wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07ASHGABAT1374
2007-12-18 15:48:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

TURKMENISTAN: MIXED REPORTS AND CYNICISM FROM

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  TX 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO4657
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #1374/01 3521548
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181548Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9908
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 3126
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0941
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0815
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 1389
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1362
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2014
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 ASHGABAT 001374 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL
AID/W FOR EE/AA (BOB WALLIN)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: MIXED REPORTS AND CYNICISM FROM
RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL SOCIETY LEADERS



1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.



2. (SBU) SUMMARY: During a December 8 roundtable discussion
with minority registered and unregistered religious groups
and a December 6 roundtable with community leaders and staff
from USAID civil society implementing partner Counterpart
International, representatives told a delegation led by DRL
Deputy Assistant Secretary Erica Barks-Ruggles that there had
been some sporadic improvements in their dealings with
government agencies, but that many problems remain.
Participants at Counterpart's democracy roundtable
acknowledged that problems with registration exist but also
stressed that there have been positive changes in people's
attitudes as a result of participating in community-oriented
projects. Religious leaders focused on problems related to
registration, finding places to worship, and access to
religious literature. Their conclusion: while civil society
and religious groups face difficulties operating in
Turkmenistan, there remains the possibility for some
activity. However, the future is unclear - all are hoping
for some improvement with registration, but also realize that
it may take a long time to materialize, if at all. END
SUMMARY.

DEMOCRACY ROUNDTABLE: A FOCUS ON WHAT CAN BE DONE



3. (U) On December 6, DAS Barks-Ruggles and her delegation
met with a mix of NGO and community leaders and staff from
USAID's civil society implementing partner, Counterpart
International, to discuss civil society development in
Turkmenistan. In addition to Counterpart staff, attendees
included community leaders from Dashoguz Province, Kaaka and
Yangala villages in Ahal Province, a well-known civic
activist and advanced trainer of Counterpart, and a community
development consultant/trainer. The focus was on these civic
activists' activities and experiences.



4. (U) One participant, representing registered NGO Keik
Okara, described the group's development from an NGO working
on issues related to ethnic Turkmen refugees from Tajikistan.
Keik Okara now has a youth center and supports small and
medium enterprise development through training programs. The
activist said that he had received most of his training from
Counterpart. In response to DAS Barks-Ruggles' question, he
proudly acknowledged that he is now passing on this
experience to others.



5. (U) A representative from NGO Bosfor, which offers legal
information and services, discussed a challenge common to
many NGOs -- sustainability. This is complicated by the
difficulties in obtaining licenses to provide services and
the consequent inability to fundraise and own property. In

addition, this means that NGOs need to register individual
grants in order to operate - a very time consuming process.
The Bosfor representative highlighted the importance of
raising awareness among the population on their rights and on
international legal standards, including human rights.



6. (U) An activist from Dashoguz Province described her work
with youth on civic education. She asserted that today's
youth do not understand the rights and responsibilities of
citizens and government, in part because of the elimination
of social studies from the school curriculum under former
President Niyazov. As a result, she suggested, more
communities should focus on providing legal and social
studies education for youth. The activist then stated that
her group trains local youth on civic education issues after
first tailoring training materials to local conditions and
then preparing a cadre of trainers. Training youth on
children's rights is her next priority.



7. (U) Two representatives from Kaaka reported that they had

ASHGABAT 00001374 002 OF 005


opened a small resource center to train local youth on
business skills three years ago with support from
USAID/Counterpart. Today, these youths carry out small
business initiatives, including computer repair and technical
support. Counterpart's support center director interjected
the importance of persistence in local communities. She
explained that, when they started, the Kaaka resource
center's request to use the local kindergarten as a base for
training met with opposition from local authorities. After
numerous meetings, however, the local officials relented, and
allowed the training programs to be held at the kindergarten.



8. (U) The director of the Union of Accountants of
Turkmenistan said that, due to problems with re-registering
at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the union was unable to
accept grants from international organizations, preventing it
from reaching its full potential. She was excited that
Turkmenistan's leading state-owned Russian-language daily
newspaper, Neutralnyy Turkmenistan, had published just the
day before an article she had authored on the importance of
focusing on international standards. She said this article
was the result of a month of advocacy with the Ministry of
Economy and Finance and the newspaper, but added that its
publication was a sign that the government takes both the
subject and the Union of Accountants seriously. She noted
that while civic associations should not abandon the NGO
cause, they could register as commercial entities to enable
continued operation. Finally, she said, recent trips to
Turkmenistan's provinces had opened her eyes to the positive
contributions being made by various USAID projects that have
supported resource centers. She now considers these centers
an asset for her future work in expanding her network of
associates at the provincial level.



9. (SBU) Two activists from Yangala community in Ahal
province spoke about the impact of a variety of U.S.
government programs on their work. One activist, focused on
economic activities, while his colleague concentrated on
civic development. After receiving technical assistance from
USAID/Winrock's Farmer-to-Farmer program, the productivity of
his 50 hectares of land increased. Two trips to the United
States via USDA Cochran Fellowship program and, more
recently, USAID's Community connections program on
microcredit highlighted the potential benefits of
microfinance to his community. Although Turkmenistan's
farmers are capable, they have limited access to credit, and
the activist said Turkmenistan needs a microfinance law to
help stimulate its development. The other Yangala activist
said that participation in USAID/Counterpart training
sessions for local residents, including youth, have helped
them to develop this capacity in their own community. He
said residents need more Turkmen-language materials, which
will help to further activate the community. The activists'
good cooperation with their village's elders has been
critical to the successful implementation of their programs
in their village.

RELIGIOUS ROUNDTABLE: SOME IMPROVEMENT, BUT DIFFICULTIES
REMAIN



10. (SBU) During the December 8 religious roundtable with
minority religious leaders, a number of religious groups
present reported the registration process as a Kafkaesque
maze of constant minute grammatical revision and correction
to their registration applications, stretching the
registration process out from 6 months to as much as 10
years. Several also held the view that the government drags
its feet more when considering applications from groups in
which the majority of members are ethnic Turkmen. While many
of the religious leaders reported that they had been allowed
-- or told that they would be allowed -- to travel abroad for
the first time, several leaders said they continued to be

ASHGABAT 00001374 003 OF 005


prevented from traveling - especially to Ukraine where
several had received training earlier in their careers.
Several also reported that officials from the Council on
Religious Affairs and from MOJ intimidate new members and
their families to try and prevent them from adding their
names to formal registration applications. Many thought it a
disadvantage that no minority religious adherent belonged to
the Council on Religious Affairs, as that person may be able
to provide much-needed advocacy and perspective. Other than
registration, the biggest issues continue to be restrictions
on leasing premises for regular church operations,
registration of branch churches with local government
authorities outside of Ashgabat, freedom to travel, and
freedom to give, receive, and purchase books and literature.



11. (SBU) Representatives from the minority groups reported
a variety of problems that continue to vex their operations.
The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has about 100
members, after just a few years here. It started its
registration process 10 years ago. The Vatican, however, has
been grappling with the Turkmen government's requirement that
the head of a religious group be a Turkmen citizen -- its
most significant registration problem. (COMMENT: The
representative noted the issue was because he as the local
head of the Church did not have Turkmen citizenship, rather
than the Pope, as is commonly believed to be the problem.
END COMMENT.)



12. (SBU) The Krishna Consciousness representative reported
that problems with the government had somewhat diminished
recently - though serious harassment and inability to worship
openly remain problems. He suggested that visits by
delegations like DRL play a significant role in improving
conditions in Turkmenistan for minority religious groups. A
representative from the Source of Life Evangelical Church
said that his group had been registered in September 2007,
but reported that he still has problems with authorities when
he wants to hold church events in his home as well as with
registration with local government authorities of branches in
the provinces. The Light of East Church was registered in
2005 and has been struggling unsuccessfully for three years
to procure registration for a branch in Dashoguz. Branch
registration procedures vary from province to province and
are still unclear and unwritten, he said.



13. (SBU) Ilmurat Nurlyyev, the pastor of the Evangelist
Church in Mary, discussed his removal from an aircraft
heading for a conference in Ukraine in November 2007.
Letters he subsequently wrote to the Procurator General, the
national security service and the presidential apparat
yielded only one response: the procurator's letter back to
him simply said that his removal from the airplane had not
been confirmed. He offered the opinion that conditions will
continue to be difficult and noted that government
authorities discourage ethnic Turkmen from participating in
church activities.



14. (SBU) A representative form the Baptist Church in
Dashoguz noted that the churchhad been applying for
registration since late 2005 and that they have no rights to
gather and worship. While they have not received a direct
refusal, they have been asked to revise and corrct
grammatical mistakes numerous times. He noted that "we have
been refused over a comma." They also have experienced the
prosecutor's office. He remarked that every time the church
applies, officials put pressure on the members and their
relatives not to sign the registration forms. He concluded
by stating that there is a general unwillingness at the MOJ
to speak to his group about these issues.



15. (SBU) A representative from the Light of Life Church
noted that they also have been told to revise their

ASHGABAT 00001374 004 OF 005


application several times for grammatical reasons. He noted
many continuing issues including, harassment of members who
sign registration papers, problems obtaining literature, and
restrictions on external freedom of movement. A
representative from the International Church of Christ, which
has been registered for three years, noted that while the
church can proceed with worship, they face difficulties
lesing or buying premises for their services - something that
has not changed under the new president. The Evangelical
Baptist church noted that the authorities asked them to
register in 2005, and after registration they faced fewer
problems with outside pressure on their worship. He stated
that the large amounts of required accounting and budgeting
documentation has, however, increased greatly and this
constrained their activities. he remarked on the trouble
faced by the church branches because the authorities would
not recognize hem. He also noted authorities came to monitor
and question the worshippers and occasionally brought church
members in for questioning. he commented on the problems of
entry to Turkmenistan for visiting religious scholars and
teachers as well as the inability to obtain religious
literature.



16. (SBU) A representative from Greater Grace Church in
Ashgabat (a relatively large church, with about 100 members
that just celebrated its twelfth anniversary) indicated that,
although the church is registered and is a well-known
quantity in Ashgabat, it is still prohibited from leasing
larger premises in the center of the city. he noted that
they are normally allowed to function, but generally
encounter problems if they ask the government for assistance.
Their proposals for activities are frequently denied by
authorities, who compare them with Islamic practices and
state "we do not do this in Islam so why would you?" He too
thought it was important to have minority representation
would in the government, including the Council on Religious
Affairs. A representative form the Baha'i Faith noted that
they had similar difficulties, but also had problems with
private ownership. Before registration they were allowed to
own the house where they worshipped. However, afterwards they
received a verbal notice form the MOJ that all premises
belonged to the government. They are registered in Ashgabat.
However, provincial branches only have verbal recognition
and every time they meet to worship they are questioned by
local authorities. A call to the MOJ is necessary each time
to resolve the issue.



17. (SBU) A representative from the (unregistered) Jehovah's
Witness congregation in Turkmenistan stated that the group's
1,500 members around the country would face difficult
conditions that exist here even if the group were to
register. He noted that none of the groups should have to
register, freedom of worship and belief means that no
government can prevent people of faith from practicing. In a
radical departure from earlier conversations, however, he
indicated that Jehovah's Witness leaders had decided in any
case to apply for registration in January. (COMMENT:
Previously, Jehovah's Witness leaders have stated that they
have no interest in fighting for registration when it seemed
clear there was no benefit to it. Indeed, the representative
had reported that security officials told him they would
never allow the group to register because "it was too big and
well-organized." U.S.-based Jehovah's Witness leaders, who
have largely directed this decision, seem to have had a
change of heart. END COMMENT)



18. (SBU) COMMENT: Although religious and NGO groups
continue to face numerous difficulties in Turkmenistan, there
nonetheless remains some room for groups -- whether based
around civic activism or belief -- to exist and even expand,
if leaders have enough determination and as long as the
groups' activities do not directly challenge the government.

ASHGABAT 00001374 005 OF 005


In the case of NGO groups, while NGO registration remains a
key metric for civil society development in Turkmenistan, it
is increasingly difficult to rely upon subjective measures of
"independent" organizations. The community activists'
comments suggest positive changes in people's attitudes as a
result of participating in community-oriented projects and
indicate that a focus on a broader definition of civil
society can achieve real progress in civic and community
activism in Turkmenistan. Ensuring that groups have the
resources necessary and are able to operate safely will
continue to pose hurdles to our assistance efforts. Minority
religious groups face a higher hurdle. Registration means a
different form of bureaucratic harassment and paperwork, but
an end to physical and direct harassment. All indicated that
they can meet and function, albeit still in only a limited
way. END COMMENT.


HOAGLAND