We learn from today’s New York Times that the new Grand Poo-bah of Turkmenistan, the fabulously yclept Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has begun dismantling in earnest the splendiferous personality cult of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, a.k.a Turkmenbashi. Mr. Niyazov’s image and idisosyncratic worldview had permeated every corner of Turkmen life during his reign, but no symbol of his absolute ascendancy loomed larger than his gold-plated effigy atop the Neutrality Arch, about which we scribbled a brief post (with photo) on the occasion of his death in December of 2006. The Arch in question, actually a three-legged tower, is the largest building in the capital city of Ashgabat, and the golden statue of Turkmenbashi at its apex was engineered so as to rotate one full circle each day, in order to keep our man facing always toward the Sun.
The Times informs us, however, that Mr. Berdymukhammedov, for whom the late Mr. Niyazov’s lingering and ubiquitous presence must by now provide more irritation than inspiration, has decided to move the majestic Neutrality Arch to a low-rent district at the edge of town. There are those inveterate Pollyannas in the international community who see this as a hopeful sign that Turkmenistan might, under new management, soon emerge from its umbrageous years of totalitarianism, but if I know anything at all about human nature, it’s a safe bet that Mr B. is just tidying up a bit, and in the interest of a smooth transition of power, thinks it wise to let dear old Turkmenbashi spend the next eon or two keeping a watchful eye on the “lone and level sands”.
Read the story here.