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Turkmen Report: October 7, 2001

7 October 2001
Turkmen President Lays Foundation Stone Of Largest Mosque In Central Asia

6 October 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has laid the foundation stone of what is to be the largest mosque in Central Asia in his home village of Kipchak, close to Ashgabat. The ceremony coincided with the national holiday marking the anniversary of the 1948 earthquake.

This mosque, to be built over the next two years, will have an area three and half times larger than Gokdepe mosque and its dome will be over 45 meters high. This mosque will not only be the biggest in Central Asia, but also one of biggest in the entire Asian continent. Over 10,000 worshippers will simultaneously be able to perform their prayers in it. The mosque will become a point of pride and joy for the Turkmen people, Turkmen TV said. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Turkmen TV)

New U.S. Ambassador Arrives, Discusses Bilateral Issues With Niyazov

5 October 2001

Laura Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan, met with Turkmen President Niyazov on 5 October and presented her credentials as well as a personal message from President George W. Bush. The message expresses gratitude to the administration of Turkmenistan for its solidarity and support of international efforts in combating terrorism.

Ambassador Kennedy has previously served in Austria, Armenia, Turkey and Russia and in a variety of Washington assignments. While director for Central Eurasia and Caspian energy issues, Ambassador Kennedy visited Turkmenistan from 1995 to 1997. Ambassador Kennedy is married and has two sons.

The Turkmen president and the U.S. ambassador gave special attention to the situation in the region in connection with the retaliation action planned by the U.S. In this connection, the Turkmen president confirmed Ashgabat's readiness to help transport humanitarian cargo to Afghanistan.

Touching upon matters of bilateral cooperation, the Turkmen president and the U.S. ambassador reviewed the possibility of joining their efforts in fighting drug trafficking. The U.S. remains closely interested in ways to take the fuel reserves of the Caspian basin to world markets: Kennedy briefed Niyazov on the forthcoming visit to Ashgabat of Steven Mann, who is the advisor to the U.S. secretary of state on Caspian energy issues and a former ambassador to Turkmenistan.

The United States has been and remains a consistent supporter of Turkmenistan's independence and is ready to assist in developing Turkmenistan's political, humanitarian, and natural potential, the U.S. ambassador stated. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan, Interfax, Turkmen TV)

U.S. To Allocate Over $1 Million To Fight Drug Trafficking

5 October 2001

The U.S. government will allocate $1.1 million to train Turkmen law-enforcement officers to combat illegal drug circulation and organized crime.

American instructors will exchange their experience with Turkmen law enforcers, particularly in the sphere of the analysis of evidence during a criminal investigation, the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan told Interfax on 5 October. (Interfax, CAN, U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan)

Turkmenistan Blocks Sturgeon Research Expedition

5 October 2001

An internationally funded expedition to gauge how badly sturgeon stocks in the Caspian Sea are depleted has been denied access to Turkmenistan's waters, an official involved in the project said on 5 October.

Turkmenistan's refusal means that data from the expedition, which used sonar equipment for the first time to give an accurate picture of how many of the endangered fish remain, is incomplete.

Scientists believe the sturgeon population in the Caspian is in danger of extinction because they are over-fished for the caviar they produce.

"We did not get clearance from the Turkmens and so we did not enter their 15-mile zone," said Stuart Gunn, a project manager for the Caspian Environment Program, based in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

He said that a delegation from the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was in Turkmenistan at the moment for talks with officials.

"They will be asking the Turkmens why they did not give clearance," said Gunn. "If we get clearance then we may mount a separate netting expedition (in Turkmenistan's waters)."

Turkmenistan was the only one of the five Caspian Sea states, which failed to grant the expedition's survey ship clearance to enter its waters.

The Caspian, an inland sea, accounts for some 90 percent of the world's caviar production and the legal trade in caviar alone is worth around $100 million per year.

In June, CITES slapped a moratorium on sturgeon fishing in Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan until the end of the year. Iran was exempted because it is deemed to have sturgeon poaching under control. (AFP)

Niyazov: Turkmenistan Will Not Let Anyone Use Its Bases

4 October 2001

Turkmenistan, faithful to its international commitments, will not facilitate the movement of weaponry or place its military bases at anyone's disposal, President Niyazov said in Ashgabat on 4 October at his meeting with Kazakh Ambassador Amangeldy Zhumabaev.

Zhumabaev gave Niyazov a message from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, following which the two men discussed bilateral and regional issues, a source in the presidential headquarters told Interfax.

Special attention was given to the U.S.'s intention to deliver a retaliatory strike at terrorist bases in Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are equally supportive of the idea to set up an antiterrorist coalition, but "do not think it is possible to punish an entire nation," the two men said. (Interfax)

Medecines Sans Frontieres Delivers Humanitarian Aid For Afghanistan To Ashgabat

2 October 2001

Eight freight cars with 20 tons of aid each, as well as charter flights with 32 tons of cargo on board arrived today in Ashgabat. The aid is part of a special program on providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan being carried out by the Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF) organization.

The head of the MSF mission in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and western Afghanistan, Yens Small, said that the freight delivered by charter flights consists of medicine, sanitary, and hygienic equipment. More humanitarian assistance will arrive in Mashhad on 4-5 October. (, CNA, AFP)

First Humanitarian Aid Shipment For Afghanistan Reaches Turkmenistan

2 October 2001

The first shipment of 40 tons of humanitarian aid, including foodstuffs, clothing, essential goods, and medicines, destined for Afghan children was flown from Copenhagen to the eastern city of Turkmenabat (former Chardzhou) on 30 September, a staff member in the UNICEF office in Turkmenistan told Interfax on 1 October.

Three more planeloads of UNICEF aid to Afghanistan will be delivered to the country shortly, office chief Sabah Knani said.

The aid shipments will be stored in Turkmenabat before being moved to western Afghanistan. (Interfax,

Istanbul Authorities Named Street And Park After Niyazov

2 October 2001 A street in Istanbul will now bear the name of Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, the Turkmen state information service reported on 2 October. Besides the street in Istanbul, the name of the Turkmen president was given to a 60,000-square-meter park.

The decision was made at the request of the Turkmen-Turkish mutual assistance society Turkmenistan "as a token of deep respect for the personality of Serdar [leader] Saparmurat in appreciation of his services in cementing the friendship between the Turkish and Turkmen peoples," the report said.

Turkmenistan is planning to carry out two more projects: "Turkmenbashi's Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Turkmenbashi's Peace Prize," the report said. ( citing, Interfax)

Niyazov Sacks Southern Region Governor, Appoints New Energy Minister

2 October 2001

Chary Kuliev, governor of the southern Mary region, has been relieved of his post "for grave shortcomings and failing to carry out his official duties."

The decision was made by President Saparmurat Niyazov during his working visit to Mary on 2 October. The main reason for the sacking is the poor results of the ongoing cotton harvesting campaign.

By another resolution, the president appointed Amangeldi Ataev governor of the Mary region. He had headed the region before and was then appointed deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers. At the same time he held the post of minister of power engineering and industry and also headed the state energy corporation Kuwwat.

Annaguly Jumagylyjov has been appointed minister of power and industry and the head of Kuwwat. (

OSCE: There Is No Free Press In Turkmenistan

1 October 2001

Delegates of the 55 OSCE member states and representatives of NGOs held a conference in Warsaw on 17-27 September to review the implementation of OSCE human rights commitments.

The European Union expressed its concern about massive repression of private mass media in Central Asian countries in all its forms -- printed press, radio, TV, and Internet.

It was especially noted that in Turkmenistan "a free press does not really exist." The EU underlined the necessity to remain vigilant, to give increased support to journalists, and to encourage all initiatives relating to the promotion of freedom of expression in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan was referred to as a "sad example" of human rights violations in a statement made by the delegation from Norway.

The Norwegian delegation stressed that the absence of a free press, in its own turn, fuels an unhealthy hardening of the opposition, which leads to yet another violation -- disrespect for the principle of association and the right of peaceful assembly. As a result, Turkmenistan's human rights activists "work in exile," the Norwegian delegation said (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Russia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, And Kazakhstan To Exchange Gas

4 October 2001

The Kazakh company Oil and Gas Transport and Gazprom are to sign an agreement on gas transit that will put forward a project on mutual exchange between Russia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, Oil and Gas Transport deputy general director Kairgeldy Kabyldin said. (CNA)

Ex-King To Be First Post-Taliban Afghan President

5 October 2001

Former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah will be Afghanistan's first president if the country's ruling Taliban is overthrown, a source speaking for one of the Northern Alliance leaders said on 5 October.

Talks in Rome with Zahir Shah resulted in an agreement that a National Unity Council composed of representatives of all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups will institute the office of president in the country, and that members of the different ethnic groups will hold the position for two-year terms in succession, the source told Interfax in Tashkent.

He said Zahir Shah would be the first to be proposed for the post.

The names of the members of the National Unity Council are to be announced in 10 to 12 days. The Council will form the new Afghan government. (Interfax)

Northern Alliance Gets Ready To Seize Bagram Airfield, Launch Offensive On Kabul

4 October 2001

The Northern Alliance is getting ready for an offensive on Kabul.

They are planning to seize the Bagram airfield in the vicinity of the Afghan capital, military sources in Dushanbe have told Interfax.

"The airfield may be used by American planes to ship armaments and personnel to Afghanistan," an expert said. Representatives of the Northern Alliance command and U.S. officers have discussed taking over Bagram and its possible use, he noted.

The offensive on Kabul will start within the next few days, military sources said. The Northern Alliance made a reconnaissance raid in the early hours of 3 October. There was an intensive exchange of fire involving heavy artillery on the outskirts of Kabul.

General Dostum of the Northern Alliance launched an offensive on Taliban positions in the Balkh province on 3 October, sources in Dushanbe said. He intends to seize Mazar-i-Sharif after taking control of a strategic highway that leads to the town.

The storm of Mazar-i-Sharif and the large-scale offensive of the Northern Alliance on Kabul will begin simultaneously with the military operation of the United States and their allies against terrorist bases in Afghanistan. (Interfax)

National Unity Council To Be Formed Shortly In Afghanistan

3 October 2001

A national unity council vested with the authority to put together a new government will be set up in Afghanistan in two weeks.

The head of the Afghan opposition delegation and political advisor to Afghan President Burhanutdin Rabbani, Yunus Konuni, made this announcement in Tashkent on 3 October. Konuni has lately taken part in negotiations with Afghan King Zahir Shah in Rome.

"Taking into account the political situation in the country, we have come to a common opinion and the decision to set up an new government that would unite Afghanistan. To this end, a council comprising 120 people will be set up. They will represent all ethnic groups and different strata inhabiting Afghanistan. Their names will be made public in two weeks. This very council will be vested with the authority to put together a new government," Konuni said.

If the situation requires it, this council will temporarily lead Afghanistan, he said.

On possible frictions in the new government formed by the national unity council and the resulting continuation of hostilities in Afghanistan, Konuni said: "Everyone has grown tired of it [the war] in 23 years. Nobody is interested in its continuation. The National Unity Council representing all peoples of Afghanistan should help restore peace to our land."

Rabbani's representative also urged the UN to prevent Pakistan's interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. He said this is a key condition for the restoration of a lasting peace in his country.

Konuni said Rabbani "has many times raised the question of forming a government that would bring together representatives of all peoples populating the country to meet the interests of all Afghans."

"And the future government should be just like that," he said. (Interfax)

Kazakh, Turkish Presidents Discuss International Terrorism

5 October 2001

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has discussed bilateral cooperation in resisting intentional terrorism with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Sezer.

The presidential press service told Interfax today that the two leaders met after Nazarbaev's official visit to Germany. On 4 October Nazarbaev made a brief working visit to Turkey.

He stressed the need to concentrate the efforts of the entire international community on the fight against terrorism, the press service reported.

Nazarbaev thanked the Turkish side for supporting Kazakhstan's initiative of convening a special UN Security Council session to mull the situation in Afghanistan. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Kyrgyz Defense Ministry Spokesman Clarifies Afghanistan Arms Report

6 October 2001

The Kyrgyz Defense Ministry has not received any official requests to supply arms to the anti-Taliban coalition in Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Defense Ministry spokesman Mirbek Koylubaev told Interfax on 6 October. (Interfax)

Uzbekistan Offers U.S. Conditional Use Of Military Base

5 October 2001

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov said on 5 October that his country would allow U.S. forces to use one airfield as part of a campaign in Afghanistan, but only for humanitarian or search and rescue operations.

Karimov also said Uzbekistan opposes any military strikes in neighboring Afghanistan, and will not authorize U.S. special operations forces to deploy from the country.

Karimov spoke to reporters in Tashkent after meeting for an hour with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld arrived in Uzbekistan on 5 October, the latest stop on a five-nation tour. Earlier this week he visited Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Egypt. He is to fly to Turkey later on 5 October.

A staff member traveling with Rumsfeld said on 5 October that about 1,000 elite U.S. soldiers (10th Mountain Division) are on their way to Uzbekistan.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has granted permission for U.S. forces to use an air base in his country for transport planes, helicopters, and troops for search-and-rescue operations.

Karimov said U.S. forces in Uzbekistan could not be used to launch air or ground attacks. (RFE/RL, AFP, Reuters, Interfax)

Uzbekistan Denies Plans To Join U.S. In Attack On Afghanistan

5 October 2001

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has denied media reports that Uzbekistan, along with the U.S. and European states, is going to attack Afghanistan.

In a nationwide address after talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on 5 October, Karimov said, after the 11 September terror acts, the media has been circulating mainly false reports about the situation in Central Asia, Uzbekistan included.

Karimov called these reports "biased and one-sided in many ways."

"If these reports are to be believed, Uzbekistan and the U.S. along with European states are going to attack Afghanistan," the president said.

In addition, he noted that rumors are spreading that U.S. special task forces have been arriving in Uzbekistan. "This has been presented as evidence of secret talks between our countries," Karimov said.

"The purpose of this misinformation is to set countries at loggerheads and foment discord among nations," Karimov believes. "This misinformation aims to scare and confuse our country and many nations populating it."

"These reporters pursue their goals by splitting the forces uniting against terrorism," he said.

The president confirmed that Uzbekistan would let the U.S. use its airspace for military transport planes and could exchange information with special services. In addition, Karimov said, U.S. military transport planes and helicopters, which will be serviced by American specialists, would be allowed to land at an airbase in Uzbekistan.

"Their main goal is to carry out search-and-rescue operations and humanitarian tasks," Karimov stressed.

"Our principled position is that we are against launching ground military operations against terrorists in Afghanistan from our territory," Karimov said. "We also disagree that bombing strikes might be launched from our territory," he added. (Interfax)

Uzbekistan Stops Attempt To Smuggle Heroin Into Russia

5 October 2001

The Uzbek State Customs Committee has halted an attempt to smuggle a load of heroin to Russia on 5 October.

Uzbek citizen Mavlyuda Turopova was detained in the Dzhizak region after three kilograms of heroin hidden in her hand luggage was found, the press service of the State Customs Committee told Interfax. The 30-year-old woman confessed that she was to buy a train ticket from Samarkand to Saratov and deliver the drugs to this Russian city.

A large flow of drugs is transited via Uzbekistan from Tajikistan, and women and children are more and more often used as drug couriers, the State Customs Committee press service noted. (Interfax)

Caspian Sea Of Strategic Importance For Russia

3 October 2001

The Caspian region is of enormous strategic importance for Russia, the Russian president's advisor on the Caspian region and Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny said at an international conference on oil and gas in Almaty on 3 October.

He said the development of the Caspian resources would help better organize supplies of hydrocarbons to the world market, and increase energy security in the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions, and in Europe and Asia.

Russia is interested in the transportation of oil and gas via pipelines laid across its territory, Kalyuzhny said, adding that Russia gives priority importance to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium project, which will provide for the export of Kazakh oil to world markets through the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, and to increasing the handling capacity of the Atyrau-Samara oil pipeline.

But Russia will not disregard other pipeline projects if they are sufficiently profitable, Kalyuzhny said. (Interfax-Kazakhstan)

Summit Of Caspian States In December Will Not Resolve Sea Status

3 October 2001

The upcoming summit of leaders from the five Caspian states will not resolve the problem of the legal status of the sea, Russian presidential advisor on the Caspian and Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Kalyuzhny said in the corridors of an international oil and gas conference in Almaty.

At the same time, Kalyuzhny expressed certainty that the summit would give the presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran "a new push" to resolve current disputes.

Speaking about a schedule for the summit, which has been repeatedly postponed, he said that this meeting might take place in December this year in Ashgabat. "Nobody has moved it from Ashgabat," he said.

He also noted that it is expected that Iran will participate, as "there is a general agreement that all the Caspian problems will be resolved by consensus."

The deputy minister noted "a rapprochement with the Iranian position" regarding the legal status of the Caspian. "The more we meet the closer we progress towards a status," he said.

According to Kalyuzhny, a document will be prepared and presented to the five Caspian leaders by December, dealing with Caspian issues. He noted that this document was again considered at the latest (fifth) meeting of a working group for the development of a convention on the Caspian, which was held with the participation of deputy foreign ministers from the Caspian states, in Astana on 18-20 September. (Interfax,

Eastern Promises: Central Asia's Republics Will Exact A Price For Helping The U.S. Armed Forces

By Robert Cottrell and David Stern

3 October 2001

The five former Soviet republics of Central Asia are poor and perilous places. Ethnic and religious tensions lurk almost everywhere. Constitutions have been rewritten to allow presidents unlimited terms. Oppositions have been harassed and outlawed. At least two leaders are grooming their children to succeed them.

The parallels with the Shah's Iran are "uneasy and not too far-fetched," says Dmitri Trenin, a Russian foreign policy expert. He points to "abject poverty of populations, opulent first families, ruthless authoritarian clan rule, pervasive official corruption, and government incompetence" across the republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The West has been indifferent to this despotization of Central Asia over the past 10 years. Russia, the regional power, has been supportive. It has viewed secular, authoritarian rulers as its best defense against the threat it fears most -- militant Islam. But now the U.S.-led war against terrorism has changed everything, making Central Asia, for all its problems, a region of vital interest to the West. For the belly of Central Asia is Afghanistan -- home of the Taliban and refuge of Osama bin Laden, presumed mastermind of the terrorist attacks on America.

These events have also made the West a region of vital interest for the governments of Central Asia. Those that lend military bases and air corridors for U.S.-led strikes into Afghanistan will want their rewards in aid and security. They will not want the U.S. to strike at the Taliban and then walk away, leaving them with the consequences. The U.S. will be under pressure to pitch its tent in Russia's backyard and help to clean the place up.

For Russia, this is a difficult but in some ways inevitable moment. Central Asia is being given the chance to practice the independence it won in theory when the USSR collapsed in 1991. That has not stopped Moscow being taken by surprise. The evidence suggests that it expected a much higher degree of obedience from Central Asian governments when the U.S. came calling.

On 14 September, three days after the attacks on the U.S., Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said confidently that he saw "no grounds whatsoever for even the hypothetical possibility of NATO military operations on the territories of the Central Asian countries". Central Asia, he said, lay "within the zone of competence" of the collective security treaty binding some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Russian-dominated club of former Soviet republics. Save for the fact that the operations look set to be led by the U.S. rather than NATO, Ivanov's statement has since been picked apart. Of the three CIS countries bordering Afghanistan, only Tajikistan is a member of the CIS collective security treaty. And by the time Ivanov spoke, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan had already written to President George W. Bush offering to "(combine) efforts to fight terrorism".

President Vladimir Putin spoke to Central Asian leaders by telephone and sent Vladimir Rushailo, his security adviser, on a lightning tour of capitals. But on 24 September, he declared himself outflanked. "Our Central Asian not rule out their airfields being used," he said. Unofficial reports say U.S. military cargo planes were already landing in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has become crucial to the U.S. war effort. It borders Afghanistan and Karimov appears to have offered the U.S. whatever facilities it wants, including the use of military bases -- though not troops.

The country's population of 25 million, the region's largest, and its strong industrial base, give it the most scope for an independent foreign and economic policy. Karimov sees the crisis "as an opportunity to extract economic and political concessions from the West," says the International Crisis Group (ICG), an international think tank.

These concessions would include investment aid and perhaps Western help in striking at Karimov's local enemy, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Last week, Bush named the IMU as a terrorist group to be suppressed. The ICG sees this declaration as evidence that "a bargain has already been struck between Washington and Tashkent."

Turkmenistan, to the west, also borders Afghanistan. It says it will open air and land corridors for "humanitarian" aid, while retaining its "neutrality" -- a stance that has extended in the past to cordial relations with the Taliban. Turkmenistan's policy is dictated by dependence on gas as its sole hard-currency export. Most goes to, or through, Russia. "Russia strangles Turkmenistan," says a Western diplomat in Ashgabat. "They buy only as much gas as they want, at the price that they want."

That problem could be solved by a new gas pipeline running across Afghanistan into Pakistan and India, if conditions in Afghanistan allowed. The imperative for Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's totalitarian president, is to stay on good terms with whoever controls the terrain. Neutrality is his only option for the moment, though it will doubtless be inflected in favor of the eventual winner.

Kazakhstan, to the north, has offered the U.S. whatever access it may want. Kyrgyzstan, to the east, has promised air corridors. Tajikistan, the other neighbor of Afghanistan, has kept its head down. It has 20,000 or more Russian troops on its soil, the legacy of a civil war that ended in 1997. They keep the peace, prop up the president, and guard the Afghan border. Tajikistan cannot do more than Russia will allow. It fears the Taliban. But it cannot be quite indifferent to the favors that might flow from helping the U.S. Its policy seems to be to give airspace to the U.S. without saying so.

Russia's own policy is influenced heavily by memories of the disastrous war fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Defense Ministry determines much of Russian foreign policy and Russia's generals fear that a U.S. strike will fail, leaving the Taliban stronger than before. Yet Russia is aligning hesitantly with the West, partly by choice and partly because its hand has been forced by other CIS governments. It has joined them in offering airspace for "humanitarian" flights. President Putin has spoken of "deeper" cooperation if the West offers the right terms. These apparently include carte blanche for Russia's war in Chechnya and early entry into the World Trade Organization.

Russia has also promised to step up support for the anti-Taliban Afghan forces of the Northern Alliance, which it has armed covertly since 1996. The Russian calculation may be that if the U.S. does cripple the Taliban, and starts installing a substitute government in Afghanistan, Russia will control at least a blocking minority of the country through the Northern Alliance and have a big say in any final settlement. If, on the other hand, the U.S. action fails, a well-armed Northern Alliance will be the best buffer for Tajikistan, Russia's client state.

On an old-fashioned sphere-of-influence view, Russian interests are threatened whether the U.S. does well or badly in Afghanistan, for the U.S. should not be there at all. It will be a measure of Putin's realism if he can see things differently. Both Russia and the West could gain if Central Asia emerged with better prospects for long-term stability.

That would require, first and foremost, willingness on the part of the West to engage and invest. It would also require the U.S. to encourage reform and modernization in Central Asia -- and not to pursue an illusion of stability by conspiring with the despots in place, as Russia has done.

And, last but not least, it would depend on Russia's willingness not to block any change with the considerable influence it has left. The "great game" -- the 19th-century tussle for influence in Central Asia -- could have many more rounds to go yet. ("Financial Times")

'Solo Performance' Theater To Face Hard Test

1 October 2001

By Maxim Stepanenko

The fires in Manhattan have been extinguished. The clearing of WTC remains and the calculation of victims of the bloodiest act of terrorism in the modern history of mankind proceed. Systems of air defense in all the countries with those systems available are being strengthened. Security measures at the airports and other transport units in all countries are being tightened. Police officers and security service employees are bone weary after vigilant watches and careful checks.

Fanatics who can't be called human beings, hijacking planes with civilians and attacking objects in the U.S. have not only committed a bloody mass crime, but also committed two of the heaviest sins: they have killed thousands of innocent people and have committed suicide. The whole world is shocked by these barbarous acts of terrorism.

The new situation, which has put the modern world on the edge of World War III, has made all people without exception seriously think and rethink a lot. In particular it concerns Central Asia and the countries neighboring Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden, considered the enemy number one in the U.S. who seems to be hiding in the remote mountain gorges of Afghanistan, has made this region the most explosive in the world. Here Americans are ready either to make their first attacks with missiles and aircraft or to land special forces units.

Under such circumstances the leaders of the Central Asian states, marking the 10th anniversary of independence this year, are to pass the strongest test of durability. The president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who closed the state opera and ballet because of the ostensible "absence in the blood of Turkmens" of an understanding of these kinds of art, but who persistently continues an absurd comedy in a "solo performance" theater, now is in an extremely difficult situation. The world changes every hour.

His policy of neutrality for Turkmenistan will not be enough in the current situation. Hiding in bushes and observing the fight will fail. The latest statement of Taliban leaders -- "the only builders of a true Islam" -- say they reserve the right to attack all states in Central Asia which assist the U.S. and give their territories and facilities for the U.S. or their allies' armed forces. This statement has added oil to the fire and made the Central Asian leaders think much more precisely and carefully.

In the current situation the Turkmen president has to determine not only his personal position, but also the position of all of Turkmenistan towards the world antiterrorist coalition, probable ways of participation in it, and certain actions against terrorism, on the one hand. On the other hand, Niyazov has to quite precisely define the attitude to the Taliban movement and, probably, stop cross-border trading operations with its representatives, deliveries of gasoline and other petroleum products, and tighten the undermanned Turkmen armed forces and strengthen the border service on the 800-kilometer border with its southern neighbor, as well as to make necessary arrangements for reception of a possible stream of refugees from areas of potential combat operations. Is Niyazov -- who chaired the Communist Party branch in the former USSR republic, and then spent the last 10 years on "a golden throne" as president of the sovereign Turkmenistan -- capable of coping with this situation and undertaking the right actions?

Niyazov has preferred to avoid solving problems personally. It was enough to create a group of officials around him and to make them responsible for decision-making in both internal and foreign policy. An old, well-known Stalinist principle, "the staff solves all," was taken as the major rule. It is necessary to frequently reshuffle this staff or even better dismiss somebody sometimes. To make them all be afraid, and to be afraid means to respect.

The smooth secession of the Soviet Union and transition of Turkmenistan to independence did not demand hard work. Everything happened on a wave of events in the "center" and disintegration of the former Soviet superpower. Turkmenistan's sovereignty did not need realization of either political, or economic and social reforms. It was enough to solemnly proclaim independence, to sign the declaration, and to print new banknotes with a portrait of "the father of all the Turkmens." Yet the ruling party had to be renamed, too: the now unfashionable "communist" party became "democratic" at once.

Before the crisis caused by the terrorist attacks in the U.S., the most difficult problem for Niyazov and his government had been the division of the Caspian Sea and its legal status. In this matter the head of Turkmenistan has not shown resoluteness. On the contrary, under his "initiative" a summit of the "Caspian five," long ago scheduled to be held in Turkmenistan, has already been postponed three times. And each time it happened without any serious reasons. At this time it is not clear whether it will be held this year at all.

All his time in power Niyazov basically had to only trade natural recourses (gas and oil); to close the academy of sciences, the state library, and the national theater; to reduce the term of education in high schools; to remove foreign languages from the school programs; and to dismiss guilty officials. As well as simultaneously writing day and night the immortal "Rukhnama" (Letter of the Soul), "the moral code of all the Turkmens," which will specify "a correct way" to all Muslims and will be a competitor for the holy book of Islam, the Koran. A group of ethnic Turkmens from the Middle East at a congress in Ashgabat this year solemnly and quite seriously proclaimed Niyazov a "living prophet."

The decision Niyazov has to make now is likely to affect the further geopolitical development not only of Turkmenistan, but also of the Central Asian region as a whole. What will be the decision of "Turkmenbashi The Great" -- this is how Niyazov is to be officially called in Turkmenistan today -- will be clear in the coming days. We shall wait and see. And we won't have to wait for too long. (