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Posted by admin on 2005/4/22 18:00:00 (1006 reads)

President Saparmurat Niazov has added public libraries to the long list of things banned in Turkmenistan – a bitter blow to many in the Central Asian republic who say their last window on the world has been slammed shut.

Turkmen have grown used to living without opera, ballet, cinemas and even circuses – all forbidden by Niazov – but they say his decision to close all libraries cuts especially deep.

Olga told IWPR she regularly took her 12-year-old son to the central library in Ashgabat, where he seemed inspired to read.

“The library has a completely different spirit, a different atmosphere which gives rise to a thirst for knowledge,” she said.

“Now I'm afraid our children won't be interested in anything except futile street activities, so they will lack a basic familiarity with the works of the great writers and poets of world literature. Because of the closure of the libraries, they have been deprived of this opportunity."

A 60-year-old pensioner from Ashgabat said the library provided a welcome chance to socialise with friends and discuss the books they’d read.

“Now we've been deprived of that too,” she said. “I used to come to our district library and get out various books several times a week. You could also read a selection of magazines here, which I couldn’t afford to buy on my meagre pension.”

Various NGOs including Human Rights Watch and the International Helsinki Federation have protested the late February decision by Niazov – known as Turkmenbashi, or father of all Turkmen – to shut down the libraries.

His explanation at a meeting of cabinet ministers was simple, “No one goes to libraries and reads books anyway.” Also problematic appears to be the fact that most literature in Turkmenistan’s libraries is printed in Cyrillic. Since 1996, schools have been teaching in a Latin-based alphabet.

Only the national library appears to have escaped the purge, so, according to Niazov, it can house new Turkmen literature as well as historical texts.

The president said any more libraries are unnecessary as most books that Turkmen need – many written by Niazov himself – should already be in homes, workplaces and schools.

Those include the Niazov-penned Rukhnama – a spiritual treatise that is the basis of the country’s education system - poems written by the president as well biographies of him and his parents. A recent addition to the school curriculum is the “Source of Wisdom”, a book for secondary school students with excerpts in alphabetical order from Niazov’s three greatest poetic works.

“To read all these books it is not necessary to go to the library as all these books should be close at hand for everyone,” Niazov said.

The order to close the libraries came during the cotton harvest under the pretext the buildings were being renovated or inventories done. However, libraries have long been out of favour with the president and this was just an excuse, analysts believe.

In the late 1990s, he ordered classics of Turkmen literature written by authors including Berdy Kerbabaev, Rakhim Esenov, Beki Seitakov, Tirkish Jumageldyev, Khydyr Deryaev and Nurmurad Sarykhanov pulled from the shelves and burned.

A literature professor at an Ashgabat university said these writers fell out of favour with the president because “they describe the material and spiritual contribution of Soviet republics to the culture of the Turkmen people, their spiritual enrichment and the formation of the Turkmen land”.

Crucially, these works contradict Turkmenbashi’s own writings, particularly his most important work, the Rukhnama, which denies any influence by civilisation, science or culture on the development of the Turkmen people. It also says the Turkmen invented the wheel and writing.

Observers worry about the effect this information vacuum is having on Turkmen and warn of mass ignorance of the people, especially among the younger generation who are deprived of the opportunity to learn about the modern world.

Though universities still have libraries, the supplies of books have not been updated for ten years while many works on history, literature and biology have been removed and destroyed.

Bookshops elegantly display the president’s works, but no other literature is sold.

Bringing books into the country privately has become almost impossible as the government has set high customs duties on the import of printed material.

Certain magazines including Cosmopolitan are available from private shops and stalls but since June 2002 subscriptions to foreign periodicals have been prohibited.

Access to the web is expensive and limited and as a result most young people have never heard of the internet.

One Turkmen observer said, “The plans announced at the dawn of independence to remove communist ideology from national education have ended with government programmes becoming even more ideological.

“But now the ideology is different, with scientifically unfounded historical, social and political theses declared by the authorities of the country which go directly against historical facts.”

April 22, 2005

Posted by admin on 2005/3/23 18:05:00 (1005 reads)

There are no political prisoners in Turkmenistan, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said at a press conference summing up the outcomes of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's visit to Ashgabat.

"We do not have people arrested for political reasons. There are several people, wanted criminals, who stay abroad under the guise of refugees and spread filthy rumors," he said.

"Don't believe all that written rubbish," Niyazov said.

Yushchenko said at the press conference, "Democracy, freedom, and liberty are not just empty words for me and my partners in the Ukrainian government coalition. We will defend the values in which we believe and for which we have struggled. I want to be honest with my children and my nation. Maybe what counts most is not just that some problems exist. What really matters is that there should be a will to overcome them, and Ukraine has such a will."

Yushchenko said he was satisfied with his talks with Niyazov.

The Ukrainian leader argued that there existed "great prospects for cooperation" under energy and other projects, and that specific short- term cooperation plans were likely to be drawn up within the next few years.

Niyazov said that, at the talks, Yushchenko proposed weapons modernization, anti-terrorism action, and training at Ukrainian and Turkmen higher educational establishments as cooperation fields.

March 23, 2005

Posted by admin on 2005/3/3 18:06:00 (1150 reads)

A proposed measure by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to close down all hospitals outside the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, has drawn sharp criticism from outside observers and activists.

"The president's order to close hospitals outside of the capital is shocking even by the regime's own abysmal standards," Erika Dailey, director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project, told IRIN on Wednesday from the Hungarian capital, Budapest. "I have not heard of policies this unapologetically retrogressive come out of Turkmenistan in a long while."

"Such moves by the Turkmen authorities will only further restrict the rights of Turkmens to healthcare," Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, told IRIN from the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna, noting the high costs of clinics were already far beyond the financial means of most citizens.

"It is clear that these moves won't bring any good for people's health. On the contrary it will only worsen the situation with regard to healthcare," she maintained.

During a meeting with local officials on Monday, a government spokesman announced that Niyazov – otherwise known as Turkmenbashi the Great - had ordered the closure of all hospitals in the reclusive Central Asian state except those in the capital.

"Why do we need such hospitals?" the BBC reported him as saying. "If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat."

But for the country's 5 million inhabitants, the move will only exacerbate the state's already deteriorating healthcare system.

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan had one of the least well-resourced healthcare systems in the Soviet Union, according to Dailey. However, following independence, the situation went from bad to worse and health standards declined further as a result of budget cutbacks, a brain drain and inadequate medical education and training.

"But Turkmenistan's health crisis is distinct and worse because it is the only government in the region that has deliberately dismantled the remaining infrastructure without budgetary justification," Dailey said, citing a decision in 2004 to lay off 15,000 healthcare professionals and replace them with army conscripts.

"Can you imagine any other government calling unskilled, semi-literate 18-year-olds giving inoculations and delivering babies "healthcare?" she asked.

According to the activist, Niyazov routinely fabricated healthcare statistics and had even prohibited doctors from diagnosing communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. "The government deliberately puts its head in the sand and deprives citizens access to treatment. As the HIV/AIDS epidemic spreads throughout the region, the human toll could be enormous," she warned, a concern Begmedova shared as well.

"We monitor the healthcare system in Turkmenistan and our findings sadly suggest that health services in the country do not even meet those standards that existed during Soviet times, not to mention international norms. People are not provided with the comprehensive health services they need," she explained.

Although it remained unclear whether the president's comments would result in a presidential decree or otherwise be codified as law and there was presently no indication of how or whether the president's will on this issue would be enforced in practice, the legalities in a lawless state were largely beside the point, Dailey said.

"Bureaucrats have in the past enforced off-hand statements of the president as if they had the force of law. The president's comment last year that gold teeth were unsanitary resulted in bureaucrats checking students' teeth as they entered schools and sending them back petrified if they had them," she said.
Asked what needed to be done, Begmedova called on the international community to raise the alarm, warning of possible humanitarian consequences if it failed to do so.

"The international community could assist the people in need if only the authorities agreed to it. But the official policy of Ashgabat is that they do not accept that such problems exist and everything is fine according to them. But hiding all these facts only aggravates the situation."

Dailey, however, was more forthright, calling for a stronger reaction to Monday's announcement in keeping the order from being implemented.

"The international community can also play a constructive role by helping create opportunities to keep the medical and health professions alive in Turkmenistan through scholarships, study tours, conferences. Only strong and sustained multilateral pressure on the dictatorship can send the message that, for once, it has gone too far," she said.

March 2, 2005

Posted by admin on 2005/2/22 18:08:00 (1219 reads)

There is much to admire about Parade magazine's annual list of the world's worst dictators, including the very fact of its existence. It's a useful reminder of the oppression under which much of the world's population still lives even as democracy is making progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Topping Sunday's list of tyrants is Sudan's Omar al Bashir, who bears responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where tens of thousands have died and two million have been uprooted by government-backed militias. Also ranked in descending order of awfulness are North Korea's Kim Jong Il, Burma's Than Shwe, Hu Jintao of China, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the leader of Equatorial Guinea.

Our one disagreement would be Parade's mention of Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf at number seven, just after Gadhafi. General Musharraf came to power in a military coup, overturning an elected government. But Pakistan remains a far freer place than any other country on the list -- and certainly freer than Cuba, whose Fidel Castro rates merely a Parade "dishonorable mention."

With occasional exceptions, Pakistan passes the test that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice laid out in her confirmation hearing last month: "The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the `town square test,' " she said. "If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society." Pick up a newspaper in Karachi and you'll read plenty of criticism of General Musharraf, who deserves to be replaced on next year's list by Fidel, or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

The Wall Street Journal
February 15, 2005

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