Sunday, January 20, 2008


TURKMENISTAN IS IN THE NEWS! And if you know me, you know I gots to write about it! After reading that President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov recently reversed his predecessor's ban on operas and circuses, like most people, I thought, "Oh no he didn't!"

But yes he did. "Our flourishing nation should not stand separate from the world," President Berdymukhamedov said. "It absolutely should have a worthy operatic theater and a worthy state circus." What makes this noteworthy, I discovered, was all the crazy shit Berdymukhamedov's predecessor, the first president of Turkmenistan, put into place.

Saparmurat Niyazov was a hardline Communist party official who, when Turkmenistan became independent, was elevated to president of Turkmenistan -- or as he later declared himself, "Father of All Turkmen." A lunatic dictator if ever there was one, Niyazov blanketed the country with gigantic portraits of himself and erected statues of himself (or his mother, or him with his mother) wherever he could. But that, of course, is pretty standard for a "reformed" Communist leader. And Niyazov himself said, "I admit it, there are too many portraits, pictures and monuments. I don't find any pleasure in it, but the people demand it because of their mentality." Let's look into some of the wackier edicts Niyazov handed down.

  • Awarded himself the Hero of Turkmenistan award five times.
  • Wrote The Ruhnama, a national epic blending revisionist history and moral guidelines, which he intended as the "spiritual guidance of the nation" and the basis of the nation's arts and literature. Later, he made a test of the book part of the driving exam.
  • Ordered the closure of all rural libraries on the grounds that he thought that village Turkmen do not read.
  • Shut all hospitals outside the capital city, with the reasoning that the sick should come to the capital for treatment.
  • Prohibited news readers to wear make-up.
  • Renamed the months of the year; renaming one after his mother and another after his awesome book The Ruhnama.
  • Encouraged the youth of Turkmenistan to chew on bones to preserve their teeth rather than be fitted with gold tooth caps or gold teeth.
  • Prohibited car radios, lip-synching and recorded music.
  • Restricted dogs from the capital city due to unappealing odor.

So, in summary, that's a nice start, President Berdymukhamedov, but it really looks like you've got your work cut out for you. In the meantime, keep chewing bones!

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