Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue May 11 12:19:41 UTC 2004

>>From Eurasianet:

Human Rights:

On June 1, Turkmenistans Ministry of Education will implement President
Saparmurat Niyazovs order to invalidate all higher education degrees
received outside the country since 1993, and to dismiss holders of such
degrees from state jobs. Decree No. 126, as the new measure is called, is
the latest in a long series of educational restrictions, and represents a
major blow to the countrys student population and dwindling professional

The education systems downward spiral stands to undermine long-term
Turkmenistan's stability, contended a former government official. Niyazovs
policies will produce a dangerously isolated and uneducated generation
that is unable to comprehend the challenges [presented by] a changing
world, the former official said. The longer it is left, the worse things
will get, and the higher the likelihood of the state collapsing under [the
weight of] its own contradictions.

Political analysts see the latest decree as part of a broader effort to
filter non-ethnic Turkmen citizens and foreign influence out of the
society. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].

In particular, Niyazov seems keen to limit the influence of Russia and the
Russian language. Nearly all Russian-language schools in the country have
been shut, and both English and Russian-language curricula in Turkmenistan
have been drastically reduced over the past five years. Universities now
teach almost exclusively in Turkmen, meaning that professors and students
who do not have a thorough command of the Turkmen language are being
pushed out.

A former teacher of Ukrainian descent told the Turkmenistan Helsinki
Initiative; By removing people like me, they place ethnic Turkmen in our
positions, and the fact that I have a diploma of a Ukrainian university is
just a good excuse.

For students now enrolled in universities abroad, Niyazovs decision not to
recognize foreign degrees has delivered a demoralizing blow. All of the
students studying abroad and working hard for their degrees will now feel
that their hard work is wasted, explained one Turkmen student currently
studying in the United States. Most students studying abroad plan[ed] to
go back and work for the development of Turkmenistan, so for me and them,
this new decree makes no sense.

The former teacher in Turkmenistan suggested that it would be a mistake
for those now studying abroad to return to Turkmenistan. All Turkmen
students who already receive higher education abroad should start looking
for jobs outside their own country, the teacher said.

Since Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991, its education system has
been in steady decline. As former Turkmen Foreign Minister, Avdy Kuliev,
now a prominent Niyazov critic, explained; Children are still using
textbooks and supplies left over from the Soviet era, and all schools
outside the capital are closed from September 1 through November 1 so that
students can help with the cotton harvest. In recent years, Niyazovs
regime has reduced the duration of education from 10 to nine years, and
has discontinued subjects deemed unnecessary, including foreign languages,
art and physical education.

In 2001, Niyazov replaced much of the traditional school curriculum with
his spiritual treatise, the Rukhnama. The move effectively transformed the
education system into an instrument for political indoctrination. In the
opening chapters of his book, Niyazov explains that the Rukhnama contains
the total of the Turkmen mind, customs and traditions, intentions, doings
and ideals.

The Rukhnama has literally taken over the school system in the country. It
has become the universal textbook, said Michael Clarke, a former US Peace
Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan. This years International Helsinki
Federation report on Turkmenistan suggests that the goal of the Niyazovs
administration is not to educate children, but rather to enforce
propaganda and to prevent children ... from critically analyzing the
political regime.

Educators have found themselves marginalized under Niyazovs regime. Most
teachers wait months to receive their salaries of about $60 per month, and
are expected to pay out of their own pockets for classroom supplies and
renovations. Schools outside of the capital are mostly dilapidated
Soviet-era structures, and few have heat or adequate plumbing. In 2000,
through another presidential decree, Niyazov reduced the number of
teachers working in the country, leading to vastly overcrowded classrooms.

In 2003 Niyazov announced that higher education would no longer be free  a
move that makes it more difficult for students from poor urban and rural
backgrounds to attend university. As it is, observers say, widespread
corruption at most universities already imposes high costs on students.
The future success of a student does not depend upon knowledge acquired
during years of study, but rather on his ability to pay professors for
desired grades, Kuliev said.

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