A one-stop web site for Turkmen music buffs can be found here. There is a wealth of material on here, most of which is apparently available for download, though the site administrator is keen to stress that the files are under copyright and shoud be erased after listening. My personal highlight, however, must be this, which needs to be heard to be believed.
The question Turkmenistan-watchers must be asking themselves at the moment is what role the country played in the resolution of the gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine. As the action has panned out it appears the onlooker has got the best of the fight, with the litigant parties having fashioned a solution out of the factor of Turkmen deliveries.
Incredibly, Turkmenistan’s bluff about its proved reserves and its ability to supply both Kiev and Moscow may have been pulled off. However, though Ukraine has proved a more malleable partner in the short-term, the fact remains that Turkmenistan has significantly longer term prospects in Russia, which signed a 25-year agreement that effectively gave it rights over all Turkmen gas production. By all accounts, this would leave small amounts left over for sale to other countries, but unaccountably Ashgabat seems to have achieved the feat of selling the same gas to two countries, a trick that will be ostensibly be underwritten by Russia’s Gazprom in the current scenario.
Whether this has actually occurred will presumably be clarified as data emerges as to the scale of Turkmen-sourced deliveries. As has become plain for anyone with eyes to see, Turkmenistan is an unreliable business partner at the best of times, so yet another turnaround may yet be on the cards. Should this happen, Ukraine will most likely be the one to suffer, though in this scenario there will be no shred of a doubt that it is the victim of double-dealing and backstabbing.
UPDATE: I came across an interesting throwaway sentence in an editorial article in the pro-government turkmenistan.ru website, which I have translated below;
Incidentally, for the last few years the Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has insistently been calling for Russia and Ukraine to unite forces and collaborate on building a new gas pipeline on the eastern coast of the Caspian that would pass through Kazakhstan and would allow greater volumes of Turkmen gas to be transported by the northern route.
And here is a useful map to print out and draw in your own suggestions for pipeline routes.
As a result of the Ukrainian gas debacle Turkmenistan has made it onto the front pages of the world press, if only very peripherally. Meanwhile, Naftogaz Ukrainy CEO Oleksiy Ivchenko has paid another visit to President Saparmurat Niyazov to give assurances about timely payment for gas deliveries in 2006. There is continued doubt about Turkmenistan’s ability to supply both Russia and Ukraine with the announced quantities, though Kiev’s willingness and need to accede to Ashgabat’s strong-arm haggling may give it the required edge. Ivchenko, who has inexplicably managed to retain his position, is unlikely to resume his polemical stance towards Turkmenistan’s erratic diplomatic shifts.
Needless to say, the issue is a moot one as Gazprom now has total control over all gas pipelines leading to the Ukraine border. However, should Russia choose to exert its obvious geographically strategic advantage over Ukraine by seizing this gas, there would no longer such a pressing ethical or legal onus on Kiev to refrain from helping itself to Europe-bound deliveries. Indeed, Ukraine has already raised this aspect in its rejection of accusations of theft of gas. Details follow in this BBC Monitoring translation of a Kiev station Inter TV report broadcast today:
Presenter: Kiev categorically denies all accusations of illegally siphoning off gas. Journalists were invited to a gas pumping station in Boyarka today.
Eduard Zanyuk, Chief of the Naftohaz Ukrayiny public relations centre: Taking into account that it takes 36 hours for Turkmen gas to get to Ukrainian territory through the pipeline, then on 1 January, when Mr Medvedev [Gazprom deputy chairman] accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas, Ukraine was receiving Turkmen gas bought in 2005. So, the fact of lying by the Gazprom leadership is obvious.
Vasyl Filipchuk, Head of the Foreign Ministry’s press service: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk today signed a letter to European Commission President [Jose Manuel] Barroso, asking him to send to Ukraine EU experts who would have access to gas pumping stations and all the information regarding the amount of gas entering Ukraine and leaving it.
If anyone missed Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio three Christmas day programme the link can be found to play on the BBC radio player here. Andy Kershaw is a world-renowned specialist on world music. His Christmas day programme featured an on location documentary from Turkmenistan. The programme features an extra large seasonal helping of traditional folk music from Turkmenistan. Music, I should imagine, that is unheard by many Western ears.
Kershaw’s radio documentary offers a realistic example of the difficulties facing a westerner travelling in Turkmenistan, let alone a BBC documentary maker, as his programme was organised by the government, he is minded at all times, and is advised not to leave the hotel in the evening. Instead he wiles away the evenings in his hotel reading the Rukhnama in the company of Americans from an oil company. The programme is less judgemental than the previous BBC on location World Service documentary (see previous post). Kershaw travels to the places on his itinerary meeting musicians while all the while constantly noting the omnipresence of Turkmenbashi. There is lots of discussion on the Rukhnama, Niyazov, public holidays and carpets. However there is a deeper and more insightful discussion on how music has been co-opted by the government to service the Turkmen national identity. Kershaw and his producer struggle to find more modern Turkmen music and musicians not in the service of fostering national identity. It is of course difficult for them as modern music tends to be illegal and considered ‘un Turkmen’ by the president. Nevertheless, it is a good programme and worth the listen if not to here some of the remarkable field recordings and the traditional Central Asian instrument, the dutar. The dutar is a two string pear-shaped long-necked lute which is considered to originally be from Western China, but is now widely played throughout Central Asia.
Yesterday saw the 20th anniversary of Saparmurat Niyazov coming to power in Turkmenistan. On the 21st of December 1985 Saparmurat Niyazov was appointed First Secretary of the Turkmenistan Republican Communist Party. Mikhail Gorbachev, who was in the process of turning over the elites and leaders of Central Asia who had been in power for decades during the Brezhnev era, appointed him. Gorbachev wanted fresh blood and new faces in the Central Asian Republics to push through his reforms of perestroika. In 1985 Niyazov represented a generational change from his predecessor Mukhamednazar Gapurov who had served as Turkmen Fist Secretary since 1969.
Niyazov had a steady rise throughout the party. In 1980 he was appointed secretary for industry before becoming the first secretary of the Ashgabat city organisation. It was during this period that he built and consolidated his power base in Ashgabat. In 1984 he became an ideological instructor for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee. It was during this time that he gained a reputation of loyalty to Moscow which would serve him well in his next appointment which was chairman of the Turkmen Council of Ministers. It was soon after this that Niyazov got the top job in Turkmenistan, First Secretary.
Niyazov was first elected president of Turkmenistan by popular vote on October 27th 1990. He became president of a Sovereign independent country when the Soviet Union broke up in December 1991. Niyazov went to the polls again in June 1992 and obtained classic Soviet levels of support gaining 99.5% of the vote. It was the first and last time a presidential election had been held in independent Turkmenistan.
Niyazov stands at the epicentre of the political system in Turkmenistan and sometimes it is difficult to remember that he wasn’t always the omnipresent leader staring out from bottles of vodkas or portraits on the wall. He was a communist party bureaucrat, an apparatchik, who came to power through an institution that shaped his ideas, beliefs and career route. He wasn’t the institutional manipulator that we perceive him as today where he is viewed as someone who can decree laws, ignore parliament and alter the constitution. Communist institutions, in fact, shaped Niyazov.
Nevertheless the anniversary marks a significant milestone in the history of Turkmenistan. The state news agency, Turkmendowlethabarlary, issued a special commentary to mark the occasion.
“By historic measurements 20 years are just a moment in the continuous sequence of centuries and millenniums that change each other according to the eternal law of the universe, the commentary says in particular. It happened that, apart from this law, there is also a humane dimension with its own reference points and peculiar parameters. By the will of the same fortune this seemingly short period of time can be compared to the epoch by its importance for the Turkmen people, for it was during these years that our life changed once and forever. Twenty years have been enough for a new generation to grow and get firmly established on the Turkmen soil, and for a new state, independent Turkmenistan, to appear on the world map.”
A crime wave has reportedly hit Turkmenistan. According to IWPR, there has been a significant rise in muggings and burglaries over the last 35 days. Some are arguing that this is due to the thousands of prisoners amnestied by the president which was timed to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan earlier this year. An IWPR source in Ashgabat has claimed from those arrested in recent weeks 80% come from the 8000 prisoners who were released in October. Here is the full IWPR report:
Crime is on the rise in Turkmenistan, with some blaming the thousands of prisoners amnestied by the president, while others say the dire state of the economy is the cause.
A police source said that the incidence of muggings and burglaries has leapt in recent weeks, with 80 per cent of those arrested coming from the group of 8,000 prisoners released in October under the annual amnesty granted by President Saparmurat Niazov, better known as Turkmenbashi.
“In the last 35 days alone, the number of offences was equivalent to the number committed over six months of last year. That’s quite a high figure,” said the source, who did not want to be identified.
The prisoner amnesty, which began in 1999, is timed to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan each year. The majority of the 12,000 people held in prison are let out, with only political prisoners and those sentenced for economic crimes and major theft of state property ineligible for release.
That means drug traffickers, burglars and muggers are released back into a largely unsympathetic society that has little interest in helping them readjust.
Though Turkmenbashi has ordered that jobs should be found for those “who have repented for their deeds to help them to adapt to normal life, so they do not feel themselves to be outcasts and do not wish to return to their former ways”, that has not happened.
“We waited for our son to get out with such joy,” said Maiya Ashirovna. “He returned with the genuine desire to start a new life, to go and work and start a family. But a month has gone by, and we still can’t find a job for him. Everywhere when people find out that he has a previous conviction, they find any excuse to refuse him. He doesn’t even get hired for the lowest paid work, although he has higher education.”
This case is not an exception but rather the norm, say former prisoners. When applying for a state job, forms need to be filled out containing questions about any prior convictions. They say if the answer is “yes”, then the chances of getting the job is minimal.
“If even ‘normal’ people can’t find work, who’s going to get involved with former thieves and drug dealers,” said 30-year-old Merdan who was amnestied in 2004 and has been unable to find work since.
“We are practically forced to return to our former environment, and what else can we do? We have to feed ourselves and our families. So we continue to do what we used to be good at doing: stealing and selling drugs.”
The majority of amnestied prisoners in Turkmenistan were jailed for drug-related crimes. They received no treatment while inside, and there is nothing is available to help them adapt to their new lives outside.
“There are no centres for rehabilitating released prisoners in the country. No work is conducted at all on adapting amnestied prisoners to the conditions of life outside prison,” one member of a non-government organisation told IWPR.
The high level of unemployment among released prisoners is contributing to the current crime wave.
In one Ashgabat apartment block, drug addicts stole the electricity meter, leaving the building without power for five days. A week later the telephone cable was stolen and for two weeks the phones didn’t work. “They steal everything they can take away and sell,” a resident said.
There has been an increase in muggings of elderly people on the day they receive their pensions. Some thieves pretend to be neighbours who want to use the telephone, then attack the pensioners and steal their money
“One pensioner I know let a man live in her apartment for some extra money,” said a social worker. “He had just been amnestied and had come to look for work. The man lived with her for two weeks, and on the day that she received her pension he killed her, closed the apartment door and left.”
Police have responded to the situation by urging people not to open their doors to strangers and are making regular checks on those who live alone.
An Ashgabat policeman told IWPR that amnestied prisoners living in his district are summoned for questioning as soon as a crime is committed.
“From year to year the criminal situation after the amnesty gets worse, the released prisoners are unable to find work, and there is a drastically increase in the number of drug addicts. In this situation I don’t even know what’s better, amnesty or a full term of punishment,” he said.
There is no mention of rising crime levels on the heavily censored television news or in the newspapers. At the end of October, Turkmenbashi announced confidently that the country’s streets were safe and its amnestied prisoners gainfully employed.
Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, are ordered to reduce crime figures “by dozens of times” in reports to higher authorities.
“We don’t have the right to say that at the moment a crime wave is sweeping Turkmenistan,” said Ashir, who works for the police.
“We were given an order from the top to gently warn citizens to be more cautious and not to open their doors to strangers – but not to say that the situation is close to an emergency, and that all police departments are working overtime.”
In a rare concession to the decidedly un-Turkmen past-time of cinema-going, a Russian film jamboree began yesterday in the recently inaugurated Magtymguly Turkmen National Musical and Dramatic Theatre. The event was organised to mark Turkmen Independence Day and Russian Constitution Day, which both take place in the first half of December.
According to Turkmenistan.ru hundreds of local residents are expected to attend the screenings, which have been jointly organised by the Russian Embassy and the Turkmen Ministry of Culture and Media. Among the films to be shown are recent hits such as Filipp Yankovsky’s ‘Statski Sovetnik‘ (State Counsel) and Dzhanik Faiziyev’s ‘Turetskii Gambit‘ (Turkish Gambit).
Interestingly, there will also be two films by Stanislav Govorukhin, ‘Voroshilovkii Strelok‘ (The Rifleman of the Voroshilov Regiment) and ‘Blagoslovite Zhenshchinu‘ (Bless the Woman). This director has been in the news over the last few weeks for his participation in a Duma by-election, which he evetually went on to win. As was reported on this blog a few ago, this election had a peculiar Turkmen angle, so this film festival may be a gift of gratitude.
The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights has issued its latest newsletter, in which it provides more details on the bread shortage reported on this blog some weeks back. According to the report, which offers some interesting data on price fluctuations and the general availability of bread and grain, the geographical scope of the crisis has widened. The newsletter, in Word format, is available here.
Atamurat Berdiyev has sensibly elected to request dismissal from his post as Deputy Prime Minister and Oil and Gas Minister during the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
As Turkmenistan.ru reports, Berdiyev cited his unwillingness to persist in his post on grounds of insufficient expertise, which suggests that if nothing else politicians have been forced to become more honest than their Western counterparts.
President Saparmurat Niyazov acceded to Berdiyev’s request, and he has now been granted the position of Minister of Economics and Finance. Berdiyev’s successor will be Gurbanmurat Atayev, who has been promoted from his old position of First Deputy Oil and Gas Minister.
A mystery illness seems to be affecting the residents of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. The mystery illness is causing severe respiratory problems with those who become infected. The official line is that it is just a normal run of the mill illness, however, doctors are claiming that it is due to chemicals used to speed up the Cotton production. The residues of these chemicals are then being carried in the air across the city. Here’s the full story from IWPR:
Doctors say that since the end of September there has been dramatic increase in the number of patients from Ashgabat and the surrounding region complaining of flu-like symptoms including blocked noses, headaches, dry coughs and weepy eyes.
Ashgabat resident Natalya Ivanova said her entire family fell ill within two days, the youngest first. Soon all the children in her apartment block were sick with the same symptoms. “I called the doctor and questioned him carefully, and the doctor admitted it was occurring on a massive scale,” said Ivanova.
The official diagnosis is acute respiratory disease, but some in the medical community are privately blaming the defoliants sprayed from planes to speed up the ripening of cotton plants.
“The number of people suffering from illnesses of the upper respiratory tract during the cotton ripening and harvesting period increases by dozens of times,” said one health worker on condition of anonymity.
“Defoliants are highly toxic chemicals… easily carried in the air.”
That the illness has proved resistant to traditional cold and flu treatments is also causing suspicion in the medical community.
“It’s too early for a seasonal epidemic of acute respiratory disease,” said a family doctor at one Ashgabat clinic. “Treatment with medicine designed for treating the symptoms of these diseases only improves the conditions of patients for a short period. It can be assumed that the reason… is the air that is inhaled.”
An ear, nose and throat doctor in the capita; said most patients who come for help have been treated for respiratory complaints with no success, “On examination, it is discovered that for almost all the patients, the reason for the disease was an allergic physical reaction to an external irritant.”
A woman from a village outside Ashgabat, told IWPR that all the residents are sick. “We were told it was flu by the doctor at the medical centre. But it’s strange that this flu has still not gone away after four weeks, and it hit everyone almost simultaneously after they started spraying the cotton from the air,” she said.
An expert in ecology and environmental protection said general air pollution could also be contributing to the problem. In addition to the cotton chemicals, many factories in the Ashgabat area are also pumping toxic fumes into the air. “There are no special purifying devices … [and] the filters on chimneys are blocked up,” he said.
Allergies, bronchial asthma and bronchitis caused by pollution were already common among the Turkmen population before the latest outbreak, he said.
An employee of the ministry for nature management and environmental protection told IWPR that a government supervisory group on the emission of toxic chemicals exists only on paper and does nothing to control the import and use of toxins, pesticides and other dangerous substances.
Such lax regulations, combined with a lack of concrete information on the source of the mystery illness, have contributed to the growing sense of panic.
Doctors say the government will do nothing to calm the situation, saying the recent outbreak has joined the long list of illnesses they are forbidden from diagnosing including tuberculosis, hepatitis, typhoid, cancer and AIDS. The logic behind this directive, analysts say, is that if these diseases do not officially exist in Turkmenistan, there is no need to set money aside to combat them.
“Unfortunately, we have an unwritten taboo for a number of diagnoses, and in this case we must tell our patients that it is a flu epidemic,” said a family doctor at an Ashgabat clinic”.