Issue 11 (2012)
March 31 – April 4, 2012
*For Breaking News See Our Blog Sifting the Karakum*
This week, Commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), James N. Mattis met with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and, according to Turkmenistan’s state media, told him that the US considers Turkmenistan to be a “responsible and reliable” partner, and discussed joint efforts to ensure universal security and stability. Also, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Susan Johnson Cook, came to Ashgabat to meet with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights to discuss cooperation in the humanitarian sphere. Though no reports clarified what exactly was said during the meetings, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom recommended Turkmenistan for inclusion on the list of worst violators of religious freedom in the world.
Despite regular and frequent engagement with the US, Turkmenistan publically ignored the call of the US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, who urged Central Asian countries to limit economic relations with Iran, as the US intensifies sanctions on that country. At a conference in Dushanbe on Afghanistan, Turkmenistan’s Vice-Premier, Baimurad Khojamukhamedov, said he was confident the ties between Iran and Turkmenistan will continue to grow, and that bilateral partnership between Turkmenistan and Iran is expanding.
The United States, together with the European Union, now has the opportunity to reinvigorate its engagement with Turkmenistan on human rights, says the rights watchdog group Human Rights Watch (HRW). The UN Human Rights Committee examined Turkmenistan’s first ever report on compliance with the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and highlighted major problems arousing concern: violation of the freedom of expression, suppression of civic activity, torture and ill-treatment in prisons, and the lack of an independent judiciary. HRW, International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights jointly urged the European Union and the United States to make compliance with the Committee’s recommendations a key priority in their relationships with Ashgabat.
Expanding its international trade partnerships Eastward, Turkmenistan also received a delegation from China, headed by Chief Engineer of the industrial corporation “The Great Wall of China”, Hu Gunn, which sought opportunities to modernize Turkmenistan’s communication system and share experience in space technologies. From Europe, Turkmenistan received a Finnish delegation headed by Nina Vaskunlahti, Director of the Department for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia of the Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who met with representatives of Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry to discuss partnership in the trade and energy sectors. Also, a delegation from Ukraine, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Maiko, visited Ashgabat, to discuss possibilities of participating in Turkmenistan’s national programs.
Within the Central Asian region, Turkmenistan agreed to supply gas to Tajikistan, as Uzbekistan has cut off its gas supplies to Tajikistan, routing them to China instead. With its foreign policy of “neutrality,” Turkmenistan can nimbly seize upon the trade opportunity left by the vacuum created by the two quarrelling countries. Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry hosted bilateral Turkmen-Kazakh inter-MFA consultations to discussed cooperation in areas of trade, energy, agriculture, transport, and communications.
On April 2, Turkmenistan began the Week of Health and Happiness, with state employees forced to participate in a number of sports events to be conducted on the occasion. The week will culminate with the “Walk of Health,” when hundreds of people are expected to march up an eight-kilometer concrete staircase built into the hills outside the capital, Ashgabat. Just before all the festivities began, Turkmen authorities decided to reserve the country’s gas riches for better use and discontinue the distribution of free gasoline and diesel fuel to owners of all types of trucks, buses and tractors. Now the truck owners will be refueling their vehicles at commercial prices.
Gas exports and construction projects are the two reasons why Turkmenistan became one of the most economically active countries in the CIS. This conclusion was made by the World Organization of Creditors based on its research of the major economic achievements and challenges in 2011 and priority areas for development in 2012.
President of Turkmenistan Receives Commander of United States Central Command
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov received the Commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), James N. Mattis. According to Turkmenistan’s state media, Mattis stated that the US considers Turkmenistan to be a “responsible and reliable” partner. Berdymukhamedov claimed that cooperation with the US is a priority of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy. During the meeting, the parties discussed joint efforts to ensure universal security and stability, and to counteract global threats, including illicit drug trafficking, international terrorism, and trans-border organized crime. The President and his guest stressed their mutual readiness to strengthen dialogue between the two countries.
US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Visited Turkmenistan
On March 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan and the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights hosted meetings with a delegation from the US led by the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Susan Johnson Cook. The parties discussed cooperation in the humanitarian sphere.
The US repeatedly criticized Turkmenistan for numerous violations of religious freedom. In its regular report on freedom of religion in the world published in October 2011, the US State Department noted, in particular, flaws in Turkmenistan’s national laws and violations of the rights of religious minorities. In March 2012, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom recommended to include Turkmenistan in the list of 16 worst violators of religious freedom in the world.
Turkmenistan Will Not Break With Iran to Please US
Turkmenistan publically ignored the call of the US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, urging Central Asian countries to limit economic relations with Iran. At a conference in Dushanbe on Afghanistan, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Turkmenistan’s Vice-Premier, Baimurad Khojamukhamedov that he sees no obstacles for developing further relations between the two countries. Khojamukhamedov said he was sure the ties between Iran and Turkmenistan will continue to grow, and construction of the Teheran – Ashgabat railroad, along with cooperation in the energy sector, indicates that bilateral partnership between Turkmenistan and Iran is expanding.
UN Human Rights Committee Prepared Recommendations for Turkmenistan
After examining Turkmenistan’s Human Rights report, the UN Human Rights Committee developed the following recommendations: end the practice of torture; stop preventing international organizations from visiting prisons; activate efforts to combat human trafficking; eliminate limitations of freedom of movement; take measures to eliminate corruption; work towards independence of the judiciary; refrain from suppressing activities of non-governmental organizations; end the persecution of religious believers; provide free access to the Internet; stop using children in cotton gathering and protect them from all forms of exploitation; decriminalize homosexual relations; and ensure the participation of national minorities in public life.
Detailed reports on the commission proceedings can be found at the following URLs:
First day (15 March): http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/hrct742.doc.htm
Second day (16 March): http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/hrct743.doc.htm
Human Rights Watch Calls for Immediate Improvement of Human Rights Situation in Turkmenistan
The Turkmen government should urgently heed the calls by the UN Human Rights Committee to improve its abysmal rights record, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights said on March 30 in their joint statement. Turkmenistan’s international partners, including the European Union and the United States, should seize the opportunity provided by the review to reinvigorate their engagement with Turkmenistan on human rights and make compliance with the Committee’s recommendations a key priority in their relationships with Ashgabat, the groups said. Having examined Turkmenistan’s report on observance of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, the Committee highlighted the major problems causing concern: violation of the freedom of expression, suppression of civil activity, torture and ill-treatment in prisons, and the lack of an independent judiciary.
Turkmenistan’s Authorities Expel Peace Corps
Turkmenistan’s authorities refused to allow the US Peace Corps to extend their stay in the country beyond March 2012. Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Turkmenistan in March of 2010 with visas valid until March 26, 2012. In February the Peace Corps asked Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry to extend their volunteers’ visas for a month and a half, until May 9, so they could complete their work. Instead, the Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the US Embassy demanding that the volunteers leave the country before March 23. In September 2011, denied entrance into the country to a group of Peace Corps volunteers, even though they had valid Turkmen visas. Currently, 15 Peace Corps volunteers remain in Turkmenistan. They work in the educational and health care sectors.
Kabul Says Afghanistan Did Not Refuse to Buy Turkmen Gas
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines spokesman Jawad Omar denied claims from Pakistan that Afghanistan refused to purchase its share of gas in the TAPI project, saying that such claims are “groundless.” Afghan national TV reported Omar saying that Afghanistan observes its agreements on purchasing gas in the framework of the TAPI project. Previously, Pakistan’s Pak Tribune cited Muhammad Ejaz Chaudhry, Pakistan’s Minister of Oil and Natural Resources, , saying that Afghanistan is refusing to buy its share of gas within the TAPI project, and the leftover gas will be divided between India and Pakistan.
Ashgabat Agreed to Supply Gas to Tajikistan
Ashgabat agreed to supply gas to Tajikistan, but requires permission from Uzbekistan for transit rights. Currently, the management of Tajikistan’s Tajiktransgaz, responsible for gas distribution, is discussing this issue in Tashkent. Uzbekistan ended gas supplies to Tajikistan on April 1, when it began sending its gas to China.
China Ready to Share Experience with Turkmenistan in Space Technologies
A delegation of the People's Republic of China, headed by Hu Gunn, Chief Engineer of the industrial corporation “The Great Wall of China,” visited Turkmenistan and held meetings at a number of ministries and departments to discuss cooperation in technology and telecommunications. Hu Gunn expressed his country’s readiness to help modernize Turkmenistan’s communication system and offered to share China’s experience in space technologies. At Turkmenistan’s Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Agriculture, the delegation discussed possibilities for expanding partnership in the area of science and agriculture. The Chinese delegation will also meet with officials from Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Water Management, and the Ministry of Nature Protection.
Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan Receives Finnish Delegation
On March 30, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry held a meeting with a Finnish delegation headed by Nina Vaskunlahti, Director of the Department for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Finland. The talks focused on issues related to expansion of the Turkmen-Finnish partnership, particularly in trade and economy, fuel and energy, as well as cultural and humanitarian programs.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Visits Ashgabat
A delegation from Ukraine, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Maiko, visited Ashgabat. The delegation held talks with the Government of Turkmenistan, the State National Service “Turkmen Airlines” and the administration of the city of Ashgabat, in which the parties discussed Ukraine’s opportunities to participate in Turkmenistan’s national programs. The parties identified the fuel and energy sector, transport and communications, as well as urban development and agriculture among the priority areas of cooperation.
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan Hold Political Consultations
On March 29, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry hosted bilateral Turkmen-Kazakh inter-MFA consultations. The delegation of Kazakhstan was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Amangeldy Zhumabayev. The parties discussed cooperation in areas of trade, energy, agriculture, transport, and communications.
Turkmenistan’s Authorities Violate National Laws While Creating New Parties
Turkmenistan is creating two new parties based on professional activities – the Agrarian Party and Party of Entrepreneurs – thus violating its own law. The second clause of Article 8 of the Law on Political Parties, adopted earlier this year, states: “Establishing parties based on regions and professional activities is prohibited.” The fact that a state official, namely Deputy Prime Minister Sapardyrdy Toyliyev, appears to be overseeing the effort to create political parties marks another clear violation of Turkmen law. The second clause of Article 9 of the Law on Political Parties prohibits the “involvement of government and local self-government entities, as well as government officials” in the formation of such entities. Constitutionally, only an organizing committee, or a constituent congress, rather than a government official, can initiate and handle a party’s registration, including the preparation of its charter.
Turkmenistan Discontinues Distribution of Free Fuel for Trucks, Tractors and Buses
Turkmenistan has discontinued the distribution of free gasoline and diesel fuel to owners of all types of trucks and buses and all types of tractors. According to the decision of the President of Turkmenistan of March 9, 2012, from now on the truck owners will be refueling their vehicles at commercial prices.
Turkmenistan Begins Week Of Health And Happiness
Starting from April 2, Turkmenistan has launched an official Week of Health and Happiness. President Berdymukhamedov ordered state employees to take more exercise and participate in a number of events to be conducted on the occasion. The week will culminate with the “Walk of Health,” when hundreds of people are expected to march up an eight-kilometer concrete staircase built into hills outside the capital, Ashgabat. The week is part of the broader state-decreed Era of Supreme Happiness of the Stable State
Turkmenistan’s Parliament Passes New Laws
On March 31, Members of the Mejlis (Turkmenistan’s Parliament) approved and passed several new laws, including: “On Election of Members of People's Councils and Gengeshes (local self-governance bodies),” “On State Pension Insurance,” “On Shared Construction of Apartment Houses and Other Real Estate,” “On Statistics," "On Protected Natural Areas,” “On Measures Related to Treatment of Persons Suffering from Alcoholism, Drug Addiction or Dependence on Psychoactive Drugs,” “On Road Traffic Safety,” and “On Migration.” In addition, they introduced amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedures and other laws.
Turkmenistan Recognized as Most Economically Active Country in CIS
The Analytical Information Service of the World Organization of Creditors (WOC) reported that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have been recognized as the most economically active countries in the CIS. This conclusion was made based on WOC’s research of the major economic achievements and challenges in 2011 and priority areas for development in 2012. According to the WOC, Turkmenistan has achieved high rates of economic growth primarily due to the implementation of major public construction projects and increasing gas exports to China.
French Company Pegasus Farms Ltd to Cooperate with Turkmenistan
Hervé Barge, Director of the French company “Pegasus Farms Ltd”, which is involved in horse management in Ireland, Britain, France and America, visited Turkmenistan to offer his company’s services and expertise for breeding the country’s famous Akhal-Tekes horses. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov met with the Head of Pegasus on March 28 to discuss cooperation.
Turkish “Polimeks” to Build Memorial Complex in Ashgabat
The Turkish company "Polimeks" submitted to President Berdymukhamedov sketches of new facilities to be built in Ashgabat, including a new memorial complex and park, as well as projects to modernize Ashgabat’s transport and communication infrastructure. The President examined the proposals and made a number of comments and suggestions for their implementation.
Unless otherwise indicated, all translations have been prepared by OSI’s Turkmenistan Project.
About the Turkmenistan Project
The Turkmenistan Project is a division of the Open Society Institute’s Central Eurasia Project. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of OSI. For more information about the Open Society Institute, visit our website at http://www.soros.org. For more information about the Central Eurasia Project, visit EurasiaNet at http://www.eurasianet.org. For more on the work of the Turkmenistan Project, visit us at http://www.eurasianet.org/resource/turkmenistan/index.shtml
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