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WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF ON TURKMENISTAN
August 5 August 11, 2005

News Analysis

Domestic developments dominated the news this week as Turkmenistan announced on August 4 that about 20,000 people will be granted Turkmen citizenship, most (16,298) of whom fled to Turkmenistan during Tajikistan’s civil war (1992-97) and therefore have been living in Turkmenistan for about a decade. The offer of citizenship has also reportedly been extended to individuals who are living on territory that was transferred from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan as part of an agreement reached in November 2004, many of whom are ethnic Uzbeks. President Saparmurat Niyazov announced that the decision would be enacted soon in the form of a decree, but did not indicate when that would be.

The unexpected move, which was touted by Niyazov in an appearance on Turkmen TV as a reflection of the country's "prestige and prosperity," came just days before United Nations experts met in Geneva on August 11-12 to evaluate the government of Turkmenistan's first reporting on its compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Some observers have suggested that the sudden granting of citizenship to many, who have lived for about a decade without being eligible for Turkmen citizenship, was in fact an expedient political move. It would help the government of Turkmenistan offset concern about state-sponsored ethnic discrimination that was voiced by UN experts and in two independently prepared reports on the subject this week. Turkmenistan sent its senior diplomat, Rashid Meredov, to present the report in person and answer the Committee's questions. The president's televised remark on August 5 that some of the soon-to-be new citizens "are now ethnic Turkmen” -- regardless of their actual ethnicity -- is likely to do little to allay concerns expressed by some at the UN review that the government has in recent years been implementing an illegal policy of forced assimilation of some non-ethnic Turkmen.

On the heels of last week’s Washington DC forum on religious freedom and U.S. security concerns in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice in a statement released to the press on August 8 to designate Turkmenistan as a country of particular concern. The appeal is the USCIRF’s annual recommendation and cites severe restrictions by Turkmenistan’s government on religious practice.

President Niyazov also announced this week the formation of a commission to organize the publication of a ten-volume edition of Ruhnama. The two-volume book, ostensibly written by President Niyazov, is mandatory reading in schools and mosques, and entry into a variety of professions in Turkmenistan is predicated on the applicant's ability to pass exams in Turkmen of his knowledge of the book.

In other domestic news, the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation announced the construction of a new penitentiary in the Yaslyk settlement some 40 km from Ashgabat. The facility reportedly can accommodate 700 prisoners and is to be used an investigation jail.

In other televised remarks, President Niyazov announced that thanks to a favorable outlook for the harvest, cotton farmers will be required to give only 30 percent of their harvest to the state this season, compared with a previous 35 percent. It should be noted, however, that cotton growers will still not receive compensation for the portion of their harvest handed over to the state.

Turkmen TV reported on August 8 that Turkmen Airlines added another Boeing 717 to its fleet and that progress was being made in the construction of the artificial lake in the Lebap region of eastern Turkmenistan. The lake, once completed, is reportedly intended to help stop the drainage of mineral salts into the Amu River.

On the economic front, two of the government's most favored construction projects were announced this week. Neutralny Turkmenistan reported that President Niyazov met with Josef Maiman of Israel’s Mahev to discuss further collaboration in the oil industry, specifically the reconstruction of the Sadinsky oil refinery in eastern Turkmenistan. The second project is the construction of a new, 24-floor, “cigar-shaped” building, which will hold the offices of the Ministry of Trade. France’s Bouygues has been chosen as general contractor of the project, which is estimated to cost $64 million.

Table of Contents

1. International Relations
a. Commission on Religious Freedom Calls on U.S. Secretary of State to Designate Turkmenistan a “Country of Particular Concern”
b. Meeting on Pakistan-Afghan-Turkmen Pipeline Postponed Due to Government Reshuffle in Ashgabat
c. Turkmen TV Upbeat on Relations with China

2. Domestic Developments
a. Turkmen Citizenship Granted to Tajik Civil War Refugees
b. Two Turkmen Settlements Set Up on Uzbek Border
c. New Penitentiary Under Construction Outside Ashgabat
d. Turkmen Farmers to Keep More of Their Cotton Harvest
e. New Turkmen Lake to Fight Salinity of Key River

3. Economic News
a. Niyazov Discusses Reconstruction of Sadinsky Refinery with Mahev Chief
b. Turkmen Gas Key in Rehabilitation of RosUkrEnergo’s Image
c. Dragon Oil Sees Success with LAM Update Program
d. New Gas Well Put Into Operation in Eastern Turkmenistan
e. Bouygues to Build “Cigar-Shaped” Office Building in Ashgabat
f. Turkmen Airlines Adds Boeing 717 to Its Fleet

1. International Relations

a. Commission on Religious Freedom Calls on U.S. Secretary of State to Designate Turkmenistan a “Country of Particular Concern”
Original title: “Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan: Time for Straight Talk” / August 8, 2005 Source: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; www.uscirf.gov
Full version: http://usinfo.state.gov/eur/Archive/2005/Aug/09-661721.html?chanlid=eur

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) calls on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to designate Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as "countries of particular concern," or CPCs, for the severe, systematic, and ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief carried out by their governments. Last September in its Annual Review, the State Department, following the Commission's recommendation, added Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea to its list of CPCs, but notably omitted Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan, among the most repressive states in the world today, allows virtually no independent religious activity. The government of Uzbekistan places strict restrictions on religious practice and continues to crack down harshly on individuals and groups that operate outside of government strictures.

"It is time for the U.S. government to tell the truth about the state of religious freedom in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and designate these countries as CPCs, as is clearly warranted," said Commission Chair Michael Cromartie. "In the face of the religious freedom violations persistently perpetrated by the Turkmen and Uzbek governments, the failure to name them CPCs is not only unconscionable, but it violates the spirit and letter of the International Religious Freedom Act," Cromartie said.

Since 2001, the Commission has recommended that Turkmenistan be designated a CPC. In addition to the severe government restrictions on religious practice that effectively ban much, if not most, religious activity, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's ever-escalating personality cult has become a quasi-religion to which the Turkmen population is forced to adhere. His self-published work of "spiritual thoughts," called Ruhnama, is required reading in all schools. In addition, copies of Ruhnama must be given equal prominence to the Koran and the Bible in mosques and churches. In the past year, in a move likely aimed at avoiding possible CPC designation, Niyazov passed several decrees that permitted the registration of five very small religious communities. Despite this alleged easing of registration criteria, religious groups must ask permission from the state before holding worship services of any kind. It is unclear what-if any-practical benefits registration actually provides. Moreover, religious groups that do not meet often arbitrary registration rules still face possible criminal penalties due to their unregistered status and even newly registered religious groups have been raided by police.

Even the rights of the two largest religious communities, the majority Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox, are seriously circumscribed. Last year, seven mosques were destroyed in the country and Niyazov forbade the construction of any new ones. Turkmenistan's former chief Mufti, Nazrullah ibn Ibadullah, was sentenced to 22 years in prison, because he apparently refused to elevate the Ruhnama to the level of the Koran. Just last month, Niyazov undertook various moves against the country's only Muslim theological faculty. And, according to recent reports, the Russian Orthodox Church has been refused re-registration as part of an effort by Niyazov to pressure Russian Orthodox parishes in Turkmenistan to sever ties with the Tashkent-based Central Asian diocese and to subordinate them to the Moscow Patriarchate.

"Turkmenistan is a highly repressive state - where conditions are comparable to those in North Korea -- whose people suffer under the yoke of a personality cult, which allows them few freedoms of any kind, including religious freedom," Cromartie said. "It is extremely troubling that a few superficial decrees regarding religious freedom -- that do little if anything to change the situation on the ground -- have allowed Turkmenistan yet again to escape the CPC designation it so clearly deserves."

[text omitted – background on lack of religious freedom in Uzbekistan, recent events in Andijon and withdraw of U.S. bases]

b. Meeting on Pakistan-Afghan-Turkmen Pipeline Postponed Due to Government Reshuffle in Ashgabat
Source: Pajhwok Afghan News website, Kabul, in English 1753 gmt 8 Aug 05 /BBC Mon SA1 SAsPol cb

Kabul, Afghanistan: The ninth trilateral meeting on the Pakistan-Afghan-Turkmen gas pipeline project, scheduled to take place in late July has been set back following a high-level reshuffle in Ashgabat.

Mir Mohammad Sediq, Afghan minister for mines and industries, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday [8 August] that Turkmenistan could not make the requisite preparations for the session owing to the recent reshuffle of officials concerned.

He hoped fresh dates for the meeting would be firmed up soon and actual work on the multi-billion gas pipeline project would get under way before December. The pipeline agreement between Pakistan and Turkmenistan was signed in 1990 and Afghanistan later agreed to provide the transit facility. However, the plan has been delayed owing to ubiquitous security concerns in Afghanistan.

Hinting at the extension of the pipeline to India, Sediq said the project would go a long way in meeting the gas requirements of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kabul will earn up to 300m dollars annually in transit duties.

At the next meeting, the Asian Development Bank, which has already surveyed the project, will present a detailed report on security. The project's implementation has been delayed for a decade, according to Afghan officials.

Sediq claimed: "With security fully restored in Afghanistan, there should be no hurdle to execution of the pipeline plan." At the last meeting held in Islamabad in April, the security question was atop the agenda.

The 1,700-kilometre pipeline will pass through Herat, Farah, Helmand and Kandahar provinces in Afghanistan before reaching Pakistani territory. Karim Uloomi, advisor to the minister for mines and industries, put the approximate cost of the project at around 3.2bn dollars.

Ahmad Shah Karim Uloomi, advisor to the Ministry of Mine and Light Industries, told Pajhwok on Wednesday that the security situation had improved to some extent. Ergo, he stressed, the project should go ahead as planned.

c. Turkmen TV Upbeat on Relations with China
Source: Turkmen TV first channel, Asgabat, in Turkmen 1600 gmt 9 Aug 05 /BBC Mon CAU 090805 ta/mn

[Presenter] Relations between our beloved Turkmenistan and the People's Republic of China have been successful and are being gradually boosted and stepped up.

[Reporter over library pictures of Turkmen President Saparmyrat Nyyazow and Chinese leader Hu Jintao meeting] Further boosting of already successful Turkmen-Chinese relations is also related to preparations being made for the forthcoming official visit of Turkmen President Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy [Nyyazow] the Great to the People's Republic of China.

[Passage omitted: background on invitation to Nyyazow to visit China]

The visit is due to take place at the beginning of 2006.

[Passage omitted: known facts of similarities in foreign policy between the two nations and Chinese involvement in Turkmen economic sectors]

2. Domestic Developments

a. Turkmen Citizenship Granted to Tajik Civil War Refugees
Source: Turkmen TV first channel, Asgabat, in Turkmen 1600 gmt 4 Aug 05 / BBC Mon CAU 040805 vpa/mn

In what Turkmen President Saparmyrat Nyyazow described as "act of the loftiest humanism" a large group of refugees from Tajikistan has been granted Turkmen citizenship. Nyyazow announced this at a government session on 4 August in remarks carried on Turkmen TV later the same day.

"Today we took the decision to grant Turkmen citizenship to 16,298 people. Some of them arrived in Turkmenistan seven or eight years ago when they fled unrest in Tajikistan. We placed them in Oguzhan [southern-central Turkmenistan] and since then, they have fully adapted to local conditions and most of them are now ethnic Turkmens," Nyyazow said, adding that he would soon sign a decree to this effect.

Turkmen citizenship was granted also to residents of a border area in northern Turkmenistan which was recently taken back from Uzbekistan. "Some 3,000 people reside there including Turkmens, Uzbeks, Russians and some others and we are granting Turkmen citizenship status them too," Nyyazow said.

At the same time, he warned that not everybody would be allowed to come to the country. "In no circumstances does this mean that our doors are wide open to everyone. We do this only when people from neighboring and other countries come here in really difficult situations," Nyyazow said, describing this position as a sign of "Turkmenistan's prestige and prosperity".

In the course of the government session, a commission was set up to organize publication of Nyyazow's works in a 10-volume edition.

The session also approved the symbols of the Halk Maslahaty, the country's supreme representative body. Nyyazow also ordered the Economics and Finance Ministry to check all revenues from the export of oil, petrochemicals and liquefied gas.

Nyyazow's remarks, lasted for some 14 minutes, were broadcast by Turkmen TV Altyn Asyr channel the same day. No further processing is planned.

(The Tajik news agency Avesta reported on 12 July that a draft agreement had been drawn up between the governments of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan granting over 15,000 Tajik citizens living in Turkmenistan the right to renounce their Tajik citizenship through a simplified procedure. The agency said that under Tajik law, they had all virtually lost their Tajik citizenship)

b. Two Turkmen Settlements Set Up on Uzbek Border
Source: Neytralnyy Turkmenistan (electronic version), Asgabat, in Russian 9 Aug 05 / BBC Mon CAU 100805 sa/ga

Since independence two new geneslik [settlements] have been established in Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy District, which is located on the border between Dasoguz Region [northern Turkmenistan] and Karakalpakstan [Uzbekistan]. Earlier, this formerly Turkmen area was temporarily leased by the Republic of Uzbekistan, and now has been returned to its rightful owner.

In line with a decree by President of Turkmenistan Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy [Nyyazow], two settlements - Bitaraplyk and Ruhybelent, whose joint territory is about 17,000 ha - were established there. Today local people say with pleasure that at last they have an opportunity to return forever to the land of their ancestors, and to become a full citizen of the independent, neutral state of Turkmenistan.

Currently 112 families, altogether 700 people, live in the settlement of Ruhybelent. For the first time, cotton has been sown on 250 ha of land, 2,000 ha has been worked and is being prepared for wheat sowing.

[Passage omitted: a school, a shop, a water supply system have been built there]

Bitaraplyk is a bigger settlement. Some 260 families - 1,500 people - live there. About 200 ha of land has been set aside for cotton growing and 2,300 for wheat.

[Passage omitted: new equipment has been delivered to the farmers; local people praise the Turkmen president for care, and promise to justify his hopes by hard work; local people will be provided with gas and comfortable housing soon]

c. New Penitentiary Under Construction Outside Ashgabat
Source: Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, www.tmhelsinki.org, August 8, 2005

A new prison is being constructed in Yaslyk settlement, which is located 42 km from the city of Asgabat (on the road linking Asgabat with Mary), a source at the law- enforcement bodies, has reported. It is supposed that the facility will be used as an investigation jail, which will be moved from Tejen [central Turkmenistan] to Yaslyk.

Currently special prison premises for 700 people are being constructed by about 100 prisoners, which have been recently transferred from Tejen to Yaslyk.

One report says that the special prison in Tejen is being expanded.

We called the penal department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (telephone 340835) on 4 August to ask for comment. The person on duty (who did not introduce himself) tried to connect us with the head of the penal department or his deputy. It is a pity that the officers did not want to speak.

d. Turkmen Farmers to Keep More of Their Cotton Harvest
Source: Turkmen TV first channel, Asgabat, in Turkmen 1600 gmt 1 Aug 05 /BBC Mon CAU 050805 vpa/mn

Turkmen President Saparmyrat Nyyazow has suggested that cotton growers should be allowed to keep for private sale as much as 70 percent of the raw cotton they have harvested. In remarks at an off-base cabinet session on 1 August in Ruhabat, outside Asgabat, he said: "Everything is favorable this year for the harvest of 2.2m tonnes of raw cotton and, God willing, it will be so. To achieve this, however, we should help farmers and peasants. Every farmer and landowner or shareholder of agricultural associations must give just 30 per cent of their harvest to the Turkmenpagta (Turkmen cotton state association)."

Previously, farmers were obliged to hand over 35 per cent of their cotton harvest to the state without compensation.

Nyyazow's remarks were carried on Turkmen TV later the same day.

(text omitted)

In response to officials complaining that there was a shortage of water, Nyyazow praised the abundance of water reserves in the country. "The total volume of water Turkmenistan currently gets from rivers Amu Darya, Murgap and Etrek as well as from underground sources and from precipitation are quite enough for the country's needs for about 18 months, ," he said.

At the same time, Nyyazow warned officials not to overuse the underground waters near Asgabat and ordered that the practice of digging private wells be stopped.

e. New Turkmen Lake to Fight Salinity of Key River
Source: Turkmen TV first channel, Asgabat, in Turkmen 1600 gmt 6 Aug 05 / BBC Mon CAU 090805 sa/mn

[Presenter] Construction is in full swing of Lake Turkmen [in central Turkmenistan] initiated by our beloved leader, [President] Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy [Nyyazow] the Great. Drainage canals are fast stretching towards the artificial lake, and irrigators in Lebap Region [eastern Turkmenistan] are making a huge contribution to this.

[Reporter's voice over video of bulldozers removing sand dunes] Work is currently under way to widen and deepen the main drainage canal intended to take millions of cubic metres of saline waters from the left bank of the River Amu Darya. Apart from this, work is under way to increase the water flow through the Serdarabat junction to the main drainage.

So far, over 7bn manats [some 1.3m dollars] worth of work, some 20 per cent up the planned amount, have been spent on the construction of the main drainage canal leading to Lake Turkmen.

According to researchers, Lake Turkmen would have a huge impact on our country's economic strength and its climatic conditions. [text omitted]

Taking saline waters from the left bank of the ancient Jeyhun [Amu Darya] will prevent thousands of tonnes of mineral salt being discharged into Amu Darya annually in Lebap Region alone.

By constructing the lake, our country also becomes the first in Central Asia to stop the discharge of thousands of tonnes of mineral salt into the Amu Darya.

[Passage omitted: local irrigators praised for their contribution to the project]

3. Economic News

a. Niyazov Discusses Reconstruction of Sadinsky Refinery with Mahev Chief
Original title: Turkmenistan’s President Meets with Head of Israeli company Mahev Source: Neutralniy Turkmenistan / No187, 6 August 2005 / Synopsis from Russian prepared by OSI Turkmenistan Project

Synopsis: President Saparmurat Niyazov met on August 5 with Josef Maiman, president of Israeli company Merhav. Niyazov and Maiman discussed the possibilities for further collaboration in the oil industry, specifically the reconstruction of the Sadinsky oil refinery in eastern Turkmenistan. Merhav had previously completed the modernization of the Turkmenbasy oil refinery on the shore of the Caspian Sea.

b. Turkmen Gas Key in Rehabilitation of RosUkrEnergo’s Image
Original title: “Site says Ukraine seeks influence over intermediary energy firm” Source: Ukrayinska Pravda web site, Kiev, in Ukrainian 8 Aug 05 / BBC Mon KVU 100805 pd/dk

[Text omitted: background on RosUkrEnergo; influence of Tymoshenko; allegations of corruption; agreements with Russia]

Last week Raiffeisen Investment circulated a press release within the framework of rehabilitating the image of RosUkrEnergo. In it the company says that the basis for RosUkrEnergo's work rests on three agreements:

The first is between Gazprom and Turkmenistan on all Turkmen gas being purchased by the Russian company beginning from 1 January 2007. Second is one between RosUkrEnergo and the Gazprom subsidiary Gazeksport, which will resell Turkmen gas to RosUkrEnergo with a two per cent commission.

And the third is one on setting up an international consortium which, as has been announced, will be engaged in rebuilding existing gas pipelines and building new ones in order to increase the strength of the Central Asia-Centre pipeline system.

c. Dragon Oil Sees Success with LAM Update Program
Source: www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=24315 / 8 August 2005 / Synopsis prepared by OSI Turkmenistan Project

Synopsis: Dragon Oil reported the successful completion of updating infrastructure at well LAM63/55 in the Cheleken Contract Area in offshore Turkmenistan. Prior to the update the well was flowing at only 338 barrels of oil per day (bopd); it is now flowing at 1,636 bopd. Dragon oil is continuing work on increasing oil flow at other wells at the site; the company also hopes to begin work on the Zhdanov Field in September 2005.

d. New Gas Well Put Into Operation in Eastern Turkmenistan
Source: Turkmen TV first channel, Asgabat, in Turkmen 1300 gmt 8 Aug 05 / BBC Mon CAU 080805 sa/ga

Exploratory work by geologists from the Ojak drilling operations administration in the Northern Nayyp [field in eastern Turkmenistan] have given good results. A new well, No 17, produces over 250,000 cu.m. of gas daily.

The reserves at the field will significantly contribute to an increase in Turkmen natural gas extraction.

e. Bouygues to Build “Cigar-Shaped” Office Building in Ashgabat
Original title: 24-storey “Cigar” Office for Ministry of Trade and State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange to Be Erected in Ashgabat Source: www.turkmenistan.ru / 9 August 2005 Full version: http://turkmenistan.ru/index.php?page_id=3&lang_id=en&elem_id=6964&type=event&sort=date_desc

Synopsis: The Turkmenistan.ru web site announced that a 24-floor, cigar-shaped building is to be constructed in Ashgabat in two years. The building is to house the central office of the Ministry of Trade and Consumer’s Cooperation and the State Commodity and Raw Material Exchange. France’s Bouygues Batiman has been chosen as the general contractor. Construction is to commence in 2-3 months and the cost has been estimated at $64 million.

f. Turkmen Airlines Adds Boeing 717 to Its Fleet
Original title: Turkmenistan gets one more Boeing plane Source: Turkmen TV first channel, Asgabat, in Turkmen 1600 gmt 8 Aug 05 / BBC Mon CAU 080805 sa/ga

[Presenter] We reported earlier that the Turkmen civil aviation fleet had become richer by another Boeing 717 aircraft. A 14th modern Boeing aircraft has joined the Turkmenhowayollary [Turkmen air lines] state airline company.

It arrived at the capital's Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy the Great International Airport on a non-stop flight from the aircraft-building plant in Long Beach, California, this evening.

[text omitted]

[Correspondent] This is another Boeing aircraft bearing the Turkmen national emblem - the falcon - that has been delivered to Turkmenistan this year. The civil aviation of our country is being provided with modern high-class equipment thanks to our esteemed leader's constant care for the development of the sector.

The new Boeing is the sixth such aircraft given to Turkmenistan by the Boeing company. The arrival of the seventh is planned for the end of the current month.

[Passage omitted: remarks on the Boeing company and its products; old Boeing-757 aircraft used by the president is to be converted for use to transport passengers; Turkmenistan will also receive two helicopters later this year and early next year]

[Video shows the aircraft flying to Asgabat airport, crowds of people greeting the pilots with flowers, an old Turkmen lady sprinkling flour on the aircraft's front and attaching a traditional Turkmen amulet on the cockpit, footage of aircraft's cabin]

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