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Cablegate: A Horrible Halloween at the Turkmenabat American Corner

VZCZCXRO2022
RR RUEHAST RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHMRE RUEHROV RUEHSR
RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #1194/01 3211101
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171101Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8018
INFO RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 001194

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/PPD, EUR/ACE, SCA/CEN (TPERRY), and IIP/G

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KPAO SCUL SOCI TU TX
SUBJECT: A HORRIBLE HALLOWEEN AT THE TURKMENABAT AMERICAN CORNER

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Post received its second protest dipnote on November 13,
part of a series of complaints from the host government about a
children's Halloween party that the American Corner attempted to
host in the city of Turkmenabat on October 30. While successful
Halloween events took place at other American Corners, in
Turkmenabat the Corner continues to bear the brunt of the welayat's
feudalistic power structure -- where individuals in the local
government appear to take extra efforts to intimidate post
counterparts and contacts. The host government's overblown reaction
and threats in response to American Corners activities typify the
confusing, often ridiculous, and heavily time-consuming process of
interacting with the host government. That children, teachers and
parents continue to frequent the corners demonstrates with equal
force how desperate Turkmenistanis are to engage in non-governmental
educational and community activities.

KIDS HAVING FUN A THREAT TO THE HOST GOVERNMENT
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (U) On the night of October 30, about 100 middle and high-school
aged students and school graduates assembled at a caf in
Turkmenabat city for a Halloween party organized by the Turkmenabat
American Corner. The children had bought tickets to the event, and
were arriving in costume when local sanitation officials appeared
and shut the caf down for "health reasons." The American Corner
staff attempted to relocate to another caf but two men, presumably
government agents, warned the owner not to allow the event on his
premises. At the same time, attendees reported seeing two cars
parked near the caf, and in one a man was videotaping the crowd.
(Comment: About 150 youth had bought tickets to the event but Corner
staff later learned that several had been warned by school officials
not to attend. End Comment.)

3. (U) On October 31, American Corner Director Nina Afanasyeva was
called in to local education department headquarters, where she was
interrogated and threatened with prison by Lebap Welayat Hakimlik
representatives Agamurad Jomartov, Chief of the Department for
Relations with International Organizations, and Batyr Abdiyev,
Senior Specialist of the same Department; also present were two to
three representatives from the Education Department (Oblono) and
local tax service. The tax service officials insisted that the
American Corner was illegally making revenue off ticket sales and --
to compound this crime -- would not have the mechanism to pay taxes
on this revenue because the Corner was not a registered
organization. Afanyaseva explained that tickets were sold to defray
the cost of the event and to support a charitable donation to a
local elderly home. The local officials emphasized that Afanasyeva
was flirting with the prospect of prison for her crimes. The
browbeating was similar in style to that administered to Afanasyeva
in mid-December 2005 after a visit by CAO and the Embassy Grants
Coordinator to give an open presentation on grants to Corner
visitors (Comment: At that presentation, a representative of the
Department for Relations with International Organizations and the
welayat official in charge of curriculum development, Kerimberdy
Masharipov, had behaved in a threatening manner to CAO, Afanasyeva
and Corner visitors, first demanding participant names and, when CAO
refused, making a show of taking down the names of the participants.
End Comment.)

HOST GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES COORDINATED PROTESTS
---------------------------------------------

4. Post received the following protest dipnote on October 31
(#09/273n): "ACCELS Coordinator in Lebap Welayat Nina Afanasyeva
distributed tickets to a celebration of an American holiday
"Halloween" among students of secondary schools of Turkmenabat city
at a price of 20,000 manats without prior agreement of the Turkmen
side.

First, this event was planned to be held on October 30, 2006, at
19:00 at the Selbi Caf. Since this disco club was closed by
sanitary-epidemiological services, the event venue was moved to the
Cardelia Caf, but the event wasn't held there either. 150
teenagers along with Peace Corps volunteers were supposed to
participate. Supposedly, Afanasyeva was intending to hold the
activity in the Asia Caf on October 31, 2006.

In connection with the information above, the Turkmen side demands
that the US side not conduct such actions from now on."

5. (U) Soon after receipt of the protest dipnote, Emboffs began
receiving oral protests from the host government, including a call
from Ministry of Foreign Affairs Americas Desk chief Serdar Bashimov
to the CAO and a reprimand from Minister of Education Shemshat
Annagylyjova to Emboffs and the Charge d'Affaires during an October

ASHGABAT 00001194 002 OF 002


31 meeting on educational issues. These protests consisted of three
complaints: that the American Corner was not authorized to collect
revenue, that the activities of current students fell under the
purview of the Ministry of Education and that therefore the American
Corner was violating the rights of the Ministry of Education, and
that Halloween was an alien concept of no educational value. At the
same time, the protests included the statement that post and the
Corners were allowed to hold events, as long as the embassy informed
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in advance via a diplomatic note.
Post acknowledged that this requirement was made of all public
events and reminded Corner staff of the need to inform the embassy
of such large events to prevent such protests and harassment in
future.

HOST GOVERNMENT SHUTS DOWN AMERICAN CORNER EVENT, THREATENS PARENTS
AND CHILDREN
---------------------------- ------------------------------

6. In defiance of the local government threats, the American Corner
staff attempted to hold a much smaller version of the event on
Corner premises, for about twenty local youth, on November 1,
prompting government agents to come in and break up the event again,
protesting that it was illegal and that Afanasyeva had disobeyed
host government orders. This second attempt to hold a fun event for
local youth prompted a protest call on the morning of November 2
from post's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Americas Desk Officer to the
PAO reiterating the host government's earlier complaints. In the
meantime, American Councils relayed several reports from Turmkenabat
that the directors of nearly every school in Turkmenabat had called
parents in and questioned them about their "child's behavior" and
activities, and in some cases told either parents or their children
that involvement in American Corner activities could cost the
parents their jobs. (Comment: In at least two cases, parents
reported having to sign letters to the local educational department
promising no further contact. End Comment.) Turkmenabat Corner
staff reported that several students rushed into the Corner during
the day to report these threats and return borrowed items.

7. (U) On November 7, post issued its own protest dipnote (No.
1118/06) in which it asked the host government to cease from
harassing patrons and staff of the Turkmenabat American Corner
(excerpt):
"Such harassment violates the spirit of cultural exchanges
which the Embassy wishes to cultivate with the people of
Turkmenistan. The Embassy has received numerous reports of threats
and warnings to local schoolchildren not to attend events at or
otherwise visit the American Corner.

The Embassy will make every effort to inform Government of
Turkmenistan officials of its sponsored events. In the event that
local officials question such events, Embassy requests that the
Embassy be immediately contacted by the Ministry, local harassment
of local participants in these events is unacceptable." Following a
week of consideration, the Embassy received a second protest dipnote
from the host government (No 09/273n of October 13, 2006) which
failed to respond to these charges and instead echoed the host
government's earlier complaints."

COMMENT
-------

8. (U) Post and the American Corners are daily engaged in efforts
to transparently engage members of the public -- but incidents like
that in Turkmenabat demonstrate that post's domain and rights is a
daily evolving concept. When organizing events, post takes into
account that current students and teachers in Turkmenistan's schools
are de facto the property of the Ministry of Education in all
extracurricular activities, even on weekends and during vacations.
Students and parents are aware of the risks to engaging with foreign
agencies, but the lack of alternative social and educational outlets
for youth has made the American Corners' programming very popular,
even among some brave employees of state agencies

9. (U) Threats to university level students and teachers have
proved effective in preventing these groups from frequenting the
Corners. Post notes that a coordinated local government effort to
threaten teachers away from the Turkmenabat Corner in 2004 has
succeeded in keeping most teachers away. This most recent incident
of coordinated threats against Corner patrons is the most extensive
effort against any American Corner of which post is aware.
Additionally, this is the first known instance of Turkmenistan
authorities closing down an event being held physically inside an
American Corner. Youth who have graduated are no longer subject to
the desires of the Ministry of Education and, with no opportunity
for higher education available immediately upon graduation, comprise
a steady percentage of American Corner visitors. End Comment.

BRUSH

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