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Turkmen Report: April 8, 2000

8 April 2000
RFE/RL's Turkmen Service Believes Security Forces Are Behind Mullah's Letter Against The Service
April 7, 2000

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service received a critical letter on April 6 from Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych, a 72-year-old mullah arrested by the Turkmen authorities in the beginning of February and later pardoned by President Niyazov.

Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych was originally accused of misusing his religious title for financial profit. President Niyazov had also publicly questioned the Khodzha's religious authority and ordered his translation of Koran from Arabic to Turkmen to be burnt.

Niyazov pardoned the mullah when he publicly repented his misdeeds and asked for forgiveness.

In his letter to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych condemns its activities and calls the service members "big devils." The Khodzha writes, "I have never been involved in politics. Islam does not allow a spiritual leader to participate in politics. I have dedicated my life to public service. I've been published in the Turkmen press and have - by mistake - contributed to your radio. Nobody can deny that. By collaborating with devils such as you, I've lost my credibility and presently find myself on the bottom of a pit. I am grateful to my people and our respected president, whose goodness to me I will never forget. They have freed me from jail. I owe much to the dear president."

Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych had previously contributed to the Turkmen service programming on religious issues. He was arrested by the Turkmen authorities shortly after he mentioned in his interview to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service - following President Niyazov's special order to put a huge Christmas tree in front of the Rukhiyet palace in Ashgabat - that Koran has no mention of a Christmas tree.

Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych's contribution to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service was never mentioned in his legal case.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service believes that Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych's letter to the service members was forced onto him by the Turkmen security forces. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Authorities Threaten To Suppress Russian-Speaking Baptists
April 4, 2000

Having suppressed the Turkmen-speaking Baptist congregation in the capital Ashgabat, the Turkmen authorities have reportedly promised to crush the associated Russian-language congregation in the near future, sources in the Baptist Union of Central Asia told Keston News Service.

The Union also confirms that its church in the eastern town of Mary has been sealed by the authorities, who seized all copies of the Bible and wrote down names and work places of all members. The police later visited their work places and threatened the Baptists with dismissal.

Meanwhile, sources tell Keston that despite the threats, many Christian communities in Turkmenistan still meet in private flats. The one minority faith that is able to practice legally in Turkmenistan is the Catholic Church. Thanks to the diplomatic relations that exist between Turkmenistan and the Vatican, it has been able to hold Mass on diplomatic territory and its three priests enjoy diplomatic immunity. However, according to one unconfirmed report, the Turkmen authorities have refused to allow a Catholic church to open in Ashgabat. (Keston News Service).

Turkmenistan Steps Up Crackdown On Religious Freedom
April 2, 2000

International sources report that Turkmen authorities continue to suppress religious minorities in Turkmenistan.

Agency France Press said on April 2 that the Turkmen security forces have demolished a Seventh Day Adventists' church in Ashgabat.

AFP quotes Western diplomat based in Ashgabat as saying that "officials are worried about the growth of religious extremism in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan."

Turkmenistan has so far escaped violence caused by so-called religious fundamentalists, but, AFP says, that has not stopped its strong-arm president Saparmurat Niyazov from cracking down on religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution.

"In Turkmenistan, there never were nor will there be fanatics," Niyazov was quoted recently in the official press as saying.

According to Amnesty International, there are escalating reports of confiscated religious literature, arrests, mistreatment in prison and of foreign missionaries being forced out of the country.

AFP says Niyazov has further introduced a "program of spiritual revival" and a "code of moral and ethical commandments," expected to be publicized in May and adopted by the rubber-stamp parliament in November.

The program will answer "all of life's issues," said presidential religious adviser, Murad Karryev, who described it as a "secular book with sayings from the Koran."

Members of religious minorities in Turkmenistan have a different view of the government's actions. "The future will only get worse," says Pavel Fedotov, a practitioner who witnessed the destruction of the Seventh Day Adventists' church. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - AFP)

Latest News on Nurberdy Nurmamedov
April 2, 2000

According to unconfirmed information available to Radio Liberty from Western diplomatic sources and opposition in Ashgabat, Nurberdy Nurmamedov, one of the Turkmen opposition leaders sentenced to a 5 year prison term, was moved to a lock-up cell on March 5 after he supposedly had a conversation with a fellow detainee in Tejen prison.

Conditions in Nurmamedov's cell were such that the prisoner had to stand in water at all times.

After a week spent in that cell, Nurmamedov was taken to a prison hospital, where he received mind-altering drug injections.

On March 27, Nurmamedov appeared on Turkmen television, acknowledged his guilt, and repented for his "wrongdoings."

In his address, Nurmamedov said: "On February 25, 2000, I, Nurberdy Nurmamedov, was sentenced by the Annau regional court in accordance with Articles 279 (part 2) and 196 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan to 5 years in prison. I agree with the court's decision. I admit my guilt and I am ready to serve the appropriate punishment. I hope that the President and the people will pardon me and I am ready to redeem myself through labor. Every year our President issues an amnesty, thereby freeing several thousand of prisoners. This amnesty serves as a great spiritual support for the prisoners. If our President pardons me, I will take care of problems in my family."

Asked if he repents, Nurmamedov said, "Yes, I repent."

Radio Liberty has not received a confirmation of this report, nor any information regarding Nurberdy Nurmamedov's release from prison. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

EU Speaks Out On Human Rights Abuses In Turkmenistan
March 31, 2000

The European Union made the following declaration on March 27 regarding the arrest of Nurberdy Nurmamedov and his son Murad:

"The EU calls upon the Turkmen authorities to urgently review the case of the Nurmamedovs and to allow participation of international observers in this process. It also requests that European Embassies accredited in Ashgabat and ICRC representatives be allowed direct contact with Mr. Nurmamedov and his son.

In view of the fact that no complaint has been made by any private citizen against Mr. Nurberdy Nurmamedov and his son Murad, the EU appeals to the Turkmen authorities to release them from detention pending review of their case."

The EU Presidency urged the Turkmen government to comply with the 1990 Copenhagen declaration and allow foreign representatives to participate in this and similar cases.

On March 29, Ambassador Alvaro Mendonca E Moura, the Head of the Portuguese delegation at the 56th Session of the EU's Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, made the following statement:

..."The EU welcomes the decision of the Turkmen authorities to abolish the death penalty. We are otherwise deeply concerned at the deteriorating situation of human rights in Turkmenistan. The EU has raised its concerns about harassment of political opponents, political arrests and treatment of political prisoners. We observe with grave concern the difficult situation of small religious groups resulting from steadily growing repression. The EU urges Turkmenistan to implement the UN Human Rights covenants, which guarantee, inter alia, freedom of opinion, expression, religion, assembly and association. In this regard, the EU is gravely concerned by the events at the end of last year which opened the way for President Niyazov to remain President for life and which, if implemented, would undermine one of the fundamental bases of democracy." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - Human Rights Watch)

Leaders of Turkic-Speaking States Meet In Baku, Niyazov and Karimov Absent
April 8, 2000

A two-day summit of Caucasus and Central Asian leaders is taking place today in Baku.

Presidents of Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan are attending. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are represented by parliamentary speakers.

Talks are expected to focus on ways to fight terrorism and plans for the joint production of oil and gas.

The six Turkic-speaking countries have been meeting annually since 1992 to tackle regional problems, mostly related to the gas and oil industries.

Energy projects will be at the top of the agenda, including two oil and gas pipelines linking Central Asia to Western markets, the Azerbaijani Turan news agency reported.

The absence of the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan indicated that there was already some disharmony among the Turkic-speaking states over exploiting the region's rich oil and gas reserves.

President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan probably stayed away because of differences with Azerbaijan over the legal status of the Caspian Sea, whose border they share, and the ownership of several Caspian Sea oil fields, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan most likely did not attend because of diplomatic problems with Turkey, which is the organizer of the annual summit.

On the diplomatic front, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are cool toward Turkey. Turkmenistan accuses Turkey of favoring Russian gas supplies and Uzbekistan accuses Ankara of harboring political opponents.

Turkey, backed by the United States, is vying for strategic oil and gas pipeline routes. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed an agreement last November to ship oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. (AP - RFE/RL - Itar-Tass-Eng)

U.S. Oil Firm To Help Develop Turkmen Oil And Gas Sector
April 5, 2000

President Saparmurat Niyazov received today in Ashgabat the President of [US] Western Geophysical company Gary Jones and its Vice-President Anzhelo di Batista.

Jones offered his service as a technical consultant [to the Turkmen side] in organizing the negotiations between the foreign companies and the Turkmen side on developing the offshore oil fields in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea on product-share terms.

During the meeting Niyazov and Jones signed a memorandum on future cooperation. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Service)

Afghan Taleban Controlled Northern Provinces To Get Turkmen Electricity
April 4, 2000

Afghan Taleban radio reports that on April 4 the minister of power and water resources of Afghanistan, Alhaj Mowlawi Ahmad Jan, and the minister of power engineering and industry of Turkmenistan, Amangeldi Atayev, have signed agreement on cooperation in the field of electricity.

Bakhtar Information Agency reported that the Turkmen side will supply electricity to Torghondi District and its surrounding areas and then, after representatives of the two sides meet again, to the northern zone areas, including Herat Province. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Radio Voice of Shari'ah, Kabul)

Turkmen, Russian Heads Stand For Stronger Ties
April 3, 2000

The Turkmen TV reports that on April 3 President Niyazov spoke on the phone with Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin.

According to the report, Putin said that Turkmenistan is one of Russia's closest partners, and that relations between the two countries are based on full equality and mutual respect.

The two sides discussed issues of economic cooperation within the framework of the CIS countries and projects linked to the development of the Caspian Sea. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen Television Channel 1)

Niyazov Contemplates Honoring His Father With Highest Award
April 6, 2000

The Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov addressed the issue of honoring his father with the highest award in Turkmenistan, the Hero of the country, during his speech at a memorial to his mother on April 5.

The issue has been debated in the Turkmen press for the past two weeks. Niyazov's father died as a soldier during World War II and, if awarded with the medal, would become the fourth ever Hero of Turkmenistan.

The Turkmen President himself has three such medals. During the last session of the People's Council at the end of 1999, Niyazov also awarded the medal to two heads of collective farms.

Speaking at a memorial to his mother, Niyazov said that if the medal would be awarded only to his father, relatives of other soldiers who perished during the war would be upset. Therefore, the President said, he intends to issue a decree extending the award to all who fought in WWII.

The Turkmen press continues to debate this issue. During his speech, Niyazov also ordered all regional and district Muslim schools to be closed. Only one Eastern Orthodox Christian school remains open.

Niyazov said that in the future all religious ceremonies will be conducted only by mullahs who had studied for no less than 5 years and who have diplomas from religious seminaries or colleges. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmen Cultural Festival In Istanbul
April 6, 2000

Istambul hosted artists and musicians from Turkmenistan as a part of annual Turkmen Cultural Days on April 1-6.

Turkmenistan's official delegation was headed by Minister of Culture Oraz Aydogdiev and Deputy Minister, popular Turkmen singer Jemal Saparova. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)