MIXED REACTION TO TURKMEN BIRTHDAY BASH  Is the president acquiescent in a 
growing personality cult?  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 


THE COST OF PRIVATISING POWER IN KYRGYZSTAN  The legal obstacles to inviting 
foreign investors to complete an ambitious hydroelectric scheme have been 
overcome, but plenty of questions remain about the politics and economics of 
privatisation.  By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek 

HIV INFECTION TRIAL OFFERS LITTLE CLOSURE  Relatives of infected children 
furious at suspended sentences handed down to top health managers.  By Daur 
Dosybiev in Almaty 


entries to the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism is just two weeks 
away. Two annual prizes of $5,000 each are awarded - one to an international 
freelance print/internet-based reporter; and the second to a local journalist 
in the developing world. The deadline for receipt of emailed or posted entries 
is June 15th. 
The awards are being administered by IWPR, on behalf of the Kurt Schork 
Memorial Fund, with the two winners celebrated at an event to be held in London 
in November. A video of last year’s event hosted by Christiane Amanpour of CNN 
can be seen on IWPR’s website www.iwpr.net 
For details on how to apply electronically or by post, contact Alan Davis 
([EMAIL PROTECTED]) or click here 

closed in 2006, it donated its searchable Trial Reports Archive to IWPR in 
recognition of our own reporting work and to ensure these courtroom reports 
would remain available to the public. Milosevic and other ICTY Trial Reports as 
well as Sierra Leone Reports are now available at 

MIANEH is a new, independent web-based initiative run as a project by the 
Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, 
news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to 
those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant 
and dynamic society that is Iran today. Go to <http://www.mianeh.net/> to find 
out more.

NEW PODCAST: THIS WEEK ON IWPR A regular audio programme produced by IWPR US, 
highlighting IWPR news and analysis on issues of conflict, human rights and 
international justice, written by our contributors around the world. To listen 
to the programme or for details on how to subscribe see 

IRAQ PHOTO DIARIES, NIGHT RAIDS: Peter van Agtmael documents the late-night 
raids carried out by American and Iraqi troops against the homes of suspected 
insurgents. This series of photographs was awarded a 2nd place in the General 
News Stories category at the World Press Photo Awards in 2007. 

NEWS BRIEFING CENTRAL ASIA is a new concept in regional reporting, comprising 
analysis and “news behind the news” in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, 
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Available at: www.NBCentralAsia.net 

**** www.iwpr.net 

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA RSS: http://www.iwpr.net/en/rca/rss.xml 

TURKMEN RADIO: INSIDE VIEW is an IWPR radio training and broadcast project for 
Turkmenistan. View at: http://www.iwpr.net/?p=trk&s=p&o=-&apc_state=henh 

RECEIVE FROM IWPR: Readers are urged to subscribe to IWPR's full range of free 
electronic publications at: 

GIVE TO IWPR: IWPR is wholly dependent upon grants and donations. For more 
information about how you can support IWPR go to: 

**** www.iwpr.net 


Is the president acquiescent in a growing personality cult?

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

Five months after Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov was elected president of 
Turkmenistan, observers are still divided about whether he is serious about 
pursuing major reforms or is about to revert to the dictatorial style of his 
predecessor Saparmurat Niazov. 

Lavish celebrations held around Berdymuhammedov’s 50th birthday on June 28 have 
left analysts concerned that a new personality cult is taking hold. 

However, some local people interviewed by IWPR said the birthday celebrations 
were more muted than those held in Niazov’s time, so it is too early to see 
Berdymuhammedov as simply a repeat version of Turkmenbashi – the Leader of the 
Turkmen – as Niazov styled himself.

There were certainly many echoes of the old regime in evidence. Government 
ministries, agencies and firms sent long telegrams in praise of the president 
and held outdoor feasts in towns and villages. The newspapers were full of 
letters from “ordinary workers, pensioners and schoolchildren” praising the 
achievements of “our dear president” since he arrived in office.

To mark the president’s birthday, the government published a biography and the 
state news agency produced a book called “Elected and Empowered by the People”.

The celebrations culminated with a meeting of parliament, the Mejlis, which 
bestowed the Order of the Homeland on Berdymuhammedov. This decoration, which 
comes in the shape of a diamond-encrusted and gold medal and gold chain, can 
only be granted to presidents, and only once.

Parliament said that the award was in recognition of Berdymuhammedov’s 
contribution to “political, economic and cultural prosperity” and “the 
development of democracy” in Turkmenistan, but perhaps significantly, also for 
maintaining law and order and “social stability and cohesion”.

The country’s central bank also issued commemorative gold and silver coins 
bearing Berdymuhammedov’s image, which were produced specially by Britain’s 
Royal Mint.

Although the celebrations must have been planned well in advance, the president 
tried to distance himself from responsibility through ambivalent remarks.

“As an individual and as a citizen, I feel grateful, but as head of state I 
have no right to give orders on matters that concern me personally,” he said. 

Again, this is an uncomfortable reminder of the past. Niazov periodically 
called on his people to stop praising him – although this appeared to be the 
one order his officials consistently disobeyed. 

In another visible replication of Niazov’s once-ubiquitous presence, portraits 
of Berdymuhammedov have sprung up all over the place, in offices and as street 

While some argue that the president could easily stop the growth of a new 
personality cult, others say his entourage are mostly to blame.

“Of course the court sycophants are trying to get everything back to normal, so 
that everything reverts to the way it was under Turkmenbashi,” said a lecturer 
at Turkmenistan’s State University. “They write books about him and hang a gold 
chain around his neck.

“The officials want everything to go back to the old ways - they want to bow 
down and kiss the president’s hand – and keep on stealing. I think the 
personality cult – this new one as well as the old one one – is cultivated by 
officials at the highest level trying to use flattery and servility to stay in 
their cushy positions for as long as possible.” 

Some people praised the celebrations for being less over-the-top than those 
that took place during Niazov’s 16-year rule.

A schoolteacher in the eastern city of Turkmenabad recalled how under Niazov, 
teaching staff and children were forced to turn out for national holidays at 
any time of year. 

“In the height of summer the children would faint while in winter they froze as 
they stood for hours by the side of the road holding flags and posters and 
waiting for the president to drive by,” he said.

On this occasion, Berdymuhammedov’s birthday fell during the summer break, but 
neither teachers nor children were called back to participate in official 
celebrations. All that happened was that the head teacher sent a congratulatory 

“I think this approach to celebrating the president’s birthday is much more 
sensible and human,” said the teacher.

The university lecturer agreed that the general mood was beginning to be more 
normal, with less of the adulation that used to accompany media coverage of 
Niazov’s activities.

“Instead of showing endless songs and dances in praise of Turkmenbashi, the 
television channels have at last begun showing news that’s interesting to 
watch. [Russian and Kazak presidents] Putin and Nazarbaev visit our country, or 
our president goes somewhere,” he said. 

“On one occasion I couldn’t believe my eyes - the deputy chairman of Siemens 
was speaking on Turkmen television. I haven’t seen a foreigner talking on our 
TV channels for at least ten years.”

(Names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their security.)



The legal obstacles to inviting foreign investors to complete an ambitious 
hydroelectric scheme have been overcome, but plenty of questions remain about 
the politics and economics of privatisation.

By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek 

With the way now open for a sell-off of major power stations in Kyrgyzstan, 
some politicians are alarmed at the prospect of ceding much of the country’s 
energy industry to foreign owners.

To complicate matters, the hydroelectric scheme which forms the centrepiece of 
the denationalisation process – two linked power stations called Kambarata-1 
and -2 – is only half-built, and analysts say the immense investment needed to 
complete the work means it will be a long time before anyone earns a penny from 

The breakthrough came on June 19, when the Kyrgyz parliament passed a bill 
sanctioning allowing foreign investors to come in, take control and finish work 
on the Kambarata plants. Privatisation of the country’s largest conventional 
power station was also part of the package. 

The scale and significance of the Kambarata project can be judged from its 
anticipated generating capacity, which at six billion kilowatt hours a year 
equals about half the country’s current total production of 13 billion kW/hours 
a year. 

But Kyrgyzstan has no pressing need to generate such massive amounts of 
electricity for its own needs; its high mountains provide enough water to run 
hydropower plants that produce 80 per cent of the power generated in the 
country. The Kambarata scheme is instead designed to produce energy for export 
to neighbouring states, and once completed is expected to more than double the 
amount of power Kyrgyzstan currently sells abroad.

However attractive the project may look on paper, members of the Kyrgyz 
parliament have been very reluctant to give the final go-ahead. They have 
argued that the action taken on privatisation to date has been flawed, and 
voiced concerns that Kyrgyzstan might lose control over its major cost-free 
asset – water. 

On May 28, faced with having to make a decision, parliament decided to hold off 
for a month and continue discussing the issue. After a no vote on June 15, 
President Kurmanbek Bakiev stepped in, appearing in parliament in person to 
urge members to change their mind. 

Addressing members on June 19, he suggested that there was no option but to 
invest in the future, rather than depending on existing power stations. 

“The hydroelectricity sector is our principal national resource, our main 
hope,” he said. “Nothing has been done to develop the sector. The [existing] 
Toktogul plants are our only energy asset, and we have exploited them without 
upgrading them or even repairing them.”

Bakiev pledged that the privatisation process would be transparent from now on, 
and said members of parliament would be invited to sit on the boards reviewing 

To convince legislators that his government was serious, Bakiev said it would 
be working with United Energy Systems, UES, of Russia and Kazakstan’s KazKuat 
to prepare a feasibility study on Kambarata.

With some opposition members absent, parliament passed the legislation the same 


The vote may proved to have been the watershed moment in a long-drawn-out and 
controversial privatisation. The government launched a denationalisation 
programme for what was then a single, state-owned electricity network called 
Kyrgyzenergo as long ago as 1998, after the bulk of other state-owned 
industries had already passed into private hands. 

As a first step, the firm was transformed into a joint-stock company, with the 
state retaining a 94 per cent stake. Kyrgyzenergo was subsequently broken up 
into several components, some earmarked for privatisation while others like the 
national grid company were destined to remain in government hands. 

Outstanding questions for the final phase of privatisation involve how exactly 
the state will divest itself of the Kambarata and Bishkek plants – through an 
outright sale of stock in the companies (although the government will retain a 
share), or some kind of concession or lease arrangement. 


Opponents of privatisation fear a loss of control over water resources and 
electricity production. They see further scope for corruption in the 
privatisation process, and warn that domestic energy prices could skyrocket if 
the market is commercialised. 

In an article published by the Jamestown Foundation, a United States-based 
think tank, Central Asia analyst Erica Marat said the hydroelectric industry 
was “plagued by large-scale corruption”, an issue which had become a matter for 
public debate after the March 2005 revolution. 

“Due to elaborate pyramid schemes benefiting only a select few in the sector, 
Kyrgyzstan collects only 30 per cent of payments due for its hydropower 
generation, while rough estimates indicate that more than 40 million US dollars 
in profit is embezzled every year,” said Marat.

Legislators like Omurbek Tekebaev, a former speaker of parliament now in the 
opposition, say clear rules must be laid down now to avoid storing up problems 
for the future. 

“Five years after this law is passed, Kyrgyzstan will probably reap some 
benefits, including new workplaces and industrial growth. However, in 10 or 15 
years, the country could completely lose control over its water resources,” he 
said. “Without clearly stipulated mechanisms, we cannot allow foreign or even 
domestic investors to participate in the construction of such an important 

During the debate, other deputies pointed to earlier energy privatisations of 
the early Nineties which led to prices rising and electricity being cut off to 
people who were unable to pay. 

A group of deputies from the Union of Democratic Forces is to challenge the law 
in Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Court, on the grounds that they dispute that a 
quorum of 50 members was present in parliament the day the vote took place. 


Even if privatisation goes smoothly, there are questions about the economic 
assumptions underlying the Kambarata project. 

First, the projected investment sums are staggering – at around 2.5 billion US 
dollars, the cost is more than three times the country’s annual gross domestic 

Despite this, some politicians such as Almanbet Matubraimov say Kyrgyzstan 
could raise the money itself. He proposes a share flotation scheme where the 
Kyrgyz public would become shareholders.

Given that the money required is more than Kyrgyzstan’s entire current external 
debt, the government clearly believes strategic investors, probably foreign, 
are the only likely funders. 

A second issue is that assuming someone is willing to come up with the money 
and the two Kambarata plants are built, it will be a long time before investors 
get their money back – 30 years, according to some estimates. 

Sapar Orozbakov, director of the Bishkek Center for Economic Analysis, says the 
estimated cost of generating electricity at the Kambarata scheme will be far 
higher than the regional market can sustain.

The World Bank has cited a figure of 8.5 or nine US cents per kilowatt-hour, a 
cost that compares very unfavourably with the 1.1 cent per kW/hour that 
Kyrgyzstan now charges its neighbours, he said. 

The big hydroelectric schemes that neighbouring Tajikistan is planning on the 
river Vakhsh look a much safer bet, since the electricity they generate is 
expected to cost no more than two cents per kilowatt/hour.

“The Kambarata power stations work out as uncompetitive when compared with the 
Rogun plant in Tajikistan and others,” said Orozbakov.

The high cost of Kambarata electricity comes down to the major investment 
needed to get the plants working. “The construction costs are immense and it 
will take eight to ten years to complete the work – a very long time,” he said.


Work on the Kambarata plants began in the Soviet period when such giant 
projects made sense because they benefited whole economic regions rather than 
individual republics. Like the existing Toktogul power plant and associated 
large reservoir, and also a number of smaller hydropower schemes, Kambarata is 
located on the river Naryn, a major tributary of the Syr Darya. 

The Syr Darya is one of Central Asia’s two great rivers, running through 
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to Kazakstan, and it is a major source of irrigation 
water for these three countries. 

The way the Kyrgyz manage the Toktogul dam has been a major bone of contention 
with the Uzbeks and Kazaks, who need large amounts of water to flow downstream 
in spring and summer. By contrast, the Kyrgyz need to generate extra 
electricity over the cold winter months, requiring water to be dammed up over 
the summer and then released from the reservoir late in the year. This can 
cause winter flooding and summer water shortages for their neighbours . 

This imbalance is in theory addressed by annual agreements under which the 
Uzbeks and Kazaks supply coal, oil and gas to fuel Kyrgyzstan’s conventional 
power stations in return for water being retained in the Toktogul reservoir. 

But these arrangements are often troubled – for example, the deal for the 
forthcoming year was due to be signed on June 15, but it did not happen. Four 
days later, the monopoly power station company in Kyrgyzstan, Elektricheskie 
Stantsii, issued a warning that because of the need to build up reservoir 
levels to generate electricity, it might not be able to supply all the water 
that its neighbours will need next year. 

There have been repeated calls for a long-term regional water and energy 
strategy to address the differences between electricity producers Kyrgyzstan 
and Tajikistan and water consumers Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but 
this has yet to materialise. 

Although the Kambarata power stations will add extra obstacles on the Naryn’s 
course, this will not necessarily change the current pattern of water flows to 
Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. The new plants will be located further up the river 
from Toktogul, so the water they release will first flow down into the 
reservoir, where it can be accumulated and regulated as is now the case. 


The costs may be off-putting to most commercial investors, but some regional 
governments may still be prepared to back the scheme for broader economic and 
political reasons. 

“The cascade [of power plants] at Kambarata makes it possible to manage the 
flow of water in the region,” said Tajik political analyst Parviz Mullojanov. 
“Whoever owns them will control the whole Central Asian region.” 

Kyrgyzstan already exports electricity to Russia and China as well as 
Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

China has a seemingly insatiable appetite for energy sources, as seen in its 
interest in Central Asia’s oil and gas. 

Russia is also interested in cheap electricity, while the Kremlin has its own 
political reasons for seeking greater influence over strategic economic assets 
in Kyrgyzstan. The electricity giant UES is already involved in the feasibility 
study for Kambarata, while another Russian firm, Rinko Holding, submitted a 
proposal to the Kyrgyz government last month for a 3.2 billion dollar package 
that would include an aluminium plant and a power station to run it. 

Finally, Kazakstan is not only keen on Kyrgyz electricity, but also on having 
some say over seasonal water levels in the Syr Darya. 

According to Orozbakov, “Kazakhstan’s interest is quite obvious – it would like 
to have access to water flows control. Other countries, apparently, have purely 
geopolitical interests.”

Political analyst Turat Akimov says that once investors start lining up to bid 
for the project, there will inevitably be questions about whether existing 
electricity grids are reliable and powerful enough to allow increased exports – 
not to mention who would pay if new transmission lines had to be laid, for 
example to China or south to the Indian subcontinent.

“Investors will never come in where there might be risks,” added economic 
commentator Bazarbay Mambetov. “The risk here relates to where the electricity 
generated by Kambarata-1 and -2 will go.”

Although the deadlock over the privatisation law has now been broken, President 
Bakiev will struggle to balance broader geopolitical interests against 
continuing objections from his political opponents, especially in light of the 
uncertain projections for Kambarata as a revenue-earner, 

For politician Matubraimov, who would prefer to see Kambarata backed by 
domestic funds, the key thing is to ensure Kyrgyzstan does not sell its vital 
interests along with its assets. 

“Both the president and the government are in a difficult position, of course, 
since they are under pressure from neighbouring states which are economically 
more advanced. But we should pursue our own national interest on this matter.” 

Jipara Abdrakhmanova is an independent journalist in Bishkek.


Relatives of infected children furious at suspended sentences handed down to 
top health managers. 

By Daur Dosybiev in Almaty 

A major trial of health professionals accused of allowing HIV-contaminated 
blood to be given in transfusions to young children in Kazakstan has left the 
parents of infected children angry because neither of the top officials charged 
in the case will serve prison terms. 

Doctors lower down the ladder feel they are being blamed for the poor 
management endemic to the health sector, and say they are now afraid to carry 
out medical interventions for fear of being hauled up for malpractice. 

The trial, which began in early January this year, saw 21 doctors and health 
service managers from the South Kazakstan region accused of professional 
negligence, as well as taking bribes and misappropriating funds. Among them 
were regional health chief Nursulu Tasmagambetova and Rysulbek Baykharashev, 
who headed the region’s committee that monitors the quality of medical 

Tasmagambetova is Baykharashev’s wife and the sister of Imangali Tasmagambetov, 
a former prime minister who is now mayor of Almaty, Kazakstan’s commercial 

The case unfolded last year as large numbers of children in the region suddenly 
began to be diagnosed with HIV. That figure now stands at 133 people including 
119 children, ten of whom have died. 

The issue became a national scandal and the Kazak government sent in 
investigators to establish the origin of the infection, which proved to be a 
number of hospitals and health centres in and around the provincial centre, 
Shymkent. The investigation led to the resignations of Health Minister Yerbolat 
Dosaev and South Kazakstan regional governor Bolat Jylkishiev.

In its June 29 verdict, the court in Shymkent found that all 21 were guilty of 
professional negligence and three of them also of taking bribes. Judges handed 
down prison sentences of between two and eight years to 16 doctors.

However, all the officials who were charged – Tasmagambetova and Baykharashev 
plus three of their deputies – walked free after being given suspended 
sentences. Tasmagambetova has said she does not regard herself as guilty. 

This decision infuriated parents and relatives of the children infected with 
the HIV virus while being treated in Shymkent.

“We are dissatisfied that the former health department head Tasmagambetova was 
given a suspended sentence,” said Sagdat Masaurov, whose grandchild was 
infected and who now heads a charity called Protecting Children From AIDS.

“When the verdict was delivered, some of the parents became hysterical; some 
even fainted. We are angry that [they] have avoided going to prison…. We will 
appeal, although we no longer hope for a fair verdict.”

Doctors in Shymkent dispute the official story that the virus was spread by 
reusable instruments contaminated by a small original amount of blood from an 
HIV-infected child who was treated at a city hospital in 2005. Many believe all 
the infections occurred from a contaminated consignment of donor blood. 

“The most frightening thing is that the source and channels of the HIV virus 
infection have not been established,” said Shokan Baimukhamedov, a doctor at 
South Kazakstan’s regional hospital. “According to the official version, there 
were one or two HIV-infected doses of blood, and then doctors infected children 
in several hospitals simultaneously with reusable catheters and needles. But 
HIV is a very short-lived virus, and I don’t believe it is possible to infect 
[so many] people in this way.”

Journalist Yelena Yeliseyeva, who has written extensively about the case, sees 
a number of inconsistencies in the official account set out during the trial, 
which holds that infection via contamination of medical instruments took place 
at just three institutions – at South Kazakstan regional hospital in late 2995, 
and at two children’s hospitals in Shymkent in 2006.

Yeliseyeva believes that this story begins to look questionable when one 
considers that several of the infected children were treated at hospitals other 
than these three. She notes that during the trial, defendants complained about 
the official account on the grounds that it contained inaccurate information 
about where and when individual children were treated. 

“This account is not proof, it is conjecture - and rather arbitrary conjecture 
at that – to the effect that the children infected each other via medical 
instruments,” said Yeliseyeva. 

Meanwhile, doctors in South Kazakstan feel that their colleagues have been 
punished more severely than their superiors, and that the profession is being 
blamed for what, in their eyes, are failings of management. 

About 300 of them signed an open letter to the government and international 
medical associations saying that the convicted doctors had been made the 
“scapegoats” for everything that it is wrong with Kazakstan’s healthcare system.

Dr Baimukhamedov says his colleagues are now reluctant to give blood 
transfusions, and many are moving away from Shymkent.

“There are virtually no emergency paediatric doctors left,” he said. “Three are 
in jail, and two more resigned when they saw how their colleagues were dealt 
with. Who will treat these children now?”

The head of the intensive care unit at one of the children’s hospitals named in 
the official account added, “I doubt I’ll work in intensive care or in medicine 
in general any more, although we have a serious shortage of specialists at the 

At the end of last week, 80 doctors in South Kazakstan publicly handed in their 
resignations as a collective protest over the way the trial was handled. 

Daur Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Almaty.

**** www.iwpr.net 

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, 
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly 

The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, 
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better 
local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The 
service is published online in English and Russian. 

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and 
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal 
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Programme Manager: Saule 
Mukhametrakhimova; Editor in Bishkek: Kumar Bekbolotov.

IWPR Project Development and Support: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; 
Strategy & Assessment Director: Alan Davis; Managing Director: Tim Williams.

**** www.iwpr.net 

IWPR builds democracy at the frontlines of conflict and change through the 
power of professional journalism. IWPR programs provide intensive hands-on 
training, extensive reporting and publishing, and ambitious initiatives to 
build the capacity of local media. Supporting peace-building, development and 
the rule of law, IWPR gives responsible local media a voice.

Institute for War & Peace Reporting
48 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1030  Fax: +44 (0)20 7831 1050

For further details on this project and other information services and media 
programmes, go to: www.iwpr.net 

ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2007 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting 

**** www.iwpr.net 

If you wish to change your subscription details or unsubscribe please go to:  

Reply via email to