WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 485, 7 March 2007

WILL TURKMENISTAN REJOIN CENTRAL ASIA?  Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz all 
have something to gain from a warmer relationship with post-Niazov 
Turkmenistan.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

EX-LEADER’S DAUGHTER CONSIDERS COMEBACK IN KYRGYZSTAN  Controversy as Bermet 
Akaeva is nominated for parliament.  By Akylbek Isanov in Bishkek 

TAJIK MUSEUM COLLECTIONS UNDER THREAT  Art and antiquities vulnerable to 
thieves, damp and bookworms.  By Ravshan Abdullaev and Anora Sarkorova in 
Dushanbe 

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WILL TURKMENISTAN REJOIN CENTRAL ASIA?

Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz all have something to gain from a warmer 
relationship with post-Niazov Turkmenistan.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

Turkmenistan’s Central Asian neighbours are hoping their relationships with 
Ashgabat will improve under the new president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, 
after years of isolation within the region. 

Even before Berdymuhammedov was elected on February 11, he had flagged up 
policy changes in a number of areas while pledging to honour the country’s 
international and commercial commitments.

Following his February 14 inauguration, Berdymuhammedov met Russian prime 
minister Mikhail Fradkov to assure him that gas exports – the bulk of which go 
to Russia – would be unaffected by the leadership change. 

Governments and members of the public in other Central Asian countries – 
particularly Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, which have common borders with 
Turkmenistan – will now be watching to see whether Ashgabat wants to move 
towards a friendlier relationship. 

The late president Saparmurat Niazov, who died of heart failure in December, 
distanced his country from the rest of Central Asia as part of his declared 
policy of neutrality. In practice, that meant Turkmenistan opted out of 
regional attempts at consolidation such as the Eurasian Economic Community, 
making it hard to coordinate on practical matters such as water management and 
customs controls, let alone foster economic cooperation. Turkmenistan even 
introduced a visa requirement for visitors from all its neighbours, the only 
Central Asian state to do so. 

Askar Nursha of the Strategic Studies Institute, which operates under the Kazak 
president’s office, notes that this tendency was underlined last August when 
Niazov announced he was downgrading his country’s membership of the 
Commonwealth of Independent States – the broadest and oldest of the various 
Russian-led regional groupings – to associate status. 

Nursha is convinced that despite Berdymuhammedov’s pledge to uphold his 
predecessor’s non-alignment policy, he is likely to seek better relations with 
the neighbouring Central Asian states. 

“There will be a window of opportunity for bilateral cooperation to get back to 
normal,” he said.

For Kazakstan, there are obvious benefits in teaming up with the region’s other 
great energy producer. They are not direct competitors – the Kazaks mainly 
produce oil while Turkmen resources are mostly natural gas – and working 
together would make export pipeline projects much more commercially viable.

As part of a strategy of diversifying its gas export routes, Turkmenistan has 
penned agreements to supply natural gas to China. This will require the 
construction of an eastward route through Kazakstan, perhaps using stretches of 
existing pipeline. 

Better Kazak-Turkmen relations will also enhance the chances of building the 
Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, TCGP – a project which would involve an underwater 
route taking gas to Azerbaijan and on to Turkey and European markets. After 
years in which it seemed an unlikely prospect, that project now looks set to 
take on a new lease of life, and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov 
was in Astana this week to discuss options for the TCGP. 

In both cases, Kazakstan’s clout as an energy producer could help Turkmenistan 
break free of geographical and political constraints. But as Gulnur 
Rahmatullina of Kazakstan’s Strategic Studies Institute pointed out, having 
Turkmen support will benefit Astana, too. 

A plan to export Kazak oil south via Turkmen territory to Iran has had 
expressions of interest from Japanese and French firms, despite the obvious 
problem that the United States – an important player in the Kazak energy sector 
- would react with hostility. 

“It’s very important for Kazakstan to solve the problem of diversifying its 
energy exports, so there are several points of contact with Turkmenistan 
including the Kazak-Turkmen-Iranian oil pipeline and the TCGP,” said 
Rahmatullina.

Nursha said the Kazak government is also hoping the change of leadership in 
Kazakstan will help unblock the long-running dispute over how to divide up the 
Caspian Sea. Ministers from the five littoral states met in the Iranian capital 
Tehran on February 27-28 in an effort to bring the negotiations closer to a 
conclusion. 

Energy will also be an important factor in any future Turkmen rapprochement 
with Uzbekistan, itself a major gas producer. In this case, the Turkmen need 
Tashkent’s assent for gas to transit Uzbek territory to reach Tajikistan and 
Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan’s hopes of buying Turkmen gas to supplement purchases 
from Uzbekistan were high on the agenda when President Imomali Rahmonov met 
Berdymuhammedov in Ashgabat on February 14.

Khodi Abdujabbor, a political analyst in Dushanbe, said Tajikistan would be a 
ready market for Turkmen gas, but he acknowledged that Uzbekistan’s agreement 
was crucial. This is likely to take time – RFE/RL reported that a Tajik mission 
to Tashkent this week failed to secure a breakthrough on the issue. 

Aside from energy questions, many Uzbeks living along the long border with 
Turkmenistan are eagerly awaiting a thaw in relations between the two 
governments, which have been frosty since Niazov accused Tashkent of assisting 
an assassination attempt against him in November 2002. 

People on either side of the border – many of whom have relations on the other 
side and earn a living from cross-border trade as well as smuggling – have 
found life increasingly difficult as the Turkmen authorities tried to seal off 
the frontier. Turkmen border guards have shot and killed alleged smugglers in a 
number of incidents.

“My daughter is married to a Turkmen man and lives in Turkmenistan, which makes 
it very difficult for us to see her,” said a 70-year-old woman from Karakul, a 
town in western Uzbekistan. “Under the laws of the two countries, she can only 
spend five days a month here. She can make a second visit within the month only 
to attend a wedding or funeral. 

According to an Uzbek analyst who did not want to be named, cross-border 
traders are looking forward to an easing of the regulations. “They know that 
[at least] things won’t deteriorate further, and are hoping for a boom in 
border trade,” he said.

This analyst believes Berdymuhammedov’s pledges to reform certain domestic 
policies could soon be extended to its foreign relationships, too. 

“The country will benefit internationally by showing that it has good relations 
with its neighbours,” he said. “The new president is slowly beginning to do a 
lot of positive things, and this inspires confidence in him.”

For the moment, leaders in Tashkent and Ashgabat have yet to make conciliatory 
noises in public. Unlike Kazakstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, President Islam 
Karimov did not attend Berdymuhammedov’s inauguration, sending the speaker of 
parliament instead. 

But as an Uzbekistan-based commentator said, “If Karimov treats Berdymuhammedov 
with more respect [than he had for Niazov], the situation will change very 
rapidly for the better.” 

Like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan is hoping that the wind of change will make it 
possible to discuss energy imports from Turkmenistan. 

“Cooperation on energy would benefit Kyrgyzstan, with deliveries of oil and gas 
from Turkmenistan,” said Nurdin Abdyldaev, a member of the Kyrgyz parliament. 
“We could export [in return] Kyrgyz glass, agricultural equipment, and 
manufacturing products.”

Meeting Kyrgyz State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov at the inauguration ceremony, 
Berdymuhammadov opened the door to cooperation on education. President Niazov 
made it increasingly difficult for Turkmen citizens to study abroad, but his 
successor has indicated that this policy will be quietly reversed.

“The Turkmen president said he would like school-leavers to [be able to] study 
at Kyrgyz universities, which enjoy quite a high reputation in the region,” 
said Asein Isaev, director of CIS affairs at the Kyrgyz foreign ministry. 

“We are similar Turkic-speaking peoples, we have a shared history, and it would 
be good to maintain this.”


EX-LEADER’S DAUGHTER CONSIDERS COMEBACK IN KYRGYZSTAN

Controversy as Bermet Akaeva is nominated for parliament.

By Akylbek Isanov in Bishkek 

A return to frontline politics could be in the works for the daughter of Askar 
Akaev after residents in the former president’s hometown nominated her to run 
in an upcoming by-election.

Bermet Akaeva arrived in Kyrgyzstan on March 5 to meet with supporters in the 
northeastern Kemin district. She is there to weigh up her chances of success in 
the April 29 election after being nominated as a candidate by a little-known 
women’s committee in Kemin. 

Kemin is an Akaev family stronghold, and the seat she may contest is the one 
vacated by her brother Aidar when the family fled Kyrgyzstan for Russia 
following the March 2005 revolution.

Analysts are speculating that this nomination could be the first step towards 
political rehabilitation for the Akaev family.

Known as the “Kyrgyz Princess”, Akaeva worked as an advisor to her father, then 
founded and led the pro-presidential party Alga Kyrgyzstan, which won the most 
votes in the 2005 parliamentary election that sparked the revolution. She 
herself won a parliamentary seat in Bishkek’s university district, but in the 
months following the regime change, she was stripped of that victory by the 
Central Election Commission, which alleged fraud.

Announcing the nomination on February 21, the women’s committee chair Lira 
Termechikova, told journalists, “She is our fellow countrywoman. She is 
educated, cultured and most importantly she is courageous and carries weight in 
society.”

Added group member Anara Abdrakhmonova, “We want to ask her - no, we demand 
that she return to us and stand for election here.”

Akaeva must register as a candidate by March 19, and if she did run would be up 
against stiff opposition including the former interior minister Keneshbek 
Duishebaev.

Another potential obstacle is a change to the election code introduced by her 
father before the 2005 poll that all prospective members of parliament must 
have lived permanently in Kyrgyzstan for the last five years. That stipulation 
has now been removed from the Kyrgyz constitution, but remains in the election 
code that will govern the April by-election. The code does allow would-be 
parliamentarians to spend up to six months a year abroad, and Akaeva may argue 
that she is within these rules and thus eligible.

Observers interviewed by IWPR say she would have a good chance of winning in 
Kemin.

“She is a native of Kemin, she has political weight and she’s already shown 
herself to be an independent politician. She does not bear responsibility for 
her family, especially as two years have already passed since March,” said 
analyst Sergei Masaulov.

“In Kyrgyzstan, people who reach the level of national politics traditionally 
do not leave it. Everyone stays in the loop – they all come back, and return to 
the surface somehow or another,” he told IWPR.

Deputy Bolotbek Sherniyazov is sure Akaeva will do well in the vote. “Anyone 
from the Akaev family will win in Kemin. The entire Kemin clan will unite 
around her and try to get into power,” he said.

Political analyst Alexander Knyazev believes the disillusionment that many 
Kyrgyz feel about the performance of Akaev’s successors could also help pave 
the way for Akaeva’s return. 

“Not just in Kemin, but all over Kyrgyzstan there has been great disappointment 
in the wake of the events of March 2005,” Knyazev told IWPR. “Human memory has 
the tendency to see the past in a positive light. Even objectively, the period 
since March has been no better than the preceding one. But under Akaev there 
was at least predictability and stability.

“If the revolutionaries who brought about the coup had offered anything 
positive to society, the attitude to the Akaevs would be different, but they 
have only made things worse.”

Not surprisingly, however, an advisor to President Kurmanbek Bakiev roundly 
dismissed the possibility that the ex-president could be rehabilitated.

“Askar Akaev should be convicted, and Kyrgyzstan society must make sure this 
happens. He robbed the country, and where is the retribution for this?” said 
Bakiev’s advisor Bolot Shamshiev.

It is this animosity from the current regime that could scupper Akaeva’s 
parliamentary hopes, says one analyst, Tamerlan Ibragimov, the director of the 
Centre for Political and Legal Studies. He expects the authorities in Kemin to 
do their best to ensure Akaeva does not win.

“Bermet is a person who is well-off and known in the country, but [the] local 
administration will work against her,” said Ibragimov.

Opposition deputies and human rights groups expressed dismay that Akaeva could 
end up back in parliament if the women of Kemin get their way.

Member of parliament Kabai Karabekov believes she is partly responsible for 
Kyrgyzstan’s troubles. “It’s no secret that the Alga Kyrgyzstan party was her 
brainchild, and the methods by which candidates from this party got into 
parliament were the main thing that prompted the events which shook the country 
on March 24, 2005,” said Karabekov.

The director of the human rights centre Citizens Against Corruption doubts the 
people of Kyrgyzstan are ready to forget the past. “Akaev and his family should 
understand that the people of Kyrgyzstan will never forgive him for the 
policies that he pursued for almost 15 years,” said Tolekan Ismailova. 

“Akaev should not think about returning to the country, but rather about how he 
could help Kyrgyzstan while he is in Moscow.”

However, Ismailova worries that Akaeva’s return is inevitable. “Akaev has a lot 
of money, and as long as he does he, will call the tune in politics,” she said. 

But deputy Omurbek Tekebaev questions why Akaeva has to get involved in 
politics at all.

“There are a lot of spheres outside politics,” he said. “Given the political 
situation today, it is not desirable that members of the former or current 
president’s family take part in parliamentary elections,” he said.

Akylbek Isanov is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


TAJIK MUSEUM COLLECTIONS UNDER THREAT 

Art and antiquities vulnerable to thieves, damp and bookworms. 

By Ravshan Abdullaev and Anora Sarkorova in Dushanbe 

Unique collections of art and museum pieces in Tajikistan are slowly 
deteriorating because there is no money to conserve them. The lack of funding 
for security also leaves museums wide open to theft.

Museum directors and historians have told IWPR that they cannot protect the 
collections of Oriental manuscripts, Tajik antiquities and western art that 
they hold, let alone make new acquisitions. 

The Institute for Oriental Studies and Manuscripts holds many priceless books 
from Central Asia’s past, in a collection put together during the Soviet 
period. 

Alongside finely-bound medieval Persian and Arabic writings, the collection has 
two volumes of the Torah handwritten on 25-metre parchment scrolls, believed to 
have been produced by the ancient Jewish community in this region. 

The manuscripts are stored in a basement – a legacy of Soviet paranoia about 
possible nuclear strikes. But the poor ventilation is damaging the pages, and 
temperature control equipment dating from the Fifties is erratic, so that 
scholars fear the documents could become damaged beyond repair. 

“The books need to have their pages turned at least once a year,” said 
Amiryazdon Alimardonov, an orientalist who has worked at the institute for the 
last 40 years. “We have just five employees for the 6,000 books in the 
manuscript collection. It’s physically impossible to do it.”

The Soviet laboratories that used to treat and conserve documents have long 
closed.

Worms are another serious threat to old manuscripts. “They eat the books, and 
in time it will be impossible to read the manuscripts,” said Alimardonov. 
“Scholars are powerless against the march of time.”

On a salary of 40 US dollars a month, Alimardonov said he was the highest-paid 
person working at the institute, so it is no surprise that few graduates choose 
this as a career option. 

Despite repeated appeals to the government, the state-run institute continues 
to receive only the most basic running costs. It does not even have the money 
to send manuscripts to Iran, where experts have offered to help with 
conservation. 

Nor can the institute afford new acquisitions, even though manuscript regularly 
emerge from private ownership “People bring books and offer to sell them cheap 
because they are so poverty-stricken,” said Alimardonov. “But we are like 
beggars – we cannot find 100 dollars to buy a manuscrips.”

Over at the Behzod Museum, a collection of some 40,000 paintings is also 
suffering from the ravages of time.

“The museum does not have enough funding, and the collections are in a terrible 
state,” said Georgy Mamedov, head of the local branch of Restorers Without 
Borders, a group which has been helping the musueum with restoration projects.

Once again, basement storage is a big problem, with temperature change and 
moisture posing threats. 

With no money to install good surveillance systems or hire guards, museums 
collections also face the more immediate threat of theft. Many of items on 
exhibit or in storage would find a ready market on the illicit art market 
abroad. 

When an 18th century German painting disappeared from the Behzod museum two 
years ago, it was some time before anyone noticed that it had gone, despite its 
large size and central position in the exhibition. 

Police investigators believe the painting has been taken out of Tajikistan, and 
there is little hope it will ever resurface. 

A museum in Hissar west of Dushanbe recently lost 40 exhibits, mostly items of 
women’s jewellery. 

Safar Shosaidov of Tajikistan’s culture ministry was unable to put a price on 
the stolen items, saying “they are primarily of cultural and historical value 
to us”.

In both the above cases, investigators have said poor security arrangements 
facilitated the robberies. 

Although guards at the Hissar museum are not being blamed for the theft, 
Shosaidov said the fact that they were paid a paltry seven dollars a month 
could hardly have improved security.

“If we paying such wages, we cannot guarantee the safety of museum exhibits. 
That’s true of all museums in this country,” he said. 

One option might be to hire uniformed policemen to moonlight, but Shosaidov 
said they would charge far too much

Remarkably, the German painting and the Hissar jewellery are the only two 
museum thefts to have been reported to the police in the last 14 years, 
according to Tuychi Musoev, who heads the interior ministry department for 
crimes involving state-owned property.

Although Musoev sees this as a sign that Tajikistan is not yet plagued by 
organised art robbers, some suspect that minor pilfering is going on unnoticed. 
A cynical view expressed by some is that the only reason more is not stolen is 
that people are generally ignorant of the treasures housed in the nation’s 
museums. 

UNESCO, which held a meeting on museum conservation in Dushanbe at the end of 
January, has launched a project to assist the Behzod Museum and the Museum of 
Ethnography to care for and document their collections.

But low levels of government funding in the face of more pressing social needs 
are likely to be an enduring problem. Mamedov offer a different solution – 
private donors from the emerging business community. 

“There are now monied people in this society,” he says. “People who receive 
more from society should also give more back.” 

Mamedov recommends passing legislation to allow museums to seek support from 
institutions and private patrons. In the end, though, he says incentives can 
only go so far and much will depend on people’s “selfless intentions”.

Ravshan Abdullaev is an IWPR contributor and Anora Sarkorova a BBC contributor 
in Dushanbe.


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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
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