25 December 2000
Turkmen Opposition Leader Freed
December 23, 2000
Turkmen opposition leader Nurberdi Nurmamedov was freed today following an amnesty issued by President Saparmurat Niyazov. RFE/RL's Turkmen service reports that Nurmamedov was arrested in January in connection with his journalistic contributions to RFE/RL. He was released after being forced to apologize for all past wrongdoing. He also had to take an oath of loyalty to Niyazov. Another Turkmen dissident, Pirimguly Tangryguliyev, was also freed, after being arrested for attempting to register a political party. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Kadir Night Amnesty Goes Forward
December 22, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree releasing 12,000 prisoners before midnight on 22 December, on the occasion of the Islamic holy night of Kadir. Among those to be released were 600 foreigners; Turkmen domestic press coverage of the long-mooted amnesty made no mention of the release of any political prisoners. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Itar-Tass)
Teheran Holds Ground on Caspian Sea Status
December 21, 2000
Speaking at a press conference following his meeting with Kazakstani Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev in Astana, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy on Caspian affairs Ali Ahani stressed that Tehran would hew to its existing position on the status of the Caspian Sea. He was dampening down speculation that a policy shift was on the cards after talks with other littoral states, notably Russia, had identified areas of agreement and Tehran agreed to host talks of the littoral states at the deputy foreign minister level in January or early February. Tehran has argued for sharing out the Caspian including its surface waters and seabed equally between the Caspian countries, or else for using the sea on the 'condominium' principle. (Interfax)
Ruling on Destruction of House of Worship Awaited
December 21, 2000
On 28 December, the Kopetdag district court is expected to rule on local authorities suit to destroy a private home where the city's local Pentecostal church meets. If the court agrees, it will be the sixth house of worship destroyed on official orders. (Keston News)
Mary Power Station Performance
December 21, 2000
Turkmenistan's Mary electric power station, the country's largest generator, is poised to overshoot its production quota by supplying 6,840 kilowatt-hours of electricity, well-above the 5,369 kW-hours targeted for the year. Electricity from the Mary power plant is consumed domestically and supplied as well to Kazakstan and Tajikistan. (Turkmen TV)
Security Council Backs Arms Against Taliban
December 20, 2000
The United Nations Security Council voted 13 to 0, with China and Malaysia abstaining, to approve a resolution initiating sanctions against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime if they fail to hand over accused terrorist Osama bin Laden and close what has be termed terrorist training camps within 30 days. The resolution was sponsored by the United States and Russia joined by Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and India. Supporters of the arms ban and other new measures say they are targeted at the Taliban leadership and allow humanitarian supplies to reach the country's impoverished population; in abstaining, the Chinese and Malaysian ambassadors said the new measures would only further isolate Afghanistan at a time when peace negotiations are moving forward and could worsen the plight of Afghanistan's population. (RFE/RL)
Turkmenistan Ranked Among Most Repressive States Worldwide
December 20, 2000
Freedom House, a New York-based rights group that publishes an annual rating of freedom in more than 190 countries, classified Turkmenistan as among the world's most repressive states. Other countries in which political rights and civil liberties are systematically denied on par with Turkmenistan include Afghanistan, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea Iraq, Libya, Myanmar (Burma) North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria. (RFE/RL)
Secret Police Evict Turkmen Christians
December 20, 2000
Representatives of Turkmenistan's KNB, the secret police, forcibly evicted two men and their families previously detained and allegedly tortured after religious contraband was found in their car in the wake of an accident on 21 November. The two, Batir Nurov and Umit Koshkarov, were associated with an unregistered Protestant church headed by Pastor Shohrat Piriyev, whom the authorities also recently evicted. Along with Babmurat Gaebov, Nurov, Koshkarov and Piriyev were implicated after multiple copies of the documentary "Jesus" in the Turkmen language were found in a car Nurov was driving. (Compass Direct)
Turkmen Parliament Approves 2001 Budget
December 19, 2000
The Turkmen parliament approved the 2001 budget based on projected revenues of $8 billion, a 53% increases on the year prior, and growth in the gross domestic product of 15%. The budget increase is slated to make it possible for the state to provide free natural gas, electricity and water to people living outside of big cities which are presently served. A deficit of 370 billion mantas is projected for 2001, based on revenues of 43.89 trillion manats and expenditures of 44.26 trillion mantas. Investment is expected to soar to 17.5 trillion mantas in 2001. The official exchange rate is 5,200 manats to the dollar. (RFE/RL, AFP, Interfax)
New Cross-Border Connection
December 19, 2000
A steamship connection between Bekdash in western Turkmenistan and Bandar-e Torkeman, in northern Iran, is expected to begin service in the near future. The trans-Caspian link will be operated by Turkmen state-owned seaways company Turkmendenizyollari. Bandar-e Torkeman , in Golstan province, has an ethnic Turkmen population and is connected to Iran's main railway, permitting goods to be easily transported to and from the Persian Gulf and many European countries. (Turkmen State News Service)
Eastern Turkmen District Linked to Power Grid
December 18, 2000
A new 17-km power transmission line connecting Seydi and Eldjik in Turkmenistan's eastern Leap province has been commissioned, effectively connecting the last part of Leap on the right-bank of the Amudarya with the Turkmen power grid. For the last year and half Turkmenistan has been working to supply the right-bank region of the Amudarya river basin with electricity that heretofore was supplied by Uzbekistan. (Turkmen State News Service)
Human Rights Exhibition Opens in Ashgabat
December 18, 2000
An exhibition of published materials on human rights has opened in the Saparmurat Turkmenbashi National Library to mark the 52nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The exhibition was organized by the US embassy, the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the Turkmen president and the UNDP and OSCE representative offices in Ashgabat. (Turkmen State News Service)
Warning for Ukraine, Russia on Central Asia Gas Supplies
December 21, 2000
By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
Countries that hope to import gas from Central Asia next year will be relying on supplies that may be difficult to deliver.
Last week, the Russian gas trading company Itera warned that Central Asian pipelines will not be able to carry all the gas that importing countries have agreed to buy. Igor Makarov, Itera's president, said Ukraine is likely to be the loser if Turkmenistan tries to fulfill its pledges to both Kyiv and Moscow, the Dow Jones news agency reported.
Makarov estimated that the Central Asian pipelines can only handle 54,000 million cubic meters of gas per year. Ukraine has already agreed to buy 30,000 million cubic meters from Turkmenistan, while Russia is negotiating to import 40,000 million next year.
The total of 70,000 million would leave one of the importing countries short by 16,000 million cubic meters if Makarov's figures on the pipelines are correct. He reasoned that Ukraine is less likely to get its full share because of its chronic payment problems. Turkmenistan agreed to resume shipments of gas to Ukraine this year, but only with advance payments every week. Itera is handling both the sales to Ukraine and the Turkmen deal with Moscow, as well as Russia's separate arrangement to sell gas to Ukraine.
Makarov is the second official in recent weeks to issue warnings about the pipeline limitations. Last month, the president of the Kazakhstan pipeline company KazTransGaz said that $360 million would be needed to restore the Central Asia-Center gas pipeline system, linking Turkmenistan to both Russia and Ukraine. Uzakbai Karabalin of KazTransGaz said the failing lines are now able to carry only 35,000 million cubic meters of gas per year, about half their previous capacity.
The questions about the pipelines come at a time when Russia and Ukraine are on the verge of a final agreement on Kyiv's debts for Russian gas and future supplies. The outcome is supposed to assure Ukraine of dependable gas deliveries and bring a permanent end to its past practice of diverting gas from pipelines to Western European customers.
But if the lower estimate of pipeline capacity from Central Asia is accurate, it would make the shortfall in supplies to either Russia or Ukraine twice as large as Itera has predicted. While Russia is a huge gas producer, it has come to rely increasingly on imports from Turkmenistan to meet its export commitments. A shortfall of 35,000 million cubic meters could be serious, amounting to more than one-quarter of Russian exports to Europe this year.
Kazakhstan has apparently been under some pressure over its capacity estimates. Last week, Kazakhstan's Intergas-Central Asia company, an affiliate of KazTransGaz, signed an agreement with Itera for gas transit next year totaling 133,000 million cubic meters, far more than either company previously said the system would be able to carry. To all appearances, the numbers do not add up.
According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Russia has been given 90,000 million cubic meters of capacity, with another 40,000 million allowed for Turkmenistan and 3,000 million for Uzbekistan. The Russian quota alone is nearly three times as much as KazTransGaz said the Central Asia-Center system could handle only one month before. Kazakhstan's total gas transit, including for internal use, is expected to reach 113,000 million cubic meters this year.
The president of Intergas-Central Asia, Nurgali Ashimov, explained that an unused section of the smaller Bukhara-Ural pipeline system from Uzbekistan would also be pressed into service to meet next year's demand. But it is unknown whether the line through Kazakhstan is in any better shape than the Central Asia-Center system.
It is also hard to say whether any of the exports are being counted twice. Both Turkmenistan and Russia plan to supply gas to Ukraine. At the same time, Russia plans to buy gas from Turkmenistan next year. Since Turkmen gas can only reach Ukraine through Kazakhstan and Russia, it is possible that officials are double-counting the same gas and setting quotas that will never be used.
Questions have also been raised about Turkmenistan's ability to increase its exports so dramatically. If the country, were to meet all the commitments and demands for gas from Russia, Ukraine and Iran, it would have to nearly triple its exports in 2001.
The outcome of these maneuvers is hard to predict. On the one hand, Ukraine could receive enough gas if its dispute with Russia over transit is solved, while Turkmenistan may benefit from exports to both countries. But if the earlier Russian and Kazakh estimates about the pipelines are correct, none of the plans may be fulfilled next year
Iran Seeks to Improve its Caspian Sea Interests
December 18, 2000
By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
Faced with competition and diplomatic pressure, Iran has taken two significant steps to advance its interests in the Caspian Sea in the past week.
On Wednesday last week, Deputy Oil Minister Hossein Kazempour Ardebili announced that Iran sharply reduced its charge for exporting oil from its Caspian neighbors, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
Starting in January, Iran will reduce the fee known as the netback charge by up to 38 percent for processing Caspian oil swaps. The swaps are exchanges that allow landlocked Caspian countries to export their oil to northern Iran, where it is refined for local use. Iran then ships equal amounts of its own crude through the Persian Gulf in exchange, adding the netback charge for handling the oil.
In this case, Iran is trying to make its swaps more competitive with exports through both Russia and the Caucasus by offering a substantial price cut. The swaps compete directly with pipeline and rail charges for exporting Caspian oil.
For Turkmenistan's oil, the fee will drop from 21 dollars to 16 dollars per ton. For Kazakhstan, the charge will go as low as 13 dollars. Kazempour Ardebili said the rate was "due to lower transportation costs" from Kazakhstan, a difference he did not explain. Iran will extend additional discounts of up to 10 percent if the two countries swap greater volumes of oil, the official news agency IRNA reported.
So far, nearly all of Iran's oil swaps have come from Turkmenistan. Although Kazakhstan has had an agreement to swap oil with Iran for several years, very little has moved because of pricing issues and the problems of processing Kazakh oil, which has a high sulfur content.
But Iran has invested 450 million dollars in a new oil line from the Caspian to its Tehran refinery and facilities to deal with the sulfur. The lower rate for Kazakhstan may be aimed at ensuring that those facilities are used.
The price cut is the second for Iran, which lowered the tariff by 30 percent last January. But that reduction did little to increase Iran's Caspian business. With this latest decrease, Iranian swaps may be cheaper than both Russian transport and the tariff for the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which is backed by the United States.
There is no telling how long the Iranian rates will stay in effect. But the latest reduction is a sign that Tehran is determined to be competitive, despite the high investment in its Caspian route. The Russian oil company Yukos recently voiced interest in buying Turkmenistan's oil for its refinery in Samara. Russia is also expected to increase its pipeline quota for Kazakh oil next year. Iran must keep oil flowing into its system for swaps to make its investment pay off.
In the past week, Iran also took a step toward protecting its position on the legal division of the Caspian. Tehran has been increasingly in conflict with Moscow over the formula for drawing borders and shares in the waterway.
But on Thursday, Iran's envoy on the Caspian, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani, met in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Kalyuzhny, to discuss the division issue. The two countries have reportedly agreed on a meeting of deputy foreign ministers from the five Caspian shoreline states by early February in Tehran.
Kalyuzhny had previously accused Iran of delaying a meeting to consider Russia's proposal for dividing only the seabed into national sectors, while keeping the water and its surface in common. Iran has insisted on an equal 20 percent share of the entire Caspian.
Although the disagreement continues, the two sides may be trying to establish common principles. Kalyuzhny said Iran had supported Russia's proposal to "tie regulation of the Caspian Sea to shipping and the support of bio-resources," IRNA reported. The language may suggest that Moscow has agreed that its plan for common use is not meant to include passage for military vessels.
The visit to Moscow may also be a sign that Iran has decided to take a more active stance in Caspian diplomacy, rather than simply continuing to reject the Russian formula. Having already traveled to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Ahani is scheduled to stop in Kazakhstan, completing his tour.
Notably, Ahani also met in Moscow with Andrei Nikolaev, chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee, to discuss military cooperation. The meeting may be a sign that the Caspian issue will not be viewed in isolation but rather as part of the broader Russian-Iranian relationship.
In the past week, Iran has repeatedly publicized the visit of a Chinese military official. Beijing's minister of the state commission of science, technology and industry for national defense, Liu Jibin, has been holding talks with army officials at the invitation of Iranian Defense Minister Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani.
The message to Moscow may be that Iran can pursue its security relationships with other countries if it feels that Russia is not treating its interests equitably.
Smarting on European Front Helps Turkey Rethink Policy Toward Turkic States
December 16, 2000
By Nadir Devlet for RFE/RL
In the beginning of the 1990's scholars, politicians and journalists in Turkey premised their thinking about the emergence of independent, largely Turcophone Central Asian states and Azerbaijan by dwelling on their common racial, historical, cultural and religious ties.
While generally correct, the relationship between them, however, had been disrupted for a long time because of the rivalry between the Ottoman and Russian empires and later because of the "Iron Curtain". Especially in the Soviet period, Turkey and the USSR had almost no significant cultural or academic contacts. On the contrary, during these years some scholars in Turkey were even detained by the Turkish authorities for their interest in the Dis Turkler, or so-called "outer Turks".
When the USSR dissolved, Turkey reacted to the unexpected political development very rapidly by recognizing the CIS countries and granting one billion dollars in aid and trade credits to the Central Asian republics. Former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel embodied this official Turkish official attitude toward the Turkic republics by saying on October 20, 1994: "our languages, our beliefs, ancestors, lullabies, epics, legends and customs are the same, therefore we are siblings. We also know that in the past the Turkish population--whose territory stretches from the Adriatic Sea to the great wall of China -- never lived under single authority. But still they are our siblings. We are branches of a huge tree"
The Turkish Foreign Ministry, for its part, reacted by creating on January 24, 1992 a new body called "Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency" (TIKA), which was responsible for developing ties with the Turkic republics. In the last nine years more than 500 agreements, many but not all cultural in nature, have been signed.
Despite the burgeoning of agreements in political, economic, trade, transportation, health, telecommunication, natural resources and energy, security and banking sphere, the reality is that Turkey is currently not in a position to offer the scale of investments or credits required to give short or even medium-term boosts to the economies of the Central Asian countries.
Moreover, in recent years, relations with the Turkic states, namely with Azerbaijan and four Central Asian republics, dropped down to perhaps to its lowest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union. One reason for this has been Turkey's focus on obtaining membership in the European Union (EU), part of a larger Europe-focused modernization plan.
Preconditions for joining the European club have caught in the craw of many Turks, however. Some politicians, elements in the military and even ordinary citizens, are inclined to reconsider this traditional pro-European orientation. Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer spoke the minds of many when he recently said that Turkey should look for alternatives to the country's EU orientation.
Turkey has serious energy shortages and is interested very much in the oil and natural resources of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Turkey wishes to become a transit country for gas and oil heading westward. At the same time these Turkic countries want to monetize their natural resources and rescue themselves from Russian imperialistic impulses. Therefore, Turkey embarked on more business-like relationship with the Turkic republics in the year 2000.
First Turkey has attempted to achieve a rapprochement with Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov�s main concern is the growing terrorist activities in his country. Therefore he asked for aid from Turkey in dealing with this question. Sezer replied that Turkey was ready to give every kind of assistance, including military, to Uzbekistan when both leaders met in New York at UN Millennium Summit. This was again underscored when Turkish Interior Minister Adettin Tantan, visited Tashkent in mid-September.
Sezer also carried the flag in Central Asia from 17 and 20 October when he visited four Central Asian republics. His first stop was in Tashkent where he met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
Certainly Azerbaijan is the most important partner in the energy question, so President Sezer duly visited Baku in July long before undertaking his visit to Central Asia. Lower level contacts also occurred in 2000. Foreign minister Ismail Cem visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in June. The latest such visit occurred when Turkish Minister for Relations with Turcophone states Abdulhalik Cay met on 12 December with President Akaev. They discussed a Turkish project for construction of a highway that would link the two countries.In the near future, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem will visit Bishkek.
All of this suggests Turkey is busily trying to energize its Central Asia hand. Turkish interest towards the Turkic republics continues and is increasingly pragmatic. If the relations develop in accordance with Ankara's present wishes, the ties that will develop may represent an economic alternative to the EU.