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Turkmen Report: September 2, 2001

2 September 2001
Personality Cult Goes On: Six-Part TV Series On Niyazov To Air

31 August 2001

If the posters, placards, and pictures in the newspaper and on the national currency were not enough, Turkmenistan's citizens will now be able to view a new six-part television series "Turkmenbashi -- The Protector", starting on 3 September.

The series is about the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who is often referred to in his country as Turkmenbashi, literally "the head of the Turkmen."

The six-part series follows an earlier 19-part series "Turkmenbashi -- My Leader," which was shown in 1999-2000. The new series will embellish an already elaborate personality cult that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has erected around himself over the decade of his rule since the Soviet Union's collapse. The authors of the new series are Niyazov's press secretary Kakamurad Ballyev and deputy director of the state news service Jumageldy Khommatdurdiev. According to Khommatdurdiev, the series was filmed as a present for the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence, which will be marked on 27 October.

According to the "Neutralny Turkmenistan" newspaper, the show highlights the reforms the country has undergone under Niyazov's leadership and his "titanic work over the creation of the holy Rukhname," a code of conduct for Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL Turkmen service, AFP, ITAR-TASS)

Turkmen President Fires More Officials Considered To Be Weak-Willed

31 August 2001

Soviet-style Turkmen President Niyazov sacked two deputy mayors on 31 August considered to be weak-willed.

One was accused of being both weak-willed and immoral, while the other was said to be a drug user and careless in his work, the state media reported.

Niyazov, who is president for life in this former Soviet state, rules with an iron grip and arbitrarily fires both minor and senior officials almost every month. "Neutralny Turkmenistan" reported that Bairam Bekdurdiev, deputy mayor in Turkmenistan's Mary region, "drank, spent time with drunk people, used drugs" and was careless in his attitude to his work.

It said another deputy in the same region, Tore Akmammedov, and his brother misused state funds and a relative was accused of murder. Akmammedov was an "immoral and weak-willed person," it said.

The paper said complaints against the two deputies came from the mayor of the Mary region, who urged Niyazov to sack them. (AFP)

Envoy Says Russia Does Not Support Turkmen Caspian Demands

31 August 2001

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny said on 31 August that Russia does not support Turkmenistan's demands that work be stopped at contested oil fields in the Caspian Sea.

In a meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku, Russia's Caspian envoy said Turkmenistan was not being flexible enough and was barely taking part in discussions to settle the division of the disputed resource-rich waters. He added that Turkmen claims that it is the rightful owner of the Azeri and Chirag oil fields were "not serious." The Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field was discovered in the 1970s and yields more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day. Turkmenistan claims to have rights to the Azeri and Guneshli deposits which it calls Khazar and Osman.

The five littoral states have yet to reach agreement on how to divide the Caspian sea's resources following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Aliyev expressed impatience today that Turkmenistan indefinitely postponed a summit on the Caspian Sea with Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, and Kazakhstan. The summit had been scheduled for October.

Kalyuzhny urged Aliyev to advance the negotiations during his upcoming visit to Iran. He pressed both Iran and Azerbaijan to smooth over a July confrontation in which an Iranian ship allegedly violated Azerbaijan's territorial waters and threatened to use force against an Azerbaijani oil exploration ship.

Aliyev expressed impatience at Turkmenistan's decision to again postpone a summit of Caspian states that was scheduled to be held in Turkmenistan in October after repeated delays. Turkmen President Niyazov said on 27 August that the meeting would be postponed indefinitely.

"We can bear such things but not endlessly," Aliyev said. "Even if we fail to agree, at least we will manage to clarify many issues and work further."

Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan have taken a united stand, saying that until permanent agreement has been reached on how to share out the Caspian among the five littoral states, the current boundaries should be respected. But Turkmenistan, ruled by quixotic President Niyazov, has sided with Iran in calling for a moratorium on oil exploration in disputed areas.

President Aliyev is due to travel to Tehran on 17 September to try to smoothe over the dispute (RFE/RL, AP, AFP)

Deputy Chief Of Turkmen Airways Sacked For 'Grave Shortcomings In Work'

31 August 2001

Under a resolution issued by the president of Turkmenistan, the first deputy head of Turkmenhowayollary (Turkmen airways), Baykhan Nepesov, has been relieved of his position for grave shortcomings in his work. (Turkmen TV)

Ukrainian Delegation Discusses Gas Debts, Cooperation in Ashgabat

31 August 2001

President Niyazov met on 31 August with Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna, head of a government delegation which arrived in Ashgabat.

The head of the Ukrainian national company Neftegaz, Vadim Kopylov, the heads of other government directorates and firms, as well as Ukraine's Ambassador to Turkmenistan Vadim Chuprun were present at the meeting.

The parties discussed issues relating to Ukraine's debts to Turkmenistan. Ukraine's debt for Turkmen gas will be restructured under the intergovernmental agreement signed on 5 November 1994. Under this document, Ukraine's debt was $723.44 million. Now, according to Ukraine's information, it owes Turkmenistan $282 million.

Ukraine had signed a protocol with the Paris Club of creditors on restructuring its $580 million foreign debt. Proceeding from this document, Kyiv had already suggested that Turkmenistan consider a possibility of accepting its terms, in particular, the repayment of the debt within 12 years starting in 2002, with a three-year grace period. However, Turkmenistan insists that the debt totaling about $280 million be repaid within 3.5 years, starting in 2001. Agreement on this was reached during a telephone conversation between Turkmen President Niyazov and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 29 August, a source in the Turkmen government told Interfax.

Niyazov showed his interest in the current pace of projects initiated during his recent official visit to Ukraine in May 2001. This concerns first of all the sale of 40 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas to Ukraine in 2002 under a five-year intergovernmental agreement and also the construction of sea-going ships, the supply of farm machinery, fodder, and many other things.

The Ukrainian first deputy prime minister informed the Turkmen president of the readiness of Ukrainian firms to become more deeply involved in various investment projects in Turkmenistan.

Ukrainian specialists are due to start next year the construction of a wharf in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi, Oleh Dubyna said. There are some proposals under consideration related to the reconstruction of this sea port, as well as the construction of metallurgical and aluminum plants. A number of joint investment projects currently are under way in exchange for this year's Turkmen gas supplies. It is known that the volumes of this year's supplies are 30 billion cubic meters of raw hydrocarbon materials.

Starting in 2002, Ukrainian companies could begin the implementation of 20 investment projects worth $420 million, Chuprun said.

On 28 August the Turkmen state news service reported that specialists from Ukraine are to build a strategically important 1.5-kilometer railway bridge over the Amudarya River in eastern Turkmenistan in exchange for Turkmen gas supplies to Ukraine. The bridge will link the town of Atamurat with Kerkichi station near the Afghan border. Construction materials and parts will also come from Ukraine, the report said. The bridge will be another link in the recently built 210-kilometer Turkmenabat-Atamurat railway line, which the agency said was "the most important chain of the east-west Transturkmen railway line, connecting the country's mineral-rich southeast with its western and central economic areas." The report also said that five railway stations have been built along the railway line and communication facilities are under construction. (Turkmen TV, Interfax, Turkmen State News Service)

Afghan Taliban Official Discusses Transport Issues With Turkmen Consul

30 August 2001

The director-general of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's transportation authority, Mowlawi Abdol Aziz Nasir, met the consul general of Turkmenistan, Khodzhamurat Babaev, and the secretary of the Turkmen consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, Shiri Shiriov, for a discussion on 30 August. The head of the department for private transportation, Abdol Khaliq Faisal, and the head of the (northern) Balkh Province's department for foreign relations, Mowlawi Fazl Rabbi Sherzad, were also present at the meeting in the department for foreign relations.

At this meeting there was a discussion and exchange of views between both sides about trade goods' carriage and related facilities which have to be provided. Joint cooperation in this regard was promised. (Radio Voice of Shari'ah of Balkh Province)

Turkmen Wins Checker Championship At International Intellectual Games

29 August 2001

Mustafa Durdiev, a citizen of Turkmenistan, returned home today with three gold medals from the Worldwide Olympics of Intellectual Games held in London.

The 22-year-old Durdiev won the "international," "Anglo-American," and "contemporary" matches in checkers. His two younger brothers took the silver and bronze medals in the "contemporary" event.

Mustafa Durdiev has been a recognized "grand master" at checkers since he was 17. (RFE/RL)

Niyazov Wants To Change Higher Education System

28 August 2001

During a cabinet session President Niyazov had a meeting with the chiefs of higher educational institutions. Niyazov criticized the education system, comparing it to being no more useful than training people to slay dragons which don't exist, and appointed and sacked rectors and vice rectors at some universities. He gave them the task of "radically changing the education system."

He said Turkmenistan's education system has not been completely reorganized. "Young people are displaying flames of enthusiasm, but we are extinguishing those flames with the education system," he said.

Niyazov suggested that higher education comprise two stages. For two years, one should study, and then acquire practical skills through working. The Agriculture Institute, he said, in particular needs such a system.

He also said new secondary and higher school textbooks would be subject to approval by the cabinet. (Interfax, Turkmen TV)

Niyazov Reshuffles Personnel Again

28 August 2001

President Niyazov carried through a personnel reshuffle on 27 August, a government source told Interfax.

During a cabinet meeting, Niyazov dismissed Ilyas Berdiev as head of the Turkmenavia airline "in connection with his transfer to another position." It is expected that Berdiev may receive the rank of deputy prime minister and be put in charge of all forms of transport.

He was replaced by Bairamdurdy Annadurdiev, who was given a six-month probationary period.

Chary Yazliev was discharged as head of Makhtumkuli State University and appointed head of the Seidi Pedagogical Institute in Turkmenabat, a town formerly called Chardzhou. The Pedagogical Institute's former head, Rakhman Odekov, was put in charge of Makhtumkuli University.

Khydyr Saparliev became head of the Turkmen Polytechnical Institute and Ashyr Mommadov head of the National Institute of Sports and Tourism. (Interfax)

New TV Transmitter Installed In Eastern Turkmenistan

28 August 2001

A new foreign-made TV transmitter has been installed at the Gabakly relay station, eastern Lebap region. People in the area and nearby villages can now see programs of the Turkmen national TV. (Turkmen TV)

Turkmen President Says Caspian Summit Postponed

27 August 2001

Turkmenistan's President Niyazov said on 27 August a five-nation summit on dividing the Caspian Sea's resources scheduled for 27 October has been postponed indefinitely.

Niyazov said he decided to put off the meeting -- which would have coincided with Turkmenistan's 10th anniversary celebrations -- after consulting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Mohammad Khatami.

Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Niyazov as saying that such important issues as the Caspian Sea status require a strict working atmosphere which would have been disturbed by the pending festivities.

This is the third time the proposed summit of the Caspian Sea's five littoral states has been postponed this year. The summit between Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Iran was to focus on the demarcation of zones and the attribution of the sea's mineral resources.

Turkmenistan has set no new date for the meeting (RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, AP, Reuters)

Central Asian Summit On Aral Due To Start Next Year

27 August 2001

The next summit of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in the framework of the international foundation for saving the Aral Sea will be held in January-February 2002.

The press service of Turkmen President Niyazov told Interfax on 25 August that an understanding to this end was reached during Niyazov's telephone conversation with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

They decided that official invitations to the summit would be sent shortly to the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The presidents also discussed bilateral cooperation, and agreed that their foreign ministers should meet shortly to prepare specific proposals to develop the potential for partnership that exits between the two nations. (Interfax, ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov Gets Another Award From Russian Children's Organization

27 August 2001

President Niyazov has been awarded the Lev Tolstoy gold medal of the Russian-based International Association of Children's Funds, the Ashgabat correspondent of reported.

According to information from Niyazov's press service, the gold medal was awarded to Niyazov "for a great personal contribution into decreasing [the suffering of being an] orphan, the creation of a system of social adaptation for children deprived of parents, and constant directed concern for childhood, education, and the health and growth of children." (

Railway On Turkmen-Afghan Border Upgraded

27 August 2001

The construction of a large cargo yard containing areas for containers has been started in Atamurat, in eastern Turkmenistan on the Turkmen-Afghan border.

This is due to the large flow of economic cargo via the new Turkmenabat-Atamurat railway. The cargo yard will be provided with loading cranes and some other loading and unloading equipment. It is being constructed by specialists from the building and erection train directorate No. 2 of Turkmendemiryollary (Turkmen railways). (Turkmen State News Service)

Turkey Biggest Investor In Turkmen Economy

27 August 2001

Foreign firms are consistently increasing their investments in Turkmenistan, the Turkmen State News Service reported on 27 August.

Quoting the state statistics body, the agency said that the amount of foreign investments in construction projects and for the supply of equipment was $413.6 million during the first six months of this year, or 50 percent up on the same period of last year.

During the quoted period, the country's ministries and directorates concluded construction and supply contracts with 61 foreign firms, of which 28 were Turkish. The rest were from Germany, Iran, France, Russia, and elsewhere, the agency said, adding that the bulk of investment was used to buy foreign-made machinery, primarily farming and construction machinery. (Turkmen State News Service)

Migration On Appeal Of Niyazov Has Begun

27 August 2001

According to the Turkmen State News Service, the first group of Lebap (eastern Turkmen region, on the Turkmen-Uzbek border) residents has moved to the central Akhal region. These are young families and families with many children from the Serdarabat town and district.

They will live and work in Altyn Asyr district. There is a lot of work for the migrants there -- each family can take a 10-15-hectare plot on long-term lease. There was no such opportunity in the densely populated Amudarya River valley.

The resettlement was initiated by President Niyazov. According to his plan, the migrants will develop farming in the area.

A list of those willing to move to Akhal region is being drawn up at the Lebap employment office. Over 400 people intend to move to new lands to turn them into a blossoming oasis. (Turkmen State News Service,, RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Water And National Security

28 August 2001

By Paul Goble

Two weeks ago, a United Nations-sponsored World Water Forum in Stockholm suggested that a shortage of drinking water could affect one-third of the world's population by 2025 and spark violent conflicts between those with water and those without.

But events since that time suggest that the impact of water on international politics is likely to be sooner and potentially more destabilizing than even the experts at the UN conference predicted. And that possibility is leading ever more countries to take water into consideration as they elaborate their national security policies.

At present, the UN conference said, some 450 million people in 29 countries from sub-Saharan Africa through Asia are suffering from severe water problems. Brought on by an unusual drought over the past several years, the problems of these countries in many cases have been exacerbated by crop failures and burgeoning population pressures beyond the capacity of their governments to cope.

Most of the governments involved are still looking primarily to the possibility of finding new sources of water or improving conservation programs. Thus, Jordan is seeking to get additional funding for desalinization plants to provide its population with water, and China has cut back some water-intensive crops in order to make up a potable water shortage estimated to affect 10 percent of the residents of the world's most populous state by 2010.

But differential availability of water among countries is forcing ever more states to look beyond their borders for a reliable supply of water, and that in turn is pointing toward cooperation among traditional opponents and creating tensions among some traditional partners.

Last week, Syrian officials urged Turkey to join in talks with Iraq about sharing the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris, both of which rise in Turkey, even though Ankara and Baghdad have long been at odds politically and even though Turkey has routinely viewed its control of the headwaters of these rivers as one of the most important elements of its national security policy. At the same time, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov called for a Central Asian summit early next year to deal with the water issues arising from the drying up of the Aral Sea. His comments came even as Kazakhstan struggled to pay its debts to Kyrgyzstan and international aid agencies identified Tajikistan as one of the countries suffering the most from drought.

But perhaps the most interesting development was an article that appeared in Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 August. It called for the creation of a single agency to regulate Russia's use of its own water supplies, not so much because of its domestic problems with water although these are serious but rather because of foreign policy considerations.

Russian officials already have noted that their country has the largest supply of fresh water in the world. And last week they expressed the hope that the Paris Club of creditor nations might be prepared to reduce Moscow's foreign debt if the Russian government takes step to protect this increasingly valuable resource. These officials note that international lending organizations have already made similar concessions to other countries.

At the same time, however, other Russian officials have pointed out that other countries may seek access to Russia's supplies of fresh water, something that could give Moscow leverage in its dealings with some of them but might put Russia at risk with regard to others.

For almost a century, Russians regularly talked about Siberian river diversion, a program that would have brought water to the increasing populations of Central Asia but only at what ultimately proved to be unacceptable ecological and cultural costs to Russians living in the north. But once again, Central Asians are looking for new sources of water, and some Russian officials are already considering making political demands in exchange for supplying water.

But the most serious challenge and the one that lies behind the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article comes from China, whose leaders historically have looked north to the vacant lands of Siberia and the Russian Far East as possible places for expansion and whose newly significant water shortages may prompt ever more in Beijing to seek an expanded presence one way or another in those regions.

The "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article suggests that ever more people in the Russian capital recognize these potential threats and will be including discussions about water in their elaboration of national security policies. But if Russia is going to be among the first to do that, the reports this month suggest, it is unlikely to be the only country to do so. And that trend sets the stage for a kind of fateful negotiation that few governments have had much experience with so far. (RFE/RL)

Mixing Oil And Water: Central Asia's Emerging Energy Market

29 August 2001

By Gregory Gleason

Last month, Central Asian states signed a treaty forming a regional energy grid, rewarding lengthy international efforts to foster such cooperation. The states with abundant water have few energy resources; states with strong energy infrastructure starve for water. If it works, this grid may help harmonize Central Asian power interests. It will be harder to share water fairly.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Central Asian states have struggled with the slower breakdown of the Soviet energy infrastructure. The Soviet regime produced and distributed energy via a single, unified system. The transition to national independence imposed a new financial logic on this system, which quickly proved clumsy. Countries claimed the assets on their territory and hurried to make them profitable or cover their costs -- but without major new investment. Representatives from countries' energy ministries have met regularly since then, trying to coordinate the activity of five separate grids. Last month in Bishkek, this body -- known as the Council of the Central Asian Energy System -- crossed a threshold. Its delegates signed a long-discussed treaty forming a united energy system.

This system derives strength from its size, aggregating national grids in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan's KEGOS (Kazakhstan Energy Grid Operating System), Kyrgyzstan's Kyrgyzenergo, Tajikistan's Barki Tochik, Turkmenistan's Energomashkomplekt and Uzbekistan's Minenergo amount to 80 power stations with a total capacity of 24.5 million kilowatts. They also link, via Kazakhstan's 11-month-old connection with Russia's Unified Energy System, to an energy network across Eurasia. This system can potentially distribute upwards of 92 million kilowatt/hours, at prices that reflect different levels of supply and demand in different states.

That is because the new system promises to use public, tradable prices. Energy ministries have pledged to account for power costs as a function of supply and demand rather than political priorities. Each system carries a monetary value, which changes with demand for power and available resources. This approach should allow more efficient production and distribution of power throughout the region and spur quicker decisions about when and where to send surplus power. Such efficiency will be hard to reach, but the region's geography suggests some guiding principles. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are net oil and gas exporters, but import more electricity than they export. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have negligible fuel energy supplies, but could produce plenty of power from water. Kyrgyzstan is a net electricity exporter.

A unified grid should foster efficient trading among the five states. In June, just prior to the treaty signing, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan agreed to settle their interstate energy accounts through commodity swaps rather than cash payments. Under the agreement, in the year ahead Kyrgyzstan will supply Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan with electricity. Uzbekistan will repay the debt with natural gas, fuel, turbine and transformer lubricants, and fuel; Kazakhstan will provide coal and fuel oil. This agreement illustrates the efficiencies that public prices can spur.

Yet the economic imbalance between Caspian states that produce oil and landlocked states that consume it still drives this system. Kazakhstan, one of the new grid's most enthusiastic proponents, took the lead in linking to Russia's grid. It had cause to do so. After early price liberalization, Kazakhstan responded to market cues by abandoning coal production in favor of petroleum and natural gas. According to the Asian Development Bank, the country cut its electricity production by more than 50 percent since 1989. So despite its significant fuel reserves, Kazakhstan let its methods of electricity generation and fuel transport become outmoded and inefficient. It connects to Russia through nine lines and to the rest of Central Asia via only one. The new energy grid can provide Kazakhstan with greater supply of power, presumably at better prices.

At the same time, the new grid can't erase all the political one-upmanship that states deploy in resource allocation. Last winter, for instance, Uzbekistan disrupted gas delivery to Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyzstan threatened to use its water supplies for winter heat, which would have weakened Uzbekistan's summer irrigation program. The new grid can restrict some of this behavior, but it cannot value water -- a commodity over which states are already squabbling. Some Kyrgyz parliamentarians argue that water should be priced as any other commodity to reflect its value. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev recently rejected the idea that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan should pay for water as "unacceptable" and a violation of international norms.

This impasse illustrates that even with a new unified grid, oil-producing states control bigger purses and can distort natural resources' value. Water is certainly more crucial to life than oil, but legal precedent continues to support the oil producing states. As one Central Asian energy analyst put it, "When oil and water mix, oil is likely to come out on top." A centralized power grid can streamline the exchange of electricity, but it cannot balance the other kind of power. (Eurasianet)

Military Tensions Heighten Over Caspian Sea Oil

27 August 2001

By Peter Goodspeed

Tempers are flaring like oil wells in the Caspian basin, a region plagued by border disputes, escalating ethnic tensions, corrupt governments, growing militarization -- and some of the world's most promising oil discoveries.

The level of hostility reached an alarming new high recently as Iran and Azerbaijan squared off in a series of military confrontations that have seen Iranian gunboats threaten to expel two oil survey ships working under an Azerbaijani contract from part of the Caspian Sea claimed by both countries.

Since then, the steady escalation of diplomatic rhetoric and military countermeasures has triggered alarm bells across the region.

This week, the growing crisis climaxed in the temporary deployment of 10 Turkish F-16 fighter planes to Azerbaijan in a not-too-subtle warning to Iran. At the heart of the dispute is an unresolved conflict over how to divide the Caspian Sea and its resources.

Iran and the former Soviet Union had a series of diplomatic agreements signed in 1921 and 1940 that gave Tehran a 13 percent share of the Caspian seabed. But after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent states of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan demanded their share.

Ten years later, the five states are still arguing.

Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan insist Iran should be satisfied with its old boundaries. Iran, tentatively backed by Turkmenistan, is demanding it be given an equal 20 percent share.

The stakes are massive. Estimates of the oil reserves under the Caspian range from 8 billion to 50 billion barrels of oil. Some experts predict the Caspian oil fields may soon surpass those in the North Sea in international importance.

Increasingly impatient over attempts by their neighbors to ignore its boundary claims, Iranian officials said recently, "We will not allow any foreign company to operate within Iran's share in the Caspian Sea without having Iran's consent."

They backed that claim up on 23 July, when Iranian gunships intercepted the Azerbaijani geological survey vessel Geophysic-3 as it prepared to hunt for oil in the Caspian, 150 kilometers south of the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Azerbaijan calls the test site its Araz-Sharg-Alov oil field, while Iran insists the area is part of its Alborz oil region.

The Iranian show of force triggered an immediate Azerbaijani protest and a claim by Prime Minister Artur Rasizade that Iran's actions were "a gross violation of international norms."

After a series of diplomatic ripostes, in which Iranian diplomats publicly pointed out Azerbaijan was once a province of Iran, Tehran stepped up patrols on its border with Azerbaijan and began flying daily military reconnaissance flights deep into Azerbaijani air space.

This week's show of Turkish solidarity with Azerbaijan, with the arrival of the 10 F-16 jet fighters, coincides with a visit to Baku by the Turkish army chief of staff. At the same time, Turkey has just announced it will provide Kazakhstan with more than $10 million in military aid, including two patrol boats, over the next decade. Turkey's interest in the region stems from its support for construction of a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline to carry Azerbaijani crude to Western markets via Georgia and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Iran would like to see that oil pumped southward, where it could be refined in southern Tehran's huge oil refineries, then shipped out through the Persian Gulf.

In the next few weeks, yet another competing pipeline project is scheduled to open to the north of the Caspian. The $2.6 billion Caspian Pipeline Consortium will carry oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field on the northeastern shore of the Caspian to a Russian Black Sea port near Novorossisk.

In yet another sign of growing tensions in the region, Russia recently increased its fleet of high-speed boats, armed with missiles and heavy guns, and stationed them in the Caspian ports of Makhachkala and Kaspiisk.

Turkmenistan has responded by preparing to buy 20 speedboats from Ukraine, while Azerbaijan has just agreed to accept two 16-meter-long coast guard cutters as military aid from the United States.

As tensions mount, Azerbaijan announced on 29 August it had arrested six Muslim clerics as suspected Iranian spies.

The clerics, all Azerbaijani citizens, were detained over the weekend in the Dzhalilabad region of southeastern Azerbaijan, near the border with Iran.

In a blunt warning to Iran, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev told reporters, "We will not go into a war, but we will stand up for our rights." ("National Post")