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Talking ‘Bout a Revolution
Written by , Monday, 16 Jan, 2006 – 23:04 | 4 Comments

Mark N. Katz, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, has written an op-ed for United Press International (also discussed here) in which he speculates on the likelihood of a continued wave of revolution throughout the Central Asian region. He suggests that the regime changes could either take the form of Islamic revolutions or popular revolts in the mould of those that took place in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. His article, which is in fact more of an essay, gathers numerous strands of theory on the dynamic of regime change, some of which he believes could apply to Turkmenistan.
The relative deprivation theory, he argues, might have some relevance to Turkmenistan in view of its healthy GDP, which stands at a substantial $5,700 as compared with its poorer neighbours in the post-Soviet Central Asian space. Some have argued that an improved economy could create exaggerated expectations in a country benefiting from the boom in energy prices, leading to popular unrest. In fact, quite how Turkmenistan’s healthy economic indicators translate into the popular consciousness is not easy to discern, though insistent reports about decline in medical, educational and food provision might permit some guesswork about the standing of the current leadership. Nonetheless, this theory, like many of the others put forward by Professor Katz, is of limited scope in the absence of investigation into the specific context of Turkmenistan.
In contemplating the matter of non-democratic revolution, that is revolution within the regime structure, Professor Katz cites the views of Robert Pastor of American University, who argues for the key role played by the middle class, and their choices about who to ally with. Once again, this does not seem relevant, as any member of the Turkmen middle class that has not already been co-opted into the regime is hardly endowed with the ability to support a democratic opposition, which does not exist within the country. What Turkmen opposition does exist is based abroad and has little contact with, or arguably relevance to, the expectations of the population. The opposition is further weakened by internal divisions and divergent priorities.
Professor Katz does concede, however, that the potential for revolution is largely conditional on the government’s resolve to stamp out any manifestation of desire for regime change. He cites the example of President Islam Karimov’s crushing of the Andijan revolt, which may or may not have been geared towards the aim of toppling his rule, as an indication that entrenched authoritarian states do indeed possess the stomach for quelling public disturbances by force. He could also have mentioned the arbitrary arrests that followed the attempted assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov and the regular purges that have marked his tenure.
In his conclusion, Professor Katz conveniently hypothesises the possible eventuality of any scenario:

“What all this shows is that the ingredients for revolution in Central Asia, as suggested by several theories, are either present now or will be in the not too distant future. This does not mean, however, that revolution is destined to occur there. Yet while revolution in Central Asia is not inevitable, these theories suggest that it would be naive to think that serious attempts at it will not occur.”

That’s to say, a revolution in Turkmenistan may or may not happen. If it does happen, it might happen soon or maybe not.
For all the difficulties that predicting Turkmen developments constitute, the extensive academic literature on transition from autocracy does offer some general principles on which to base anticipation of the regime. A particularly lucid elaboration is featured in an article by Adam Przeworski in “Transitions from authoritarian rule: Comparative perspectives”:

Four kinds of factors are often put forward to explain why cracks begin to appear in an authoritarian regime and liberalization possible:
1) The authoritarian regime has realized the functional needs that led to its establishment. It is, therefore, no longer necessary (or even possible), and it collapses.
2) The regime has, for one reason or another, with one possible reason being (1), lost its “legitimacy”, and since no regime can last without legitimacy (support, acquiescence, consent), it disintegrates.
3) Conflicts within the ruling bloc, particularly within the military, for one reason or another, with one possible reason being (2), cannot be reconciled internally, and some ruling factions decide to appeal to outside groups for support. Hence, the ruling bloc disintegrates qua bloc.
4) Foreign pressures to “put on a democratic face” lead to compromises, perhaps through the mechanism of (3).

Realistically, the more extreme regimes in Central Asia could only aspire to the last two, though it is debatable whether the events forcing change would merely result in a new form of autocracy.
Furthermore, in the constant endeavour of applying schematised models for regional democratization, international observers make the mistake of grouping by broad cultural and geographic areas, instead of appreciating the national dimension. In Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan the deficit of legitimacy was to some extent mitigated by limited concessions to freedom of speech and a climate of kleptocracy and corruption that almost disculpated rulers from its shortcomings. In these countries, the main enemy of democratic choice was not so much the will of an iron-fisted despot, but rather the inability of the opposition to mobilise and identify common objectives. Though Ukraine’s new consensus is under strain, the fact remains that the old order has been irremediably destroyed. Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have yet to fully prove that they have made the full transition to liberal democracy.
However one wants to look at it, these condition simply do not exist in Turkmenistan, which makes all this speculation little more than a diverting sideshow.

Democratic Turkmenistan
Written by , Saturday, 14 Jan, 2006 – 20:01 | No Comment

During a 13 January meeting with Matthew J Bryza, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, President Saparmurat Niyazov gave assurances, among other things, about his commitment to the promotion of democracy. According to NewsCentralAsia, Niyazov told Bryza that “stability requires legitimacy, which flows from democracy”.
This came one day after Niyazov announced at a ceremony dedicated to Rememberance Day that the country would hold a presidential election in 2009-10. The speech was broadcast in a Turkmen TV report, of which a BBC Monitoring transcript follows:

[Presenter] Today our sovereign and permanently neutral state of Turkmenistan marks its Remembrance Day. On this occasion, state flags were lowered to half mast all over the country, and tribute was paid to the memory of those who lost their precious lives in the name of freedom of sacred soil and the Fatherland.

[Passage omitted: top officials laid wreaths at a cemetery in Turkmen President Saparmyrat Niyazov's home village of Gypjak; a ceremony was then held at Geok-Depe mosque situated in some 50 km to the northwest of Asgabat, the site of 1879-81 war against the Russians; President Niyazov arrived at Geok-Depe mosque to greet elders and diplomats; a play on the Gokdepe battle was performed; Niyazov then greeted elders from Ahal, Mary, Lebap and Dasoguz regions]

[Niyazov, addressing elders from Dasoguz in northern Turkmenistan] I am aware that some of your senior officials are breaching law, and so I will be compelled to take appropriate measures to correct them for I do not see any other choice there. I mean those who are at odds with law, so I am going to pay a visit there. Times are now completely different. On the other hand, your people are making their earnings by hard work, and you have everything: vegetables, fruits and herds of cattle.

[Passage omitted: Niyazov then addresses elders from Balkan Region]

Perhaps, elders are well aware of the country’s history when big powers were involved in an attempt to cause discord among the Turkmens. The easiest way to destroy the Turkmen nation is to cut off their water sources or to set tribes against each other. That is why Genghis Khan destroyed irrigation facilities in Mary, and other warriors seized water facilities in Meshedi Mesiryan [western Turkmenistan].

[Passage omitted: repeat on history]

Presidential election will be held in 2009-10

Let there be no more dispute here in Turkmenistan over water, land or ethnic issues. You should rely on the state. You should elect the best person as head of state because the same man cannot always be the leader. You have to hold consultations in mosques and study contenders’ backgrounds and decide whether they are courageous and honest people to be the leader of the Turkmen nation. Elders and leaders of Mary, Lebap, Dasoguz, Ahal, and Balkan [regions] should submit their proposals on this issue. Then, in 2009-10, we will hold an election to have a leader chosen by the people.

[Passage omitted: repeat on past history]

No disputes with other countries

We do not pose any threat to other countries, nor do other countries have disputes with us. We do not have disputes with our neighbours over water or land issues. However, it is necessary for us to be calm and united so that no force can destroy us. On the other hand, we have immense resources. But there are some who are envious of our water resources. We had long-standing problems with dividing waters of Amu Darya river [running on the Turkmen-Uzbek border]. You are well aware how much blood was shed over this issue. There were similar disputes, sometimes bloody, in the past also over the water of the Etrek and Murgap rivers [western and southern Turkmenistan, running from Iran and Afghanistan] No more such things ever again. Let us pray for this in our mosques.

[Passage omitted: remarks on religious rituals; Niyazov presents elders with his book on Turkmen religious rituals and invites them to attend Flag Day celebrations on 19 February and leaves the site]

Independent Travel
Written by , Saturday, 14 Jan, 2006 – 19:58 | No Comment

Lucy Ash of the BBC has continued making mileage of her trip to Turkmenistan; this time by contributing a travel article to The Independent. The piece is reasonably likeable, though her anecdote about a visit to the dentist will ring familiar to regular listeners of From Our Own Correspondent.
One interesting fact is that it is apparently possible to fly direct to Ashgabat from the UK with Turkmenistan Airlines. Lastly, former British Ambassador in Turkmenistan Paul Brummell’s new travel book gets a plug.

Justice on Trial
Written by , Saturday, 14 Jan, 2006 – 19:34 | No Comment

A January 11 press release from the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights has shed light on the trial of former Adalat (Justice) editor Khudaiberdy Kurbandurdiyev. Adalat is one of Turkmenistan’s highest circulation newspapers and is supported by “supported by the Law Enforcement Bodies of Turkmenistan”, according to the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat.
President Saparmurat Niyazov first expressed his displeasure with Kurbandurdiyev’s conduct at a July 1, 2005, Cabinet meeting, during which he charged the editor with professional negligence and attacked his ministers for permitting a “traitor of the homeland” to take up an editorial position.
The press release follows in full:

In December 2005 editor-in-chief of the Adalat (Justice) newspaper Khudaiberdy Kurbandurdiyev was sentenced to an 8-year prison sentence. Journalists were taken aback by the court’s verdict, or, to be more precise, by President Saparmurat Niyazov’s verdict, as in Turkmenistan all decisions on the cases of high-ranking officials are made by the President. [The surprising aspect of this case was that] the disgraced editor-in-chief was an ardent advocate of the current political regime.
He started his career as a press secretary at the Interior Ministry and was then promoted to the position of editor-in-chief. Khudaiberdy Kurbandurdiyev wholeheartedly supported the politics pursued by the President and was one of those who shaped and promoted the current ideology. He also made a hajj to Mecca. He appeared to have felt secure in his current post and could not have guessed that his career would end like this.
According to the official version, the editor-in-chief was charged with illegally issuing IDs to the two employees who were not on the staff of the Adalat newspaper. An investigation was launched in June. As was discovered from the report of General Prosecutor Gurbanbibi Atadjanova, the two individuals has connections with people charged with the 2003 assassination attempt on Saparmurat Niyazov.
However, many people are convinced that there is a different reason behind the conviction of the editor-in-chief. He was respected by his colleagues for his professional and personal qualities. The newspaper was popular in Turkmenistan and had the largest circulation in the country. As a result, Khudaiberdy Kurbandurdiyev became a very famous person in the country, a situation that Niyazov could not tolerate.

What Goes Up…
Written by , Saturday, 14 Jan, 2006 – 18:57 | No Comment

The Turkmen Embassy in Moscow has vigorously denied a report appearing on Russian business daily Vedmosti claiming that Ashgabat plans to raise the price of the gas it sells to Moscow.
According to the original report, a representative from the embassy told a Vedomosti journalist that the rise was being introduced in order to bring tariffs in line with world prices, and suggested that the new fee would be around $75-85 per 1,000 cubic metres. The embassy source also allegedly said that Turkmenistan would stick to its original tariff of $65 for the first half instalment of 2006, but would revise the price on the remaining 15 billion cubic metres of gas. As the article also pointed out, 15 billion cubic metres is the quantity of Turkmen gas that trading company RosUkrEnergo has agreed to sell at Kiev at the rate of $95 per 1,000 cubic metres.
However, according to Turkmenistan.ru, the embassy has denied the claims in the article, describing the story as a “blatant fake … [and a] deliberate attempt to damage the Turkmen-Russian partnership”. An embassy spokesman also denied that any comments had been made on the issue by embassy staff.

Remembering Geok-Tepe
Written by , Friday, 13 Jan, 2006 – 1:10 | 3 Comments

A ceremony was held on Thursday to commemorate the death of thousands of Turkomans in the Battle of Geok-Tepe in December 1880. Geok-Tepe was taken by 6,000 Russians under the leadership of General Mikhail Skobelev, though they were vastly outnumbered by a weakly armed native army. The BBC Monitoring account of a Turkmen TV report has all the detail:

Video footage showed Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov arriving by car at Geok-Tepe Mosque (picture shown above) situated some 50 kilometres to the northwest of Ashgabat. Niyazov was welcomed there by clerics and officials. He greeted the foreign diplomats and businessmen present.
The report, however, did not broadcast Niyazov’s speech as the microphones were switched off. A melody was played over the top in its place.
Later, Niyazov gave his permission to start prayers, and a sacrifice meal was offered to those attending the ceremony.

Full of Energy
Written by , Thursday, 12 Jan, 2006 – 0:40 | 8 Comments

A flurry of energy-related news has come out of Turkmenistan today, not all of it good. According to Turkmenistan.ru, there was a 0.8% drop in oil extraction on last year to 9,522,000 tonnes. On the reverse side, the amount of refined oil has been boosted by 2%, to 6,874,500 tonnes.
Furthermore, production of liquefied gas rose by 10%, from 359,000 tonnes in 2004 to 395,000 tonnes in 2005, production of diesel oil increased by 2% from 1,803,100 tonnes up to 1,842,600 tonnes, and lubricants by 1% from 50,800 tonnes up to 51,200 tonnes.
Meanwhile, production of natural gas has increased by 8% to 63 billion cubic meters. Exports of natural also grew by 8%, which is equivalent to 3.2 billion cubic metres. This brings total exports, mostly to Ukraine, Iran and Russia, up to 45.2 billion cubic metres. As the Turkmenistan.ru reports, these countries are intending to buy as much as 75 billion cubic metres of natural gas in 2006.
Iran, however, will also be paying higher prices for the gas, as was discussed on Wednesday in a telephone exchange between President Saparmurat Niyazov and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. In the course of the conversation Niyazov and Mottaki exchanged congratulations on the occasion of Kurban Bayram. No final agreement has been reached, but the parties have agreed to an Iranian delegation headed by the foreign minister will visit Ashgabat to discuss the issue in the near future.
Finally, according to a Turkmen TV report on Wednesday drilling of a fifth gas well in the Kolyaka field has been concluded and has revealed promising deposits. Operations to confirm the productivity of the well, which is over 3,300 metres deep, will now begin. Work on a sixth well by the Ojak drilling works administration is also currently under way.

The Year in Review
Written by , Wednesday, 11 Jan, 2006 – 23:40 | 3 Comments

IRIN, which is a news agency that provides news and analysis for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has published its annual report on Turkmenistan. Its opening line pretty much says it all:

There was precious little change in the one-party state of Turkmenistan in 2005

The full list of institutions queueing up to criticise almost every aspect of Turkmen government policy is staggering by any reckoning and includes the following:

Amnesty International
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
UN Commission on Human Rights
UN General Assembly
Forum 18
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
International League for Human Rights
Open Society Institute’s Turkmenistan Project
Reporters Without Borders
Radio Free Europe

The only faint glimmers on the horizon were provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund, who “welcomed a decision by the Turkmen parliament to pass legislation banning child labour and guaranteeing freedom from economic exploitation as a right of children.”
Also, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Turkmen government completed the first ever registration of all refugees in the country. The results of their findings were that there are 11,000 ethnic Turkmen from Tajikistan and over 500 ethnic Turkmen from Afghanistan. As UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond remarked at the time:

“The exercise will now lead to negotiations with the government of the Central Asian nation on finding a durable solution for the registered population. It is a major step toward the resolution of a refugee situation created by the conflicts in nearby Afghanistan and Tajikistan.”

One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Written by , Tuesday, 10 Jan, 2006 – 23:24 | 2 Comments

President Saparmurat Niyazov recently had a private meeting with his Cabinet and security officials with a view to discussing measures necessary for preventing the spread of bird’s flu during the Kurban Bayram celebrations, according to a Deutsche Welle report. During the meeting, it was said that some time after new year, reports were coming in of mass deaths among domestic and wild birds in the Mary, Lebap and Balkan velyats.
Niyazov has called for widespread independent checks to be carried out on wild and domestic birds throughout the country. He has also ordered road patrols to be doubled between inhabited settlements and for blocks to be set up in remote, uninhabited districts in a bid to control the transportation of agricultural goods around the country.
Furthermore, the Ministry of National Security has been tasked with suppression of any information about eventual bird flu cases and the prevention of access of data to international specialists.

Talking About Turkmen Education
Written by , Tuesday, 10 Jan, 2006 – 21:11 | No Comment

Yesterday, President Saparmurat Niyazov held the first Cabinet meeting in 2006. Niyazov appealed for the Cabinet to carry out resolutions undertaken during the 16th Khalk Maslahaty, making particular references to the stated aims of democratisation throughout the year. BBC Monitoring carried the following description of a report of the Cabinet meeting, which appeared on Turkmen state television:

The presenter reading a report over a video of the meeting quoted Niyazov as saying that “the forthcoming elections – first to the village councils, followed with elections to the city and district people’s councils at the end of year, will be important events in the sociopolitical life of Turkmenistan in 2006.”
“Thus, the strengthening of democratic and legal foundations of independent Turkmenistan and further perfection improvement of the mechanism of true democracy will be continued. True democracy traces its roots to the ancient history of the Turkmen nation, our esteemed leader has said”.

Niyazov also spoke about the need for improvement in the standard of housing for ministerial employees, though the Turkmen State Information Agency’s account placed heavier stress on his remarks about required changes in education. BBC Monitoring reports further:

The Turkmen leader also urged the national economic sector enterprises to speed up construction of comfortable flats for their employees. He also spoke about constructions of modern schools equipped with all essential facilities.
The presenter continued, “our country’s population grows constantly and so does the demand for new blocks of flats and other conveniences, our president has said. In this regard, the head of state drew the attention of the participants in the meeting to construction of modern schools which would have all necessary facilities for effective educational and teaching process”.
The report also quoted Niyazov as saying that it was time to build schools bearing in mind all the modern-day requirements and getting rid of old stereotypes. He also told the officials not to forget about the construction of new schools, kindergartens and other communal facilities when building new residential areas.