Accessibility links

Breaking News

Turkmen Report: November 11, 2001

11 November 2001
Drilling In Cheleken Area In Turkmenistan Begins

8 November 2001

The Mobil Exploration and Producing, Turkmenistan, Inc. started drilling the first prospect-exploration well in the Cheleken area of Turkmenistan, six kilometers from the Caspian Sea. The U.S.-based Exxon Mobil company in Turkmenistan informed CNA that the drilling program is a new stage of the Production-Sharing Agreement (PSA) signed for 25 years with the Turkmen government in July 1998. The budgeted depth of the well is about 5,300 meters. The drilling is to be completed by the beginning of 2002. (CNA)

Caspian-Black Sea Forum To Be Established By Late December

6 November 2001

The annual Caspian-Black Sea forum will be set up during the "Oil and Security" roundtable scheduled for early December 2001, deputy head of the Russian Social and Political Center Sergei Mikhailov said.

According to Mikhailov, the organizers believe that the Oil and Security forum has to unite both Caspian states and European and Western states as a whole. Thus, representatives of some European and South Caucasian states, as well as Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Iran expressed their readiness to take part in the forum. Regarding Turkmenistan, Mikhailov expressed the hope that Ashgabat would not ignore the meetings of five littoral Caspian states as it had done before.

The Social and Political Center is ready to cooperate with other forums and groups interested in the problems of the Caspian region. He mentioned both the International Caspian forum, established on 25-27 October in Derbent by the initiative of the Russian Institute of Federalism and "Caspian: perspectives and problems" annual seminar, expected to be held in late December in Tehran. (CNA)

U.S. Aircraft With Humanitarian Cargo For Afghanistan Arrive In Ashgabat

6 November 2001

Two aircraft of the U.S. Air Force with humanitarian assistance for the Afghan population arrived today in the Turkmen capital.

The consignment, which also contains tents in addition to blankets and foodstuffs, will be delivered to the neighboring country's population. As winter approaches, these items will become even more necessary. All of them will be sent to their destination in Afghanistan during the next few days.

CNA was informed by the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat that at least seven such flights will be carried out. The USAID finances this humanitarian cargo, which will be distributed by the International Organization for Migration, which will convey it to northern Afghanistan. The cargo is the part of the $8.2 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for Afghans. (CNA, Turkmen TV)

Turkmen Prosecutor Issues Arrest Warrant For Former Top Official

2 November 2001

The Turkmen prosecutor-general issued a search-and-arrest warrant for a former top government official, former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to China Boris Shikhmuradov, and asked Russia to detain and extradite him. The charges come one day after Shikhmuradov released a statement in Moscow announcing his "open opposition" to the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The state prosecutor's office said Shikhmuradov, who served as deputy prime minister and foreign minister in 1993-2000, was sought on suspicion of stealing $25.27 million worth of state property, smuggling, illegal weapons possession and sales, and other offenses.

In particular, Shikhmuradov is suspected of selling five Su-17 warplanes to Russia and of participating in the theft of 9,000 Kalashnikov machine guns and 1.5 million cartridges, worth $2.5 million, the prosecutor-general said in a statement cited by Interfax.

Shikhmuradov, who also oversaw defense issues in the mid-1990s, was named presidential envoy for Caspian Sea matters in 2000, and in March 2001 he was appointed the ambassador to China.

A criminal investigation against him was launched on 14 June and on 30 October he was relieved of his diplomatic duties.

Shikhmuradov's whereabouts are not known, but the office of Prosecutor General Gurbanbibi Atadjanova said there was information that he was hiding in Russia. It asked Moscow to detain and extradite Shikhmuradov.

In a recent statement, Shikhmuradov accused President Niyazov of isolating the former Soviet Central Asian republic, turning it into a "primitive police state" and directly participating in crimes ranging from human rights violations to drug trafficking and corruption.

Shikhmuradov was the longest-serving official in the Turkmen government except for Niyazov. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Interfax, AP.

Former Turkmen Minister Attacks President

1 November 2001

Boris Shikhmuradov, former vice prime minister and foreign minister of Turkmenistan, has expressed his opposition to the policies of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Shikhmuradov's statement, issued on 1 November, says that "the recently marked 10th anniversary of the independent existence of Turkmenistan actually summed up the results of the irresponsible political practices -- authoritarian in their style, unpopular in essence, and undemocratic in their objectives.

"The Niyazov regime has become a black hole in which the well-being and hopes of the people and the national property are disappearing," the statement says.

"In Turkmenistan, which Niyazov has isolated from the world community, crimes are committed with his direct involvement related to the humiliation of human dignity, drug trafficking, corruption, arbitrariness of courts, spy mania, sabotage of international efforts to create an atmosphere of peace and trust in the region, and harassment on religious and ethnic grounds," the statement says.

"The beginning of a Golden Age for Turkmen has been proclaimed despite the massive pauperization of the population, the unprecedented drop in living standards, bans and restrictions on human rights, and the imposition of the image of the president as a messiah," Shikhmuradov claimed.

"Niyazov has preserved the worst and most notorious methods of the Soviet style of leadership and supplemented them with the obsolete political technology for managing a traditional Oriental society," he says.

"Turkmenistan has been turned into a primitive police state with Niyazov making his own political survival its main goal," the former foreign minister believes.

Niyazov "has discredited the idea of permanent neutrality that was meant to promote the harmonious integration of Turkmenistan in the world community. But in actual fact, Turkmenistan today has a dubious reputation in both the West and the East," the statement says.

It claims that "a democratic popular movement has been formed in Turkmenistan that is ready to oppose the Niyazov regime constructively and on a democratic foundation."

"Many of us, including myself, do not deny responsibility for being involved at a certain period of time in the vicious practice of governing the country, and willingly or unwillingly promoting the personality cult of Niyazov," Shikhmuradov admits.

"Therefore it is evident that he will try to resort to his favorite method of slandering and releasing exposures which I have been exposed to during the past three years," the former official believes.

"We are sure that Turkmen deserve a better life, and despite Niyazov's opinion that Turkmen are unprepared to accept democratic values, they are capable of finding a way out of this historical blind alley," the statement concludes. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

EU Official Visits Ashgabat

1 November 2001

Turkmen President Niyazov met with the Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, chairman of EU Council of Ministers, on 1 November. They discussed the possible ways of future political development in Afghanistan.

Niyazov was pessimistic over the way the humanitarian aid to Afghanistan is being provided at present, and called for a unified policy to be drawn up on aid. He said: "There is the issue of providing humanitarian aid. All efforts made by the UN to coordinate this have proved unsuccessful so far. At the same time, many states are boasting that they are giving humanitarian aid, but nobody knows who is providing this aid and where and how they are doing it. All this seems rather like propaganda." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Turkmen TV)

New Turkmen Ambassadors To China and Germany Appointed

30 October 2001

New Turkmen ambassadors to China and Germany have been appointed.

Kurbanmuhammed Kasymov, who has hitherto held the position of minister of justice, has now been appointed ambassador to the People's Republic of China.

Dortkuli Aydogdyyev, who until now was minister of trade and foreign economic relations, has been appointed Turkmen ambassador to Germany. (

Strikes Continue On Afghanistan As Taliban Admits Fall of Mazar-i-Sharif

10 November 2001

U.S. warplanes resumed heavy air strikes on Taliban front-line positions north of Kabul today following the ruling militia's confirmation that it has lost the key city of Mazar-i-Sharif to opposition forces.

The Taliban's Bakhtar news agency says its fighters were forced to retreat from the city because of sustained bombing by U.S. warplanes.

Northern Alliance forces claim to have taken two northern provinces (Sar-i-Pol and Samangan), including the city of Hairatan, the last Afghan outpost on the border with Uzbekistan. The Taliban confirmed that opposition forces were converging on Hairatan.

The U.S. says scores of planes overnight attacked Taliban convoys moving away from Mazar-i-Sharif. U.S. military planners say control of Mazar-i-Sharif provides a land bridge to bring troops, ammunition, and equipment into Afghanistan.

Opposition forces are said to be massing for an offensive on the capital, Kabul. But in Washington yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Kabul should become an "open city" that is not controlled by any single warring faction. (RFE/RL, Reuters, AFP, AP)

Northern Alliance Announces Seizure Of Strategic City

8 November 2001

The Northern Alliance on 7 November established control over the strategic city of Shulgaron, 10 kilometers south of Mazar-i-Sharif, the administrative center of the Balkh province, sources in the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan told Interfax.

The Taliban forces, which defended Shulgaron, abandoned their positions as a result of a Northern Alliance offensive, split up into small groups, and retreated in several directions, including towards Mazar-i-Sharif.

The seizure of Shulgaron by the Northern Alliance has effectively cut off the grouping of the Taliban from the center of Afghanistan in the southern sector, where the only road linking Balkh and Kabul is located. (Interfax)

Tajikistan To Allow U.S. Military To Operate From Its Territory

8 November 2001

Turkish President Necet Sezer arrived in Dushanbe on 7 November for his first-ever official visit to Tajikistan. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov welcomed him at the airport.

Governmental delegations and the two presidents held talks during Sezer's two-day visit. A declaration on the expansion of friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries and numerous other documents were signed.

After the talks Rakhmonov announced that, if need be, his country would allow its territory to be used for U.S. military bases engaged in the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan.

"Technical capacities of three Tajik airfields are being checked" at the moment, Rakhmonov told the press in Dushanbe on 7 November. The president specified that American military experts are looking at airfields in Khodzhent, Kurgan-Tybe, and Kulyab, which are being checked out at the U.S. president's request.

The Tajik president admitted that the technical condition of these airfields "leaves much to be desired," but still, if experts find them fit for use, "one or possibly even two of these airfields will be allotted."

Taking a question from Interfax, Rakhmonov said Tajikistan could also provide its military hospital for treating fighters from the Northern Alliance, regular Afghan people, and wounded U.S. servicemen engaged in the antiterrorist operation.

"It is no secret that we have supported the Northern Alliance for six or seven years, and we will support it now," the president said, adding that "we have a hospital where not only Northern Alliance fighters, but also Afghan citizens and any people needing aid are being treated." Not a single country, especially countries neighboring Afghanistan, will deny medical aid to people in need, Rakhmonov said. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan's Gas Pipeline Plan May Revive After Afghan War

6 November 2001

Turkmenistan has the world's fifth-largest proven gas reserves. Pakistan's gas consumption has risen 70 percent in the past 10 years.

In between those two countries lies Afghanistan.

If the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan unseats the ruling Taliban regime, oil-company plans to build pipelines from gas fields in landlocked Turkmenistan to customers in Pakistan may revive, according to executives, industry experts, and U.S. diplomats in the region.

"There's still plenty of gas that needs to find a market," said Phil Beck, a director of Delta Oil, a Saudi oil company that had planned to build a 1,440-kilometer (894-mile) pipeline across Afghanistan. The project died when manager Unocal Corp. pulled out in December 1998 because of Afghanistan's civil war. "With political stability, this remains a feasible project."

The end of the war is not in sight and a post-Taliban government has yet to be formulated. Oil executives say it's too early to be making plans to build pipelines across Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries.

Until Afghanistan has a stable government -- and perhaps even after that -- any pipeline would be at the mercy of armed groups, experts say. And Turkmenistan's hopes of selling its gas also are clouded by competing projects in Iran and a border dispute that prevents Pakistan from selling gas on to India.

Still, analysts say the Pakistani demand for gas that sparked Unocal's pipeline plan in the mid-1990s still exists.

Reconstructing The Economy

"Turkmenistan has lots of gas that doesn't have an outlet," said Manouchehr Takin, senior petroleum analyst at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London. "Eventually, they are going to have to do something."

A pipeline might provide revenue for an Afghanistan seeking to rebuild a postwar economy, analysts said. In exchange for allowing pipelines to cross their territory, countries negotiate cash payments or a share of the gas or oil transiting through.

"A pipeline doesn't just bring revenue, it also brings a sense of strategic importance," said Vahan Zanoyan, chief executive of Petroleum Finance Corp. in Washington. "If rehabilitating Afghanistan is one of our goals, if we are able to put a viable government in place and if we want to leave something viable behind, then a pipeline makes sense."

While oil and gas accounted for 63 percent of Turkmenistan's $2.4 billion of exports last year, getting it out has never proved easy. The country has only two outlets for its gas: one pipeline through Kazakhstan that connects with Russia's grid and another short one to northern Iran.

Canceled Agreements

Since Turkmenistan's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, President Saparmurat Niyazov has maintained an autocratic rule over the semi-desert nation of 4.6 million people, 89 percent of whom are Muslim. And he has bickered with Russia and others over gas.

In 1994, Russia stopped transporting Turkmen gas because of a dispute over price that wasn't settled until 1998. In November 2000, Turkmenistan threatened to sue Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan for unpaid bills.

"The country has been unable to capitalize on its gas wealth because it lacks pipeline outlets to world markets," the U.S. Department of Energy said in a report earlier this year. "Turkmenistan is forced to sell its gas to ex-Soviet states that either cannot pay fully in cash or are tardy with payments."

In 1995, Turkmenistan canceled a letter of understanding it had with Argentina's Bridas Group to build the pipeline through Afghanistan, and started negotiating with Unocal. In the meantime, the Taliban in 1996 took control of most of Afghanistan.

Missile Strikes

In October 1997, Unocal and Delta Oil, along with Pakistani, Korean, Indonesian, and Japanese partners, created the Central Asia Gas consortium to build the Trans-Afghan Pipeline. The estimated cost ranged from $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion. Press reports at the time said Afghanistan stood to earn $150 million a year in transit fees. Unocal and Delta say talks with the Taliban never went far enough to determine an amount.

As Afghanistan's civil war rumbled on, U.S. human rights groups criticized Unocal's involvement in a country that tramples on women's rights. In August 1998, U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered cruise-missile strikes against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that the U.S. said had been used to plan bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Unocal pulled out of CentGas in December 1998. The California-based company says it doesn't intend to return. "We have no plans or interests in Central Asia," said spokeswoman Teresa Covington. "Our interests are now elsewhere."

Exploring Two Sites

The two largest remaining shareholders in CentGas are Delta and Crescent Steel, a Pakistani steel and construction group. Beck said they'd need the backing of a large multinational oil company to revive the project. International energy companies with projects in Turkmenistan include Exxon Mobil Corp., the U.K.'s Burren Energy, Dragon Oil of the United Arab Emirates, Austria's Pado Oil and Chemical, and Malaysia's Petronas Carigali.

A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil said the world's largest oil company is exploring two sites in Turkmenistan and that it's too early to discuss how it plans to export what it finds. The U.S. five weeks ago started bombing targets throughout Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban regime. The U.S., the United Nations, and Afghanistan's neighbors are all engaged in so far fruitless talks to create a viable government combining members of the majority Pashtuns with northern ethnic minorities that have been battling the Taliban for the past 10 years.

"Any Feasible Project"

Oil executives say no Afghanistan pipeline would be considered until all fighting has ended. In October, Occidental Petroleum Corp. suspended oil exports from Colombia for the second time this year because of guerilla attacks on its main pipeline. The 815-kilometer Cano Limon pipeline has been attacked more than 131 times this year, the company says.

Turkmenistan has 101 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Production jumped to 1.66 billion cubic feet in 2000 from 788 million the year before.

The Turkmen government is interested in any pipeline that lets it sell gas. "We are ready to be involved in any feasible project," says Chary Annaberdyev, minister-consul at the embassy in Washington D.C. "We want as many options as possible to get to market." To feed Europe's demand for gas, a variety of pipelines are under construction or consideration to pipe gas from the Caspian Sea area. To tap into them, Turkmenistan would need another pipeline under the Caspian. That project has been held up by territorial disputes in the Caspian, and by bickering over pricing: Turkmen gas going to Europe would compete with Russian, Kazakh, and Azerbaijani gas.

Gas From East To West

"Going west isn't that straightforward," said Delta's Beck. Nor is going east. Besides the war in Afghanistan, a pipeline to Pakistan would be far more profitable if it could also serve India. Border disputes in Kashmir have killed earlier projects to build pipelines linking India and Pakistan.

Turkmenistan already sends 10 percent of its gas exports to Iran, which uses Turkmen gas in its northern cities to free up gas from its fields in the south for export. An Iranian pipeline to get gas to Pakistan and India would increase those exports. European countries have invested in the Iranian oil business.

But building a pipeline could provoke the U.S. government to enforce its embargo on the country. "For a pipeline you would need committed customers in place, you need banks to invest," said Takin. "With U.S. pressure, it would be difficult to do."

Said Zanoyan at Petroleum Finance: "A pipeline through Iran makes perfect sense but for the moment we are in the business of rehabilitating Afghanistan. We aren't yet in the business of rehabilitating Iran." (Bloomberg)

Interview Of Boris Shikhmuradov To RFE/RL Turkmen Service

5 November 2001

Our correspondent Naz Nazar has interviewed Turkmenistan's ex-vice-premier and foreign affairs minister Boris Shikhmuradov.

One of the U.S. former officials once mentioned in his interview that the Trans-Caspian pipeline project had failed because Niyazov had openly demanded a $ 500 million "bakshish" [bribe] from the Americans for the support of that project. Is that true?

I can tell you that the collapse of the trans-Caspian pipeline project was really caused by Niyazov's tricks and intrigues. He wanted to get an immediate profit out of his tricks and bargain. He started asking for $ 5 billion, and stepped down gradually to $ 500 million.

Do you expect any positive results from a forthcoming summit of five Caspian states' heads in Ashgabat?

I am absolutely sure that a scheduled summit of the Caspian states' presidents in Ashgabat will be a meeting for just a cup of tea. Niyazov plays a game; he pursues a double0standard policy towards all the countries� While Niyazov heads Turkmenistan, such a summit cannot result in a Caspian status definition.

U.S. sources say there have been contacts between Niyazov's government members and Osama bin Laden's aides. Do you know anything about this?

I have no idea about it. But at the last meeting of Niyazov with the Turkmenistan�s ambassadors and envoys all the diplomats were sharply criticized, except Turkmen representatives in Heart and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Despite the declaration of neutrality, Niyazov is said to make drug and arms deals with Taliban. Your comments, please.

In today�s situation in the world Niyazov's so-called "neutrality policy" is very dangerous and provocative. It's no way to stay aside or to be neutral when the international coalition is acting against terrorism, and many afghan people are suffering. Each one should take a stand. Take our CIS neighbors, Pakistan, Iran. They have different visions, different approaches. But they take the stand, attracting the political will of their nations. But with Niyazov nobody can understand what he is doing. Today he plays with Americans. Tomorrow he plays with Afghans. It is a very dangerous policy for my nation.

How strong is the Russian influence on Turkmenistan? Does it increase or decrease?

It�s only Niyazov who has created this situation, in which Turkmenistan is now. There is no alternative market for Turkmen oil and gas. Niyazov provokes many countries to increase their influence inside Turkmenistan. There is in fact nobody who could call oneself a friend or a partner of Niyazov.

Niyazov has not offered much to antiterrorist coalition�

Many Turkmens were shocked when at the celebration of Niyazov's independence -- I call it Niyazov's personal independence -- not a word was said about the Afghan conflict and ethnic Turkmens, suffering there. He does not know how much the people are concerned about the war across the border� Niyazov is a liar, No. 1 political liar in the world. One day he told the U.S. ambassador in Turkmenistan that he was ready to provide air corridors for humanitarian cargoes. Next morning he sent a message to Taliban stating that it was not true and just a provocation.

There are no civil rights in Turkmenistan, no rights of self-expression, freedom of speech etcetera. The living standards are terrible. But the worst thing is Niyazov's incompetence� (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmen Opposition Gets Stronger

3 November 2001

By Maxim Stepanenko

Turkmenistan's former ambassador to China and vice premier, Boris Shikhmuradov, publicly announced his opposition to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 1 November in Moscow.

The very next day the Turkmen prosecutor-general accused him of abuse of power and embezzling state property in the amount of $25.27 million and declared him wanted. Turkmen Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atadjanova delivered to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov an official request to detain and to extradite Shikhmuradov to Turkmenistan for criminal proceedings against him.

Political Chess

The chain reaction of the last few days' events and the political life in Turkmenistan this year brings to mind a chess game.

The black figures made the first move on 14 June, when the Turkmen prosecutor-general instituted proceedings against Boris Shikhmuradov, then the Turkmen ambassador to China, and a number of other governmental officials. The diplomat was suspected in illegal arms trading with foreign companies. The chess piece taken that time was General Soltanov, who was fired by Niyazov from his position as the Balkan Velayat commander with no legal procedure.

Shikhmuradov, playing the white figures, kept working as ambassador to China, but surely started preparing possible moves. He made the next move in this chess game on his trip from China to Turkmenistan by making a transit stop in Moscow.

Another move by Niyazov was executed on 30 October at a meeting with Turkmenistan's ambassadors in Ashgabat, related to the celebration of the country's independence. Several Turkmen ambassadors, including Boris Shikhmuradov, were dismissed from their posts.

On 1 November, which may become a historical date in modern Turkmen history, Boris Shikhmuradov thrust a knife into Niyazov's back, when he publicly made the sensational statement to the press in Moscow and openly announced his opposition to the current Ashgabat regime. "Turkmenistan has been turned into a primitive police state with Niyazov making his own political survival its main goal," said Shikhmuradov. "Niyazov has discredited the idea of permanent neutrality that was meant to promote the harmonious integration of Turkmenistan in the world community." The "president for life" was in check.

After Turkmenistan's first foreign minister, Avdy Kuliev, escaped from Ashgabat to Moscow in 1992, Shikhmuradov has become in fact only the second former Turkmen official from the state's leadership brave enough to cut off close ties with one of the most authoritarian dictatorships in the world. For the weak Turkmen opposition it is substantial support, which could lead to some final consolidation necessary for further political movement toward a democratic and free Turkmenistan.

This very serious move came quite unexpectedly for Niyazov, who seems to have completely missed not only this move of his former ambassador and foreign affairs minister, but to have lost his political eyesight altogether.

Shikhmuradov, 52 years old, is quite experienced in politics, diplomacy, and economics. He can finally bring vitally needed fresh blood to the disconnected Turkmen opposition or even head it. Shikhmuradov worked as vice premier, foreign minister, and the special representative of Turkmenistan on Caspian Sea issues and problems of Afghanistan. He can boost the activities of the Turkmen opposition, centralize the widely spread and uncoordinated Turkmens into a strong political force, which could gradually become capable of competing with the "...authoritarian in style, antinational in essence and antidemocratic in the purposes political practice of Niyazov within the last ten years,.. "a black hole", in which well-being and hopes of [Turkmen] people, as well as the national property of the state disappear."

The black figures made another move on 2 November, declaring Shikhmuradov wanted on criminal charges. In this situation the former Turkmen official is likely to make other statements concerning Niyazov's crimes. "I know what threatens me, what Niyazov can do.... I knew which way I had taken.... My decision has been properly thought over," said Shikhmuradov in his interview with the newspaper "Vremya novostei" on 2 November. "This model is easily counted, this is the behavior of any primitive dictator, the chief of a police state. Labeling will start now, blaming in cooperation with imperialistic intelligence services -- this all has already been.... I am not going to build barricades. The matter is that the possibility to express thoughts and to speak about the problems must be given to the people.... We are facing the courts' arbitrariness, special services' all-powerfulness.... The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is functioning as the national security unit. This is a slap in the face of Turkmenistan's people and the whole world community, all those who have believed Niyazov, who declared permanent neutrality. In fact he uses this idea as a cage, where he has driven his own people, having isolated it from the world."

Now comes the turn of Shikhmuradov to make the next move in the political chess game. His deep knowledge of Niyazov personally, as well as the country's internal and international policy, gives the Turkmen opposition a rare chance to get consolidated and to effectively use all Shikhmuradov's advantages in the competition with the "leader of all Turkmens." The former Turkmen foreign minister and ambassador to China is one of the few former high-ranking Turkmen officials who did not fear to publicly announce his opposition and who indeed could make some progress in the Turkmen opposition's activities.

Commenting on the charges of illegal multimillion-dollar arms deals, Shikhmuradov called them "pure delirium, the fruit of [Niyazov's] sick fantasy." Shikhmuradov also added that "there is a circle of very high-ranking persons from certain ministries who have turned drug trafficking into a profitable business." The white figures' next move could be another check against Niyazov and his supporters.

"We are sure that Turkmen deserve a better life, and despite Niyazov's opinion that Turkmen are unprepared to accept democratic values, they are capable of finding a way out of this historical blind alley," Shikhmuradov said in his statement.

Hopefully, the Turkmen opposition might one day be able to checkmate their opponent in Ashgabat. Then it could not only be the white figures of the Turkmen opposition who would win this long political chess game, but in the end all the people of Turkmenistan. (

Former Turkmen Foreign Minister, In Opposition Exile, Now Wanted on Criminal Charges

2 November 2001

By Bruce Pannier

The prosecutor-general of Turkmenistan filed criminal charges today against the country's former ambassador to China, Boris Shikhmuradov.

Shikhmuradov is accused of participating in illegal arms deals totaling some $30 million dating back to his time as deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

The charges come one day after Shikhmuradov released a statement in Moscow announcing his "open opposition" to the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Shikhmuradov said the Turkmen government has become "authoritarian in style, antinational in essence and antidemocratic in political practice."

"The situation in my country has forced me take a decision not only to improve it for the better, but to stand in open opposition to the policies of Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov."

He said a democratic movement is growing in Turkmenistan in opposition to Niyazov's rule, but owned up to his own role in past mistakes made by the government:

"Turkmen are probably the most patient people in the world. But even among them, a democratic national movement has been forming which is prepared constructively and on a democratic platform to oppose Niyazov's regime. Many of us, including myself, cannot shed responsibility for a period of time when we were involved in the vicious practices of Turkmenistan's governing and involuntarily aided in promoting the cult of Niyazov."

Shikhmuradov had, over the years, served as Turkmenistan's deputy prime minister, foreign minister, special envoy on Caspian issues and, most recently, as Ashgabat's ambassador to China. He was dismissed as ambassador earlier this week.

The 52-year-old Shikhmuradov lasted longer in Turkmen politics than any other figure save Niyazov himself. Government officials were dismissed over the years due to corruption or incompetence, but Shikhmuradov never seemed to fall from Niyazov's good graces.

Shikhmuradov became deputy prime minister in 1992 and foreign minister in January 1993, where he served for nearly eight years. His appointment as Turkmenistan's special representative on Caspian affairs in July 2000 was not considered a demotion. The position was seen as crucial since Turkmenistan is counting on financially exploiting its vast hydro-carbon resources in the Caspian basin.

His switch to ambassador for China marked a turning point as, for once, Shikhmuradov was no longer serving in a role close to Niyazov. The move mirrored a trend in the Turkmen government to constantly shuffle government officials. Observers theorize Niyazov may have been trying to prevent potential rivals from entrenching themselves in the government and gathering personal support.

Shikhmuradov's transformation into a leading opposition figure could present an unprecedented challenge to Niyazov. Shikhmuradov had been seen as a likely successor to Niyazov -- whose health is under some question -- simply because he was one of the only government officials familiar to most Turkmen citizens.

Shikhmuradov is also known outside Turkmenistan, having traveled for nearly 10 years in his various government capacities. So his criticism of the government may receive more attention than that levied by other former Turkmen government ministers in exile.

Shikhmuradov had been expected to return from China to attend last weekend's celebrations marking Turkmenistan's 10th anniversary of independence. Instead, he was reportedly in a Moscow hospital and unable to travel. (RFE/RL)

Niyazov Gives Ambassadors Lesson Of Diplomacy

1 November 2001

By Arkadiy Dubnov

The extravagant holidays devoted to the 10th anniversary of Turkmen sovereignty are over, and the citizens of the country come back to work after the 10-day paid holiday given by "beloved" President Saparmurat Niyazov on the occasion of celebrations.

The president has no rest -- he is already preparing the next personnel reshuffling. After the dismissals of careless regional chiefs who failed to fulfill the annual plan on grain harvesting (instead of the planned 2 million only about 800,000 tons were harvested, which forced Ashgabat to ask the Itera company to provide deliveries of bread from Russia in exchange for Turkmen gas), the turn of the Turkmen ambassadors who have not justified trust of "the father of the nation" has come.

Niyazov called the Turkmen ambassadors from abroad to the palace named after himself, and expressed indignation at their work inefficiency. "All countries make a profit on visa issuance, and in Turkmenistan the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unprofitable," declared Niyazov with bitterness. "Count up incomes and charges of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again. We do it not because of greed, simply there should be a feedback in everything." The president has already made the appropriate conclusions. First, the National Security Committee (KNB) will be engaged in checking the activities of foreign diplomatic representations. Secondly, personnel decisions were announced. The most significant decision was the resignation of the best-known Turkmen diplomat, the present ambassador to China, former Deputy Premier and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Shikhmuradov. Minister of Justice Kasymov was appointed to his place. The forthcoming dismissals of Turkmen ambassadors in Moldova and the United Arab Emirates, Orazmukhamedov and Pirjan Kurbanov, were declared, too. The embassy in Chisinau is to be closed and transferred to the Romanian capital.

Since Niyazov has no secrets from Turkmen citizens, he presented his severe speech in front of the national TV cameras, which had been showing the angry president for half an hour in the evening on 30 October. Niyazov was criticizing officials' shortcomings in the Turkmen language. It is obvious that certain cuts in the broadcast were made, because his speeches are usually not so brief.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service has received a soundtrack of Niyazov's speech, which gives sufficient evidence of his management style. Addressing Turkmen Ambassador to the UAE Kurbanov, Niyazov said: "You have done nothing to draw investments to the country, you are dealing only with your son and daughter. I know you have a woman (in Turkmen it sounded more harsh) whom you are going to bring to yourself through our ambassador in Turkey.... Four years ago I told you not to grow nails, do not go in public in dark glasses (Kurbanov has sick eyes.) And you are here again in black glasses. Are you cleverer, better than the others? I fire you from a post of the ambassador, and now you will go with Nazarov (KNB chairman). If you will prove your innocence, walk. And if not...."

He then gets angry with Ambassador to Turkey Nurmakhamed Khananov: "We were going to construct a pulp-and-paper plant in Bezmein, but failed. We have given $20 million to the Turks for that purpose. Four years have passed, and you have done nothing to return the money. You've only been watching your own beauty, as well as wearing trousers into holes, and your wife flies to Moscow three times a week on business. I've got all the data on you here (knocks on table). But I leave you yet, I will take your report in December...."

Niyazov teaches the ambassador to England, having told him that he does not work, but only "guards the building." "Look, how many manuscripts of Turkmen poets are kept in English museums and libraries, and you can not make cultural links with them."

Summing up the diatribe, Niyazov exclaims: "The Turkmen soil -- where you thrust a stick, everywhere there is oil or gas! Therefore I do not need foreign investments. They will show some money, and will extort our riches then. And you do not know our policy, take the program, developed for 11 years, and learn it, then you will understand all!"

Everybody has already understood, and, perhaps, not only the ambassadors. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, "Vremya novostei")

Appeal Of Turkmen Polytechnic Institute Teachers To President Niyazov

2 November 2001

Several teachers of one of the best Turkmen institutes have sent an appeal to Turkmenistan's President Niyazov. Copies were sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President George W. Bush, the OSCE Human Rights department, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Turkmen KNB Chairman Nazarov.

Citing Article 17 of Turkmenistan's Constitution, the teachers reminded Niyazov that "Turkmenistan guarantees equality of citizens' rights and freedoms, as well as citizens' equality before the law regardless of nationality, origin, material and job position, residence, language, reference to religion, political views, or party membership."

The teachers want Niyazov to pay attention to the desperate position of the Russian-speaking teachers and students, despite the cited constitutional article.

The teachers are threatened to be fired according to the principle of "no knowledge of the state language" contrary to the valid constitution.

We agree that all the people living in Turkmenistan have to know the state language. But it is not our fault that in the past another policy had been pursued: in kindergartens, at schools, universities, and workplaces, the Turkmen language was not learnt and used. We try to learn it now, but it is very difficult for us. No support is given to us by the management of the institute, except the short-term courses on alphabet studies several years ago. And we all know the alphabet.

To transfer studies into Turkmen language it is necessary to fulfill the following conditions:

1. Preparation of high-quality teachers (including Russian-speaking), who perfectly know the Turkmen language, certain disciplines and subjects, technical terminology;

2. Publishing of the vocabulary of the technical terms on Turkmen language;

3. Establishment of the translation department in different technical directions on the basis of top experts, skilled at translation;

4. Publishing of school books in the Turkmen language (at least one book on every subject).

We wonder why there are no courses of Turkmen language in our institute, though there is a Turkmen-language department.

This year under the threat of being fired we were made to "write" school textbooks, learning aids in Turkmen. This is completely absurd and fake! No one, even those who know the language well, can translate properly, especially the technical texts.

Turkmenistan is our motherland. We have worked in Ashgabat Polytechnic Institute for 20-30 years. Our motherland did not spare funds on our education and raised high-level experts. Somebody wants to fire us, and uneducated, incompetent people will occupy our places. You think this injustice will bring benefit to our motherland?

All what is being done today in our institute has no logic and sense.

We ask you, Saparmurat Atayevich, to defend our rights to labor, guaranteed by the Turkmen Constitution.

In accordance with the fact that letters and appeals of citizens often do not reach you, we forward copies of this appeal to Russian President Putin, U.S. President Bush, the OSCE Human Rights Department, UN Secretary-General Annan, and Turkmen KNB Chairman Nazarov. With respect, [signatures of the teachers] (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)