6 October 2000
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL NEWS
Turkmen History Textbook
October 5, 2000
On September 28 the President of Turkmenistan specifically reproved the education minister for allowing publication of a junior history textbook which said that Turkmens are of Mongoloid origin and originally came from China.
The president insisted that Turkmens are of European stock and demanded that the textbook be withdrawn and rewritten. An article published in Turkmenistan's Russian-language newspaper "Neutral Turkmenistan" on October 5 says: "They [textbook authors] don't understand that patriotism, love to the Motherland have to be cultivated starting from childhood. ... Even though the new textbook will be written by a group of historians, it is going to be based on the ideas and advice of the first President of independent Turkmenistan Saparmurat Turkmenbashi."
Turkmenistan, Turkey to Build Clinic in Ashgabat
October 3, 2000
The Turkmen Ministry of Health and the Medical Industry and the Turkish company Polimeks will sign a contract on the construction of a central clinical multi-purpose hospital in Ashgabat. President Saparmurad Niyazov issued a ruling to this effect on October 2.
The $13 million contract will be funded by the government, with Turkmen Defense Ministry construction units to do 30% of the construction and assemblage work. The Communication, Power Engineering and Industry Ministries, the state-run trade corporation Turkmenneftegaz and the Ashgabat administration will build all engineering communications, Turkmen government sources have told Interfax.
The ruling redeems the Turkish company of all taxes, customs payments and excises charged on various materials, goods and equipment, medical included, to be brought into the republic for building and equipping the hospital.
By yet another ruling, Niyazov assigned a state commission to unveil a long-distance gas pipeline from Korpedzhe, Turkmenistan to Kurt-Kui, Iran and a comprehensive gas preparation facility at Korpedzhe.
The Korpedzhe-Kurt-Kui gas pipeline, construction of which has actually been completed, the gas facility at Korpedzhe and a meter station at Chaloyuk will be put on Turkmenneftegaz's balance sheet.
The 200-kilometer gas pipeline was commissioned in December 1997. In the more than two years of its operation, more than 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas were supplied to Iran. When Niyazov hosted Iranian Oil Minister Bizhan Zangane in March this year, an agreement was reached to boost Turkmen gas shipments. This year 5 billion cubic meters of gas will be delivered to Iran.
Turkmenneftegaz will also sign a contract with Austria's IP Consult company for the shipment of Austrian agricultural machinery and spare parts to the Balkan Velayata, formerly Krasnovodsk region. The president signed a ruling to this effect on Monday.
The contract, which is valued at $5.3 million, will be financed out of the state fund for the development of Turkmenistan's oil and gas industry and mineral resources.
The ruling rids Turkmenneftegaz and IP Consult of all taxes, excises, stock and customs payments and collections for farm machinery and spare parts certification during the implementation of the contract. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan, Ukraine Sign Gas DealOctober 4, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma today signed an agreement to provide Ukraine with 35,000 million cubic meters of gas.
Ukraine will receive 5,000 million cubic meters of gas this year and 30,000 million next year. The price will be $38 per 1,000 cubic meters this year and $40 per 1,000 cubic meters starting next year.
Ukraine agrees to pay 40 percent of the gas bill in hard currency, the remainder in goods and services until the end of 2000. The two forms of payment will be made in equal amounts next year.
Turkmenistan is asking for weekly payments to ensure Ukraine's debt does not again require restructuring. Ukraine has twice restructured its debt to Turkmenistan, once in 1994 when it reached $723 million and again last year when it was over $140 million. (RFE/RL, AP)
The United Nations "World Investment Report"October 4, 2000
The annual "World Investment Report" by the UN Conference on Trade and Development -- known as UNCTAD -- shows that investment flows to Central Asia and the Caucasus nations in 1999 were $2,800 billion, down about one tenth from 1998.
Investments in the oil and gas industries of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan accounted for most of the investments. The report linked lagging reforms in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to their poor investment figures. Last year, Foreign direct investment dropped almost one half in both Turkmenistan (from 130 million to 80 million dollars) and Uzbekistan (from 200 million to $113 million). (RFE/RL)
Turkmen Southern Region Steps Up Gas ProductionOctober 4
The Marygazchykarysh [Mary gas extraction] production association [southern Mary Region] has exceeded by 3.5bn cubic meters the gas extraction target for this year.
It produced a total of 26bn cubic meters of gas since the beginning of the year. About 19.5bn cubic meters of the gas were exported to foreign countries.(BBC Monitoring, Turkmen TV Channel-1)
Turkmenistan Criticizes Russia's Caspian Sea DiplomacyOctober 3, 2000
Turkmenistan's envoy on Caspian Sea affairs today criticized the efforts of his Russian counterpart to solve disputes over oil and fishing rights.
Special Turkmen presidential envoy Boris Shikhmuradov said Russian envoy Viktor Kalyuzhny's recent meetings with officials from the other three Caspian states -- Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan -- have actually brought the negotiating process back to where it was in 1990.
Shikmuradov said Turkmenistan will maintain its stance on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, that the sea be divided into national sectors. (RFE/RL, AP)
Turkmenistan Completes Gas Contract with RussiaOctober 2, 2000
Turkmenneftegaz Corporation says that Turkmenistan has completed its basic contract to deliver 20,000 million cubic meters of natural gas supplies to Russia this year. Under another agreement for 10,000 million cubic meters, Turkmenistan is to continue supplying gas to Russia. (RFE/RL, Itar-Tass)
Turkmens Appoint Own Executive in Asian Development BankOctober 2, 2000
Under the Turkmen president's [Saparmyrat Niyazov] resolution, a deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, the minister of economics and finance, Orazmyrat Begmyradov, has been appointed executive of the Asian Development Bank from Turkmenistan. (BBC Monitoring, Turkmen News Agency Turkmen State News Service)
UN Peace Envoy Arrives in Kabul for TalksOctober 5, 2000
The United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, arrived in the Afghan capital today to hold what he called important talks with the ruling Taliban militia.
Vendrell, who is to report on the talks to the UN Security Council and the Six-Plus-Two group, said he still believed in a political settlement between the Taliban militia and its northern-based opponents, led by commander Ahmad Shah Masood.
Masood's forces have suffered a series of military setbacks recently. The Six-Plus-Two group -- sponsored by the UN -- has been trying to help bring peace to the war-torn country. It consists of Afghanistan's six neighbors -- Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan -- and the U.S. and Russia. (RFE/RL, AFP)
Uzbekistan Placing Land Mines Along Border with TajikistanOctober 4, 2000
Uzbekistan's defense minister said his country is placing more land mines along its border with Tajikistan to prevent Islamic militants from crossing.
Kadyr Gulomov said Uzbekistan does not have the finances to build checkpoints everywhere along the border. Gulomov said the land mine areas are being carefully demarcated and that mines are being placed only on the Uzbek side of the border. Four citizens of Tajikistan were wounded yesterday when they accidentally crossed into one Uzbek minefield.
Militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacked Uzbek government forces in the area near the Tajik border in August.
Meanwhile, Kazakh customs officials along the Kazakh-Uzbek border said guards shot at a truck trying to cross into Kazakh territory from Uzbekistan. No casualties were reported. All the occupants of the truck were taken into custody. (RFE/RL, RTR)
New Uzbek Defense Minister AppointmentOctober 3, 2000
A new Uzbek defense minister has been appointed to continue the reform of the armed forces.
The new minister, Kodir Gulomov, is the first civilian among CIS defense ministers, National Security Council Secretary Mirakbar Rakhmonkulov said on Tuesday.
A new command structure, a Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, has been set up and placed under the command of Deputy Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Tulkun Kasymov, Rakhmonkulov said. The reform must lead to a new military organization whose core will be a mobile, self-sufficient, optimally structured, well equipped and thoroughly trained army, he said. (Interfax)
Uzbek Foreign Minister Acknowledges Contact with TalibanOctober 2, 2000
Uzbekistan's foreign minister says his country's ambassador to Pakistan had informal talks with representatives of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.
Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said today that the two sides discussed "non-interference" in each other's countries at a meeting held yesterday in Pakistan's capital Islamabad.
Kamilov said Uzbekistan is willing to cooperate with any government of Afghanistan that is supported by its people.
Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Taliban government, which has imposed a rigid form of Islamic law.
Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have been battling armed bands who have been trying to establish an independent Islamic state in the mountainous area where the borders of the three countries come together. (RFE/RL, AP)
At Least Five killed in Bomb Attack in TajikistanOctober 1, 2000
Authorities in Tajikistan say at least five people were killed today when explosions ripped through a crowded church in the capital Dushanbe.
At least ten other worshippers were injured, and two of them are in critical condition. Several hundred believers were in the building of the Korean Christian mission sited on the outskirts of Dushanbe attending a religious service when the two bombs blew up.
Police said one device was hidden underneath the benches at the back of the room. A second device exploded only minutes later in the crowded staircase as panic-stricken people scrambled to flee the building.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility. Police said the motive for the attack was also unclear. Investigators, however, suspected a terrorist background. (RFE/RL, AFP, DPA)
Turkmen Budget Cuts Will Hurt Health Sector, SchoolsOctober 6, 2000
By Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL
Turkmenistan's president Saparmurat Niyazov proposed the cuts at a cabinet meeting two weeks ago (Sept 22). He later spelled them out publicly: "There are too many people in the medical sector -- 88,000. We do not need that many, some are superfluous. I suggest a cut of approximately 10,000 people from the medical sector. You should cut the 10,000 before the end of this year, and 5,000 people from the education sector."
A recent profile of Turkmenistan by Britain's Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) notes that its current 4.5-million population has risen by more than a quarter since 1989. Today, four people enter the work force for every one who leaves. According to the EIU, too, "[educational] facilities are in poor shape and are coming under further strains as the number of students increases in line with the growing population. The quality of school and university education is low even by the standards of the former Soviet Union."
On Turkmen health care, the EIU said flatly that the country's system was "in crisis." The most recent Statistical Yearbook of the UN's Economic Commission for Europe says "Turkmenistan has an infant mortality rate which is 10 times higher than that of some [European] Nordic countries."
Now, with at least 15,000 more health-care and education workers due to join the unemployed before the year is out, their families will lose at least part or possibly all of their means of support. Nor do the cuts decreed by Niyazov promise to make the current situation in health care and education any better.
The president has already closed rural hospitals, saying there is no need for them. Villagers must travel to regional centers to receive medical care. That can easily involve a long journey and not many villagers have cars or even a telephone.
The process of receiving medical treatment is a trip in itself. An ailing person must register on what is described as a "sick list." Within six days, a decision is made by local medical authorities on whether to send the would-be patient for medical care. The cost of the care is deducted from the patient's salary.
But if the sick have not been able to work recently because of their illness, they have no salary from which to deduct the medical fee. In such cases, it is not uncommon for medical care to be withheld entirely.
The country's educational system will now likewise face new challenges. Close to 60 percent of Turkmenistan's people are younger than 33 years of age. This year, the country's university system admitted 3,500 new students, less than 1 percent of the population. Very few Turkmen students are able to attend universities abroad because the cost is beyond their families' financial means. In addition, the government discourages study abroad for fear of the students being attracted either to western-style democracy or Islamic radicalism.
But Niyazov insists the cuts will improve health-care and educational: "It should be clear that with a smaller number of employees in each sector (health care and education), one should be able to do a [more] work and receive more money. There should be more competition and more work."
The "smaller number of employees" is apparently only the beginning. Bigger cuts to the same sectors are promised for next year.
Littoral Nations Still at OddsOctober 5, 2000
By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
Turkmenistan criticized Russia's attempts to solve the legal issue of dividing the Caspian Sea in unusually strong terms on Tuesday, saying that Moscow's recent diplomacy has only made matters worse.
Speaking to reporters in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan's representative for the Caspian, Boris Shikhmuradov, charged that his Russian counterpart, Viktor Kalyuzhny, has deepened the disagreements over dividing the Caspian's resources.
The Associated Press reported Shikhmuradov as saying that Kalyuzhny's effort has "not only not brought any progress in dividing up the sea, but has returned the Caspian negotiating process to the start of the 1990s."
The harsh statement was notable in light of Turkmenistan's heavy reliance on exporting gas to Russia. The two countries recently concluded an agreement to increase deliveries of Turkmen gas this year.
The complaint by Turkmenistan's former foreign minister follows months of friction and maneuvering since Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Kalyuzhny after demoting him from the post of energy minister four months ago. In July, Kalyuzhny launched a series of visits to each of the four other Caspian littoral countries in an effort to advance Russia's proposals. While objections from Kazakhstan were muted, the Russian plans met with opposition in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran.
The terms were much the same as those that Russia has been pushing since 1998. Moscow would divide the seabed of the Caspian into sectors, but not the water or its surface, creating a hybrid of national sovereignty and common control. Kalyuzhny also argued that all disputed oilfields on bilateral borders should be shared. That idea has drawn protests from Turkmenistan, which claims several Caspian oilfields on or near its presumed border with Azerbaijan.
Turkmenistan has also tried to take Iran's side in the controversy by stressing that any solution must be acceptable to Tehran. Iran, which signed two treaties on the Caspian with the Soviet Union before the breakup, has argued that it is entitled to either joint ownership or 20 percent of the waterway.
But within the broad outlines of the dispute, many other disagreements have broken out, making progress on any legal principle seem impossible. Last week, for example, Kalyuzhny told a press conference in Moscow, that the 20 percent solution would not work because it would require Kazakhstan to reduce its share from 29 percent. He did not specify the amount of the Caspian that Russia claims.
Last week, Iran's official news agency IRNA also said that an unnamed Foreign Ministry official had rejected as "unrealistic" a proposal by Turkmenistan to submit the entire issue to the United Nations. The rebuff appeared to be a setback for Ashgabat's efforts to please Tehran on the Caspian question. Turkmenistan has also been trying to increase its gas sales to Iran.
The Iranian official responded that Russia could instead divide the 50 percent share of the Soviet Union among the four successor CIS nations on the Caspian, a formula that would give them considerably less than 20 percent each. The remark may have been a sign of further annoyance with Turkmenistan, one of the CIS states. A recent analysis by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that a line drawn along the old Soviet-Iranian frontier would leave Iran with only 12 percent.
Speaking in Ashgabat, Shikhmuradov called for "an immediate meeting of the heads of state from the Caspian littoral states," the Interfax news agency reported. He also dismissed Kalyuzhny's proposal last week for a "unified center" to control the Caspian as unlikely.
But it is not clear that a Caspian summit meeting is any more likely to place. Although Shikhmuradov said the idea was endorsed by Putin during a recent phone conversation with Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, there are few signs that the five nations are ready to break the impasse.
In August, Kalyuzhny proved unable to convene a meeting of officials from the littoral states in Russia. An expected meeting in Iran in September also did not take place. Instead, Putin may seek to line up opinion on Russia's side during a series of scheduled visits to CIS capitals between now and November.
But behind the impasse lies the suspicion that Russia's initiative is aimed not at settling the Caspian issue but at dominating it with an agreement that would allow it to block projects that compete with Moscow's aims. That concern has already delayed progress for years, making any Russian solution difficult.
Ukraine-Turkmen Gas Deal Reveals Russian InfluenceOctober 5, 2000
By Ron Synovitz, RFE/RL
Ukraine's new gas deal, signed yesterday in Ashgabat by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma and his Turkmen counterpart Samparmurat Niyazov, allows Kyiv to buy 35,000 million cubic meters of gas during the next 15 months.
Niyazov has cut gas deliveries to Ukraine in the past because of Kyiv's failure to pay its debts. But this time he has insisted on weekly advance payments totaling $16 million in cash and barter trade. Altogether, about 40 percent of Ukraine's payments will be in cash while the rest will be in the form of barter trade and investment. Ukraine also agreed to pay the Russian pipeline operator, Itera Group, for transporting the gas across Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia.
In exchange for Ukrainian concessions on advance payment and transport costs, Niyazov reduced his asking price from $42 for 1,000 cubic meters to under $40.
But the contract is a short-term deal -- far smaller than a 10-year proposal initialed by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in July. That contract was rejected by Kuchma because it did N-O-T include transport costs.
Before traveling to Ashgabat this week, Kuchma met in Kyiv with the president of Itera Group, presumably to discuss the upcoming Turkmen deal. Itera, which is partly controlled by the Russian government, serves as a financial and technical operator for large segments of the Soviet-era pipeline network. The company operates the only pipelines that can make deliveries between Ukraine and Turkmenistan -- a line known as the "Northern Route," which passes through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia.
RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Arkady Dubnov reports Ukraine's transport costs under yesterday's agreement will be less than what Kyiv has owed for previous deliveries because Itera will take a share of its fees in gas rather than cash: "For now, Ashgabat doesn't have too many clients with the functioning pipeline system. The price, in reality, is much lower [for Ukraine than in the past] because [some of] the deliveries will be made on barter conditions."
Through Itera, Russian interests have once again played a critical role in talks about Turkmen gas exports. Both Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and Itera remain in a strong negotiating position with Ukraine and Turkmenistan.
Ukraine still owes Russian interests more than $1,400 million for previous gas deliveries, and Kyiv will be hard-pressed this year to import the gas it needs to make it through the winter.
Turkmenistan desperately needs hard currency and is heavily dependent on Russian pipelines to deliver gas, its main hard-currency export.
To reduce his country's dependence on Russia, Niyazov has attempted to strengthen its position with a flurry of announcements on plans to build competing export routes.
One proposal, backed by Chinese president Jiang Zemin, calls for the construction of a $15,000-million gas pipeline to China. But there has been no concrete progress since the economic viability of the project was questioned in a 1998 study by energy multi-nationals Exxon and Mitsubishi, and the China National Petroleum Corporation.
Meanwhile, prospects appear to be fading for a U.S.-backed plan to build a gas pipeline beneath the Caspian Sea to link Turkmenistan with Turkey's Mediterranean coast.
That $2,000-million project has been on hold since June when Niyazov demanded $500 million in pre-financing as a condition for his cooperation. PSG International, a U.S. partner in the consortium created to develop the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, has refused Niyazov's request and withdrawn from the project. Steven Sestanovich, a special adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State who discussed the pre-financing demand with Niyazov, says there are differences in the way that the two sides develop business relations and partnerships.
Wayne Merry, a critic of Niyazov who works for the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, has accused the Turkmen president of demanding, in his words, "a bakshish" -- a Turkic word meaning a private gift paid in order to win a favor: "Some of the recent problems on the Trans-Caspian pipeline, I think, are characteristic, [such as,] when the Trans-Caspian Pipeline Company received a demand from Mr. Niyazov for a $500 million bakshish."
Niyazov responds to such criticism by saying western companies and analysts do not understand the culture of doing business in Central Asia.
But analysts at Britain's Economist Intelligence Unit conclude that Niyazov has allowed the Trans-Caspian Pipeline to become increasingly unattractive by letting time elapse, and that he has no choice but to stay within Russia's trading sphere in the short term.
Rewriting the FutureOctober 2, 2000
By Paul Goble, RFE/RL
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov last week ordered the destruction of 25,000 new history textbooks because of what he said was the distorted way in which their authors had treated his country's past.
But just as was the case during the Soviet period and just as is now true in many other post-Soviet states, Niyazov's order is more than an attack on historical truth. It represents a deeply political effort to control the present and rewrite the future.
Speaking to his ministers last Thursday, Niyazov said that he had ordered the destruction of the new school textbooks because they had ignored "the Turkmen origin and character" of Turkmenistan and had overstated the role of other nations in its national history.
He was particularly critical of the ways in which the now-destroyed textbooks described the impact of the Persians and Mongols, an emphasis that Niyazov argued incorrectly understates the role of the Turkmen themselves.
"You hardly mention the Turkmen people in your book," the Turkmen leader said. "You apparently did not listen to what I said in my speeches."
And because they had failed to listen to him, Niyazov insisted, these historians had accepted what he called the incorrect views of earlier Russian and Turkish scholars that the Turkmens originated not in what is modern Turkmenistan but in the Altai mountains.
Given the obvious parallels with earlier bookburners, Niyazov's order now in a country that lacks basic school supplies makes it likely that many will ascribe this latest action by Niyazov to his increasingly arbitrary and even irrational approach to rule.
That is certainly part of the explanation for this directive. But at the same time, his order calls attention to three broader political calculations that not only he, but many other post-Soviet Central Asian leaders, have made during the last decade.
First, these leaders, like those of new countries everywhere, want to have a distinctly national history, a desire especially strong given the enormous distortions of the historical record of Central Asia that Soviet historians often were forced to introduce.
Such strong desires for a national history have led many of them to downplay the role of other peoples and countries in their own national narratives, thus throwing out the very elements at the center of the histories the Soviet histories had insisted upon.
But if some of them have decided to allow this new national history to emerge from the clash of scholarly opinion, others like Niyazov have sought to impose a new history just like the older history was imposed on them.
Second, these leaders -- again like those of other new countries -- see history and especially history textbooks as tools for promoting national unity and maintaining their own political positions.
If such leaders are in a position to insist on their version of history, they often can justify their own current positions as the latest in a long line of defenders of the nation against threats and thus solidify both national identities and their own roles.
And third, these leaders can use their version of history to ward off threats. By stressing the linkage of the Turkmen nation to the land it now occupies, Niyazov clearly hopes to build support for any future challenges to his country's territorial integrity.
In all three of these cases, discussions about the past are in fact debates about the present and future. Where such debates can take place freely, where various schools of thought can contend for the allegiance of readers, then those national futures can be both open and free.
But when political leaders are in a position to insist on only their own version of events in the past and when, like Niyazov, they can order the burning of books, the national futures of their countries are likely to be very different.
In the short term, those who burn books may be able to prevent some of their peoples from learning the truth, but in the longer term, the historical record suggests, those who seek to settle historical debates in this way are likely to find that they too will reap the whirlwind.