A Shattered Visage Lies

We note with interest the death, at age 66, of Saparmurat Niyazov, supreme ruler of Turkmenistan. I’ve had my eye on him for a while; he established total control of that Central Asian country upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was the object of a textbook personality cult, right down to writing the textbooks.

He called himself “Turkmenbashi” — father of all Turkmen, and was given to idiosyncratic lawmaking. For example, in 2004 he decreed that young people must not have gold or capped teeth, insisting that they chew on bones to strengthen their dentition, and he is also reported to have changed the Turkmen word for bread, and for the month of April, to the name of his mother.

Niyazov’s book Rukhnama, a collection of philosophical musings, is required reading for all Turkmen and the basis of education in the nation’s schools, and passages must be recited from memory in order to do such things as obtaining a driver’s license. You can read the book yourself, if you like — it’s really something — here.

Niyazov insisted on absolute neutrality for Turkmenistan in international affairs, and in the capital city of Ashgabat the largest building is the Neutrality Arch, which rotates 360° in the course of a day so that a golden statue of the dictator ensconced thereupon is always facing the sun. Here it is:

He tolerated no dissent, and anointed no successor. The man in charge at the moment is the former deputy prime minister, the marvelously named Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who must be having an exciting time just now.

You can read a little more about the late Turkmenbashi here.

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