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Cablegate: Turkmen and Russian Presidents Inaugurate New School

VZCZCXRO3506
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHAH #1647/01 3570345
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 230345Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3945
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 6034
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 3728
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3587
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 4276
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1340
RHMCSUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 4215
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 001647

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL SOCI RS TX
SUBJECT: TURKMEN AND RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS INAUGURATE NEW SCHOOL

ASHGABAT 00001647 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet distribution

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: On December 22, President of the Russian
Federation Dmitriy Medvedev visited Ashgabat to hold bilateral talks
with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and to attend
the opening ceremony for the new Turkmen-Russian school. The modern
school, built for 800 students, cost $20,790,000 (counting the
equipment provided to the school, the figure is closer to $22
million). The school is the only academic institution in
Turkmenistan providing classes entirely in Russian. The Turkmen
Government considers the school a symbol of friendly relations with
Russia, but the school is also a symbol of Moscow's commitment to
supporting Russians and Russian language abroad. END SUMMARY

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ATTENDED SCHOOL OPENING IN ASHGABAT

3. (SBU) According to Russian state-owned television, on December 22
President of the Russian Federation Dmitriy Medvedev met with
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to negotiate a
deal on natural gas and to attend the inauguration of a new building
of the joint Turkmen-Russian secondary school named after Pushkin.
The Turkmen press called the school a symbol of strong ties between
the peoples of two friendly states, and at a Cabinet of Ministers
session on December 19, President Berdimuhamedov underscored that
Turkmenistan values its cooperation with Russia, especially in such
an important area as education.

THE SCHOOL'S HISTORY

4. (SBU) Under former President Niyazov's rule, the role of Russian
language diminished significantly. In the 1990s the number of
schools instructing in the Russian language in Turkmenistan was
reduced by two-thirds. In 2002 all of the remaining 49
Russian-Turkmen schools were transformed; the main language of
instruction became Turkmen, leaving only one Russian language class
in each of them. Also in 2002 Turkmen officials initiated an
education system change that reduced secondary education from ten
years to nine years. This change meant that the Turkmen schools no
longer provided equivalent education to the Russian or international
school systems. The Pushkin school became the only school in
Turkmenistan providing a complete 11-year program, after which
students could continue their education in Russia.

5. (SBU) The Pushkin school was established in 2000 on the basis of
agreements reached between then presidents Vladimir Putin and
Saparmurat Niyazov. In January 2002, during working visit to
Moscow, former president Niyazov signed an agreement providing the
legal basis for the school's activity. According to the director of
the school in 2007, the school's teachers are experienced local
professionals, including former university professors. She also
said that Russia supplies all study materials to the school.
Turkmen Government support includes provision of land and utilities.
Factoring in the number of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan, and the
Russian-speaking and Turkmen population who want quality education
for their children, the demand for places at the school is extremely
high. The school was overcrowded and accommodated 515 students,
instead of the planned 350, in the old building in Ashgabat's
Khitrovka neighborhood.

20+ MILLION DOLLAR SCHOOL

6. (SBU) As part of his inauguration speech in February 2007,
Berdimuhamedov announced reforms of the education system and issued
a decree re-introducing Russian language in all secondary schools.
In May 2007, Berdimuhamedov and then Russian President Putin
participated in a ceremony laying the foundation stone of the new
Pushkin school building. Russia's gas giant Gazprom funded the
$20,790,000 construction as well as another $2,000,000 to equip the
school, intended for 800 students. The Turkish construction company
Erku built the new school, now located in one of Ashgabat's elite
districts on Garashsyzlyk (Independence) Avenue.

7. (SBU) The new building is in the shape of a flying pigeon-a

ASHGABAT 00001647 002.2 OF 002


symbol of peace and friendship between Turkmenistan and Russia,
according to Turkmen state press. The two three-story wings of the
building include classrooms, science labs, and a medical center.
The building's tail houses a pool, a gym equipped with modern
fitness equipment, an indoor tennis court, an indoor soccer field,
home economics classrooms with cooking and sewing equipment, and
metal and wood workshops. The main section is eight-stories and
houses the administrative offices, space for a science club, and
vocational training studios for dance, choir, acting, and sewing.

8. (SBU) Several members of the diplomatic community, including the
children of several Russian-speaking ambassadors, attend the school.
One ambassador, whose children attended school in Moscow last year,
said instruction is not as good as schools in Russia's capital.
Nevertheless, in his view, Pushkin school is the best school in
Ashgabat. It is a public school, and therefore, includes classes
such as Turkmen language and history as well as some Ruhnama, in the
curriculum. Officially, there is no tuition (since it is a public
school), but families of local students pay several thousands of
dollars for admittance.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: By visiting Ashgabat to open the Russian school,
Medvedev demonstrated Russia's commitment to supporting Russians and
Russian language abroad. The numerous visits and conversations
between Berdimuhamedov and Medvedev over the course of 2009,
including three presidential meetings over the last three weeks,
show Turkmenistan's improved relations with Moscow since the
pipeline explosion earlier this year. However, Turkmenistan has
opened up to many countries willing to invest, and a deal on gas,
with its economic impact, is more significant for the overall tone
of the relationship than the opening of a school. END COMMENT.

CURRAN

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