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Turkmen Report: June 10, 2001

10 June 2001
OSCE Chairman, Turkmen President Meet In Ashgabat

8 June 2001

Economic and democratic transformations in society, including the observation of human rights, should develop simultaneously, regardless of national mentality or the special situation of a country or its region, OSCE Chairman in Office Mircea Geoana told the press in Ashgabat on 8 June following a meeting with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Geoana and Niyazov discussed regional security and the situation in Afghanistan.

Geoana said an agreement was reached with the Turkmen president that the Turkmen Foreign Ministry and the OSCE office in Ashgabat will start preparations for drafting a program of joint activity, which should "become a basis for close and fruitful cooperation." (Interfax)

New U.S. Ambassador To Turkmenistan To Be Appointed

7 June 2001

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at the regular briefing that U.S. President George W. Bush intends to nominate Laura E. Kennedy as ambassador to the Republic of Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL)

New Deadline For Conscripted Baptist

7 June 2001

A young Baptist from the Turkmen capital Ashgabat forcibly drafted into the armed forces last month has been transferred out of the military unit where he had been subjected to torture, Keston News Service has learned. However, his troubles are not over. He has been given a deadline of 10 June to swear the obligatory military oath or face prosecution under the criminal code. Dmitri Melnichenko refuses to serve in the armed forces or swear the military oath on religious grounds. Turkmenistan has no alternative service and imprisons conscientious objectors. (Keston News Service)

Turkmenistan Starts Industrial Development Of Byashkyzyl Gas Deposit

7 June 2001

Turkmenistan has started industrial development of the large Byashkyzyl gas deposit in the northeast of the republic, a source in the Oil and Gas Industry Ministry told Interfax.

Reserves at the deposit amount to about 100 billion cubic meters of gas. The 90-kilometer Byashkyzyl-Uchaji pipeline has also been launched, which will transport gas to the main Central Asia-Center gas pipeline.

The general contractor for the project to equip the deposit is Turkmenneftegazstroi. Total investment in this project will amount to over $62 million. (Interfax)

Niyazov Continues Working Trip Around Country

7 June 2001

On 6 June, President Niyazov arrived in Mary as part of an ongoing working trip to different locales of the country.

Speaking before a group of agricultural workers, Niyazov talked about the government's policy on development of the agrarian complex. He leveled serious criticism on the management of Mary velayat, as they "have not learned to work properly" "commit irresponsibility, indifferent attitude to people's labor," and "do not know how to create conditions for normal activity of the peasants".

The president demanded that the local administration "radically get rid of careless attitude to business, to get rid of organizational confusion, irresponsibility in service of the farmers." (

Afghan Taliban And Turkmen Envoys Meet In Pakistan

6 June 2001

The ambassador of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to Pakistan met with the Turkmen ambassador in Islamabad today.

Turkmen Ambassador Berdiniyazov expressed his country's interest in cooperation with Afghanistan in various fields and added that Turkmenistan's policy towards Afghanistan had not changed and Turkmenistan was making the necessary efforts to strengthen and expand relations. (Radio Voice of Shariat, Kabul)

Monument To President's Father Collapses

6 June 2001

Independent sources in Turkmenistan have reported that the monument of Niyazov's father, Atamurat Niyazov, in Ashgabat unexpectedly collapsed. The monument was commemorated on 8 May 2001 in the Ashgabat park named after Atamurat Niyazov.

No official comments on the incident have been made so far. The Atamurat Niyazov park was created right on the site of 1948 Ashgabat earthquake, in which many people perished. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Exhibition In Kyrgyzstan

6 June 2001

The political relationships among Central Asian countries are developing at a slow pace, but recently there was an exhibition of Turkmen culture in Kyrgyzstan.

The event took place at the end of March at the Arts Museum of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Such an event is rare in any sphere considering the relationship between the two countries. Political cooperation is not in evidence, as there has been no official meeting between the two presidents for a long time. Trade with Turkmenistan constitutes about 4 percent of the Kyrgyz GNP. Nevertheless this low-level cooperation is better then nothing. Turkmenistan does not even have an embassy in Kyrgyzstan, nor are there any flights between the two capitals. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

U.S. In Favor Of 5 Caspian States Reaching Agreement On Sea Status

6 June 2001

The U.S. is in favor of the five Caspian littoral states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) reaching agreement on the division of the Caspian Sea based on consensus, U.S. presidential representative in the Caspian region Stephen Menn said in Baku on 5 June.

The resolution of the legal status of the Caspian should help the development of economic cooperation between countries in the region, he said. The U.S. presidential representative also noted that the issue of the status of the Caspian is the internal affair of the five Caspian states and the U.S. is not able to interfere in this decision.

Menn said that he started to carry out his duties as U.S. presidential representative in the Caspian region on 1 June. His current visit to Baku as part of the Caspian Oil and Gas-2001 exhibition is his first in this new position.

Menn was previously U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan and he replaced Elizabeth Jones as U.S. presidential representative in the Caspian region. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Moves Embassy In Azerbaijan To Ashgabat

5 June 2001

On 4 June, Turkmenistan officially informed Azerbaijan about temporarily moving the residence of the Turkmen ambassador from Baku to Ashgabat.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry note, which was sent to Azerbaijan, said that the decision was dictated by temporary financial difficulties.

Turkmenistan, as the note stresses, "hopes that the decision will be perceived with understanding" by the Azerbaijani side.

Turkmenistan opened its embassy in Baku in the summer of 1999. The problem of opening the Azerbaijani Embassy in Ashgabat remained unsolved.

The document also says that the Turkmen authorities pay great attention to the development and strengthening of good-neighborly relations and cooperation with Azerbaijan, the nature and direction of which are determined by the interests of the two countries' peoples.

In recent years, Turkmen-Azerbaijani relations have become complicated, as both sides' attempts to agree on disputed territories in the Caspian Sea attest. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan took part in an international oil consortium in the Caspian Sea, which developed oil deposits for several years.

Relations between the two former Soviet states grew strained after talks held in Ashgabat on 1 May aimed at defining a boundary in the resource-rich Caspian Sea dividing the two republics ended in failure

In May Turkmenistan warned the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry that it has the right to address the international arbitration court to settle territorial disagreements (ITAR-TASS, Turkmen State News Service, AFP)

Turkmen Businessman Arrested In Moscow

5 June 2001

"Turkmenistan" fund reports that on 2 June at the request of Turkmen authorities the Moscow Central Police Department arrested the known Turkmen businessman Guvanch Djumayev, who has dual citizenship -- Turkmen and Russian. About one year ago Djumayev decided to stop business activities in Turkmenistan, to move to Moscow, and to start business in Russia.

Djumayev is one of the active supporters of democratic changes in Turkmenistan. In the beginning of the 1990s he published the independent newspaper "Contact," which was closed by Turkmen authorities at the end of 1993 because of "redundant" free-thinking. In 1994 Djumayev gave an interview to "Izvestiya" correspondent Vladimir Kuleshov, in which he spoke frankly about the reasons for the worsening of living conditions. In particular, he accused the government of pursuing incorrect social and economic policy.

Djumayev has founded the company "Gairat," which employed more than 1000 workers. The company had a good reputation and began to expand connections with foreign countries.

The "Turkmenistan" fund appealed to all human rights defense organizations to convince Russia not to hand Djumayev over to the Turkmen authorities. ("Turkmenistan" fund)

Niyazov Calls For End To Ethnic, Religious Discord

5 June 2001

On 5 June, President Niyazov visited two districts of the eastern Lebap Region to launch a wheat-harvesting campaign. At his meetings with people during the visit, Niyazov demanded that ethnic and religious discord be eradicated there.

At a welcoming ceremony at Turkmenabat airport, the center of Lebap Region, Niyazov said: "I would like to ask you to eradicate regionalism here. Some people say that they are Turkmens, some people say that they are Uzbeks. We all have the same roots. Uzbeks are becoming like Turkmens and Turkmens are becoming like Uzbeks."

At a meeting with elders, the president said: "Is there any religious discord here? I have heard that in Atamurat [District, on the Turkmen-Uzbek border] some people go to one mosque, and others go to another mosque. I ask you to eradicate this."

Speaking with elders of the Parahat village of Sayat District, Niyazov said: "We have no disagreement with neighbors. Here our main neighbor is Uzbekistan and our relations, thanks to God, are good. We are building posts [on the border] to maintain order, not to have discord tomorrow. If we will not build fences goods will be smuggled...people who want to enter. We shall open a special crossing point and let people go through it legally." (Turkmen TV)

Turkmen Central Bank Introduces Electronic Payment System

4 June 2001

A modern system of electronic interbank payment has been installed by the Turkmen Central Bank with the assistance of the American Koros company.

The foreign partners supplied the necessary software, which guarantees total protection and gives the opportunity to carry out bank transactions professionally and quickly. It uses so-called crypto-protection, which means that all electronically transferred bank documents are coded and cannot be accessed without a code.

According to the Central Bank, the system of electronic payment introduced in Ashgabat allows different payments between 32 branches of the bank to be made within a day. (Turkmen State News Service)

President Criticizes Power, Health Sectors

4 June 2001

On 4 June, the Turkmen president held a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Commenting on the state of affairs as a whole, Niyazov said that all projects were being carried out successfully. Great results have been achieved in all sectors, first of all in oil and gas, textile and agriculture. If the managers of all sectors were active and industrious, we would have achieved much better results, Niyazov stressed.

Niyazov cited as an example the level of management of the power sector. This is one of the most profitable sectors in the world, but it is unprofitable in our country. The president said that this could be explained by complete irresponsibility, the low professional level of specialists, and the inability to make use of the available resources.

But in this sector, too, we see poorly educated specialists, even those neglecting doctors' duties. This must be eradicated, the most human profession must always be at a high respectable level and provided with proper conditions, President Niyazov said. (Turkmen TV)

Deputy Prime Minister, Local Officials Dismissed

4 June 2001

Minister of Economics and Finance Orazmurat Begmuradov was relieved from the post of deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan by decree of the Turkmen president.

Niyazov also dismissed "for serious flaws in her work" the deputy head of the Dashoguz regional administration, Kumysh Bazarova, and replaced her with Kumysh Saparmamedova for a test period of six months.

Niyazov appointed Bairamgeldi Nurmammedov as deputy chairman of the board of the Turkmenistan commercial bank and Shemshat Guvanjayeva as deputy executive director of Presidentbank. (Interfax, Turkmen TV)

Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline To Be In Service By 2005

31 May 2001

Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Zeki Cakan gave the opening speech at the 13th International Turkey Petroleum Congress at the Ankara Hilton and said that whatever Turkey's energy needs might be it was imperative to ensure they were met and that this entailed using the alternatives and advantages well and developing new energy strategies, the Anatolia news agency reported yesterday.

Minister Cakan pointed out that Turkey was not an energy-rich country and that only 9 percent of the petroleum consumed in Turkey and 4 percent of the natural gas was produced in the country. He said that Turkey currently imports 65 percent of its energy needs and that this figure would rise to 80 percent by 2020. He noted that he wanted natural gas and oil to reach the customer in a liberal and reliable market in accordance with EU standards.

On the matter of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, Minister Cakan said it was aimed at putting Azerbaijani oil on the world market. He said the project would come on line in 2005. An agreement with Azerbaijan to supply Turkey with natural gas, he said, would see the pipeline come into service in 2004.

General Director of the Turkish Pipeline Corporation (BOTAS) Gokhan Yardim said that Turkey imported 14.2 billion cubic meters of gas in 2000 but that its needs were closer to 22 billion. He said they expected to see the amount of gas imported increase to 16 billion this year and that the shortages seen last year would not be repeated this year. On the subject of gas from Iran, Yardim said the Turkish leg of the pipeline would be completed by the end of this month. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

China And Turkmenistan Fail To Sponsor UN Religious Sites Resolution

8 June 2001

By Felix Corley

Two of the countries that conspicuously failed to sponsor a United Nations resolution calling on states to protect religious sites were China and Turkmenistan, both of which have destroyed places of worship in the past few years in campaigns to suppress the religious activity of nonregistered communities whose activities the government regards as illegal. Officials of the Chinese mission to the UN told Keston News Service that China backed the resolution, despite failing to sponsor it, but declined to say if religious sites of communities outside the framework of the five state-sponsored faiths would be protected from further raids, attacks, and destruction. Officials of Turkmenistan's mission to the UN have failed to respond to Keston's questions as to whether Turkmenistan supports the resolution and, if so, whether it will abandon its policies of raiding unregistered places of worship and on at least five occasions bulldozing unregistered places of worship.

Originally sponsored by Austria and Hungary, the final resolution, adopted without a vote by the General Assembly in New York on 31 May, was co-sponsored by 115 countries out of 189. The resolution condemned all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage, or endangerment directed against religious sites, calling on all states to respect and protect such sites in conformity with international standards and national legislation. It also encouraged promotion, through education, of a culture of tolerance and respect for the diversity of religions and for religious sites.

On 7 June Keston tried to find out the views of Turkmenistan's mission to the UN on the resolution. Keston spoke briefly by telephone to an official who gave his name as Pagas Atpadev, who declared: "The resolution was approved by consensus, which means that all countries agreed it." However, he declined to elaborate, merely noting Keston's questions and promising to let Keston know the mission's response. When Keston phoned later in the day, a woman said there was no official at the mission named Atpadev, and asked Keston to fax the questions to mission official Essen Aidogdyev.

Keston immediately sent a fax, asking whether Turkmenistan supported the resolution; why Turkmenistan was not among the co-sponsors; if Turkmenistan does support the resolution, what steps the government would be taking to protect places of worship of all faiths, given that many have been raided by the KNB during religious services, and a number have been destroyed (including two mosques, two Hare Krishna temples, and the Adventist church in Ashgabat); what steps would be taken to return places of worship confiscated during the Soviet period (such as the Armenian Apostolic church in Turkmenbashi) and allow them to reopen; and what steps would be taken to allow all religious communities to operate places of worship openly (including Protestant Christians, Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, Jews, and Bahais). Keston has so far received no response. (Keston News Service)

Growing Fears Of Arms Race In The Caspian

5 June 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Fears of an arms race in the Caspian Sea seem to be growing as the delay in settling borders drags on.

For the second time in a week, Azerbaijani television warned on 1 June that neighboring nations are building up their navies, posing a threat to offshore oil fields.

The latest report by Azerbaijan's ANS television claims that Turkmenistan is preparing to buy 20 speedboats from Ukraine. Half the fleet would consist of 40-ton vessels, equipped with large-caliber machine guns, the station said.

The report, which cited no source for its information, said, "The fact that the Caspian states are strengthening their naval forces shows that they are intensifying their struggle for control over oil deposits."

In late May, Azerbaijan's television also carried a report on increases in Russian naval power in the Caspian. High-speed boats had been placed at the nearby Russian ports of Makhachkala and Kaspiisk, the station said. Russian ships were reported to be carrying missiles and artillery.

While reports on Russian forces in the Caspian have appeared before, the details of Turkmenistan's intentions may be hard to verify. Recent announcements on its trade with Ukraine have said nothing about arms.

Kyiv already owes Ashgabat over $280 million in gas debts, making any Turkmen payments for Ukrainian goods seem unlikely. ANS also did not say how Ukrainian vessels weighing 40 tons would reach Turkmenistan without cooperation from other countries, like Russia.

While there may be doubts about the reports, there appear to be several causes for the concerns.

First, Azerbaijan has been trying to justify its acceptance of two patrol boats from the United States, which has sparked a reaction from Iran. Last month, the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ross Wilson, stressed that the small coast guard cutters are only 16 meters in length, making it hard to install weapons, Azerbaijan's Trend news agency said.

Second, Azerbaijan seems to feel more vulnerable because it has more offshore development than the other Caspian states.

Azerbaijani television station said, "In a situation where Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan have powerful naval forces, Azerbaijan cannot be satisfied with its two vessels." Baku's recent warming in relations with Russia has apparently done nothing to calm its concerns about its own small Caspian force.

Third, and most important, the lack of a Caspian agreement on drawing borders and dividing resources has allowed security worries to run wild. Baku's long feud with Ashgabat over disputed oil fields has helped to delay a Caspian summit meeting from April until October.

Azerbaijan is not the only country in the region to voice security concerns during this period of uncertainty.

Iran has repeatedly shown unease with the presence of Russian naval power. Tehran has lamented the fact that its treaties of 1921 and 1940 with the Soviet Union made no distinction between civilian and military craft in allowing free passage of ships.

Iran has also cited Russian forces in the Caspian in objecting to division formulas that could allow warships to sail too close to its shores. Recently, Iranian officials have preferred to aim their security warnings at more distant countries, like the United States.

Last month, the Iranian army commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Salimi, said, "Enemies of Muslims should know that Iran's army will not let them carry out their plans on the sea." In the past, such comments have appeared to be veiled messages about Russia, which has ships in the Caspian, while the United States does not.

But the distrust shown by each of the Caspian countries toward each of its neighbors may serve as a reminder of the risks for all. The Caspian countries have many of the problems that have kept the Persian Gulf on edge for decades.

These include large oil revenues and authoritarian governments, the failure to develop diversified economies and meager cross-border trade. With ethnic and religious tensions, the stage has been set for insecurity and defense spending in an area that has avoided excessive armaments until now.

So far, the suspicions of Caspian countries have kept them from reaching an agreement to protect the interests of all five shoreline states. But as time passes, the lack of a pact seems to be giving the countries even more cause for suspicion, creating even greater insecurity. (RFE/RL)

Professor Svat Soucek Talks About Central Asia

6 June 2001

By Bruce Pannier

The book "The History of Inner Asia" was published last year and is currently in its second printing. Svat Soucek, the author, has long had an interest in Central Asia.

Soucek first became interested in the region as a bibliographer of Islamic and Russian studies at New York's Columbia University and the New York Public Library. Islam has been the dominant religion in Central Asia for more than a millennium, and some 150 years ago the expanding Russian empire began moving into the region. For Soucek, Central Asia was the natural point where his interests converged.

Soucek was born in what was then Czechoslovakia in the late 1920s. He left the country in 1948 after a communist takeover, and after living in France for a few years, moved to New York. By chance, one of his neighbors in the late 1950s was an ethnic Kyrgyz from what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kirghizia.

For decades, Soucek has studied the history of Central Asia. He and a handful of other scholars are considered the founders of the field in the United States. These days, he can often be found lecturing about Central Asia at universities around the country.

He spoke recently with RFE/RL correspondents in Prague about the influence of history on contemporary events in Central Asia.

The governments of the five countries in the region -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- claim to be democracies. But international human rights and other groups, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have said their commitment to democracy is not apparent.

Soucek, speaking as a historian, says this is to be expected:

"Of course, there was no democracy in Central Asia. One could have hoped that with the examples of democracy flourishing in the most developed part of the world -- in other words Western Europe and the United States -- the Central Asian republics would like to emulate that kind of political system. But this was perhaps expecting, or hoping [for], too much. I think there is a lot of learning [and] experimenting to go through before that becomes a reality."

Soucek notes that the region has no history of democracy. He says, by contrast, there is more of a "strong man" mentality -- the idea that someone with an iron will is needed to keep order. Historically, he says, such leaders have been preferable to the people of the region:

"To many political thinkers, in Islamic religious [and] political literature, anarchy appeared worse than tyranny. It's better to have a tyrannical leader than anarchy."

But Soucek says the "cult of personality" that leaders in Central Asia appear to be cultivating now is not an indigenous product.

Nowhere is that cult more apparent than in Turkmenistan, where the president's picture is on all of the monetary notes. There is a prayer to him on the front page of every newspaper, and streets, factories, and even a city are named after him.

Soucek says this is a legacy of the region's history as part of the Soviet Union.

"The puzzle is Russia, which is where this cult of personality was really invented. It has mushroomed in non-Western societies. Before it appeared in the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, the phenomenon of the cult of personality did not exist."

Soucek says the leaders of Central Asia in the pre-Russian period were subject to different influences. Central Asia has a history of great thinkers and poets who were able to criticize the various governments, or heads of government.

Soucek says another influence was, naturally, Islam. Although all of the current leaders in the five Central Asian states claim nominally to be Muslim, all grew up under the formal atheism of communism.

"Islamic political literature is very attentive to this question and the responsibility of the ruler is actually ever present. [It] is a very strong element in philosophical treatises. In Islamic law, the ruler has responsibilities. He's not an absolute ruler who can do what he wants. He's bound by religious law as well."

Religion will undoubtedly prove a major factor in Central Asia again in the future -- which is where historians like Soucek are invaluable. As Soucek says, every culture needs knowledge of its past to preserve a sense of identity. Whatever government or ruler is in power, he says, people will always respect the great personalities of their past and bright moments of their nation's history. (RFE/RL)