya said.

CHAP has been working with Turkmenistan Red Crescent Society for more than two years. Since 1999, TRCS has received and distributed $1,928,700 worth of assistance from CHAP. New shipments of clothing, bedding, household items, and sleeping bags are expected in the near future. (U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan)

Canadian Company To Build Liquefied Gas Production Plant In Karakum Desert

22 May 2001

The Canadian company Thermo Design Engineering Ltd. has launched preparations for the construction of a liquefied gas facility on the Naip gas-condensate field in Zaunguz Karakum desert in northeastern Turkmenistan, the Turkmengaz national company said.

In November 2000 Turkmengaz and Thermo Design Engineering signed a contract for designing and building on a turnkey basis a $25 million liquefied gas facility at Naip.

The future facility, to consist of two sections, will have an annual processing capacity of 3.3 billion cubic meters of natural gas and a daily production capacity of about 500 tons of liquefied gas (182,500 tons a year). (Interfax,

Turkmen Leader Opposes 'Great' Title

22 May 2001

The Turkmen leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, has turned down the proposal by the world Turkmen organization to accept the title of "Great". The meeting of the World Turkmen Humanitarian Association held in Ashgabat on 22 May passed a resolution, making Niyazov the organization�s president for life and adding to his official name the word "Great". But Niyazov asked the participants not to adopt that proposal, saying: "We all are equal and we are sons of the same fatherland." In his address to the gathering Niyazov also dismissed "the widespread thought" that the Turkmen could not have a leader. "The Turkmen state must have a khan, president, parliament and should be governed in a centralized way," he said. The following is an excerpt from a report by Turkmen TV on 22 May:

Haji Pygamberguly Juma from Saudi Arabia, said in Turkmen: "Esteemed brothers, as you know, our president [of the World Turkmen's Humanitarian Association] and the Turkmen president, Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Niyazov, was given the title of Turkmenbashi [leader of all Turkmen] after his first visit to Saudi Arabia for performing pilgrimage to Mecca and becoming a haji. Then the Turkmen living there decided to give him the title of Turkmenbashi. Today the entire world knows him by this title and we are deeply proud of this. Today we are putting forward another proposal on behalf of the Turkmen of our country. We ask our great leader Saparmurat Turkmenbashi to accept this proposal that is to grant him life presidency of our humanitarian association. We once again ask you to support this proposal."

The proposal was supported unanimously; then other delegates suggested that the title of Beyik, "the Great," should be added to the name of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi; Niyazov took the floor and thanked the delegates for this proposal. Niyazov said:

"Despite some shortcomings and difficulties, our Turkmen society remained healthy during these 10 years. There were some people who did not belong with us. There also was criticism that we did not have democracy and no opposition and confrontation here in the country.

Nevertheless, for 10 years we have been following our own national path, the Turkmen path. This path is completely different from other paths, but we recognize human values too. We do not discriminate against anyone or any ethnic group.

There is a thought, which is widespread among people, that the Turkmen cannot have their own khan, because each Turkmen family has its own khan. No, this notion brought us difficulties and discord. The Turkmen state must have a khan, president, and parliament and should be governed in a centralized way. If we again underestimate the significance of Turkmen statehood and let everybody sort out his own affairs on his own, we will be ruined just like the Seljouk sultans. They were wrong deciding not to keep a single army and have instead small armies under every sultan. They hoped they would gather these armies if need be. Likewise they replaced the centralized government with local ones. This was one of the biggest political mistakes of the Turkmens.

"We keep saying: please do set up parties and we do not stop anybody from doing this. But no party will be allowed to breach the law. It is required to have at least 1,000 members to set up a party, but now we will lower this limit to 500. Let these 500 members unite and work out a common idea. Let them outline their goals, program and draw up their regulations and then submit all the necessary papers to the Justice Ministry. If their program and regulations do not contradict the existing laws then let them create any party, except religious, nationalist or tribalist ones, which are banned. Such parties will inevitably lead to confrontation as before. There are no other restrictions for opening parties in Turkmenistan."

Then Niyazov said: "I ask you not to adopt the second item of the conference resolution. Not to add the word 'Great,' because recently in a newspaper an author even called me a prophet. We all are equal and we are sons of the same fatherland. Therefore my greatness depends on you and I am not better than any of you." (Turkmen TV)

Turkmen President Should Be Declared A Prophet, Journalists Say

21 May 2001

The Turkmen people need to declare their president for life, Saparmurat Niyazov, as the prophet of the new millennium. Such was the main idea of an article entitled: "The spell of the prophet", published on 21 May in the electronic version of the Russian-language "Neitralny Turkmenistan."

"Saparmurat Turkmenbashi is the national prophet, sent by God to the Turkmen people in the new epoch," the authors of the article, journalists Kakamurat Balliyev and Osman Odayev, wrote. As they pointed out, it was Saparmurat Niyazov who had founded the new Turkmen statehood and created the new Turkmen nation. And it was Niyazov who has composed the book of Rukhname, considered the second Koran of Turkmens and a moral code of the Turkmen people. "The eternal light coming out from Central Asia through the 'Rukhname' book will throw light on the whole Earth and this will be the light sent by Saparmurat, the prophet," the article concluded. ("Neitralny Turkmenistan" website)

Ashgabat To Cooperate With U.S. Guided By Its Neutral Status

21 May 2001

Turkmen President Niyazov and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command Tommy Franks met in Ashgabat to discuss ways of ensuring regional security and developing bilateral cooperation. The U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Steven Robert Mann also attended the meeting.

Niyazov said that Turkmenistan would cooperate with the United States in the military sphere guided by its neutral status and by the defensive character of its military doctrine, a source in the presidential staff told Interfax on 21 May.

Turkmenistan needs U.S. assistance in training military specialists, and consultative and technical aid, the source said.

During the meeting the mutual benefits of developing ethnic Turkmen military leaders were aired. Franks dwelled on his impressions of the professionalism of the Turkmen servicemen, their high level of discipline and sense of duty, commenting that these are very good characteristics for soldiers and officers. Franks informed the Turkmen president in detail about the results of his visit to the CIS Central Asian countries. In this connection, the necessity for regional security and for drawing up a number of measures to defend it was emphasized.

At the end of the meeting the U.S. general thanked Niyazov for the meaningful conversation, which had enabled him to widen his conception of the region and of the form of military relationships with Central Asian countries. (Interfax, Turkmen TV)

Turkmens Introduce New Rules Of Selling Petrol To Car Owners In North

21 May 2001

New rules of selling petrol to owners of private vehicles were introduced in Dashoguz, Ilyali, and Akdepe (all in northern Turkmenistan) on 1 March.

Every car owner must present his driving license and technical-and-operation data card at a filling station, and the owner then receives a special card in which the filling station workers are to register the refueling of the given vehicle.

The new system of selling petrol is intended to make it possible to considerably reduce long queues at filling stations, exclude the buying up, resale, and illegal export of lubricants, and to put an end to filling stations creating artificial shortages of petrol. ("Neitralny Turkmenistan")

The New Prophet Of Our Century: Turkmenbashi

22 May 2001

By Nadir Devlet

On 22 May several Turkish newspapers, such as "Milliyet," "Hurriyet," and "Radikal," grabbed their readers' attention with a very interesting, or strange, story, because this story was a spiritual one and created astonishment, especially in a country like Turkey, where religious belief is a very sensitive issue. "Milliyet's" Moscow correspondent Cenk Baslamis and others wrote that President-for-life and absolute monarch of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov had been announced as a prophet. According to the Turkish press, Saparmurat Niyazov will be officially declared a prophet.

The governmental newspaper "Neitralny Turkmenistan" had published an article by presidential spokesman Kakamurat Balliyev, which started with the sentence "Prophet's sayings" and ended with the signature of "Prophet Saparmurat." An article by a high official in the governmental press could mean only that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov will shortly be declared a prophet.

Nobody took it as a joke, because such an article would not be printed in an official organ. Even if it had printed in a satirical journal, in a country like Turkmenistan we would take it seriously, since making jokes about the president could be interpreted as much worse than a sin. Balliyev, who tried to prove that Niyazov is a prophet, wrote: "According to me he is a prophet, who was sent to the Turkmen people in the third millennium. I have no doubts that he has spiritual powers. The Prophet is a messenger and Turkmenbashi's message is his book 'Rukhname.' This work in the third millennium, which has aroused Central Asia and become a spiritual light, which is going to lighten the world." As far as we know, "Rukhname" -- the "Book of Spirit" -- has been written by Saparmurat Niyazov or prepared for him by different authors, declares moral rules for Turkmens.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov comes to the attention of the Turkish press on different occasions, mainly through his strange decisions. According to the Moscow correspondent of "Milliyet," Cenk Baslamis, in the beginning Niyazov backed the personality-cult efforts of Turkmen scholars, journalists, and administrators. But probably because of international reactions or critics, he started to act much more cautiously recently. He said that he is annoyed with uninterrupted praise and removed his picture logo from TV broadcasts.

Niyazov, who was elected president for life two years ago, still makes strange decisions. At a meeting with the cultural leaders of Turkmenistan on 3 March, he announced the closure of the main Opera and Ballet Theater in Ashgabat. His argument was: how can a Turkmen love ballet if he/she has no ballet in his/her blood. His decision to close down the Turkmen Academy of Sciences and Turkmen National Library also mystified foreign observers.

Recently, one of his rather weird decisions was to send Deputy Industry Minister Anaguly Jumageldiyev to training as an electricity technician. According to "Milliyet," other strange decisions by the Turkmen leader were his order to force Turkmen bureaucrats to pass a patriotism examination, to ban Internet access for a while, to cut the salaries of meteorologists whose prognoses were wrong, or to make his writings an obligatory curriculum in schools.

The personality cult of Saparmurat Niyazov has a long tradition. To declare him a prophet is not a new development either. When he was elected president for life, many intellectuals congratulated him and in June 2000 the "Garagum" magazine published two articles calling him a prophet. Sapar Oereyev wrote the first one, entitled "Our merciful and forgiving prophet President -- our Saparmurat Turkmenbashi." The second was written by the writer Durdi Karov and the heading was "The representative of only god on earth the prophet and the nation's leader Saparmurat Turkmenbashi". Karov wrote in his message that Turkmenbashi is the first and the lifetime president of the Turkmen state and he is the prophet for all Turkmens. He also suggested that every year on 21 June, when he was elected president for life, all Turkmens should celebrate the date as a feast with the announcement of his prophethood.

The latest article in the official Turkmen newspaper is a sign that Niyazov has now accepted the suggestion. What more can a human being expect? Is there any higher position on earth than a prophet? Certainly not. Catholics have their Pope. Muslims had their Khalif's last centuries. There were some fake prophets, but nobody was declared a prophet by state organs and this will be the first time in history. But in this decision there is a tiny problem, because Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammed was the last prophet on earth and only on the Last Judgment Day prophet Jesus Christ will come to Earth. Therefore the question among Muslim Turkmens may arise whether Turkmenbashi is the prophet Jesus Christ or a fake one or they have adopted a new religion. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine-Turkmen Gas Accord May Also Benefit Russia

21 May 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Russia's gas giant Gazprom could be a silent beneficiary of Turkmenistan's decision to become the prime gas supplier to Ukraine.

Last week in Kyiv, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed an accord with President Leonid Kuchma that will provide Ukraine with 250 billion cubic meters of gas over the next five years. Kuchma called the agreement "an historic event," saying that it would "ensure the needs of [the] economy and of the Ukrainian population for a stable energy supply."

This year, Turkmenistan is expected to export 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine. That amount could double by 2006, covering up to three-fourths of Ukraine's gas demand. Although Ukraine is the world's sixth-largest gas consumer, it produces only about 18 billion cubic meters per year. The remainder has come from Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom.

The agreement with Turkmenistan would reduce Ukraine's reliance on Russia and could alter the mutual dependence which has been at the heart of the region's energy security problems for years.

About 90 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe pass through Ukrainian pipelines. Gazprom pays Kyiv 30 billion cubic meters a year as a transit fee. But Ukraine has regularly diverted even more fuel to meet its needs. Kyiv now owes Russia about $2 billion in gas debts, giving Gazprom a strong motive for seeking control over the transit pipelines.

Russia could object to the Turkmen deal on several grounds.

First, the alternate gas supply could lessen Russia's leverage over Ukraine and make it less likely that it will ever get repayment of its debt. Russia's reduced influence as a supplier might also make it more likely that Ukraine could divert gas with impunity.

In addition, more Turkmen gas for Ukraine could mean less available for Russia. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin reached a preliminary accord with Niyazov to buy 50 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas a year. But the deal fell through because of disputes over the price. Now, it seems that the gas will go to Ukraine instead.

Moscow may also find reason to be unhappy about how much Ukraine has agreed to pay. Turkmenistan will charge Kyiv $42 per thousand cubic meters, allowing Ashgabat to impose its second price increase in recent months. In February, Russia reluctantly agreed to pay $40 after Turkmenistan halted its deliveries at the start of the year.

But despite all the drawbacks, there could be significant advantages for Russia. So far, Moscow has done nothing to block the Turkmen deal, which relies on transit through Russian pipelines to Ukraine.

One possible benefit is that it may reduce Russia's risk that Ukraine will pile up more debts for gas. That risk may now shift to Turkmenistan as Ukraine's new primary supplier.

Kyiv already owes Ashgabat some $400 million. Reportedly, it has been paying for half of the gas with cash in advance, with the rest in goods and services. But the real value of the barter is unknown, raising doubts about how much has been paid and how much is owed.

In addition, more Turkmen supplies may lower rather than raise the risk that Ukraine will divert Russia's transit gas since Kyiv will now have more gas to satisfy its needs.

"Petroleum Argus," an industry newsletter, says Gazprom may also profit because its trading partner Itera will take 40 percent of the gas as a transit fee. The provision makes the increase for Ukraine far smaller than most reports suggested last week.

Perhaps most important, the deal may make it possible to separate the gas flow through the region into two stages. Turkmen gas will supply Ukraine, while Russian gas will flow through Ukraine to Europe to be sold at a higher price.

If the plan works, Russia will benefit at least as much as Turkmenistan and Ukraine. And if it fails, Moscow's new ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, can renew Russian efforts to gain control over the pipelines. (RFE/RL)