BERDYMUKHAMEDOV’S PERSONALITY CULT AND WEIRDNESS

BERDYMUKHAMEDOV’S PERSONALITY CULT

Today, the capital Ashgabat is dominated by giant portraits of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The president's photo adorns the front page of every local newspaper and the dashboard of every Turkmen taxi. When Berdymukhammedov replaced former leader Saparmurat Niyazov after his death there was widespread hope that Turkmenistan's new leader would begin dismantling the Stalin-like cult of personality surrounding Niyazov.

In 2008, the new president scrapped the unusual calendar foisted on Turkmenistan by Niyazov, who renamed the month of April after his mother, but in end Berdymukhammedov erected a personality that is perhaps as dominating and weird as the one erected by Niyazov.Among his titles are 'Patron' and 'National Horse Breeder' [Source: Radio Free Europe]

Two years after Berdymukhammedov became president, AFP reported: “His smiling face is the first you see when boarding a plane to Turkmenistan. His portrait adorns every government building, and even a brand of chocolates carries a picture of his face.But the face is not that of the late Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, who declared himself “Leader of all Turkmens” (Turkmenbashi) and built up a personality cult that made the Central Asian state notorious worldwide. In fact, the beaming visage belongs to Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who many had expected to curb the excesses of Niyazov`s rule. [Source: AFP, April 3, 2009 <>]

“Growing signs of a new personality cult, albeit not yet on the scale of Turkmenbashi`s, have led many in this troubled state to conclude that talk of reform by the 51-year-old leader was just that talk. “We can already say the following about all our publications if earlier they extolled `the greatness` of Niyazov, now they sing the praises of Berdymukhamedov`s `reforms`,” said Nurdzhamal, a 34-year-old activist. <>

“In March, a new mosque in Turkmenistan`s second city, Mary, was named after him, the first such instance of what was a near-universal practice under Niyazov. Chief Mufti Rovshen Allaberdiev told reporters that the decision to name the building - a grand structure built to hold 2,500 worshippers - came neither from the church nor the state. “It was the wish of the believers that the new mosque was named Gurbanguly-Hadji,” he said. <>

“It is not only in public, some say, but behind the closed doors of power that this trend is taking shape. A Western diplomat, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, described wild adulation this month when Berdymukhamedov met the country`s Council of Elders, a traditional government advisory body stripped of its powers under Niyazov. Thousands of regional elites leapt to their feet, he said, repeatedly interrupting the president`s speech to shout out praise. <>

“The effusive praise of one man in particular, a collective farm head called Murad Sapiyev, stood out as jarring to the diplomat. “Three years ago that same man pronounced exactly the same words from the rostrum of the People`s Council (a body that had replaced the Council of Elders), but they were directed at Turkmenbashi,” he said. “Berdymukhamedov positioned himself as a man of action, a progressive reformer with new ideas. What I saw at the congress of the Council of Elders showed me just how far things have rolled back to the time of Turkmenbashi.” <>

Berdymukhammedov Dismantles Niyazov Personality Cult

Berdymukhamedov dismantled some of the more bizarre aspects of Niyazov`s personality cult since coming to power. AFP reported: In 2008 he “abolished an invented calendar in which the names of months and days were changed to include months in honour of the president and his mother. Other steps to roll back the Niyazov regime under Berdymukhamedov have included the lifting of bans on cinema, circuses and foreign opera and ballet. [Source: AFP, April 3, 2009]

Since Niyazov's death, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has had some of the old names restored and many of Niyazov's portraits have been removed from billboards and other places around the country. In December 2009, Turkmenistan is celebrating a major national holiday without its traditional images of Niyazov.

In early 2009, presumably under Berdymukhammedov’s orders, Turkmenistan redenominated its national currency, the manat, lopping off three zeroes while also removing the image of Niyazov from all coins and all but one banknote. Farangis Najibullah of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Niyazov's portrait has been replaced on all but one banknote with historical figures, including poets, philosophers, and monarchs. Niyazov is still featured on the highest-value banknote, a 500-manat bill, which equals 2,500,000 old manats. [Source: Farangis Najibullah, Radio Free Europe, January 2, 2009]

In late 2009 Radio Free Europe reported: “Neutrality Day, which is celebrated on December 12, is one of three major national holidays in Turkmenistan along with Independence Day and National Flag Day. Traditionally, two weeks prior to its celebration, the emblems depicting the Neutrality Monument -- which has a rotating golden statue of Niyazov and sits in central Ashgabat -- are placed in public places, on the facades of state buildings and showcased in all media. But this year the UN symbol, the Turkmen flag, and five "gols" -- famous carpet patterns from five Turkmen provinces -- were used instead. The Neutrality Monument was erected to commemorate the country's permanent neutral status, as approved by the UN General Assembly on December 12, 1995.[Source: Radio Free Europe, December 12, 2009]

Berdymukhammedov Replaces Niyazov’s Personality Cult With One of His Own

Despite Berdymukhamedov dismantling of some of the more outlandish aspects of Niyazov`s personality cult, AFP reported “many here see moves such as the new portraits and the recent naming of a new grand mosque after the president, as a sign that one personality cult has simply been abandoned for another. As under Turkmenbashi, Berdymukhamedov`s portrait now sits at the front of every Turkmen Airlines cabin. His face has followed Niyazov`s onto a vodka bottle label and his latest book, a tome on Turkmen horses, has been translated into three languages. [Source: AFP, April 3, 2009]

The array of new portraits and products named after the president has neither escaped nor surprised Bayram-aga, a 67-year-old former university professor. Those at the top of the state fear that simply erasing the cult of Turkmenbashi without replacing it could cause instability, or even the collapse of the regime, he said. “A holy place cannot be left empty,” he said, quoting a Turkmen proverb. “Another, no less significant personality than Turkmenbashi must be offered to the people, and how do you make it significant? Constant praise, gradually erasing from the people`s memory the name of... Turkmenbashi.”Berdymukhamedov, Central Asia`s youngest leader, has quietly moved to do just that.

Berdymukhammedov Removes Niyzov’s Statue, Puts It on Higher Pedestal

In January 2010, Berdymukhammedov ordered the removal of the prominent gold statue of Niyazov in Ashgabat in a move widely seen as an effort to assert his own authority and minimize at the personality cult of his predecessor. Reuters reported: “The removal of the statue and the 75-meter-tall Arch of Neutrality tower which it tops will "improve the architectural image of Ashgabat," state-run news agency Turkmen Khabarlary said. The 12-meter high gold-plated effigy, which rotates to face the sun, is one of the capital's main landmarks and can seen from almost anywhere in the city center. Berdymukhammedov first suggested removing it in 2008. A new, higher tower will be built in a southern suburb of the city to replace "the tripod" -- a nickname Ashgabat residents have given to the old monument which stands on three legs. [Source: Reuters, January 18, 2010]

In October 2011, the gold statue of Niyazov lifted onto a new perch — the 95-meter-high "Monument of Neutrality". The reinstallation of the Niyazov statue was widely seen as signal of the willingness on the part of Berdymukhammedov to honor and preserve the image of his predecessor. Charles Dameron of Radio Free Europe wrote: “In 2010, the gold-plated rotating statue disappeared from its place atop the "Arch of Neutrality." Between the symbolic changes and some modest efforts at liberalization, it seemed that reform — however incremental — was coming to Ashgabat. So more than a few Turkmen are concerned now that the Niyazov statue has reappeared on top of a new, taller pedestal on the outskirts of Ashgabat.. [Source: Charles Dameron, Radio Free Europe, November 2, 2011 +++]

"The return of this monument is directly related to current politics," one Turkmen intellectual told Radio Free Europe's Turkmen Service. "There was a hope that along with this monument the whole old regime and its heritage would go along with it. But that did not happen, and what we are seeing is that these hopes have evaporated, and the return of this monument symbolizes the current direction." +++

“At least one Turkmen observer, however, sees a silver lining around this gilded eyesore. "This monument provokes great interest among tourists who come to Turkmenistan," notes a travel agent based in Asghabat. "For foreign tourists, this is a monument of dictatorship and despotic willfulness. But for us, this is an embarrassment and unfortunately we get popularity with our absurd architectural excesses." +++

Berdymukhammedov Vs. Niyazov: Battle of the Personality Cults

Berdymukhammedov spent his first months in office in 2007 reversing some of the more controversial policies of Niyazov. But it wasn't long before Berdymukhammedov started following in Niyazov's footsteps, building a personality cult of his own. Farangis Najibullah, of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Berdymukhammedov appears to share Niyazov's fondness for writing books. In his five years in office, his name has appeared on tomes covering subjects ranging from health care to his favorite horse breed, the country's famous Akhal-Teke. The president is reportedly about to launch a new book -- a spiritual guide for the Turkmen nation. According to media reports, the working title is either "Turkmennama" (Book for Turkmens) or "Adamnama" (Book for Humanity). The book would replace Niyazov's own work on the same subject, "Rukhnama" (Book of the Soul), which was required reading in all Turkmen schools.[Source: Farangis Najibullah, Radio Free Europe, February 13, 2012 ]

“Berdymukhammedov appears to be trying to match his predecessor in other areas of adulation, as well. He had the Council of Elders bestow the formal title of Arkadag (The Protector) upon him. Niyazov bore the title Turkmenbashi (Leader of the Turkmen). The Niyazov era, which lasted from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 until his death in 2006 – has been hailed within the country as its "Golden Age." Likewise, Berdymukhammedov has dubbed his time in power "The Era of Turkmenistan's Great Renaissance."

“Berdymukhammedov has also continued Niyazov's tradition of renaming streets, schools, and organizations after his relatives. A village school in Akhal Province, for example, has been named after the president's grandfather, Berdymukhammed Annaev. The three-story school towers over all other buildings in the village. And unlike many other rural schools in Turkmenistan, it is equipped with modern computers. And the police unit where the president's father, Myalikguly Berdymukhammedov, once served has been named after him. The elder Berdymukhammedov's office in that unit has been restored and turned into a museum.

“Berdymukhammedov's personal tastes also have a habit of becoming national fetishes. Turkmen now celebrate the Day of Akhal-Teke, the horse breed he hails as the nation's "pride and glory." And when Berdymukhammedov played a love song, "For You, My White Flowers," on national television, the guitar he played was immediately dubbed a "great treasure" and sent to a museum for safe-keeping. And there are a few other things that have remained the same under Berdymukhammedov's rule: Turkmenistan still has one political party, dissent is not tolerated, and free speech is virtually nonexistent.

Police Unit Named Berdymukhammedov’s Father

In February 2012, a police unit in Turkmenistan was named after Berdymukhammedov’s father. Radio Free Europe reported: “State-run media reportedly describe it as a gesture to honor Myalikguly Berdymukhammedov's years of service to Turkmenistan's Interior Ministry and "his efforts in educating the younger generation." (It might also help quash the persistent and seemingly groundless speculation that the president is an illegitimate child of former President Saparmurat Niyazov.) [Source: Radio Free, Europe, February 8, 2012 *-*]

According to Associated Press: “Neutral Turkmenistan state newspaper reported that the one-party parliament approved the gesture as recognition for Myalikguli Berdymukhammedov's years of service in the Central Asian nation's Interior Ministry. The facility reportedly houses a museum dedicated to the elder Berdymukhammedov, who once worked there as a deputy colonel. His former office is said to have been fully been restored to its former state. Critics might regard it as a high honor for a colonel, which is the rank eventually attained by Myalikguli Berdymukhammedov.

“The honor to the First Father comes one year after a statue of the First Grandfather, Berdymukhammed Annaev, was installed at the Turkmen Military Academy. Annaev also had a school named after him in his home province in 2009. The forward of a recent hagiography of Annaev was authored by the president and written by the president's father. (It's bound to be a best-seller in a country where insufficient familiarity with the official narrative can spell doom.) *-*

Huge Marble and Gold Statue of Berdymukhamedov Unveiled

In May 2015, a huge marble and gold statue of Berdymukhammedov was unveiled. Cahal Milmo wrote in The Independent: Turkmenistan “has revealed its first statue to its dominant president, former dentist Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, after nine years of autocratic rule...Topped with a six-metre high statue of the president on horseback while holding aloft a dove, the monument was unveiled as birds and balloons were released into the air and students shouted “Glory to Arkadag” - or “The Patron”, the title bestowed upon Mr Berdymukhamedov by his people. [Source: Cahal Milmo, The Independent, May 25, 2015 /^\]

“According to the official version, the edifice in a central square in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat was built only after public clamour for a permanent monument to the president became impossible to ignore. One man attending the ceremony said: “Arkadag works for the glory of our people from dawn to dusk.”...Arkadag portrays himself as an athlete and obsessive equestrian. He has dedicated himself to the promotion of the native Akhal-Teke breed and is duly portrayed riding one in his statue. /^\

“Mr Berdymukhamedov remains modest in the face of his fellow countrymen’s apparent adoration. When presented with the statue proposal last year, he said: “My main goal is to serve the people and the Motherland. And so, I will listen to the opinion of the people and do as they choose.” He did not attend the unveiling ceremony.”/^\

Berdymukhamedov Weirdness and Talents

In many ways Turkmenistan president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov turned out to be just as weird as his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. According to the BBC: “State media regularly extol his leadership, cultivating the image of a man with many and varied talents.He has at various times been shown winning a national car race, performing surgery, and playing his own composition on a guitar in front of a huge audience. The president has also written books on horses and medicine which are best sellers in Turkmenistan,.

Suzanne Merkelson wrote in Foreign Policy: “Judging from past experiences,Turkmenistan’s autocratic president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, doesn’t seem to be a lover of the animal kingdom. There was the time he reportedly fired one of his security officers for negligence leading to an "assassination attempt" — by a cat. And once he fired 30 workers from the main state TV channel for allowing a cockroach to interrupt the evening news. [Source: Suzanne Merkelson, Foreign Policy, February 8, 2011]

Berdimuhamedov — who goes by the official title of "Arkadag", or "Patron" of the state — has written several books devoted to Turkmen medicine, the Akhal-Teke horse, carpets and traditions. His novel "The Bird of Happiness" is a story about a child and his father harsh military experience. The Turkmen leader has also sung and played the role of a DJ on the stage of the main drama theater of Turkmenistan. [Source: 7city.org, news from Ukraine and Russia, October 31, 2014 \+\]

In 2010, Farangis Najibullah of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Berdymukhammedov's latest work, "Public Regulation of Socioeconomic Development in Turkmenistan" has come out in Turkmen and Russian languages this month -- just in time for the international book fair. According to Turkmenistan's state-run media, the president's two-volume new book "describes the ideological, theoretical, scientific and practical basis for public regulation of the national economy, a unique model of economic development of modern Turkmenistan." Whatever that means. ^=^ [Source: Farangis Najibullah, Radio Free Europe, September 29, 2010 ^=^]

“Berdymukhamedov has authored two other books and published a collection of his speeches at cabinet meetings. The dentist-turned-president's first book, "Scientific Fundamentals of the Development of Public Health in Turkmenistan," was published within months of his quick rise to power in late 2006 and 2007.The second presidential book, "Akhaltekke: Our Pride and Glory," followed in 2009. A keen horseman, Berdymukhammedov dedicated that book to the Akhaltekke breed of horse, a national symbol of Turkmenistan. Unlike his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, the current Turkmen president has not turned his books into compulsory reading for all Turkmen students and public-sector workers. But unlike other Turkmen authors, he enjoys the exclusive privilege of having his name appear on the cover of his books. Other authors' names appear only inside their books.”

Berdymukhammedov and Horse Beauty Contests

Turkmenistan’s current president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is surpassed Niyazov in his adoration of horses. “In addition to being Turkmenistan’s "Protector," Berdymukhammedov has written a book on Akhal-Teke horses. Among his titles are 'National Horse Breeder'. Turkmen now celebrate the Day of Akhal-Teke, and the horse breed is hailed as the nation's "pride and glory."

In February 2011, Turkmenistan's president issued a decree that beauty contests should be held every year for the country's thoroughbred horses. The BBC reported: The decree by President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov will see horses of the ancient Akhal-Teke breed take part in a competitition every April. The best horses of the breed will be picked "to promote the glory of the heavenly racehorse worldwide", it says. [Source: BBC, February 7, 2011]

The national competition will also include an award for the best carpet featuring the horse, the best "holiday attire" for the breed, the best portrait and the best sculpture. The second presidential book, "Akhaltekke: Our Pride and Glory," was published in 2009. Among the few times that Berdimuhamedov appears in public is when he rides an Akhal-Teke on National Horse Day.

Berdymukhammedov’s horsemanship is a central part of the image he portrays to the nation’s citizens. The entrance of the $100 million Ashgabat hippodrome, completed in 2011, is adorned with a large portrait of Berdymukhamedov astride a horse. Berdimuhamedov once said: We will never relax our attention to our race horses, as they are our pride and glory and source of our inspiration. Born on the Turkmen land, Ahalteke horse is a symbol of a striking harmony, beauty, gracefulness and incomparable swiftness given to it by nature and developed by the labor and mind of a man.” +++

Berdymukhammedov Escapes Injury in a Horse Race

In April 2013, Berdymukhammedov narrowly escaped serious injury after riding a horse to victory in a national racing event. The BBC reported: “Soon after the president crossed the finish line his horse fell, throwing him in front of other galloping horses which only just missed him. Officials who rushed to aid him were left with a public-relations nightmare. The accident was a major embarrassment to aides more used to presenting their leader in the best possible light. The riding event was meant to celebrate the horsemanship of Turkmenistan's strongman ruler. It marked the climax of a three-day annual holiday celebrating the national Akhal Teke horse breed, which is revered in Turkmenistan. [Source: BBC, April 30, 2013 /=\]

“A BBC correspondent says that it only became clear just before the race that the president would be taking part. The announcement - made in the Turkmen language only - was greeted with a huge cheer by a crowd several thousand strong which seemed genuinely to wish their leader well, our correspondent adds. /=\

“But just after President Berdimuhamedov crossed the finish-line, his horse fell directly in front of dozens of journalists invited to cover the event. He was flung forward, landing heavily on the ground as other horses sped by. The course commentator was lost for words as the president lay still for several seconds before dozens of black-suited security guards rushed over to attend to him. An ambulance eventually took him away. /=\

“Our correspondent says that there was a shocked silence in the stadium for about 30 minutes and no public announcements were made. Some spectators began to cry in expectation of bad news. Foreign reporters trying to confirm that it really was the president who had taken a fall were asked by their minders not to make telephone calls, record video footage or report what was happening. /=\

“After about 40 minutes the president reappeared in traditional Turkmen dress to a large round of applause. He calmly waved at the crowd, apparently unharmed, and the event resumed as if nothing had happened. Journalists were then assembled by officials and asked politely to erase all pictures and footage taken of the incident, which was described as a "sporting accident" of no interest to people at home or abroad. But footage of the accident was nevertheless taken out of the stadium.” /=\

Berdymukhammedov Raises New Horse Monument and Fires Horse Official

In 2013, Berdimuhamedov ordered the building of a monument to honor the favorite horse of his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. According to Horsetalk.co.nz: Berdimuhamedov has ordered that a monument be built to honour Yanardag (Fiery Mountain), the stallion that belonged to Niyazov. Niyazov elevated the role of horses in Turkmen society, placing an image of Yanardag in the national emblem. [Source: Horsetalk.co.nz, October 8, 2013 |^|]

Earlier in 2103, Berdymukhammedov “sacked the head of the national state equine association for purportedly failing to promote the horse industry. Berdymukhamedov, in a televised government meeting on February 18, fired Allanur Oraznazarov, pointing to a consistent fall in the number of animals in state stables. Berdymukhamedov railed against empty horse-sport complexes, the quality of work in horse-rearing facilities, and the poor standard of veterinary medicine, treatment and specialists. “That is why our horse-breeders can’t take part in competitions abroad,” he told lawmakers.” |^|

“The president, in ordering the new statue, said it would improve the architectural and urban landscape of the city of Ashgabat. He gave permission for the city’s administration to engage contractors to construct the monument at a major intersection. Construction is to be construction in October 2013, with the monument to be commissioned in March 2014, the state news agency of Turkmenistan, TDH, reported.” |^|

Berdymukhammedov Order Proper Horse Burial and Renaming Horses

In November 2015, Berdymukhammedov issued a decree that covered the renaming and burial of Akhal-Teke horses. Charles Recknagel of Radio Free Europe wrote: “The Turkmen president likes to tightly control things in his country. So perhaps it should be no surprise that Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has issued a decree governing virtually every aspect of the life of Turkmenistan's national symbol -- the purebred Akhal-Teke horse. [Source: Charles Recknagel, Radio Free Europe, December 20, 2015 *~*

“The new order makes it illegal to change an Akhal-Teke horse's name during its lifetime. The name of each horse must remain as recorded at birth in the studbook, or genealogical record, kept for the breed by the government. For example, Kerwen (Caravan) cannot be renamed Melegush (Orange Bird) just because the owner changes his mind and decides he likes the new name better. *~*

“Under the November 21 decree, every Akhal-Teke horse must get a proper burial -- or at least, it must be buried in an area designated by local authorities and in the presence of an official, who will register the death. What kind of area is to be designated is not immediately clear. Currently, there are no special interment grounds for horses and owners bury their animals far from populated areas without notifying authorities their horse has died. A small ceremony is common, with the owner and his friends covering the dead animal's head with a fabric like a funeral shroud before lowering it into a deep pit. *~*

“The stated purpose of the new law is to protect the pedigree of thoroughbred Akhal-Teke horses by tightening regulations around breeding and record-keeping. It also aims to develop and promote equestrian sports in Turkmenistan, including international competitions, in order to highlight the Akhal-Teke as a national treasure.” *~*

Horses and Berdymukhammedov Personality Cult

The attention that Berdymukhammedov directs towards Akhal-Teke horses also seem aimed at boosting his own image by linking himself with Turkmenistan’s beloved horse breed as he builds his own personality cult. Charles Recknagel of Radio Free Europe wrote: In 2014, Berdymukhammedov “unveiled a massive golden statue of himself astride an Akhal-Teke in downtown Ashgabat.” Under his direction “state scribes have penned some 40 poems lauding his favorite personal horse, Ak Khan (White King). In this poem, Berdymukhammedov is referred to as Arkadag, or Protector, a title he has taken for himself: "It's a celebration of earth and sky today, my Arkadag is riding on his white horse. Let God award him what he wishes, my Arkadag is riding on his white horse."[Source: Charles Recknagel, Radio Free Europe, December 20, 2015]

All that is in addition to Berdymukhammedov periodically riding in public races in which he is guaranteed to take first prize, since no jockey dares to overtake him. The president is generally considered a good horseman but took a tremendous fall in 2013 during a race in the capital's hippodrome when his horse Berkarar tripped immediately after crossing the finish line. The name Berkarar, which means "stability," is drawn from Berdymukhammedov's frequent public pronouncements that the period of his rule is "the felicitous era of a stable state." In Turkmenistan, it is illegal to watch the video that shows his fall.

The president's intense interest in equestrian sports is part of a wider political strategy that began under Niyazov of promoting sports of all kinds to draw public attention away from Turkmenistan's domestic problems and to raise Ashgabat's international standing. The efforts often come at the expense of ordinary citizens as the government demolishes neighborhoods to make way for new sports complexes or to beautify the capital ahead of major international competitions.

Berdymukhammedov, Ice Hockey and the Yacht of a Russian Billionaire

In April 2014, Berdymukhammedov ordered government ministries of Turkmenistan, which has a hot desert climate, to create their own ice hockey teams. The BBC reported: “Speaking at the finals of Turkmenistan's first youth ice hockey tournament on Wednesday, the president ordered state enterprises and government departments to create ice hockey teams. The BBC's Rayhan Demytrie says the interior ministry became the first government body to follow the edict. The police are said to be following suit. She says Mr Berdymukhamedov is proud of his own athleticism, with state media often showing him riding horses, cycling, practising martial arts or racing cars. [Source: BBC, April 14, 2012 ==]

“Berdymukhamedov has urged his nation to become a sporting power and regularly shows off his own sporting activities. He recently proclaimed a "Week of Health and Happiness". Summer temperatures in the capital, Ashgabat, hover around 45C but there are two large winter sports stadiums. Earlier this month, state workers performed mass physical exercise and were encouraged to climb an 8km (five mile) concrete staircase built into a hillside outside Ashgabat.” ==

According to a Wikileaks-released cable from the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat, diplomats reported that Berdymukhammedov wanted a giant yacht like Roman Abramovich, the London-based Russian billionaire, but had to settle for one small enough to reach the Caspian Sea. Luke Harding wrote in The Guardian, “Berdymukhamedov received a $35 million yacht as a "gift" from the Russian gas and resources company Itera. He was so pleased with his new toy that in September 2008 he held a cabinet meeting on board. "President Berdymukhamedov appeared in one photograph sporting a navy blue sailing cap, a French-style white-and-blue striped shirt and binoculars hanging around his neck," said a cable from the US embassy. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 2, 2010 ~~]

“Unfortunately nobody knew how to sail the Italian-made yacht, named Revival. The problem was quickly solved with a call to a Swedish-owned shipping firm. It was bluntly told to provide "a master, a chief mate and a chief engineer", the cable says. One unnamed expatriate source told the US: "The president had originally wanted a larger yacht similar to one owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but that yacht would not fit through the canals leading to the Caspian Sea and thus Berdymukhamedov had to settle for this one." ~~

Intriguingly, the same source added that the president's "pool of automobiles consists of a Bentley, a Mercedes Mayback (gift of a German company), a Range Rover, and a Cadillac Escalade". The BBC's Mecan Navrouzov says that Berdymukhamedov has also been the recipient of gifts from foreign businessmen, in addition to receiving carpets, horses and even a camel from provincial officials. Many of these gifts have been handed over to local museums. [Source: BBC, July 3, 2012]

Poems and Ripped-Off Songs by the Turkmen President

At a concert in Ashgabat honoring Turkmenistan’s Independence Day, some poems of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov such as "Go! And only forward native land - Turkmenistan! " — that had been put to music by the president — were performed. The newspaper "Turkmenistan: the Golden Age " reported:"This inspirational song sounded like a beautiful melody of the country, every day life is marked by great victories, labor achievements and, indeed, a national holiday. " The newspaper is noted that the concert was attended by "heads of the Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, members of the Government, heads of military and law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations accredited to Ashgabat diplomatic missions and international organizations." [Source: 7city.org, news from Ukraine and Russia, October 31, 2014 \+\]

The poem, "Forward! And only forward native land - Turkmenistan! "was published on October 2014 in the newspaper" Neutral Turkmenistan ", together with a portrait of Berdymukhammedov. In Turkmenistan secondary schools students study Berdymukhamedov poems such as "Bird of Happiness" (President of the father), "The Good Name of Incorruptible" (his grandfather) and "Living Legend" (about Turkmen carpets). Students also study a novel about the president — "Grandson, to Realize the Dream of His Grandfather" — "Ode to Joy", written when Berdimuhamedov was named "Man of the Year" in Romania, as well as poems of praise for the horse of the president. \+\

In 2011, Radio Free Europe reported: “Berdymukhammedov has surprised his people by making an appearance on stage to perform his new song. Before a packed house, he is shown in a video running above the stage strumming a guitar to the accompaniment of...himself, shown also playing accordion. It was no doubt hard for many to believe their president was also a songwriter, and indeed, there is reason not to believe it. Although state television has identified Berdymukhammedov as the writer and performer of the song "My White Rose For You," it bears an uncanny resemblance to "On My Wedding Day," written and performed by Dovlet Amanlykov and posted on YouTube in 2009. Still, it was a look at a lighter side of Berdymukhammedov, whose attire seemed to have come from the American children's show "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." And the video of him "rocking out" in Ashgabat did have people on their feet. Who would dare to sit while Turkmenistan's head of state was crooning on stage?” [Source: Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe, August 16, 2011]

Jennifer Lopez Serenades Turkmenistan President

In July 2013, Jennifer Lopez sang at a birthday concert for Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. The performance was condemned by human rights groups as Berdymukhammedov had been accused of committing numerous human rights abuses. Lopez's publicist said she would not have performed had she known there were human rights issues in the country. [Source: Adam Sherwin, The Independent, September 3, 2013 ^*^]

Christie Dzurilla wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Jennifer Lopez “was apologizing for singing "Happy Birthday to You" to the president of Turkmenistan at a concert in that country. Seems the concert was put together on behalf of China National Petroleum Corp. for the entertainment of their executives working in Turkmenistan, according to a statement from J.Lo's rep obtained by E! News, and "was not a government sponsored event or political in nature." "The event was vetted by her representatives, had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," the statement continued. However, the corporation folks made a last-minute request for a "birthday greeting" before the singer took the stage, and President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov got a 56th birthday serenade. [Source: Christie Dzurilla, Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2103 ***]

“The Human Rights Foundation criticized the performance in a strongly worded statement released Sunday, prompting the apology. According to the nonprofit, Berdymukhamedov has "ruled the country with an iron fist since 2006." The HRF statement, which listed the country's alleged rights abuses and cited other groups' rankings of the country among "the worst of the worst," was not without a bit of snark. "Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies, but her actions utterly destroy the carefully-crafted message she has cultivated with her prior involvement with Amnesty International’s programs in Mexico aimed at curbing violence against women," said the foundation's president, Thor Halvorssen. "What is the next stop on her tour, Syria? The dictator of Kazakhstan’s birthday is July 6, maybe she will also pay him a visit?" Halvorssen asked. ***

“It's not the first time Lopez has found herself a focus of international attention linked to a concert in a situation where human-rights abuses have been alleged. In July 2010, Lopez canceled a performance that was to celebrate the opening of a hotel in the breakaway northern part of the island of Cyprus. Some saw Lopez's planned performance as an endorsement of the self-declared state. "Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse," said a statement issued at the time of the cancellation. That gig, scheduled for J.Lo's 41st birthday, reportedly would've come with a $3-million paycheck.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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