15 July 2000
POLITICAL NEWS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
OSCE Delegation Arrives In TurkmenistanJuly 14, 2000
An OSCE delegation arrived in Turkmenistan today as part of its Central Asian tour.
The delegation includes 29 senior officials from the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, including a number of national ambassadors to OSCE to the organization.
During its one-day stay in the country, the delegation will meet with Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, Director of the National Democracy and Human Rights Institute reporting to the president Vladimir Kadyrov and foreign ambassadors.
The OSCE delegation will examine the situation in Turkmenistan, particularly in the sphere of human rights. (Interfax)
Turkmen Front Headquarters Attacked In IraqJuly 14, 2000
The Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) has been attacked in Erbil in Iraq, Iraqi Turkmen Organization / North America said in a press release this week.
On July 12, 2000 Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) launched an attack on the headquarters of the Iraqi Turkmen Front with heavy machine guns and cannons. The fight lasted several hours, 2 Turkmen security guards were killed, 3 others suffered heavy injuries. The building was heavily damaged. The KDP searched the ITF offices and confiscated files and archives.
Last month, the KDP assaulted the Turkmen Students Union (TSU) building twice, injuring eight students and looting their office equipment. The building is still occupied by the KDP police.
The press release of the Iraqi Turkmen Organization / North America asks the international community to create a "safe heaven" for the Iraqi Turkmens separate from the one in Erbil where the Kurds live.
"Coexistence [of the Kurds and the Turkmens] is not working anymore. If this forceful coexistence continues, we are afraid that there will be further bloodshed and undesirable confrontation between the Turkmens and the Kurds who both suffered from the tyrannical regime of Saddam [Hussein]," the press release says. (Iraqi Turkmen Organization / North America)
Turkmen Official Admits That Government Controls All Clergy AppointmentsJuly 13, 2000
In a rare conversation with an independent journalist, an official of Turkmenistan's Council for Religious Affairs (CRA) admitted to Keston News Service that the council exercises direct control over the hiring, promotion and sacking of both Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox clergy - despite the fact that this role is nowhere listed among the CRA's duties in the country's law on religion. To Keston's knowledge, such detailed government management of the internal affairs of religious confessions is unparalleled in any other former Soviet republic. As the Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church are the only religious groups with official registration in Turkmenistan, this means that the government controls the appointment of all the country's legally-permitted clergy.
As a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Turkmenistan is committed to allowing religious groups to appoint their own personnel. Article 16 of the Concluding Document of the 1989 Vienna Conference requires states to respect the right of religious communities to "select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their respective requirements and standards," the state intervening only in cases of a "freely accepted arrangement." It is not clear if the Turkmen government has reached any kind of agreement with the Sunni Muslim Board or the Russian Orthodox Church allowing it to take over the role of appointing clergy.
The conversation with Mered Chariyarov took place on 11 July in the gleaming, plush new offices of the Council for Religious Affairs at the Azadi Mosque in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat.
Chariyarov told Keston that he has worked continuously as a staff consultant for the Council for Religious Affairs for the last 25 years. Pressed to clarify whether the CRA decided which Muslim clergy to promote or to sack, he said that it did. He likewise confirmed that this applied to the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Chariyarov also confirmed to Keston that the CRA, not just the Ministry of Justice, is involved in decisions about whether to accept the applications of bodies such as local church congregations for state registration. (Keston News Service)
Opposition Marks Five Year Anniversary Of Demonstration In AshgabatJuly 12, 2000
Five years ago, on July 12, 1995, several dozens of protesters were arrested in Ashgabat when an opposition-sponsored peaceful demonstration was violently dispersed by the authorities.
Demonstrators protested authoritarian policies of President Saparmurat Niyazov's regime.
Following the demonstration, eight activists were sentenced to prison. Two of them died; the remaining six were freed after President Niyazov's official visit in the United States where he was told to release political prisoners. (RFE/RL)
Turkmenistan Planning To Buy Three Boeing AircraftsJuly 14, 2000
Turkmenistan is planning to buy three Boeing aircraft in the near future, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced yesterday at a Cabinet of Ministers' session in Ashgabat.
These aircraft will be employed for domestic flights, the president said, and will be bought against a credit from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. This purchase comes under a 25-year contract between the Boeing and Turkmenistan that was signed in 1995. The value of the contract has not been made public.
Turkmenistan currently flies six Boeing aircraft on international routes. (Interfax)
Russia Proposes Joint Development Of Disputed Caspian OilfieldsJuly 14, 2000
Russia's envoy to the Caspian region today proposed an equal split of all disputed oilfields in the Caspian Sea.
The Azerbaijani news agency Turan quotes envoy Viktor Kalyuzhny as telling officials in Baku that oilfields on the dividing line between two countries should be developed jointly.
The five countries with borders on the Caspian - Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran - disagree on how to divide the sea and its potentially huge oil and gas reserves.
The heart of the disagreement is where to place a central dividing line that is supposed to be an equal distance between opposite shores. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan both claim four oilfields located roughly in the middle of the sea. Iran demands that each country's sectors be of equal size. (RFE/RL)
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Calls For August Caspian TalksJuly 14, 2000
Russia's special envoy to the Caspian, Viktor Kalyuzhny, has called a meeting of the five countries surrounding the inland sea to discuss its status in August, Azeri newspaper Bakinsky Rabochy said yesterday.
Deputy foreign minister Kalyuzhny told Azeri President Heydar Aliyev in Baku he hoped representatives of the five littoral states, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Iran would meet in the Russian Caspian port of Astrakhan.
Aliyev and Kalyuzhny discussed problems related to the Caspian's status yesterday at a meeting in Baku.
Kalyuzhny plans to visit the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on July 18-19, followed by a visit to Iran on July 25. (Reuters, Interfax)
Niyazov, Kasyanov Discuss Russia's Debts To TurkmenistanJuly 13, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had a telephone conversation with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov today to discuss Russia's debts to Turkmenistan.
Russia owes 82 million U.S. dollars and 20 million rubles to Turkmenistan.
Kasyanov told Niyazov he will send the heads of Uneximbank, Rossiisky Kredit, and Inkombank to Ashgabat for talks on the terms and forms of returning Turkmenistan's deposits amounting to about 65 million U.S. dollars.
During the conversation the two sides also discussed bilateral cooperation related to the Caspian Sea status. They agreed that division of the Caspian Sea should be based on the norms of international law and national interests of coast states. (Itar-Tass)
New Oil Well Commissioned In TurkmenistanJuly 13, 2000
The first large-producer oil well, about 3,500 kilometers deep, has been put into operation at the Southern Kamyshlydzha oil field in Turkmenistan developed by the Turkmenneft state concern.
Over 30 wells are expected to be drilled at Southern Kamyshlydzha, eight of which are expected to be commissioned this year, Turkmenneft has told Interfax.
Turkmenneft plans to increase oil extraction at this oil field to 1 million tons by 2004. About $20 million is likely to be spent on purchasing and manufacturing equipment. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan, Germany Sign Memorandum On Trade, Economic CooperationJuly 13, 2000
Turkmenistan and Germany signed a memorandum on trade and economic cooperation in Munich following the third meeting of the Turkmen-German working group for trade and economic cooperation.
The memorandum says that the two countries will cooperate in the banking and financial spheres, the gas and oil sector, the medical industry, agriculture and the processing industry.
A special accent was put on the development of Karabogazgol, which, to quote the Turkmen leaders, is "a unique complex where practically all the elements of the Mendeleyev periodic system are represented."
The German company Thyssen will be in charge of developing this region. Another company, Wintershall, will start developing the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea following talks with the Turkmen government. (Interfax)
U.S. Envoy Satisfied With Results Of Talks In TbilisiJuly 12, 2000
U.S. president's special envoy for the development of Caspian energy resources John Wolf held talks with Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze on Wednesday to discuss the transit of Caspian oil by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan route and the construction of trans-Caspian gas pipelines.
The talks were also attended by State Minister Georgy Arsenishvili, Minister of Fuel and Energy David Mirtskhulava, U.N. secretary-general's envoy Dieter Boden, president of the Georgian oil corporation Georgy Chanturia and president of the Georgian international gas corporation A.Gotsiridze.
After the talks Wolf told journalists that he is satisfied with the results of his talks in Tbilisi. (Itar-Tass)
U.S. Backs Kazakhstan's Position On Variety Of Oil Pipeline Export RoutesJuly 11, 2000
Washington supports the principle of a variety of oil pipeline routes that Kazakhstan adheres to in a bid to boost its oil export, the U.S. State Secretary's special adviser on newly independent states Stephen Sestanovich said today after a meeting with Kazakh Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev in Astana.
The two sides discussed Kazakhstan's relationships with international financial organizations, cooperation in power engineering, fuel transport, republic's oil revenue spending, its expected entry into the World Trade Organization, regional diplomacy and security. (Interfax)
Azerbaijan and Turkey Begin Gas TalksJuly 11, 2000
President Heydar Aliyev said today that Azerbaijan could no longer wait for a U.S.-backed pipeline for Caspian Sea gas and had begun its own talks with Turkey to export Azeri natural gas.
In a meeting with visiting Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Aliyev said that Azerbaijan had originally planned to export gas through a trans-Caspian pipeline. He said that because the project has been delayed, Azerbaijan will take measures to export the gas to Turkey.
The pipeline was planned to transport gas from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to Turkey, but talks reached an impasse because Turkmenistan is reportedly unhappy with the terms of financing and the price offered for its gas.
Azerbaijan says it wants to sign a contract as soon as possible to win a place in he Turkish market.
Sezer arrived in Azerbaijan today and will stay just over 24 hours. (RFE/RL)
U.S. Has Not Given Up on Caspian Pipeline; Turkmen President Wants Guarantees for Pipeline ProjectJuly 10, 2000
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov said today he wants political and economic guarantees for the realization of the Trans-Caspian pipeline project.
Niyazov made his comments after a meeting with United States' State Department special advisor Steven Sestanovich. Sestanovich said the U.S. is still interested in the pipeline project to bring Turkmen natural gas across the Caspian to Azerbaijan, then to countries further west. Sestanovich said the U.S. government remains convinced the project is needed for the region despite last month's pullout by U.S. companies Bechtel and General Electric from a consortium building the pipeline.
Niyazov said he considers the project, as it stands, not to be in Turkmenistan's interests. Niyazov said the U.S. policy toward Turkmenistan is based on stereotypes and fails to appreciate economic progress the country has made. (RFE/RL)
Capital Investment In Turkmenistan Up 5% In First Half Of 2000July 12, 2000
Investment in the fixed capital of Turkmen companies rose 5% year-on-year to 3.5 trillion manat in the first half of 2000, or 32.7% of GDP, estimated at 10.7 trillion manat in the half.
The National Institute for Government Statistics and Information said 36% of investment was financed by Turkmen companies and organizations, 19% by foreign bank loans, 6% by Turkmen banks, 5% by private individuals, and 3% by budget allocations.
Government investment totaled 2.28 trillion manat, or 65.1% of total investment. The oil and gas sector received 57% of government investment, and the agricultural sector received 12%.
The official exchange rate is 5,200 manat/$1. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan Registers Solid Economic GrowthJuly 12, 2000
Turkmenistan's GDP and industrial output both increased by 14 percent during the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 1999.
Output in the fuel and chemical sectors rose by 18 percent during that period. Revenues targets for the first half of the year were met by 100 percent. (Interfax)
Turkmenbashi Catalytic Cracker Nears CompletionJuly 12, 2000
Installation of a catalytic cracker has been virtually completed at the Turkmenbashi refinery in Turkmenistan.
The unit has capacity to process 1.8 million tons of oil and produce 900,000 tons of gasoline a year.
The $300 million project was carried out by a French company Technip, whose specialists have completed most of the construction and installation work. Iranian engineering company NINISK built the gasoline production unit. Japan's JGC installed auxiliary units, water desalinization plant, and electricity substation.
Earlier this year, Chiyoda and Nichimen companies completed first modernization project at the refinery, including installation of hydrofining and catalytic reforming units designed to produce 750,000 tons of gasoline a year. The project more than doubled gasoline production capacity.
In late 2001 - early 2002, two units for production of lubricating oils and polypropylene will be brought online. General construction work is being completed on the first unit, which will have capacity to produce 80,000 tons of lubricants a year. JGC has begun work on the 90,000-ton-per-year polypropylene unit. Foreign investment in the project now exceeds $1.3 billion.
The refinery will process 6 million tons of oil by 2005 and 9 million tons by 2010. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan Announces Tender For Upgrading Ashgabat-Mary HighwayJuly 11, 2000
The Turkmen government has announced an international tender for upgrading the Ashgabat-Mary highway.
The preliminary selection of the companies that have bid for the tender will last until mid-August, the Cabinet has told Interfax. The winner will be announced after the second stage in September. Joint ventures involving Turkmen construction companies will have priority in the selection.
Under the tender's conditions, the road must be paved and its eight bridges and the drainage system upgraded along the entire route. A stretch over 100 kilometers long from the Boguzskhan canal to Mary is to be reconstructed within two years. Funds for the project will come from foreign investors and budget allocations. (Interfax)
NY-Based Accounts Linked To Turkmenistan Frozen By NY Court - Unconfirmed ReportJuly 9, 2000
The New York State court froze Vnesheconombank accounts after the holder of unpaid debt linked to Turkmenistan and bought from Societe General investment company sued for repayment, a foreign expert has told RFE/RL.
According to the Turkmen government, the debt has been paid and the New York-based accounts will soon be unfrozen.
This report has not been confirmed by independent sources. (RFE/RL)
Italy Releases Kazakh Opposition FigureJuly 14, 2000
Italy today released leading Kazakh opposition politician and former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin saying there were no grounds to detain him any longer.
Justice Minister Piero Fassino said in a statement that a Rome court had ordered Kazhegeldin's release, after taking into account Fassino's request for lifting the preventive detention.
The Kazakh government had issued a warrant out for Kazhegeldin's arrest on charges of tax evasion and money laundering. Italian police earlier today fulfilled a red bulletin issued by Interpol asking Kazhegeldin be detained.
Kazhegeldin was Kazakhstan's prime minister from October 1994 to October 1997. He attempted to run for president in the fall of 1998, but the republic's Central Election commission would not register him.
Gaziz Aldamzharov, chairman of Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party executive committee, said yesterday the arrest is connected with a current scandal involving an American financial consultant accused of giving millions of dollars in bribes to high-ranking Kazakh government officials, including then Prime Minister Kazhegeldin.
"This time he (Kazhegeldin) was detained in the wake of the Kazakhgate scandal. Kazakh officials try to get rid of the potential main witness in the case in this way," Aldamzharov said. (RFE/RL)
Kazakhstan Defends U.S. Businessman under FBI ProbeJuly 10, 2000
Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General said today a U.S. businessman, reported by U.S. news media to be under FBI investigation for allegedly channeling tens of millions of dollars to bank accounts controlled by Kazakh officials, has not violated any Kazakh laws.
Newsweek magazine reported in its latest issue that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether a New York banker and consultant to the Kazakh government, James Giffen, could have illegally funneled 65 million dollars from U.S. oil companies (Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Amoco and affiliates of Phillips Petroleum Co.) to offshore companies which U.S. investigators believe Giffen controls.
Newsweek says of this money about $35 million was paid to three Kazakh officials including President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Meanwhile, Switzerland's acting consul general in Almaty (Francois Schmidt) confirmed today that Swiss authorities have frozen bank accounts in two Geneva banks after receiving a request from the U.S. Justice Department.
Schmidt says the request relates to an inquiry into alleged criminal money transactions involving people from Kazakhstan. (RFE/RL)
Kyrgyz Police Detain 10 Linked to Uighur AttacksJuly 13, 2000
Kyrgyz police say they have arrested 10 people accused of kidnapping and murdering ethnic Uighurs from China's Xinjiang province.
Kyrgyz interior ministry investigator Chynybek Aliyev says the arrests were made after a three-month undercover police investigation into the activities of a group calling itself "Freedom for Uighurs."
Aliyev called the group "a serious, secret organization" and said it targeted members of the Uighur diaspora in Kyrgyzstan whom it believed worked for the Chinese authorities.
Aliyev said the group was behind the murder of Nigmat Bazakov, head of the Uighur society in Kyrgyzstan, who was shot dead outside his home in broad daylight in May. Police said they seized Kalashnikov assault rifles, ammunition and grenades in making the 10 arrests. (RFE/RL)
Amnesty International Concerned by Executions in UzbekistanJuly 13, 2000
Amnesty International said today that Uzbekistan has executed a man who was allegedly tortured into confessing a double murder. Dmitry Chikunov's mother told the London-based human rights group that she learned of her son's execution when she went to visit him today.
Yesterday Amnesty International warned that the number of death sentences and executions carried out in Uzbekistan is growing "alarmingly high."
The London-based human rights group said in a report that there have been 55 death sentences and 15 executions since the start of 1999 in the republic of 24 million people. However, it warned that the actual figure could be much higher.
Amnesty also said Uzbekistan has not followed international standards for fair trials. It said many citizens have been convicted on the basis of confessions obtained through torture. (RFE/RL)
Taliban Says Soviets Trained 35,000 Women As AgentsJuly 13, 2000
A Taliban representative says the Islamic militia believes the former Soviet Union trained some 35,000 Afghan women to be KGB agents during the decade of war that followed the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Abdul Hakeem Mujahid cited the alleged recruitment yesterday at the United Nations. He was trying to explain to reporters a Taliban edict barring Afghan women from working for the U.N. or international relief agencies.
The U.N. said it expected the Taliban to soon lift the ban.
The Taliban spokesman said the employment of women by foreign organizations was a "national security issue" because the Taliban wants to ensure that women are not working as spies for the anti-Taliban opposition or for another country.
He accused Russia of using neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to infiltrate Afghanistan and prolong the country's civil war.
Mujahid said Afghanistan does not wish to export its ideology abroad and is looking for good relations with neighbors. He cited improved relations with at least one of Afghanistan's neighbors, Turkmenistan:
"We have excellent relations with Turkmenistan, having a secular government there on their side. We do not want to impose our style of the government on neighboring countries. But still Tajikistan, Uzbekistan - under the pressure of the Russian Federation - they are interfering in our country, supporting our opposition."
No Russian government comment was immediately available. (RFE/RL)
Russian, Iranian Presidents To Exchange Visits ShortlyJuly 13, 2000
Moscow and Teheran have agreed that the Iranian and Russian presidents will exchange visits shortly, Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Safari has announced.
Safari also said Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev plans to visit Iran at the end of September.
The Russian-Iranian Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation will meet on July 17-20. Later, the Iran's energy minister will visit Moscow.
The visit will include discussions on construction of a thermal electric plant in Iran and continuation of bilateral cooperation in atomic energy.
Asked to comment on the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline project and the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project, Safari said "Iran does not have a firm position on the former project." As for the latter, he said, "Iran is categorically opposed to construction of a trunk pipeline under the Caspian Sea." (Interfax)
Kazakh Opposition Against Kazakhstan's Entrance Into Council Of EuropeJuly 12, 2000
The administration of the opposition Kazakh Republican People's Party has called the entrance of Kazakhstan into the Council of Europe inopportune since Kazakhstan is not a democratic country.
The Party issued a statement today after learning that the Kazakh government has asked the Council to admit Kazakhstan "in the capacity of guest." (Interfax)
OSCE Observers To Supervise Kyrgyz Elections If Democratic Standards Are UpheldJuly 11, 2000
International observers will attend Kyrgyz presidential elections as long as democratic rights and freedoms are upheld in the country, head of a delegation of OSCE ambassadors and Austrian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Margaret Westfelt said today at a briefing in Bishkek.
An OSCE mission will arrive in the country shortly before the October 29 elections to analyze the political situation in the country and advise on the wisdom of sending the observers, she said.
The OSCE team also expressed concern over the trial of a top opposition candidate Felix Kulov and asked the government in Bishkek for more information about his arrest.
Kulov, a potential challenger to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, is standing trial behind closed doors in a military court on charges of abusing his position and exceeding his authority when he was national security minister. He is the second potential election rival to Akayev to be brought into court on charges dating back to the mid- or late-1990s. (RFE/RL, Interfax)
Russia Plans To Develop Neighborly Relations, Strategic Partnership In The CIS - New Foreign Policy ConceptJuly 10, 2000
Russia will focus on "the development of neighborly relations and strategic partnership with all CIS member-countries," says the new Russian foreign policy concept released today in Moscow.
"A priority in Russian foreign policy is compliance with the national security tasks in multilateral and bilateral cooperation with CIS member-countries," the concept says.
"Relations with each member-country of the CIS should be built with due account taken of their openness to cooperation and readiness to take due account of Russia's interests, among which is the rights of Russian compatriots," the document says.
It further states that when building up relations with the CIS countries, Russia "will put emphasis on economic cooperation, including a free trade zone."
"Russia will campaign for such a status for the Caspian Sea that will enable the coastal states to begin mutually beneficial cooperation in the use of regional resources on a fair basis and with due account taken of each other's lawful interests," the concept says. (Interfax)
Aliyev Signs Law On Parliamentary Elections Over Opposition ProtestJuly 10, 2000
President Heydar Aliyev signed into law the bill "On Elections to Parliament," the presidential press service has told Interfax.
The law has been criticized by the opposition whose representatives say it bring to naught efforts toward making the electoral system in Azerbaijan more democratic.
The opposition believes that the elections to be held under this law will not be any different from the previous "undemocratic, unfair elections." According to the opposition, the current election process will be fully controlled by the government, making fair election outcomes impossible. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan's Open Surveillance Of Foreigners Caps Policy Of Isolationby Nikolai Mitrokhin, Moscow-based historian and journalist, co-author (with Vitalii Ponomarev) of "Turkmenistan: State Policy and Human Rights" published in 1999.
When Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov approved the creation of a joint Council for the Supervision of Foreigners on June 15, he took a significant step toward completing his policy of total isolation from the outside world. All foreigners must realize the seriousness of this policy.
The Council, to be run jointly by the National Security Committee (KGB), Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Foreign Ministry, will monitor the movement of foreign nationals arriving or temporarily residing in Turkmenistan, according to a Reuters report.
To a large degree, the creation of the Council is hardly news, since the state has engaged in surveillance activities of foreigners and its own citizens for years. But it is an alarming departure in that it strengthens and institutionalizes the state's intolerance for interference in its domestic affairs. As President Niyazov declared at his meeting with Chinese president Jiang Zemin on July 6, "We will build a democratic society in Turkmenistan, but with regard to Central Asian mentality and without instruction ... on how that should be done."
Indeed, the Council may be seen as simply the natural culmination of President Niyazov's extreme isolationist policy, which the state touts as "neutrality."
The state has monitored all foreign mail and telephone calls since the mid-1900s. Even indirect access to the outside world, via Russian print and electronic media, is virtually nonexistent, and what does get through is heavily censored. In line with this policy, this spring the government stripped all independent Internet-providers of their licenses, rendering free information exchange impossible.
In 1997, the government closed all international bus and railway routes and cancelled international flights from all cities except the capital, Ashgabat. It introduced prohibitively high customs duties in 1998, which virtually paralyzed all non-commercial highway traffic with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Recently, the government allocated money to accelerate re-routing all inter-urban and interregional traffic within the borders of Turkmenistan. (Traffic from Tashauz region to other regions currently runs partially through sovereign Uzbekistan.)
Almost a third of the country's territory is already off limits to foreigners. The so-called Marine Belt stretches along the borders with Iran and Afghanistan and extends to the main highway connecting Chardzhou, Ashgabat, and Krasnovodsk. This isolated stretch has been the site of drug smuggling; discrimination against the Beludgi, an ethnic minority; heavy poaching in Caspian waters; and sensitive contacts with the Taliban. President Niyazov, who prefers to show foreigners only the luxurious downtown of Ashgabat, recently approved the idea of extending the Marine Belt to cover the entire country.
While the Council for the Supervision of Foreigners is part of a larger policy of isolation, it serves several specific functions. First, it will be used to control the activities of foreign diplomats and tourists. These temporary residents pose a potential danger to Turkmen authorities because they are best placed to document and expose human rights violations and other misdeeds by the state. In 1998-99, the Turkmen authorities deported undesirable foreigners, including this author and two other Russian human rights defenders. In addition, it has threatened to deport three hundred Iranian citizens accused of underground religious activities in the beginning of 2000.
The Council will also regulate activities of CIS citizens residing in Turkmenistan, principally citizens of Uzbekistan and the "Russian-speaking" population.
Several hundred thousand Uzbeks live in the two eastern regions of Chardzhou and Tashauz. Turkmen authorities have implicated Uzbek citizens in several fatal shoot-outs with Turkmen law enforcement officials in the last two years. In response, at the beginning of 2000 President Niyazov ordered 500 new border guards to fortify the border with Uzbekistan. The plan is unlikely to genuinely improve control, since the border stretches almost 1,000 kilometers through extremely remote terrain. But it will have the negative effect of creating barriers between Turkmenistan's Uzbeks and their families across the Amu Darya.
Turkmenistan's "Russian-speaking" population poses another perceived threat to President Niyazov. For example, the Protestant missionary movement in Turkmenistan took root within this community, setting up a number of active congregations. Turkmen authorities had the missionaries deported to Russia, citing its stricter visa regime. Russian speakers who remain in Turkmenistan will be made to feel even less welcome by the government's announcement this year of mandatory nation-wide certification in Turkmen language for all state employees.
These anti-foreigner policies are risky. The authorities do not want a mass emigration of thousands of highly skilled Russian-speakers. Indeed, it is likely that President Niyazov's remark in his June 15 speech that "many foreign citizens are responsible for violations in the real estate sphere" was a jab at these potential emigrants, who generally are able to finance their emigration only by selling their apartments.
The only legitimate reason for Turkmenistan to openly monitor foreigners would be to stem the flow of illegal emigrants and drug and weapons smugglers from Afghanistan, who enter Turkmenistan through its virtually unmonitored southern border. But the work of the Council is likely to demonstrate that President Niyazov's anti-foreigner campaign has far less to do with genuine crime-fighting than with keeping state-sponsored abuses away from international attention. (Central Eurasia Project)
'Official' Religion and 'Unofficial' Faithby Paul Goble, RFE/RL
An official at Turkmenistan's Council for Religious Affairs has acknowledged that his government agency controls the selection, promotion, and dismissal of all Sunni Muslim mullahs and Russian Orthodox clergy in that republic.
Mered Chariyarov, a longtime official at the Turkmenistan Council, this week told a representative of the Keston Institute, an Oxford-based religious rights watchdog organization, that his state body has registered only the Sunni Islam community and Russian Orthodox Church and actively controls the assignment of Muslim mullahs and Christian priests and hierarchs.
That policy leaves Turkmenistan in violation of the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Indeed, it could become the basis for Ashgabat's expulsion from the OSCE. But what is more significant, it also threatens to recreate the Soviet-era division between tightly controlled "official" churches and often radicalized "unofficial" religious activities.
The reemergence of such underground religious groups, particularly among Muslims who had significant experience with them in Soviet times, could contribute to the rise of precisely the kind of fundamentalist challenge to political stability in Central Asia that both regional leaders and many outside powers say they most fear.
As was the case during the Soviet period, both the requirement for registration and the ability to assign religious leaders appear to give the government enormous power over those believers who do register by allowing the regime to pressure religious leaders into cooperating with the state by informing on their congregations or even to place secret police agents in place of genuinely religious people.
But this Soviet approach also had the effect of depriving the mullahs and Christian clergy who participated in such "official" churches of their authority and of driving many of the religious leaders and their followers underground into "unofficial" congregations far beyond the control of the state and often in clear opposition to it.
For no other faith was that trend greater than Islam. On the one hand, Islam does not have a clergy as such. Any believer who can read the Koran can serve as a leader. And on the other, the communist authorities were contemptuous of Islam, an attitude that appears to have made them particularly clumsy in promoting their own "official" version.
Indeed, across Central Asia, followers of what was sometimes called "underground" or the "non-state" version of Islam simultaneously subverted efforts by the communist party authorities to maintain control and provided a popular foundation for the small, pro-independence parties which emerged at the end of the Soviet period.
With the collapse of Soviet power, many expected that this system of official registration and government intervention in the lives of religious groups would end. Some did so because they thought that an end to government interference would be a hallmark of the expected democratic transformations of their countries. Many others had that expectation because they believed the authorities would recognize how counterproductive such involvement was.
But nowhere has the state entirely withdrawn from its involvement with religion. Virtually all post-Soviet governments have retained the Soviet practice of requiring religious groups to register with the authorities in order to operate legally, and most have kept the Soviet-style councils for religious affairs to monitor the situation - often as in Turkmenistan with the same officials in the same positions.
Until now, however, none of these regimes has admitted to using these councils to control the assignment of religious leaders. It is possible that Turkmenistan is the only one that is now doing so, but both the existence of similar councils in other post-Soviet states and the continuity in structures and personnel in these bodies in many of them suggest that the Turkmenistan admission points to a far larger problem.
Nowhere is this problem likely to be greater than across the predominantly Islamic countries of Central Asia. To the extent that governments there are following Ashgabat's lead, they seem certain to produce precisely what they say they most fear: a religious population increasingly alienated from governments that appear, as did the Soviet regime until the very end, far more powerful and stable than they in fact are.
Corruption Versus Democracy In Central Asia And Caucasia by Dr. Nadir Devlet, Professor at Marmara University, Turkey Corruption, bribery, nepotism are maybe the oldest diseases of the mankind. But such diseases have spread among underdeveloped or poor societies where people are suffering from inflation, unemployment, unbalanced distribution of income according to the GNP. Such conditions are also creating fertile ground for radical movements. Suffering people can loose their faith in the existing political system and start to search for another political solutions.
The diseases mentioned above are existing and are undeniable facts in the CIS countries and especially in the Caucuses and Central Asia. Authoritarian rulers of these regions have been able to keep their citizens in control until today, but a question may arise for how long. In such conditions the development of a pluralistic democracy is also questionable.
According to the Wall Street Journal reporter Hugh Pope, since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, corruption has swamped the Caucuses and Central Asia, slowing growth, delaying reforms, and discouraging foreign investment. In his article, published on July 5, Pope writes that bribery was a problem in Central Asia in Soviet times, but corruption is a prime reason why the region, though rich in natural resources, attracted just $5 billion of the $150 billion invested in developing countries last year. Transparency International, a Berlin-based advocacy group, ranks all Central Asian countries close to worst in its world index on corruption. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development reports that the average cost of bribery in the former Soviet Union is 5.7% of company revenue. Today, 23.7% of firms in Kazakhstan report frequent bribing , 26.9% in Kyrgyzstan, 29.2% in Russia, 46.6% in Uzbekistan, and 59.3% in Azerbaijan.
According to Wayne Merry who testified in front of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe during the March 2000 Hearing on the State of Democratization and Human Rights in Turkmenistan, Trans-Caspian pipeline company received a demand from Turkmen President Niyazov for a 500 million dollar baksheesh in advance of construction. Another example for such interesting development is the case of Kazakh President Nazarbayev. The Turkish newspaper "Radikal" printed on July 5, 2000 a news item entitled "Before oil bribery started to flow." "Radikal" writes that, according to the American journal "Newsweek," Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Amoco and Phillips Petroleum Co. have given 35 million U.S. dollars in bribes to two high ranking officials and to Nazarbayev.
Certainly there is a lot of such examples not just on high level, but also at a low level. Not only businessmen, but ordinary visitors to these Central Asian or Caucasian countries are often obliged to bribe visa or custom officials when they enter and leave the country if they want their peace. It could be said that almost in every country some kind of bribery is existing.
In Central Asian and Caucasian countries even students are obliged to bribe their educators for admittance and for exams. These are well known facts, but nobody dares to speak about it. Foreigners face a difficult task in developing a healthy economic, social, and even cultural relations with their partners in such an unhealthy socio-political environment. Also, such condition and authoritarian structure of these countries do not allow development of a democratic ground.
At the end of June, Kazakh parliament passed a law granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime powers and privileges, including access to future presidents and immunity from criminal prosecution. This law means that he can never be subjected to a judicial trial on bribery charges. Not only Nazarbayev, but almost all other leaders of Central Asian states have such privileges. In other words, in such countries where the leaders have most of the power, there can be no opposition or any serious political parties. Nobody is able to tell the suffering of the people. Even close aids of these leaders do not have the courage to tell the truth. Certainly, pluralistic democracy is not a salvation to all problems. Still, in a democratic society not just the ruling classes, but also political opposition and independent scholars can contribute with their ideas and solutions.
In short, most of the former Soviet countries need time to discover durable solution for their problems. Maybe the next generation will be able to create a political atmosphere in which their peoples will live in much better conditions. For the time being we cannot expect rulers of Central Asia or Caucasia to solve or try to solve the question of corruption and create an atmosphere for the democracy in their countries.